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9/30/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Sept. 30, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

drugs online

9/29/14 7:30pm

Alibaba's $25 Billion IPO Shadowed By Illegal Drug Sales

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CEO Jack Ma. Wiki Commons

The $25 billion record IPO of the Chinese business-to-business retail platform Alibaba has been shadowed by illegal drugs still available for sale on the site. Yes, you literally can buy anything on Alibaba, including the latest synthetic heroin known as MPPP. Could this be one of the reasons why the stock took a nose-dive after the initial public offering?

A recent synthetic version of heroin, MPPP is listed for sale by Nanjing Fujiu Island Chem & Pharm Company. Located in the southeastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, the company advertises a multitude of wares on China's largest business-to-business matchmaker. Although the web site's product listing policy forbids the sale of "psychotropic drugs and narcotics," Nanjing Fujiu Island has found an innovative hack to cover-up its synthetic drugs.

The company chose to list its products by their chemical structure as opposed to their street name, thus appearing to be selling chemicals as opposed to drugs. With under $2.5 million in annual revenue, the company is not a major player on Alibaba or anywhere else in the booming Chinese economy. Still, they have been providing synthetic heroin to drug dealers and users at wholesale prices.

And this is only the beginning. Recent searches of Alibaba.com and its domestically oriented sister site 1688.com turned up 14 companies peddling Schedule I controlled substances, the U.S. designation for drugs that are considered highly addictive and have no recognized medical use or variants, known as analogs, that have undergone minor chemical modifications.

Jim Wang, an investment banker specializing in China, explained the challenge to Alibaba. "They've been really mindful of enforcing the rules they've set for themselves, but suppliers have become increasingly discreet and coy… It's hard for Alibaba to catch them all."

A major problem is the company's keyword list is incomplete: the product policy guide's list of forbidden substances is missing common names for several drugs that have been placed under Schedule I by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration since May 2013, including synthetic marijuana substitute UR-144. Such problems need to be cleared up or the validity of the company will continue to be shadowed by the presence of illegal drugs.

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By John Lavitt

recovering celebrities

9/29/14 5:30pm

Amanda Bynes Arrested for DUI

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Just when it appeared as though she had her act together, Hairspray actress Amanda Bynes is in trouble once again after she was arrested last night in Los Angeles for driving under the influence.

According to TMZ, Bynes was driving her Mercedes in the San Fernando Valley, where she suddenly stopped in the middle of an intersection on Van Nuys Boulevard. A law enforcement source told the online celebrity site that she was under the influence of stimulants and possibly marijuana, the latter of which led to her infamous bong-throwing incident in 2013.

"She ran a red light and stopped in the middle of [a] T-shaped intersection. Our officer observed her, and she appeared under the influence. She was unable to complete field sobriety tests, at which point she was taken to our station," CHP spokesperson Leland Tang told the New York Daily News.

Bynes allegedly had a "disheveled" appearance, according to the incident report, and posted a $15,000 bail after being booked for DUI. Police determined that she was under the influence of a controlled substance, but have declined to publicly state which one.

The troubled actress was seemingly on her way to recovery in late 2013 after months of rehab and therapy. Up until that point, Bynes was spiraling out of control with a series of drug-related arrests and bizarre behavior that led to a mandatory 5150 psychiatric hold after setting a small fire in a driveway.

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By Shawn Dwyer

holder's legacy

9/29/14 3:30pm

5 Ways Eric Holder Helped Steer the Country Away From the War on Drugs

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Wiki Commons

This article first appeared in AlterNet.

Eric Holder announced this week that he will resign as United States Attorney General, as soon as his replacement is nominated and confirmed. “Work remains to be done, but our list of accomplishments is real,” Holder said in his resignation speech, a statement which accurately summarizes his record on drug policy. While Holder has taken many positive steps, particularly on prison reform, he will leave the top post at the Department of Justice with an entirely unresolved discord between state and federal cannabis policy.

Two states have legalized marijuana, twenty-three have comprehensive medical cannabis laws, and a handful more have very limited laws that allow patients to use marijuana in very limited circumstances. Despite more than half the country having legally acknowledged weed’s medicinal power, pot is still a Schedule I drug, meaning the federal government classifies it as being abusive, criminal, and having no medicinal value. This designation, which marijuana shares with heroin, LSD, and peyote, among many others, stands in the way of sensible policy. Because the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is part of the Department of Justice, Holder, as Attorney General, has the authority to reschedule (or deschedule) cannabis on his own. That he has not is a large blemish on a mostly positive record.

Despite this unfortunate omission, Holder made progress in moving the United States away from the expensive, needless, and inhumane War on Drugs. Here are Holder’s five best decisions regarding marijuana policy as America’s lawyer.

1. Overhauling mandatory minimum sentencing.

In August of 2013, Holder eased one of the most iconic and detrimental initiatives from the War on Drugs: mandatory minimum sentencing. These sentencing requirements, arbitrary and capricious from the start, kept thousands of low-level drug dealers locked up for a decade or more. Holder found a workaround to avoid triggering mandatory minimums by instructing prosecutors to not record the quantity of drugs found on dealers with no associations to gangs or cartels, and no corresponding firearm or violence charges.

"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason," Holder declared, while announcing the move. "We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer country.”

Under Holder, prison populations have finally started to decrease for the first time since Jimmy Carter was president.

2. Pursuing alternatives to incarceration.

As part of the same “Smart on Crime” initiative that included reforms of mandatory minimum sentences, Holder released guidelines on finding alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders. The Department of Justice endorsed rehabilitation over incarceration for non-violent criminals who were motivated or impaired by a drug problem. Additionally, Holder pushed for the compassionate release of sick and elderly prisoners.

Setting himself in contrast to the “Tough on Crime” initiatives that have dominated drug policies for ages, Holder’s Smart on Crime memos advocated for common sense policies that saved money, reduced recidivism, and freed people who were not a threat to society.

3. Retroactive sentence reduction for non-violent drug offenders.

Piggybacking off a ruling by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (an independent branch of the judiciary) to reduce sentences for non-violent drug offenses after November 1, 2014, Holder backed a retroactive ruling for people already in prison. Under Holder’s guidance, people in prison for drug offenses with no accompanying charges, such as unlawful gun possession or obstruction of justice, could apply for an early release.

"Under the department's proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, then you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the commission in April," Holder explained.

Some reformers criticized Holder’s decision as being too limited, but it was still a positive step for prisoners, a population with practically no political capital.

4. Laying off Washington and Colorado.

This decision (or non-decision, if you prefer) was enormously consequential in advancing progressive cannabis policy. It was within Holder’s legal rights to crack down on the two Western states that voted to legalize marijuana for adults over 21 in 2012, but he chose to let their experiment in cannabis freedom play out. We have already seen tremendous social gains in these two states, from tax revenues and jobs related to cannabis to a number of positive indicators on social metrics. Now that these (largely predictable) results have played out, a handful of other states are considering full legalization, with Oregon and Alaska set to vote on ballot initiatives in November.

Holder’s decision to let Colorado and Washington proceed stands in contrast to how his department treated medical marijuana in the first years of his tenure. Holder failed to reign in DEA administrator Michele Leonhart, who kept pursuing medical marijuana, and raids on dispensaries actually increased in Obama’s first term.

Consider where we would be if Holder had taken a similarly hard line on Colorado and Washington, with federal agents periodically raiding cannabis businesses and arresting their proprietors as drug dealers. The glowing reports out of Colorado and Washington would be non-existent, and states like Oregon, Alaska, California, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine, would be dissuaded from similar referenda to legalize cannabis. Holder’s decision here is a key reason that momentum toward ending cannabis prohibition is as strong as it has ever been.

5. Cleaning up the banking mess for cannabis businesses in Washington and Colorado.

Holder was quietly more than hands-off with the two states that legalized. A major—and to some degree, still present—concern for marijuana businesses in Colorado and Washington is finding banks that are willing to handle their money. Because cannabis is illegal federally, banks that handle funds from marijuana businesses could be accused of money laundering.

“There’s a public safety component to this,” Holder noted in January of this year. “Huge amounts of cash, substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited, is something that would worry me, just from a law enforcement perspective.”

Shortly after, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury released guidelines that prosecutors should not prioritize going after banks that deal with cannabis businesses, provided that those businesses stay within certain guidelines, such as not selling to minors. As a whole, this was a positive step, but the caveat that banks are only safe with cannabis businesses that follow certain regulations puts an unnecessary burden on the banks. Banks are equipped to assess a businesses financial solvency, but not their likelihood of being lax on specific regulations.

While Holder deserves ample praise for his work as the country’s top attorney, his record is not spotless. His term as Attorney General began with an increase in raids of medical marijuana facilities, which eventually cooled off. He announced in the weeks leading up to California’s 2010 vote on a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana that the federal government would enforce the law, regardless of the ballot outcome, throwing cold water on what was the most significant drug policy initiative of the time.

Some of his pro-reform initiatives could have gone further. For instance, his decision to allow low-level drug offenders to apply for an ahead-of-schedule release could have included a broader population. Holder took a positive step, but it was unnecessarily small. Similarly, in his memo regarding banks and cannabis businesses, Holder could have provided broader protections for banks, which would have benefited all parties involved.

The most significant misstep that Holder has made on drug policy is his decision to not reschedule or deschedule cannabis from its laughable Schedule I status. It’s worth noting that Holder told Katie Couric in an interview this week that “we need to ask ourselves” if marijuana’s Schedule I status is appropriate, which some took as a sign that he could still reschedule cannabis before he resigns as Attorney General. While Holder did seem to imply that it makes no sense to classify cannabis alongside heroin as a drug of abuse with no medicinal value, it seems optimistic that he would make such a dramatic move after announcing his resignation. Despite being one of the boldest reformers in the Obama Administration, there are certain steps that Holder was unwilling to take, despite their unambiguous prudence.

Eric Holder advanced sensible, progressive drug policies as Attorney General, but his performance still leaves room for improvement. Hopefully President Obama will select a replacement for Holder who is willing to use his or her authority to make common sense reforms, during this crucial period for cannabis policy.

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By Owen Poindexter

celebrity addicts

9/29/14 1:00pm

Talk Show Host Trisha Goddard Opens Up About Drug Addiction

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British TV talk show host Trisha Goddard recently opened up about her drug addiction in honor of National Addiction and Recovery Month. 

In an exclusive with People magazine, Goddard, 56, admitted that she is just one puff of a joint away from spiraling down into the “big black hole” of her addiction. “I haven’t touched an illegal drug for 20 years. But there’s no way I could even have a puff of a joint. It would take me back into that big black hole that I used to exist in.”

A London-born star who rose to UK fame while hosting ITV’s BAFTA-winning Trisha, Goddard began taking drugs in her youth after being physically abused by her stepfather. 

“I was very sensitive and I endured terrible beatings from my stepfather. When he unleashed his fury, he would come at me and I would run and cower in a corner, ­covering my head while a rain of blows came down on my head," she said. "To escape my miserable situation I would smoke weed with my friends. It helped to anesthetize the pain that I was feeling.”

In the mid-1980s, Goddard moved to Australia where she began working as a journalist and became dependent on marijuana while battling clinical depression. Her first husband, Aussie politician Robert Nestdale, was a closet homosexual who later died of AIDS. Her second marriage to TV producer Mark Grieve also failed to bring her lasting happiness.

"I was off my head smoking weed, I didn’t know what on earth was going on around me," she recalled. "Days were spent in a drug-induced haze and I went to work in the newsroom having been stoned off my face the night before...smoking dope became my coping mechanism.”

Goddard smoked marijuana on a daily basis for nearly four years, stopping only after the suicide of her schizophrenic younger sister, Linda, in 1988. She later battled an addiction to ecstasy while her life entered another dark phase. Trisha was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed two operations, six months of chemotherapy, and five weeks of rad­iotherapy. But even at her lowest ebb during the illness, she remained drug-free.

These days, however, Goddard's drug of choice is exercise. "I am religious about exercise, it helps me manage my moods. I realize now that I don’t need to take drugs to cope with depression—which I will always live with but thankfully no long suffer from.”

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By Desiree Bowie

binge drinking

9/29/14 10:30am

Mother Posts Photos of Daughter In Hospital After Near-Fatal Drinking Binge

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via Facebook

A mother who nearly lost her teenage daughter to a binge drinking session back in March posted chilling photos from her hospital bed in the hopes of warning other parents about the dangers of excess alcohol consumption.

Minnesota native Kellie Jo Nelson posted a photo of an unconscious 16-year-old Taylor Nelson with tubes sticking out of her throat. Taylor was found passed out by her father on March 7 after raiding his liquor cabinet for two hours. During that time, she drank two beers, six shots, and several liquor-soaked blueberries. When Taylor arrived at the hospital, her blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit and she was placed on a ventilator for 13 hours because she was unable to breathe on her own.

“We, by the Grace of God alone, will not be burying our child this week. But only because we are extremely blessed. And extremely lucky,” wrote Kellie Jo in a Facebook post that has since been shared 750,000 times. “I hope my daughter and my niece understand how fortunate they both are. I hope they learned a valuable lesson in this. And I hope this experience shared can help prevent another child losing her life to alcohol.”

Kellie Jo isn’t the only parent who has used Facebook to warn others about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Last February, British mother Nikki Hunter drunk-shamed her son by posting a photo of him passed out on the couch and covered in vomit after he drank three bottles of liquor during an online drinking game. Nineteen-year-old Kieran had downed a potentially deadly mixture of vodka, whiskey, Bacardi, Southern Comfort, and sherry.

Earlier this week, a father in Denver posted a photo of his 17-year-old daughter hooked up to tubes in a hospital bed. She had taken a bad batch of Molly at an electronic dance music festival last weekend. “This could be your child,” wrote Keith Roehm. “Mine was responsible and did well in school. These raves are death peddlers.”

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