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3/18/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: March 18, 2013

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Chris Pine in New Zealand. Photo via

By Shawn Dwyer

major shift

3/17/14 7:30pm

Feds Okay Study That Examines MMJ to Treat PTSD

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In a surprising move by the federal government, the Department of Health and Human Services has signed off on a study that will look at marijuana as a treatment for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The move is seen as a startling shift in U.S. drug policy.

The study was first proposed by the University of Arizona and was approved long ago by the Food and Drug Administration, but researchers have been unable to purchase marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Last week, however, HHS wrote a letter paving the way for researchers to purchase medical marijuana, though the university still needs approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Once obtaining that approval, researchers will measure the effects of different strains of marijuana in treating 50 veterans with PTSD. According to the Veterans Administration, roughly 11 to 20 percent of soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the disorder. Nationwide, around 7.7 million adults have PTSD.

Despite the study’s approval, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the government’s Controlled Substance Act, which means the drug is considered to be addictive while possessing no medical benefits. But last month, a contingent of congressmen asked the Obama Administration to declassify pot as a Schedule I drug. “Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” their letter to the White House read in part. “We believe the current system wastes resources and destroys lives, in turn damaging families and communities. Taking action on this issue is long overdue.”

So far, the Obama Administration has given no indication whether or not it was willing to consider the proposal, even though Attorney General Eric Holder announced new regulations in January that would allow for banks to conduct business with pot retailers in Colorado and Washington without fear of federal prosecution.

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By Shawn Dwyer

reefer madness redux

3/17/14 5:30pm

Michigan Business Group Wants to Fire Medical Marijuana Users

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Side effects may include sudden
joblessness in Michigan. Shutterstock

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce (MCC) is fighting to allow business owners to fire employees who legally use medical marijuana and bar them from receiving unemployment benefits. After county judges ruled in favor of workers who were fired for using medical marijuana, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce took the fight to appellate court.

"The Michigan Chamber is seeking a reversal of the lower court's decision because it puts employers in a no-win situation," said group chief executive Rich Studley in a statement. "If the circuit court's ruling is allowed to stand, employers will be forced to either ignore known drug use and jeopardize workplace safety or discharge those employees and pay their unemployment benefits and, subsequently, higher unemployment taxes."

Jenine Kemp, a CT scan technician, was fired from her job at the Hayes Green Meach Memorial Hospital in 2011 after a drug test revealed she had marijuana in her system. She has a state-issued medical marijuana card and eats marijuana in food after work to relieve the chronic pain she feels from lupus.

"She never showed any signs of intoxication or being under the influence. There was no indication she was using marijuana on the job," her attorney Eric Misterovich said. "The only complaints came when she talked about medical marijuana. That's what prompted the drug test."

Similarly, Rick Braska was fired from his job at Challenge Manufacturing Co. when he tested positive for marijuana in a routine drug screening. His employers fired him on the grounds that he violated the company's drug policy despite being a card-carrying registered medical marijuana user.

"This precedent-setting case is critically important to job providers across Michigan and we will continue to stand up for them by championing the position that employers' must retain the right to enforce zero-tolerance drug policies," said Jim Holcomb, chief lawyer for the MCC.

The appeals court has yet to set a date for arguments.

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By Bryan Le

blarney

3/17/14 3:30pm

Guinness Pulls Support for St. Patrick's Day Parade Over LGBT Issues

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Irish beer giant Guinness is pulling its support from New York City's annual St. Patrick's Day parade because event organizers have routinely disallowed LGBT groups from openly participating.

"Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all,” an official company statement on the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation site read. "We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year’s parade. As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy."

Guinness isn't the only big name pulling its support from St. Patrick's Day events over the issue. Samuel Adams, Heineken, and even New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh also announced they would not be participating in their respective city's celebrations. Guinness' absence leaves the Ford Motor Company as the only major U.S. company sponsoring New York's parade.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who will participate in New York City's parade, has defended the parade organizers' policy. "The St. Patrick's Day parade (in New York) is a parade about our Irishness and not about sexuality, and I would be happy to participate in it." Gay groups are not barred from participating, say parade organizers, but simply not allowed to carry signs or otherwise identify themselves as LGBT.

Some LGBT groups intending to protest the parade planned to dump Guinness from the shelves of the Stonewall Inn, a historic gay landmark, but those plans were scrapped after Guinness' announcement on Sunday. 

“Today, Guinness sent a strong message to its customers and employees: Discrimination should never be celebrated,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of gay rights group Glaad.

Despite this controversy, the parade is expected to draw more than 1 million spectators and 200,000 participants. 

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By Bryan Le

epic denial

3/17/14 1:00pm

Controversial Professor Says Heroin Epidemic Is Overblown

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In a surprising assertion, controversial psychology professor Carl Hart of Columbia University declared that the heroin epidemic as portrayed by mainstream consensus is overblown.

"Most heroin users go to work, pay their taxes," Hart told the Huffington Post. "They don't need help." Hart’s statement came on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s public comments that heroin use is an “urgent and growing public health crisis” that requires new enforcement strategies and treatment initiatives.

"Addiction to heroin and other opiates - including certain prescription painkillers – is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life - and all too often, with deadly results," Holder said last week. "Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both."

But Hart believes that the number of heroin addicts as compared to people who have said they used the drug is relatively small. While admitting that the number of users has risen sharply, according to the numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Hart has said that the statistics fail to indicate whether or not people have a problem. In fact, he believes that only 20 to 25 percent of all heroin users are addicted and has called labeling heroin use a crisis as extreme.

So what about the rash of overdose deaths that have plagued places like Pittsburgh and Rhode Island in recent month? "They're dying because they are combining the drug with another sedative," Hart said.

Of course, such a controversial opinion will be hard pressed to go without criticism. Jonathan Caulkins, professor of operations research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, says that Hart’s focus on the number of addicts is “sort of irrelevant.”

“The smarter way to think about the problem is not in terms of number of people, but in terms of amount of consumption," Caulkins said. "And people who meet criteria for abuse or dependence absolutely dominate the consumption, demand and spending on heroin, as well as on the crime related to that activity."

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By Shawn Dwyer

bad parenting

3/17/14 10:30am

Father Arrested After Toddler Son Tests Positive For Meth

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Joseph Michael Ray. Photo via

A young Minnesota father was arrested and charged with child endangerment after his two-year-old son tested positive for meth.

Joseph Michael Ray, 22, admitted to taking his son to a dope house, where the child was exposed to second-hand smoke. The two-year-old boy was taken to a children's hospital in St. Paul after being found unresponsive and lethargic last week.

Ray said to police that he when he took his son to the dope house, “one of the residents was smoking methamphetamine and he acknowledged that they shouldn’t have been there.” The boy’s health deteriorated over the next several days after being exposed to the meth smoke, eventually sparking his father and grandfather to call paramedics. When police arrived, Ray's son was unable to answer police officers’ question and appeared “pale and dehydrated with chapped lips.”

After being taken to the hospital, he was given a drug test and tested positive for meth. The boy will likely be placed in foster care since his mother abandoned him to Ray’s care five weeks ago. Meanwhile, Ray was also charged with violating a domestic abuse no-contact order because his former girlfriend, who had him convicted of making threats against her, accompanied him to the hospital.

This wasn't the only case of bad parenting in recent days. Last week, a New Jersey father was arrested for endangering the welfare of a child after his toddler son arrived at daycare with 48 packets of heroin in his jacket pocket. Phillip Young, 27, is currently being held on $85,000 bail.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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