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9/10/14 10:30am

Terminal Cancer Patient Found Guilty for Growing Marijuana

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A terminally ill cancer patient who was caught growing marijuana narrowly avoided prison time after an Iowa judge sentenced him to probation Tuesday.

Benton Mackenzie, 48, adamantly defended his decision to break the law, telling Judge Henry Latham he didn’t have any other viable way to treat his advanced cancer. Mackenzie faced up to 15 years behind bars for his crime, but Judge Latham sentenced him to a three-year probation period based on the defendant’s poor health.

Mackenzie said he was using the plants to create cannabis oil to treat the tumors on his body, a result from a rare form of cancer known as angiosarcoma. Mackenzie’s tumors are so severe he is confined to a wheelchair, and claimed the cannabis oil was the only treatment that worked.

“I have lasted seven years on a disease that takes people who don’t get treated in two years,” Mackenzie told the judge. “And people who go through traditional methods, they last three years. So basically I have proven the decision I made was the right one, to save my life.”

Mackenzie was charged following a June 2013 raid, where deputies seized 71 marijuana plants and other various drug paraphernalia from a trailer outside his parents’ home. Mackenzie’s wife, Loretta Mackenzie, 43, and his son, Cody Mackenzie, 23, were also charged and found guilty.

The case has been a cause of public outcry among medical marijuana advocates, but many, including Mackenzie, hope it will serve to bring about change.

“I hope this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and brings some sanity to lawmakers’ decision-making process,” Mackenzie said. “I hope I am the last person who has to go through this.”

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By Brent McCluskey

drugs at work

9/10/14 8:30am

Positive Drug Tests Increase at Work for First Time In Decade

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Positive drug tests in the workplace are up for the first time in a decade, indicating that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington could be potentially having an impact on employment.

Madison-based Quest Diagnostics confirmed that out of the 7.6 million drug tests they gave nationwide in 2013, 3.7% of them came back positive. That's a slight increase from the 3.5% of positive tests in 2012, but the numbers remain historically low compared to the peak of 13.6% in 1988. Ironically, once Nancy Reagan and her "Just Say No" campaign left office, the numbers drastically dropped during the late '90s and 2000's, eventually hitting its low of 3.5% between 2010 and 2012.

Marijuana was the most common drug to turn up in Quest tests, with 44% of all positive tests coming back positive for pot. Amphetamines came in second at 20.4%, followed by opiates at 9.8%, benzodiazepines at 9.3%, and cocaine at 4.6%.

However, the types of drugs coming up in positive tests shouldn't be entirely shocking since a new government report found that marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the U.S. Using data from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Abuse, the report showed that more than 20 million Americans over the age of 12 used marijuana in the last year. Non-medical prescription drug use came in second with 4.5 million users in the last year, followed by cocaine at 1.5 million.

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By McCarton Ackerman

headlines

9/10/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Sept. 10, 2014

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Ryan Leaf's glory days. Photo via

By Shawn Dwyer

decriminalizing drugs

9/09/14 7:30pm

Former World Leaders Call For End To War On Drugs

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Numerous former world leaders from across the globe have come together to call for an end to criminalizing drug use and urge experiments with legalization.

The former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Portugal, Switzerland, and Poland argued in a new report released by the Global Commission on Drug Policy that the war on drugs has not only failed, but has actually fueled the violence and crime it sought to prevent. These former world leaders met early this week with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson.

“The facts speak for themselves. It is time to change course,” said former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, one of the commissioners, in a statement. “We need drug policies informed by evidence of what actually works, rather than policies that criminalize drug use while failing to provide access to effective prevention or treatment. This has led not only to overcrowded jails but also to severe health and social problems.”

In addition to decriminalizing drug use and possession and experimenting with legalization, the report also offered several other recommendations, like calling for making health and community safety a priority, not imprisoning non-violent participants in the drug trade, and using a 2016 special United Nations session on drugs as a platform for change.

But while White House officials have acknowledged that some of the current U.S. drug policies have been counterproductive, they have not yet been willing to go down the reports’ advised middle ground of “responsible legal regulation” of all drugs.

“Our goals are not so dissimilar from the goals of the Global Commission. However, we disagree that legalization of drugs will make people healthier and communities safer,” said Cameron Hardesty, spokeswoman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“Our experience with the tobacco and alcohol industries show that commercialization efforts rely upon increasing, not decreasing use, which in turn increases the harm associated with the use of tobacco and alcohol. In fact, if we take Big Tobacco as prologue, we can predict that that approach is likely to cause an entirely new set of problems,” Hardesty said.

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By McCarton Ackerman

decriminalize it

9/09/14 5:30pm

Liberal Democrats Push to Decriminalize Drug Use in UK

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A new election manifesto unveiled by Liberal Democrats Monday called for the decriminalization of all personal drug use in the UK.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg laid out the party’s vision for Britain in the next parliament, which includes keeping personal drug users with no other criminal record out of prison.

“We should stop decanting hundreds of young people into prisons who have committed no other offense, but only been put into prison because of the possession of drugs for personal use,” Clegg said. “The evidence is overwhelming: doing that is often the quickest, surest route to turn that individual into a hardened criminal and an addict using harder drugs.”

Clegg, who began pushing for drug reform in the UK after visiting guerrilla fighters in Colombia, said the manifesto follows in the footsteps of Portugal, which decriminalized personal possession of all drugs in 2000.

“There are lots of other countries experimenting: states in the United States, in Latin America and Portugal, which are doing a number of different things,” Clegg said. “What we’d say is we’ll look at it and at what the evidence shows works.”

If the policies in the manifesto are implemented, it would be up to police to decide if a person caught with drugs is a user or a seller. Under the new policies, a seller would still be arrested, but a user would be “diverted into other services.” Those services can include treatment programs or any other civil punishment that does not include a criminal record. 

The election manifesto also aims to legalize the widespread use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and says the party “welcomes the establishment of a regulated cannabis market in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington state.”

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By Brent McCluskey

celebrity addicts

9/09/14 3:30pm

Robert Downey, Jr. Talks Passing on Addiction to Son

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“Pick a dysfunction and it’s a family problem,” said actor Robert Downey, Jr. in a recent interview with Vanity Fair.

Downey was discussing his own sordid past with drugs and alcohol when he was asked about his son, Indio, who is also struggling with addiction. Indio was arrested in June for possession of cocaine.

“He’s his mother’s son and my son, and he’s come up the chasm much quicker than we did,” Downey said. “But that’s typical in the Information Age; things get accelerated. You’re confronted with histories and predispositions and influences and feelings and unspoken traumas or needs that weren’t met, and all of a sudden you’re three miles into the woods."

Downey talked with the magazine at length about his own well-publicized struggle with addiction, though the details are known even to the most casual fan.

He became an addict as a kid, and despite that became a Hollywood star. But in 1996, he was caught at a traffic stop with powder and crack cocaine, heroin, and a loaded handgun. That triggered a series of legal entanglements that landed him in numerous rehabs and finally prison in 1999. Following two more arrests, including when he was infamously found wandering the streets barefoot, Downey finally got clean.

“Job one is get out of that cave,” he said. “A lot of people do get out but don’t change. So the thing is to get out and recognize the significance of that aggressive denial of your fate, come through the crucible forged into a stronger metal...But I don’t even know if that was my experience.”

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By Shawn Dwyer

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