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cruel and unusual

7/23/14 10:30am

Revised Mississippi Welfare Law Could Punish Children of Addicts



Mississippi’s attempt at welfare reform could wind up punishing the children of drug addicts by restricting their access to welfare benefits.

The new law, known as HB 49, includes a provision that calls for cutting off the welfare benefits for children if a parent refuses a drug test or fails one after completing a treatment program. Mississippi is one of 10 states since 2011 that have passed laws which require testing or screening Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients for drug use. A provision of the 1996 welfare reform bill has also left most states banning some, if not all people from receiving food stamp benefits if they have a previous felony drug conviction.

Civil rights groups have slammed the new provision by declaring that it punishes the families of drug users and “is in direct conflict with the state law.” However, it continues to be championed by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, who believes it “will help make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse.” Ironically, two separate amendments requiring executives of government-subsidized companies to take drug tests, in addition to legislators, were ultimately dismissed.

Missouri currently has a lifetime food stamp ban for convicted drug felons, but is currently considering revising their policy. A proposed bill with bipartisan support is seeking to lift the food stamp ban for individuals one year after their conviction or release from prison. It would also be contingent on either completing a drug treatment program or being certified as not needing treatment. Anyone with three drug-related felony convictions would still be banned from the SNAP program.

“We know that with proper treatment and rehabilitation, people can get clean and sober and never use again,” said Christine McDonald, a Missouri native and former addict who has been denied food stamps because of convictions over a decade ago. “If we take care, nurture the person, we keep the disease of addiction at bay. If you can’t feed yourself or your family, out of frustration you’re going to go back to the drugs, back to whatever criminal acts get the money for the drugs.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

who knew?

7/23/14 8:30am

Actor James Garner Once Said ‘Marijuana Should Be Legal’


R.I.P. Shutterstock

James Garner is leaving a little more behind than his legacy as a TV and film actor following his death on Saturday at age 86. Garner, a veteran pot smoker with an aversion to alcohol, has also left behind his opinions on smoking weed.

In his 2011 memoir The Garner Files, the actor detailed his experience and love for marijuana. “I started smoking marijuana in my late teens. I drank to get drunk but ultimately didn’t like the effect. Not so with grass. Grass is smooth. It had the opposite effect from alcohol: it made me more tolerant and forgiving,” he wrote.

Garner, who died in his home of natural causes, is famous for his role as Jim Rockford in “The Rockford Files” and the 1950s TV Western “Maverick.” He is also remembered for his Oscar-nominated role in the film “Murphy’s Romance” as well as “The Children’s Hour” with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, and "The Great Escape" opposite action star Steve McQueen—just a few of many in his long, extensive TV and film career.

Garner continued working well into his 70s, appearing in the 2002 film “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and the TV series “8 Simple Rules…For Dating My Teenage Daughter” the following year. In 2005, the actor received the Screen actors Guild’s lifetime achievement award.

Though Garner was able to keep his smoking habit under wraps, he had strong opinions about the sweet leaf. “I smoked marijuana for 50 years. I don’t know where I’d be without it. It opened my mind to a lot of things, and now its active ingredient, THC, relaxes me and eases my arthritis pain,” he wrote in his memoir. “I’ve concluded that marijuana should be legal and alcohol should be illegal. But, good luck with that.”

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By Victoria Kim


7/23/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: July 23, 2014


Thanks, Noel! Shutterstock

By Shawn Dwyer

not just for kids

7/22/14 7:30pm

Adults Quitting Smoking Prefer Fun-Flavored E-Cigs



While it may appear to e-cigarette critics that manufactures are guilty of creating fruity flavors exclusively for the purpose of attracting the sweet-loving kid smoker demographic, a new survey has shown that fun flavors like fruit or spice are not just for kids.

That revelation came after a Senate hearing last month, where 77-year-old Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) declared that fun flavors would not appeal to him. “I am an adult,” Rockefeller said. “Would I be attracted to Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, Vanilla Dreams? No, I wouldn’t.”

But Jason Healy, founder and president of Blu eCigs, shot back at the senator's critique, citing a customer survey that showed grownups actually do love the supposedly kid-only flavors. The results come from a poll by vaping enthusiast site E-Cigarette Forum, which also found that “the average age of a cherry smoker is in the high 40s.”

About 74% of the site's user base is between 22 and 54, and only a quarter of them report liking tobacco-flavored e-cigs. The other three quarters of adult vapers favored fruit flavors (31%), bakery/dessert flavors (19%), and savory/spicy flavors (5%).

The poll also found that e-cig users were using the stuff to effectively quit real tobacco cigarettes. Around 89% of survey respondents said they smoked 10 cigarettes a day before they started vaping, with 88% reporting that they were no longer traditional cigarette smokers. They users said that part of their success came in using non-tobacco flavors to help them quit smoking, which allowed them to dissociate the habit from the flavor of burning tobacco.

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By Bryan Le

hefty price

7/22/14 5:30pm

Florida Pill Mill Doc Gets 15 Years In Prison


Photo via

In its continuing efforts to crack down on pill mills, Florida has sent another doctor to jail for a lengthy prison sentence for illegally selling prescription drugs.

Zachary Rose, 29, was given 15 years and eight months in jail after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy charges stemming from his ownership of three multimillion-dollar pill mill clinics in Jacksonville.

Rose initially faced 30 years, but agreed to a reduced sentence after testifying against other doctors and employees. However, the five people that Rose testified against were acquitted after defense attorneys questioned his credibility.

“I’m sorry for all the people I hurt,” Rose said to U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger as he fought back tears. “I accept responsibility for my actions.”

According to prosecutors, Rose's clinics generated roughly $9.5 million, and sold prescription drugs like oxycodone and Xanax to buyers as far away as Ohio and Kentucky. Rose claimed that he suffered from mental illness for most of his life, but Judge Schlesinger dismissed the argument. Rose has been credited three years for time served and will face six more years of supervision following his release.

Rose's conviction came about the same time Florida saw a 17% drop in overdose deaths by 2012, according to numbers from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. That drop came after the state previously saw a 60% surge in overdoses. The CDC credited Florida's crack down on pill mill docs for the significant decrease.

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By Shawn Dwyer

breathe easier

7/22/14 3:30pm

Study Claims Pot Smoking Doesn't Increase Lung Cancer Risk



According to study data published online by the International Journal of Cancer, habitual marijuana smoking is not associated with an increased lung cancer risk.

The study claimed that people who regularly inhale cannabis smoke possess no greater risk of contracting lung cancer than those who consume it occasionally or not at all. An international team of investigators from Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States analyzed data from six case-control studies involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) worldwide.

“Results from our pooled analyses provide little evidence for an increased risk of lung cancer among habitual or long-term cannabis smokers," the study authors wrote. The findings of the current study are similar to those of a 2013 review published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society. As reported by Norml, that initial study concluded, “Habitual use of marijuana alone does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function…Overall, the risks of pulmonary complications of regular use of marijuana appear to be relatively small and far lower than those of tobacco smoking.”

At the same time, an accompanying commentary in the ATS Journal revealed the following results as well that play against traditional perspectives of the medical community. “Cannabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or airway cancers. In fact, there is even a suggestion that at low doses cannabis may be protective for both conditions.”

Although the results of the studies in the latest medical journals seem clear, there are still many opposing voices relying on older data. Senator Tom Coburn, who is one of three medical doctors in the U.S. Senate, has claimed that smoking one marijuana cigarette a day for a year increases a person’s risk for lung cancer by 8%. The senator most likely is citing a six-year-old study from New Zealand published in the European Respiratory Journal that found smoking one joint is equivalent to the effect that smoking 20 cigarettes has on the lungs.

Given the results of the above reports and other recent studies, including one from 2012 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that did not detect any damage to the lung’s pulmonary function or instances of lung cancer caused by marijuana use, the jury is still out. With different studies providing divergent opinions and results, the long term cancer risk and health dangers of marijuana smoking may remain uncertain for some time to come.

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By John Lavitt


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