Of the three states voting on the legalization of recreational marijuana on November 6—Washington, Oregon and Colorado—Oregon's Measure 80 is faring the worst in the polls. The most recent figures show 49% opposed to the measure and 42% in favor, with the highest support coming from those under 35 (interestingly, only 32% of women back the initiative, with men more evenly divided).
There are various possible explanations for this. Of the three states' ballot measures, Measure 80 is the least well-funded, partly due to its late arrival to the ballot, in July. Whereas Washington's Initiative-502 received $5.5 million and Colorado's Amendment-64 received $3 million over six months, Measure 80 had just three months to raise about half a million dollars. Measure 80 is also the most "radical" of the three initiatives, calling for a total repeal of Oregon's marijuana laws, and allowing for privatized pot harvesting and distribution, to be regulated by a commission. It's unclear whether this all-or-nothing approach will harm or help the measure—interestingly, Washington's I-502 has lost the support of many pro-pot activists who see it as too restrictive. Like the other two initiatives, Measure 80 would allow non-medical marijuana to be sold in state-run stores only, to adults aged 21 and above.
Despite some bad omens for the yes camp, the chief petitioner and author of Measure 80, Paul Stanford, remains optimistic. About 50,000 newly registered student voters could swing the vote, he tells The Fix, citing the measure's popularity among young people. He adds that the poll numbers don't account for the "fear factor"—voters' possible reluctance to admit their support over the phone, for fear of endorsing "a taboo subject." Those who oppose the bill are "mainly concerned about health and safety," Sanford says. Some cite the "gateway theory" as a reason to vote no, claiming that marijuana use leads to other, more dangerous drugs. But Sanford argues that the measure would actually reduce drug abuse, by "taking [the drug] out of the hands of kids and substance abusers and putting it in state-regulated stores, where people are asked for ID in order to purchase." And 7% of the proceeds from marijuana sales—about $25 million a year, Sanford estimates—would go to Oregon's drug treatment centers.
Another concern for Oregonians is driving safety—although Sanford notes that a clause in Measure 80 promises to study marijuana impairment and establish new rules about impaired driving if necessary. "The one huge downside to pot being legal is that driving will most certainly get even worse in this city," says John Gordon, a 38-year-old Portland resident who claims the state already deals with "awful, slow and sloppy" drivers. Despite this, he tells The Fix that he's already cast an early vote in favor of Measure 80: "Pot being illegal makes no sense. For me, it's just a silly, arcane law and marijuana being illegal causes far more problems than it could ever hope to solve."
Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and frontman Steven Tyler were once known as the "Toxic Twins" due to their mutual appetite for drugs, but they say a sobering lifestyle shift has worked magic for their music. "If you're 60 years old, you can't take a tab of acid and expect to come up with genius. It doesn't work like that anymore," says Perry. "All the other shit gets in the way of the music." The guitarist says that looking back, he realizes that even in the prime of youth, the band were hobbled by drugs—and the damage came through in their live performances. "We look back at tapes of the late 1970s—[at the time] we thought it was a great show and we were fucking incredible," recalls Perry. "But you look back at the tape 20 years later and think, 'We were like statues—standing there and we were barely playing.'" Tyler, who has been open about his struggles to stay sober after numerous stints in rehab, says the non-toxic twosome are now rocking harder than ever. "The booze can take anyone down," he says, but: "The drug of choice is the music now. There is nothing stronger than Joe and I writing a song and then getting off on that."
The military of the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau toppled the government in April, in a coup d'etat that at the time—coming as it did just two weeks before a presidential election—left many scratching their heads. But now, according to a story in the New York Times, the real reason for the coup has become apparent: to eliminate any roadblocks to military-sanctioned drug trafficking in the country. A senior DEA official tells the newspaper, "They are probably the worst narco-state that's out there on the continent. They are a major problem." In the half-year since the April "cocaine coup," more small planes than ever have been making the 1,600-mile journey from Latin America to deserted locales—including islands, fields and estuaries—in Guinea-Bissau, which is about the size of Belgium. There, under direction of the army, experts say, the planes unload their minimum ton-and-a-half of blow for shipment north to Europe. "People at the highest levels of the military are involved in the facilitation [of trafficking]," says the DEA official. "In other African countries government officials are part of the problem. In Guinea-Bissau, it is the government itself that is the problem."
Call it the battle of the 15-minuters: Michael Lohan says that he helped get "Octomom" Nadya Suleman into rehab this week—but Octomom herself says she went it alone. "I chose to seek treatment after consulting with my manager regarding my recent use of Xanax, which was prescribed by my physician for panic attacks," Suleman stated. "There were no other people involved with me entering treatment other than my manager and myself. There was no intervention that took place." But Lohan is sticking to his story, declaring that he worked with Suleman's manager to help get Octomom into treatment.
So what's left to say about Lohan's latest headline? "It's really sad that there are people out there who say they're in recovery when they're so obviously not and are just trying to get their names in the newspaper," Howard Samuels, owner of The Hills treatment center, tells The Fix. Samuels was recently confronted by Michael Lohan while discussing his attempted intervention on his own daughter, Lindsay Lohan, on the TV show Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell. Samuels pointed out that Michael was the last person who should be doing an intervention on his daughter—since he'd been arrested several times in the previous year-and-a-half and police records showed that he'd been under the influence of alcohol and drugs on at least one of those occasions. Michael Lohan then called into the show and confronted Samuels on the air, claiming that he was eight years sober and worked as an interventionist. "People like this give recovery a bad name," says Samuels. "They embarrass themselves and the people out there who are truly trying to help people. Even if Michael wasn't under the influence when he was arrested, as he claims, being arrested for domestic violence isn't recovery. If he could recognize that, then he could work on his issues and become a healthier person."
Earlier this fall, the New Yorker profiled Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old from Tallahassee, Florida who was arrested for minor drug possession and then coerced by cops into becoming a confidential informant in a sting operation. She was killed by dealers in May 2008. Since then, her parents have been fighting to alert the public to law enforcement's widespread use of confidential informants (CIs) in order to rack up drug arrests. By some counts, up to 80% of all drug-related arrests in the US involve CIs that were recruited after committing non-violent, usually drug-related offenses. Typically, Rachel Hoffman had been arrested for possession of pot and ecstasy pills. Less typically, she was white: young people of color from lower-income communities are more often pressured into becoming informants.
Rachel’s parents, Irv Hoffman and Margie Weiss, and their lawyer Lance Block successfully lobbied to pass “Rachel’s Law” in Florida—the first bill in the US that deals comprehensively with confidential informants. It requires officers to undergo special training on informants, and to take into account a new recruit’s age and emotional state, as well the level of risk involved in a given operation. But following pressure from law enforcement agencies in Florida, crucial parts of the bill were removed. So Weiss and Hoffman are now working to strengthen Rachel's Law—including a proposed amendment to prevent under-18s from being used as CIs. “I’ve heard about so many kids caught with an ounce of pot, or pot and some pills, and then asked to do dangerous undercover operations," Hoffman tells The Fix. "We do not mind people assisting law enforcement, but we do not want kids out there in dangerous drug deals…They have no idea what their rights are. Police coerce them—they say things like, ‘If you don’t do this for us you’re going to jail, and we’re going to tell your parents.’”
Weiss and Hoffman also hope to add a stipulation that substance abusers in treatment be exempt from undercover drug deals. “Some [people] who are struggling with addiction may have cognitive impairments, not understand what their rights are, not know they are entitled to a lawyer, or not have economic and social resources to protect themselves," Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants, tells The Fix. Natapoff adds that when a person in recovery is pressured into becoming an informant, they’re risking their sobriety by "being sent back into the drug milieu right when they’re trying to heal themselves.” Natapoff believes that the criminal justice system must shift towards prioritizing recovery over the gathering of information, if the ultimate goal is to reduce drug use.
But Hoffman argues that the War on Drugs isn't actually about stopping drug use, but rather about making money: "It’s an unfair, unjust system. That’s how [law enforcement officials] pay for their vans, for their prosecutors—they get money from the War on Drugs. They put zero dent in the supply. They just focus on small-town, small-time arrests.” Still, he isn't without hope, believing that people are “waking up in this country a little bit,” especially after the New Yorker brought the issue some much-needed national attention. Eventually Hoffman hopes more states and the federal government will adapt laws on CIs, to save the “thousands and thousands of Rachels out there" from the dangers that ended his daughter's life.
Quebec police have arrested 106 suspected gang members in one of the biggest crackdowns on organized crime in the Canadian province's history. Authorities say "Operation Loquace" (loquacious) targeted a major drug ring, led by a seven-member consortium, which has overseen the distribution of massive amounts of cocaine throughout Quebec and across Canada. Several of those arrested yesterday included members of the Italian mafia and the Hells Angels—the notorious biker gang is thought to control much of Canada's drug trade. "The consortium did not hesitate to use violence to spread its market," says Jean Audette, vice-director of Quebec's police force. "Many parallel cases are being investigated in Quebec and elsewhere in the country." Police also seized $255,000 in cash, 6,000 pills, nine kilograms of cannabis, three kilograms of cocaine, 35 vehicles and 13 barrels of GBL (a solvent used to create date rape drugs) in yesterday's sting. Authorities believe the large-scale drug network, which is estimated to have netted $50 million in the past six months, has also been partnering with Mexican drug cartels to smuggle drugs in to Canada from Mexico via US ground transit. Those accused face charges including conspiracy, trafficking and working for a criminal organization.