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Legalization of Marijuana

11/01/12 11:42am

States' Pot Legalization Would Hurt Cartels

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Marijuana makes money—but for whom?
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The staunchest opponents of three marijuana legalization bills being voted on in US states next week may be Mexico's drug cartels, a new study suggests. The Mexican Competitiveness Institute, a think tank, assumes that if pot were legalized in Colorado, Oregon or Washington—the three states where such measures have made the November 6 ballot—it would be produced relatively cheaply there and smuggled to other states. It calculates hypothetical prices and assumes that US consumers would choose home-grown marijuana over Mexican if it cost less. According to this model—and estimating that Mexican cartels currently make over $6 billion a year from smuggling into the US—legalization in Oregon would see a loss of $1.839 billion for Mexican cartels, while legalization in Colorado or Washington would cost the cartels $1.425 billion and $1.327 billion respectively. Such estimates should be taken with a pinch of salt, of course. One of the study's authors, former Mexican intelligence officer Alejandro Hope, admits that the figures rely on a series of uncertain assumptions; above all, aggressive intervention by the US federal government or neighboring state authorities could stop US-grown weed moving easily and cheaply around the country. And opponents of legalization argue that the cartels could respond by using legitimate US grow operations as fronts to continue their business. Still, the prospect of squeezing the profits of some of the world's most ruthless criminal organizations should give voters additional food for thought. 

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By Will Godfrey

sober gambling

11/01/12 10:53am

Recovering Oxy Addict Wins World Series of Poker

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Merson no longer plays for drug money.
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Greg Merson, a 24-year-old from Washington, has plenty to celebrate. He's just won $8.53 million at the World Series of Poker in Vegas—and he's one year clean and sober after battling addictions to oxycontin, adderall, and cocaine. If that weren't the case, he says, “I could possibly not be alive right now, and that’s no exaggeration. I never want to do any of that ever, literally ever.” Merson was a straight-A student in high school, but began smoking marijuana excessively after he graduated—and started playing poker in order to fund that habit. By the second semester of his freshman year of college at Maryland, he was “a full-blown cokehead;” he went on to get hooked on Adderall and OxyContin. He ended up dropping out of school to go to rehab and get clean. It was then that he began playing poker professionally. “I knew I just had to follow my dreams," he says, admitting some friends and family members had difficulty accepting his decision at first. He now credits the game that he first played for drug money with helping to keep him clean: “I don't know where I'd be, if I'd even be alive, if I didn't have this passion.” Merson took the World Series title just before dawn yesterday, after beating eight other finalists in a 12-hour no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament.

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

11/01/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: November 1, 2012

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Kenny Hummel, 18, had consumed
energy drinks as well as alcohol. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

opium crops

10/31/12 5:02pm

China's Addicts Drive Southeast Asian Opium Boom

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In Myanmar, opium production rises despite
government crackdowns. Photo via

Despite government efforts to eradicate the crop, opium cultivation in Southeast Asia has more than doubled over the past six years, according to a report released today by the UN. This steep increase is largely driven by rising demand for heroin across Asia—especially in China, where the number of users is estimated to have climbed to 2.5 million, accounting for over 70% of all heroin users in East Asia and the Pacific. A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry says the country has participated in regional and global counternarcotics initiatives and "made great efforts in preventive education and the prohibition of drugs and drug rehabilitation." Still, drugs continue to pour in to the country, most of them from the "Golden Triangle"—an area right below China, where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar converge.

Since 2006, the report shows, annual poppy cultivation has been rising steadily in the Golden Triangle, which is one of the world's primary opium-producing regions—second only to the "Golden Crescent" across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. In Laos, the amount of farmland used for growing opium nearly tripled in 2011; in Myanmar it rose 17%, despite the government's recent aggressive efforts to eradicate opium production. Opium yields about 15 times more cash than other crops, making it an attractive livelihood for many farmers—and the crops are often controlled by insurgents and traffickers, making it difficult for the government to intervene. "Because it threatens both the livelihoods of desperately poor people as well as income for armed groups, the act of eradication involves a lot of risk," explains Gary Lewis, the representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's East Asia and Pacific division. "We must engage with the farming communities and persuade them—with alternative development —to stop growing poppy." 

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By May Wilkerson

drug testing

10/31/12 4:06pm

Andy Murray Wants More Drug Tests in Tennis

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Murray approves of totally random testing.
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Tennis star Andy Murray is calling for stricter drug testing in his sport in the wake of Lance Armstrong’s doping disgrace. The winner of this year's US Open and a gold medal at the London Olympics has been critical of the testing process before, but he seems to have changed his mind now. "I don't think people look at tennis players in the same way that they would at cyclists because this sport hasn't had the problems they've had," says Murray. He arrived in Paris this past weekend for the BNP Paribas Masters, and was drug tested right away. "They came to the hotel on Saturday and it was completely random," he says. "I think that's good. We're not used to doing that many blood tests in tennis—I've probably had four or five blood tests this year—so it's something that's obviously necessary." The cost of the blood tests can run at up to $1,000 a time, however, adding to the difficulty of increasing them. In 2011, the International Tennis Federation conducted just 21 out-of-competition blood tests—though players can also be tested by other agencies, including the World Anti-Doping Agency, so the exact total is unknown.

Murray believes that the testing process itself could also be improved. "It doesn't necessarily always make sense just to test the guys that are at the top; you need to do it throughout the whole sport," he says. "We get tested throughout the whole year [but] I think the out-of-competition stuff could probably get better." And when someone is caught cheating, Murray wants harsher punishments. In 2010, Wayne Odesnik was caught with eight vials of human growth hormone, but only served seven months of a retrospective two-year ban. "If people are going to go through the process of doing the whole 'whereabouts' thing [players have to declare one hour, every day where they will be, three months in advance] then if people fail the tests, don't let them off and don't say, okay, it's going to go from two years to six months, because that's not how it should work,” Murray argues. "That's what was frustrating for me about it because we're going through all of this and they're being too lenient with guys that are travelling with human growth hormone to other countries. It's just ridiculous."

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By Chrisanne Grise

sober living

10/31/12 3:05pm

Florida Sober Houses in the Crosshairs

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Welcome—or not?—to Delray Beach.
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A new push by the Delray Beach City Commission to regulate the city's large number of current—and future—sober-living houses is underway in the "Recovery Capital of America." The lobbying effort, led by Vice-Mayor Tom Carney, seeks to define just what a "sober house" and a "transitional living home" are, and also make it necessary for the Department of Children and Families to license them. Carney told the Orlando Sun Sentinel, "We want to make sure that those who are profiting from the recovery business are at least delivering on their promise." The worry is that it's too easy for just anyone to open up a so-called sober house, which has led to poor conditions and no oversight in some such facilities.

But some detect a less virtuous agenda: namely, to placate residents who subscribe to a "not in my backyard" view of these intermittently controversial recovery-industry businesses. For instance, another part of the legislation that Carney intends to push in the Florida state capital of Tallahassee would require sober-living houses to prove that they are at least 1,000 feet away from other such facilities. The city has already taken steps to do just that, passing ordinances—in response to news that the Caron Foundation planned to open a sober-living home in a beach mansion here—designed to prevent sober houses from operating in residential neighborhoods, along with other occupancy and permit restrictions. But in May, a federal judge put a halt to those ordinances, saying that Delray Beach may have "unlawfully discriminated" against people in recovery. According to city commissioner Adam Frankel, that's not the case—rather, it's just common-sense rules. He asks, "If hospitals and nursing homes are regulated, why not sober houses?"

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By Hunter R. Slaton

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