Smoking violations and smoking rates in New York City have drastically decreased in the past ten years, health records show, signally a big success for a 10-year-old ban. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2002 anti-smoking legislation prohibiting smoking inside public places—in addition to last year's ban on smoking in public beaches and parks—has coincided with an 83% decline in smoking violations issued in the last decade. Of the 350 smoking-related violations issued this past year, 33% were in devil-may-care Manhattan, 28% in both Brooklyn and Queens, 7% in the Bronx and just 4% in Staten Island. And here's a big bonus: the proportion of NYC residents who smoke has dropped from 22% to 14%—well below than the national average of 19.3%. Once highly controversial, similar smoking laws have been passed in other regions and countries. Perhaps surprisingly, one country that's paid attention to smoking bans' success is Saudi Arabia. As of today, the Middle-Eastern monarchy implemented a ban in government offices and most public places. It's a timely bid to improve the nation's health: Saudi stats show that the country is the world's fourth largest importer of tobacco and that residents spend about $8 million a day on cigarettes.
Today The Fix adds a new non-12-step program, Saint Jude Retreats, to its Rehab Review. Saint Jude Retreats’ three upstate New York locations received an overall three-star rating from their alumni, with three stars for accommodation, four for food and three for treatment. Saint Jude Retreats is the first non-12-step facility in the Northeast to be reviewed by The Fix, and the second featured on the site.
Although many people get sober at rehabs which champion the 12-step method, such programs, with their emphasis on finding a “spiritual solution” to addiction, aren't necessarily for everyone. That’s why The Fix’s unique-in-the-industry Rehab Review offers options for every segment of the population that suffers from substance abuse—including those who have decided that AA and other 12-step-based programs aren't for them. Saint Jude Retreats is an excellent addition, providing several different living arrangements at a variety of price points, from the dorm-style rooms at Saint Jude’s Twin Rivers Retreat, in Hagaman, NY, to the high-end, six-person Executive Retreat, in Florida, NY.
Saint Jude Retreats alumni had positive things to say about their experience. One former resident described her time there as “pragmatic, empowering and effective,” while another characterized it as an “alternative, choice-based program.” He added, “I liked this because 12-step wasn’t for me and it offered me an alternative so I didn’t have to continue to feel helpless.” Devotees and opponents of the 12 Steps alike will surely agree that this is a worthy goal.
This is one problem for a new business that the boss could be forgiven for not anticipating. The owner of a fledgling Texas trucking company claims the DEA used of one of his drivers as an undercover agent, causing expensive damage to his truck—not to mention the death of the driver. Owner Craig Patty says he had no idea that his employee, Lawrence Chapa, was a DEA informant until he was told that Chapa had been shot eight times in the truck's cab, after using the vehicle to bring marijuana from the border in an undercover operation. Patty is now suing for $130,000 in truck repairs—his insurance company won't cover it because it says the vehicle was being used by the federal government—plus $1.3 million in additional damages. "When you start a new business, there are obvious pitfalls and you go through a learning curve," says Patty. "But who would ever be ready to deal with this?" Patty claims his business nearly collapsed because the truck involved in the shooting—one of two his business owned—couldn't be used for 100 days, and he says he was forced to draw money from his retirement fund to pay for the repairs. GPS information from the truck shows the vehicle made an unauthorized 1,000-mile trip to the Rio Grande Valley in the days before Chapa was killed; Patty says he now lives in constant fear that drug cartels will track him down. The DEA has confirmed receipt of his complaint and is investigating.
Why trouble to meet up with a dealer when you can get your drugs in the mail? That's what many of Russia's estimated 2.5 million drug addicts are apparently thinking—and a burgeoning online trade seems to have encouraged traffickers to utilize international postal systems. Russia's top drug detective, Sergei Tikhonenko, acknowledges the "trend towards a stable growth in cocaine deliveries using mail services" such as DHL, FedEX, TNT Express and UPS—describing it as an "enormous headache." He says the coke is typically sent from Latin America and Asia to Frankfurt for checks before entering Russia. He's not throwing Germany under the bus, though: "The Germans work very systematically not only with correspondence intended for their domestic market, but also with all mail that is transited through Germany." According to Russian officials, dealers have been increasing the quantity and safety of their deliveries with the help of modern chemical techniques. "You can dilute cocaine with any liquid—oil, glue, caulk, or alcoholic drinks," explains Tikhonenko. He once came across a kilogram of cocaine concealed in a bottle of whisky—"its weight changed, but the volume [of liquid] remained the same." He adds that delivering the drug in bricks is now seen as “primitive,” and that “There were cases when drug dealers hid large doses...in ore cargoes, in frozen fish, fruit puree and concentrates…[they used] huge 200-liter barrels full of vacuum packs which cannot be inspected using the equipment that we possess.” Despite all this, cocaine is seen as the the lesser of two evils for Russia, which suffers 30,000-40,000 of the world's estimated 200,000 drug-related deaths each year: according to government stats, 90% of Russian addicts use heroin trafficked from Afghanistan. But cocaine-by-mail is an issue that authorities intend to fight.
Those who don't wish to smoke their marijuana in isolation now have a growing community at their fingertips, thanks to SeshRoulette.com. It works like the now-defunct Chatroulette—the website that allowed users to randomly connect with strangers via video chat—but is designed for the weed-smoking community. The site was founded almost two years ago, and—despite some temporary outages and limitations—is building momentum. “I'm trying to pass my joint through the screen but it's not working,” one user jokes on an online forum. While a prominent disclaimer declares the website is for use by medical marijuana patients only, the rule doesn't appear to be strictly enforced (happily the site does, however, take its “penis-free” guarantee seriously).
SeshRoulette is set up to make it difficult to track anyone involved, should authorities decide to investigate. Still, many users say they avoid the site under fear of being caught with a joint. “You are literally handing the other person on seshroulette evidence of you committing a crime, even if you claim its tobacco, just by holding the paraphernalia in your hands,” one commenter argues. The founder, Dan “Chill”, says he spoke with a prominent criminal-defense lawyer and was told that it was “perfectly legal to smoke on camera if you're smoking the marijuana legally in the first place.” As more and more states legalize medical marijuana, the site's popularity could ignite—but theoretically, those toking without a prescription can still be charged. SeshRoulette’s fans are vocal about their appreciation. “Holy shit I love the internet,” one user posted. “Some day I’ll make something as useful as this.”
Non-medical marijuana could soon be growing legally right next to rice and soybeans in Uruguay. The country's government is considering not only legalizing the drug, but creating a state-managed monopoly. The radical plan, created by President José Mujica, would outstrip the decriminalization models seen in the Netherlands and Portugal, and is sparking intense debate in the South American nation about its potential impact. “It’s a profound change in approach,” says Sebastián Sabini, one of the lawmakers working on the proposal. Musica has said that the government must grow its own marijuana—to the tune of 5,000 pounds per month to satisfy the country's 70,000 regular users—in order to put illegal dealers out of business. To avoid potential violence from drug cartels, he also proposes allowing residents to cultivate their own pot for noncommercial use, with professional farmers growing the rest on small plots of land that could be easily protected. Systems would be put in place to regulate the level of THC in government-grown weed, and users would have to sign up for registration cards, helping to keep pot tourists away. Purchases would be limited to roughly 40 joints per month. Uruguay's revolutionary plan is at the forefront of an ongoing trend in South America to find alternatives to the US-led war on drugs. Brazil and Argentina are considering decriminalizing all drugs, while Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has looked at regulating drug transports by possibly charging large customs fees for bulk shipments.