Most high school students just flip burgers or take on a paper route, but one 17-year-old Ohio student opted for a more lucrative after-school job as leader of a marijuana ring. Distributing pot to students and Cincinatti area adults, his business boomed and he raked in $20,000 per month before being busted by the feds. Police confiscated $6,000 in cash found in the boy's bedroom along with 600 hydroponically grown marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $3 million. The budding entrepreneur, who has not been named by the sheriff's office, seemed "like someone who'd be in a church youth group or honor program," said Hamilton County Prosecutor David Fornshell. "He clearly had a high level of intelligence, but it was very misguided." He had been operating the ring in two Cincinnati schools since he was 15, selling mass quantities of homegrown marijuana to students every month. Seven distributors linked to the young kingpin, all adults ranging in ages 20-58, were also arrested for distributing in the Cincinatti area. The operation did have one limitation: no selling on school grounds, under the ominous threat of school rules. Said Forshnell: "There were strict orders not to sell at (the school) because you would get caught and the punishment would be severe."
A New York law aiming to curb abuse of prescription painkillers is being called a "model" for the rest of the country. Called The I-STOP (Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing) Plan, the measure relies on a central database of prescriptions that will reveal if a patient has been "doctor shopping" for extra pills. The new law will require doctors and pharmacists to use the database to monitor their patients' prescriptions, in order to prevent Rx drug abuse—which kills one person in the US every 19 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The measure will also provide police-run sites where people can discard their used prescription drugs, to help keep the drugs out of people's homes where they can be discovered by family members, including children. The I-STOP Plan, which state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman assures "will save lives," was recently passed by New York Legislature and is now awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature before it comes into action next year. "I truly believe that this is the most important legislation that we have seen passed in decades," said Sen. Andrew Lanza. "And that's because this problem, this scourge, this epidemic, is so severe that it's ripped apart families across the nation." According to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, oxycodone sales in New York have risen by 1,200 percent between 2000 and 2010. The loophole in the measure is that it currently only covers New York, and Schneiderman says that addicted patients may continue to get their prescriptions filled in other states. “That's why it's paramount that other states consider emulating New York,” he said, adding that “the best solution would be a federal database.”
Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker is weeding out his unhealthy habits, including smoking marijuana, after a health scare this past spring. The band had to cancel their May shows after he needed an emergency tonsillectomy, and Barker reveals that his habitual pot-smoking, in conjunction with years of unhealthy eating, had caused his esophagus to become pre-cancerous. “They found that I had six ulcers, and I had a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is basically from really extreme acid reflux or if you excessively smoked, your esophagus lining becomes pre-cancerous,” says Barker. Not wanting to say “I Miss You” to all the small things in life—especially music, and family—he has given up smoking pot and adopted better eating habits. “Right then and there, I changed my whole life around. I had to stop eating and drinking certain things. And I had this lump in my throat around the same time. My tonsils were three to four times the size they should have been,” he reveals. “I used to love smoking weed… I would smoke weed at night if I had anxiety. I always thought I’d be able to do that for the rest of my life, but when your health is on the line, you don’t [mess] around. I love being a dad and I love playing music. I’m not trying to give up any of that.”
Europe's biggest bank, HSBC, has managed to play a direct role in the Mexican drug war. The bank allowed drug cartels to launder billions of dollars through its US operations for seven years, from 2002-2009, according to the findings of an investigation from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "Money laundering" involves taking profits from the trafficking of drugs, arms or other illicit activities and passing them through bank accounts to disguise the illegal activity. And Mexican drug crime organizations were not the only group to take advantage of HSBC's open door policy. A number of the bank's affiliates ignored US government bans against financial transactions with Iran and provided money and banking services to some banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh that have directly funded Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. "In an age of international terrorism, drug violence in our streets and on our borders, and organized crime, stopping illicit money flows that support those atrocities is a national security imperative," says Sen. Carl Levin, the subcommittee's chairman. HSBC released a statement promising to own up to their mistakes at a panel hearing today and offer a formal apology: "We will apologize, acknowledge these mistakes, answer for our actions and give our absolute commitment to fixing what went wrong. We..recognize that our controls could and should have been stronger and more effective in order to spot and deal with unacceptable behavior." HSBC also claims to have completely changed its senior management last year and made other changes to prevent future money laundering.
Pot-smoking moms are apparently no longer willing to put up with the judgement of their wine-guzzling counterparts. Margaret, a 45-year-old mother of two boys, has defended her nightly cannabis habit on Today MSNBC—saying that she needs the drug to relax and be a better parent, and maligning the unfair criticism she receives from other mothers. “Being judged for doing something nontoxic and totally organic, enjoying a god-given plant, by moms who suck back two bottles of Chardonnay like sports drinks feels like shit,” she said. “Any hypocrisy is hard to swallow. A drunk mother is pathetic and I often leave parties when I experience other mothers tying one on.” Margaret isn't the only mom in America to use pot to help mediate the stresses of parenting. A Jezebel blogger recently caused a stir after admitting to being stoned while taking care of her newborn; and as of today, the group "Moms For Marijuana International" has over 18,000 likes on its Facebook page. “No matter what you use, you shouldn’t be judged if it works for you, you’re productive, and you do no harm,” says Diane Fornbacher, co-vice chair of the Women’s Alliance at NORML, the non-profit organization working to legalize marijuana. “Marijuana parents aren’t perfect, but they’re far less imperfect than parents who use alcohol irresponsibly. Cannabis can influence people to be nicer to one another. You rarely find a story that says two stoners beat each other up outside of a bar.” Still, toking up while parenting does have its risks. Like alcohol, marijuana can be addictive—and studies show that children whose moms smoke pot are more likely to start using the drug at an earlier age.
America's huge and growing hunger for prescription pills is signaling the need for new drug policy, both in the US and in Mexico. The US has long fought to keep illicit drugs out of the country—running vigorous border patrol efforts, prosecuting traffickers, and backing crackdowns in Latin America. But recent years have seen street drugs like cocaine and heroin overtaken by prescription painkillers as America's drug of choice: in the mid-1980s, a government survey showed 5.8 million people had used cocaine in the past month—that number dropped to 1.5 million in 2008. Abuse of painkillers, in contrast, is on a frightening upswing—with 20,044 overdose deaths documented in 2008—a number that tripled in ten years, and is higher than ODs from all illicit drugs combined. All of which is forcing policy-makers to re-examine long-held strategies.
"This is an urgent, urgent issue that needs to be addressed promptly,” says Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Many American officials, and even the Drug Enforcement Administration, are coming to believe that border patrol and drug trafficking arrests are no solution for the new problem. “The policies the United States has had for the last 41 years have become irrelevant,” says Morris Panner, a former counter-narcotics prosecutor. “The United States was worried about shipments of cocaine and heroin for years but whether those policies worked or not doesn’t matter because they are now worried about Americans using prescription drugs.”
In Mexico, a shift in anti-drug efforts is already apparent. President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto is promising to focus less on the interdiction of drugs, and more on reducing the violence that has claimed over 50,000 lives as traffickers battle for power. US officials say they're now allocating more of the anti-drug budget towards helping Mexico build communities, including supporting prevention programs for at-risk youths—whereas in the past, most of the budget was spent on arresting kingpins and seizing drugs. In the US, some measures are being taken to address the prescription drug epidemic. DEA officials say they've recently created 37 “tactical diversion squads” focusing on prescription drug investigations, and will add 26 more in the near future. “Unfortunately,” says Republican Representative Mary Bono Mack, chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, “it’s because more and more members are hearing from back home in their district that people are dying.”