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Legalization of Marijuana

11/01/12 5:00pm

Washington on the Brink of Legal Pot


Is this how it'll go on Nov. 6?
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It looks likely that Washington state will vote to legalize marijuana on November 6, but that doesn't mean the picture is entirely clear. Confusingly, some pot legalization advocates are actively campaigning against the proposed bill, I-502. The initiative would allow people over 21 to possess up to one ounce of weed for recreational use. But some critics say I-502 is too restrictive, as it doesn't allow for home growing other than for medical marijuana patients, and non-medical sales will only be permitted at state-licensed stores. A DUI provision that could allow convictions based on THC in a driver’s bloodstream also worries many pot smokers. “We now have anti-prohibitionists who are opposing anti-prohibitionists, which is kind of strange,” Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pot advocacy group NORML, tells The Fix. “It does feel rather odd when you find yourself attacked for having money and time spent on the efforts to legalize marijuana not by sheriffs, or other obvious opponents, but to have fellow anti-prohibitionists arguing for the status quo. Not many people could have predicted that.”

Those who back the bill offer many reasons for their support: “It’s my belief that one of the real tragedies is how misinformed young people and adults are about the dangers of marijuana,” Roger Roffman, a co-sponsor of I-502 and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, tells The Fix. “[The initiative] will earmark hundreds of millions of new tax dollars from regulation and selling marijuana to public education, prevention, treatment and research. It will provide data concerning the impact of this new law that the states can then use to adjust pricing and then tax policy to undercut the black market but also discourage use among young people.” Others are just tired of what they see as unfair consequences: "I'm voting for making marijuana legal because I've seen way too many of my friends get unfairly punished for getting caught with weed,” Jake, a Seattle resident in his twenties, tells us. “They haven't been able to get jobs because of it, and they punish possession way too harshly." 

While the no campaign is relatively uncoordinated due to its wildly differing motives, various groups are working hard. Douglas Hiatt of the marijuana reform group Sensible Washington calls the measure a “ridiculous waste of time and money” because it only makes an exception to existing laws and doesn't repeal any current laws banning pot. And Steve Sarich, of No on I-502, spoke to students about the dangers of the DUI provisions, saying, “They can take you to the hospital, they can take your blood. And if they find any trace of THC in your system, there goes your Pell grant, there goes your college.” More traditional prohibitionists naturally oppose I-502 too: “Don’t be fooled folks. There are people out there who will advocate the same arguments for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and every other kind of drug that is out there,” wrote Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson in an open letter that was endorsed by many other law enforcement officials in the state. Nelson added that legalizing marijuana would lead to an increase in crime and would essentially be surrendering the War on Drugs.

Despite the controversy, experts agree that Washington has the best chance of a yes vote of the three states with legalization measures on the ballot. Recent polls show residents favoring legalization by between five and 16 percentage points. “I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d have to throw a quarter on the table for Washington, because the polling is clearly indicating it’s the strongest,” says St. Pierre. “Particularly in the last two weeks before the election, the wheels usually fall off right off from underneath these things. And that is not happening [in Washington]. It is remaining strong.” He also cites mainstream political support for the measure including the mayor of Seattle, the entire city council and the sitting prosecuting attorney for Seattle. “I know a lot of people are frightened by the implications of it but I’m hoping that over time, people will see that we are failing so badly that we’ve got to be open to the possibility that a different way of preventing harm may in fact work better,” Roffman says. “I think that Washington state’s model offers just that approach. I don’t think any other state in its way of designing legalization has what is necessary, but this one does.”

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By Chrisanne Grise

health scare

11/01/12 3:58pm

Many HIV Patients Skip Meds to Drink


Drinkers shouldn't skip their HIV meds.
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Just over half the HIV-positive participants in a recent study skipped their medications in order to drink—largely due to misconceptions about the dangers of mixing antiretroviral meds and alcohol, researchers believe. The University of Connecticut study followed 200 people taking antiretroviral drugs for HIV over the course of a year, and found that 51% halted their medication regimes while drinking, showing higher viral loads as a result. Researchers blame a widespread belief that mixing alcohol and HIV drugs is dangerous, which they say is false. Although doctors do often discourage HIV patients from boozing, this is because it can interrupt the effectiveness of the drugs, not because it's actually a "toxic" combination. In fact, it's far more dangerous to skip these meds than to drink while taking them. "The harms caused by missing their medications far outweigh the harms caused by mixing the two, if the person doesn't have liver disease" says Seth Kalichman, professor and lead author of the study. Stopping medication is dangerous for patients as it can allow the virus to surge; taking the meds inconsistently can also lead to drug resistance and prevent the pills from working at all. The study highlights a need for better education and clearer instructions from doctors. Kalichman is optimistic: "We think it may be a pretty simple fix, just educating patients."

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By May Wilkerson

underage smoking

11/01/12 1:40pm

Youth Cig Sales Hit New Low


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The proportion of tobacco retailers making illegal sales to minors in the US fell last year to 8.5%, according to new research from SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). This is the lowest level since tracking of this data began in 1997, under provisions of the Synar Amendment Program. Enacted as part of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, Synar requires US states and territories "to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under age 18"—and also "to conduct random, unannounced inspections of tobacco outlets." In 1997, 40.1% of retailers were found to sell tobacco to kids. After a sharp drop in 1998, to 25.4%, the numbers have declined steadily each year since. That's significant, because stopping kids from taking their first puff is one of the best ways of preventing adult smoking. Research has shown that, among adults who have ever been daily smokers, 88% report lighting up for the first time prior to turning 18. “The success of the Synar program is a testament to how preventing underage youth from gaining illegal access to tobacco products can have a tremendous impact,” says SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. SAMHSA also provided state-by-state data for 2011, which showed that the state with the highest "retailer violation rate" is health-conscious Oregon, at 19.3%, while vice-friendly Nevada has the lowest, at just 1.1%.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

addiction on film

11/01/12 12:58pm

Denzel Washington Quit Booze for Flight


"We've all tied one on," says Washington.
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In a non-method acting approach, Denzel Washington says he actually stopped drinking altogether for the full 45 days of filming his latest role as an alcoholic airline pilot. In the much-hyped Flight, which hits theaters tomorrow, the 57-year-old actor plays a pilot who is lauded for navigating a plane to safety during a storm—until it's discovered that he was actually drunk throughout the incident. The actor is no stranger to hitting the bottle. He told Essence in 1986 that he was quitting drinking for good, but now admits that he only "semi-quit" during the '80s. "We've all tied one on,” says the Oscar-winning actor. “But if I had been drinking while I was shooting, it’d be harder to stay disciplined, just to get up in the morning. You are a little more hung over, grouchier." Washington says the film was "an excellent opportunity, and a really good story. So it was something I wanted to do right." However, even practicing sobriety to enact his character's excruciating struggle with addiction didn't turn him off the sauce for good: "I haven't given it up forever."

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By May Wilkerson

Legalization of Marijuana

11/01/12 11:42am

States' Pot Legalization Would Hurt Cartels


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


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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