President Obama seems to be touting the "stoner vote," despite otherwise balking on the issue of drug policy. A new video promoting the Democratic convention to younger voters features John Cho and Kal Penn—the actors who play the iconic stoner duo in the famed Harold and Kumar film series—surrounded by mountains of munchies, and acting extremely mellow, while receiving an important phone call from POTUS. "There's a lot at stake here," Obama tells Penn in the video. Despite its seemingly light-hearted intentions, the video draws attention to the glaring absence of drug policy on either side of the Presidential debate leading up to the November elections. Recently, Obama sidestepped a slew of questions about drugs while taking the public's questions on Reddit. And in the Democratic Party Platform released this morning, there are only two paragraphs referring to illegal drugs—and no mention of the Mexican drug war or legalization of drugs, including medical marijuana. Some have argued that the video is hypocritical, since it seems to suggest a misleadingly "soft" approach towards marijuana use. “The fact Obama uses these characters to joke about this issue while on the other hand continuing to arrest people he’s appealing to is really disingenuous,” says Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “As president he conducts more raids on medical marijuana facilities than Bush.”
Doctors often prescribe recovering addicts methadone to help wean them off of opiates, but as painkiller abuse rates skyrocket, this treatment is increasingly causing problems for pregnant women. More and more parents are being charged with child abuse or are having their children taken away, even when the mother was following her doctor’s orders. In fact, the methadone may actually save a fetus’s life, as going cold turkey can cause premature birth or even a miscarriage. “Mothers on methadone maintenance stop getting high, they tend to lead more stable lives, get better prenatal care, and are rarely born premature,” says Barry Lester, the director of the Center for the Study of Children at Risk at Brown Alpert Medical School's Women and Infants Hospital. But because methadone is an opiate, many child welfare workers and judges view it as an addiction. Lester explains that there is little research on the long-term risks to children exposed to methadone in utero, and methadone has never been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. In addition, exposed babies often experience symptoms of withdrawal for up to several weeks after birth, giving child-protective workers a reason to take the infants from their mothers.
Despite the lack of research, advocates say scaring pregnant women away from methadone treatment is not the solution. “There are definitely situations where reporting is appropriate in order to keep children safe,” says Maureen Phipps, immediate past chair of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women. “But whenever possible, that ought to be done after doctors have been able to establish a relationship with their patients. When women are too afraid of the consequences of being honest with their doctors, that can be a very risky situation for the mother and for the fetus.” Experts suggest there is also a double standard, as caseworkers do not remove children from mothers who smoke, despite the fact that much more is known about the negative effects of tobacco exposure, making it seem as though these parents are being punished for seeking treatment. “These are not pregnant women using methadone,” says Robert Newman, a doctor who established some of the first methadone-maintenance clinics in the country. “These are pregnant women receiving medical treatment from licensed trained physicians, approved by the federal government and by state governments. To penalize them because they are compliant with a medical regimen is hard to understand.”
A man claiming to be Phil Buerstatte, former drummer of the 1980s and 1990s heavy-metal band White Zombie, was arrested over the weekend in Sausalito, Calif., after a string of “detox and dashes” at four rehabs around the country, including the Bay Area’s Alta Mira and Reflections, in Novato, Calif. (which soon will be featured in The Fix’s Rehab Review). Sausalito police department Sgt. Bill Fraass said the supposed former rocker had checked himself into Alta Mira, but split early after trying to pay for treatment with fake bank account info and a hot check in the amount of $75,000.
Reportedly, after leaving Alta Mira, the imposter traveled 20 miles north up the 101 to Reflections, where he tried to run the same scam. But Reflections CEO Louise McCallion got wise to his scheme, due to, in her words, "increasingly erratic and suspicious behavior, and inability to provide proper Identification and other supporting documentation—and having confirmed receipt of at least three fraudulent checks." So McCallion called the cops, who—having heard about the scammer from Alta Mira—hauled him off in handcuffs. "I am glad to have had the support of the Novato police department and fellow treatment centers to finally end this cycle of abuse of facilities dedicating to helping people [suffering from] drug and alcohol addiction," McCallion told The Fix.
But it gets weirder. After “Buerstatte” was booked into the Marin County jail, a fingerprint exam revealed his real name to be Loren Breckenridge, a 46-year-old with warrants out for his arrest in Florida and Minnesota (big rehab states, both) for theft and possession of stolen property. But it’s not as much of an open-and-shut case as it might seem: According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, the cops still are trying to work out “whether the suspect is actually Phil Buerstatte, someone else using his name, or is really Loren Breckenridge and uses Phil Buerstatte as a stage name”—all of which sounds like a great, head-clutchingly confusing premise for a new song by White Zombie founder Rob Zombie, if the horrorcore band ever gets back together.
This fall, Arkansas voters will be the first in the South to take on the issue of medical marijuana. “This is an issue that hasn't been ready for primetime yet in the South,” says Jill Harris, managing director of Drug Policy Action. “It may be that it's starting to be, and that's a good thing." Many of the state’s elected officials and law enforcement agencies oppose the idea, including Governor Mike Beebe, who is expressing concerns about federal marijuana laws, along with the cost of regulating dispensaries. "Those are serious questions, and a lot of that is unanswerable because you don't know how many dispensing places are going to apply or going to be granted," he says. In addition, one of the state’s conservative groups, the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values, has already filed a lawsuit to remove the proposal from the election ballot, arguing that it is misleading to voters. "By introducing more addictive substances into society, it is a family values issue," says Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council Action Committee of Arkansas, part of the coalition attempting to block the proposal.
But despite the resistance, marijuana advocates are determined to hold their own. "Arkansas voters are savvy and compassionate," says Christopher Kell, spokesperson for Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC), the group advocating for the proposal. Kell tells The Fix that the lawsuit is a "nuisance," but as the group worked with the Attorney General's office to get the measure approved, they are not worried about its legality. He also says that public support is very strong in the state, and believes telling the stories of patients with cancer, PTSD and other illnesses will influence voters to support the measure. "I think once you tell the story and put a face to it, the numbers go up significantly," he says. "I think that our chances of passing are very strong." ACC gathered more than 100,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, and say they will answer the lawsuit in court. While past efforts to get medical marijuana on the ballot in Arkansas have been unsuccessful, two cities have managed to approve referendums allowing police to consider arrests for small amounts of pot as low priority. Arkansas is not the only state with medical marijuana in the spotlight this fall—Massachusetts voters are also expected to vote on medical marijuana, and a measure may end up on North Dakota's ballot. "I hope that all the other states will follow our lead," Kell says. "This is not about recreational use, it's a matter of compassion and it's about caring for patients who are suffering."
In an example of "what goes around, comes around," notorious drug trafficker Griselda Blanco, who brought the concept of assassination by motorcyle to Miami in the '70s and '80s, was assassinated by men on motorcycles yesterday while leaving a butcher's shop in Medellin, Colombia. She was 69 years old. Known as the "Cocaine Godmother," she was one of the first people in Colombia to have drugs trafficked to the US and was known for her fiery temper. Colombian authorities suspect that she ordered at least 250 killings. Blanco was also known as one of the most eccentric drug traffickers of all time, even naming her son Michael Corleone after the character from The Godfather. According to the Miami Herald, "She even had a Medellin lingerie shop custom design bras and girdles with special pockets to hold cocaine, a tool used by her drug mules flying to Miami." Blanco spent two decades in a US jail after being convicted on trafficking charges and was deported back to Colombia afterwards in 2004, where she kept a low profile up until her death.
Many people smoke in order to keep their weight down, but a new study shows that doing so during pregnancy can actually cause an increased risk of obesity in their children. In the study, Zdenka Pausova, MD of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and her colleagues interviewed 379 teens between the ages of 13-19, 180 of whom had been exposed to prenatal maternal smoking that amounted to 11 cigarettes per day on average during all three trimesters. The findings showed that children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy had a higher body fat percentage and fat intake in adolescence than the offspring of nonsmokers. "Prenatal exposure to maternal cigarette smoking is a well-established risk factor for obesity, but the underlying mechanisms are not known," wrote Pausova. It appears that part of this switch in genetics may have to do with subtle changes in the brain's reward mechanisms. Offspring of smokers had an overall lower volume in the amygdala, which is part of the brain's reward processing system, which means the prenatal exposure to smoking might promote obesity by enhancing dietary preferences for fatty foods.