Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney may have little desire to be known as "soft on drugs"—but his chosen venue for a campaign event last night could send a different message. The politician known for dodging questions on drug policy held a fundraiser in a juice shop in Miami that happens to belong to a convicted Colombian cocaine trafficker named Reinaldo Bermudez. Court records show that Bermudez served three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine in 1999. He now owns El Palacio de los Jugos, where Romney, along with Senator Marco Rubio, handed out beverages to a juiced-up crowd of supporters while filming a campaign ad. "Here in Miami there are a lot people with money who have had problems with the law," says Bermudez. "Thankfully, we all have the opportunity in this country to re-enter society when we've done something wrong." The Romney campaign has declined to comment.
When it comes to America's messiest DUI arrests, Mel Gibson may have met his match. The man who invented Crocs shoes was arrested for a DUI on Saturday, and the events that unfolded were—much like the brightly-colored foam sandals—utterly surreal. George Boedecker, the 51-year-old co-founder of the Crocs empire, was "drunk as crap" reported medics, when he was found asleep at the wheel of his Porsche in Boulder, Colorado. He refused a sobriety test and gave a strange excuse for his behavior, claiming his "batsshit crazy" supposed "girlfriend," country singer Taylor Swift, had been driving his car. There was no evidence of Swift's involvement in the incident. When asked for his address, the millionaire mogul reportedly told cops, "I have 17 fucking homes" before advising them to: "Go fuck yourselves in the ass." The foul-mouthed Boedecker was arrested once before in 2006, for threatening a family member.
Etsy is a craft site that takes the middleman out of the equation by bringing buyers and sellers into direct contact, helping many niche markets to thrive. It's ideal if you're in dire need of a monogrammed muffin tin or an iPhone case embroidered with owls—but the missing middleman has also allowed suppliers of illegal substances, from drugs to human body parts, to reach avid consumers. Largely unbeknownst to its devoted DIY-loving community, the online artisanal clearinghouse has risked becoming the fluffiest black market on the Internet—something closer to its shadowy counterpart, Silk Road. Last week the Etsy team blogged about their extensive research into which items are appropriate for sellers to list. “Smokeables”: no. Tobacco-only pipes: yes. Human organs (or parts of them): no. Patterns for making your own penis, embroidered vulvas, and human hair and teeth: yes. Porn: no. Fetishdollies BDSM greeting cards: yes.
But despite Etsy amping up their regulations, there are many loopholes. Previously, “drug-like substances” were banned. Now, in a restriction more reminiscent of the FDA than a craft site, sellers can still offer certain substances, but can’t make claims about their curative properties. Also, Etsy isn’t responsible for what sellers choose to list in their shop, and although they send out emails to offending parties, they largely rely on members to police themselves, requesting that buyers and sellers report each others' transgressions. This allows many sellers of illicit substances or paraphernalia a free pass—unless a rival “tobacco pipe” maker reports them to the Marketplace Integrity Team for un-craftsman-like behavior.
"Other countries do look at us and seek our expertise. If we divest too much, then one day we'll have to talk about the Portuguese drugs policy in the past tense." That's what Joao Goulao, the chief of Portugal's national drugs agency, says about the grim prognosis for his country’s pioneering program. The 11-year old policy of decriminalizing all drugs and treating addiction purely as a health issue—which recently won Portugal a spot on The Fix's list of the world's best drug laws—is reportedly under threat, thanks to austerity measures brought in as a result of the global financial crisis. The cuts come just a news of Portugal’s success in curbing HIV rates and bringing the number of injecting drug users under control is belatedly spreading, with countries like Norway and Argentina looking to follow suit.
The rot began when last year, when Goulao's autonomous agency and its 1,700 staff had to merge with the country's National Health Service as a cost-cutting measure; the health service then lost almost 10% of its funding for 2012. “This integration amid the crisis and with healthcare in a shambles can only yield bad results," says Joao Semedo of Portugal's opposition Left Bloc, who is deputy chairman of the parliamentary healthcare committee. "We already see teams being suspended, programs on the ground discontinued, the end of financing for projects with a high social impact.”
For the past 11 years Portugal’s approach to drug addiction has been a well-documented success. The policy of focusing on treatment rather than punishment for drug use has tackled a previously raging heroin problem—with correspondingly high HIV/Aids rates—and reduced the country's number of injecting drug users by half. But the current cuts in services coincide with a more recent spike in addiction rates; when economies worsen, heroin use typically rises. The number of injecting drug users seeking help through the national drugs agency's centers doubled last year—although the figures are still well below those before the current policy was adopted in 2000—and looks set to increase further. Funding for existing programs is guaranteed until December of this year—but after that, it’s anyone’s guess.
Cutting back drug programs at a time of financial crisis isn't necessarily a smart idea. Greece—a country that's suffered terribly since the start of the economic crisis—was forced to reinstate its initially abandoned prevention programs, after HIV infections among drug users increased 12-fold. As Alexander Kentikelenis, a Cambridge University sociologist, says of the Greek example, "There is a lesson there. The government will think twice now before cutting further in this area. Such spending has to be countercyclical. People need it the most in downturns, not when your economy is growing."
Medical marijuana advertising in Denver has a reputation for being shockingly in-your-face, flaunting psychedelic themes and promoting great highs at a low price. But these aggressive ads will soon be out-of-sight. The city council unanimously passed a ban on outdoor advertising on marijuana yesterday, which would apply to things like billboards, bus benches and sidewalk sign spinners. While the ordinance would not affect print, radio or television ads, these would have to include a disclaimer that marijuana is “for registered Colorado medical marijuana patients only.” The ban is not yet official, as it still needs to pass one more vote next week, but the odds certainly seem in its favor. “I don't appreciate folks that are out in front of a creepy old van slinging this dope, and they're making this industry look bad," says Councilman Paul Lopez. "I'm sick and tired of my neighborhood being overrun by folks who don't respect it." Some medical pot groups spoke in support of the ban, including the Medical Marijuana Industry Group. "Because we want to be good community members, we can make reasonable concessions that satisfy community concerns,” says Mike Elliott, the group’s executive director. But not all weed advocates agreed: "We don't necessarily need sign spinners on the side of the road, but we do need to opportunity to educate," says dispensary owner Cheri Hackett. The Cannabis Business Alliance chimed in, saying that the ban isn’t clear about what is allowed and what is not. For example, would dispensaries be able to hand out T-shirts with a logo on it? "It's pretty short on specifics," says spokeswoman Kristen Thomson, "and for us it leaves many unanswered questions."
In upcoming film Sparkle, a remake of the 1976 musical of the same name, actress Carmen Ejogo plays the role of a familiar-sounding character—a drug-addicted singer coping with her sudden rise to fame. And she received some expert coaching. Apparently the late singer Whitney Houston, who plays the role of Ejogo's mother in the film, took the 38-year-old under her wing and shared candid personal stories of her own drug use. "She was very open with me about her battles," says the actress. "I was quite shocked. She shared some very personal stories. She was willing to be totally vulnerable so I could understand what it was like. She wanted my character to be authentic, and she went there in order for me to be able to bring that to the screen." In light of Houston passing away last February due to an accidental drowning and cocaine use, Ejogo says she expects the film to serve as a cautionary tale for anyone hoping to make it in Hollywood. "[Houston] was willing to be the example of what to avoid," she says. "She made this film for her daughter and for all girls to recognize the importance of not letting your light be dimmed by anything. To have gone through what she'd gone through, the public humiliation, and still have the guts to share that story is incredibly brave." Sparkle hits theaters nationwide on Friday.