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7/30/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: July 30, 2012


Florida's addicts are looking elsewhere.
Photo via

By The Fix staff

Legalization of Marijuana

7/27/12 4:23pm

LA's Sorry Week in Weed


A store on LA's Green Mile Photo via

In a lifeless economy, the Los Angeles City Council took the unusual step on Tuesday of voting 14-0 to immediately close down up to 762 thriving businesses within city limits. According to the LA Times: "Medical marijuana activists who had packed the council chambers jeered when the vote came down. More than a dozen Los Angeles Police Department officers were called in to quell them. Under the ban, medical patients and their caregivers will be able to grow and share the drug in small groups of three people or less But the activists say most patients don’t have the time or skills to cultivate marijuana. One dispensary owner told the council that it would cost patients a minimum of $5,000 to grow marijuana at home." The report then notes, "In a seemingly contradictory move, the council also voted to instruct city staff to draw up an ordinance that would allow a group of about 170 dispensaries that registered with the city several years ago to remain open. Councilman Jose Huizar, who voted against that motion, said it might give the public 'false hope' that the ban would not be enforced. He said the ban would be enforced, especially against problem dispensaries that have drawn complaints from neighbors. 'Relief is on its way,' he said."

Over at Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger—who lives on what has been dubbed LA’s “Green Mile”—offered his impassioned perspective: "Since the recession, there have been very, very few new retail businesses that have opened along the 'Green Mile' other than pot dispensaries. A few things, but not many. In every case, they are inhabiting real estate that was not being used, and that had not been used in some time...I have seen no appreciable rise or fall in the neighborhood crime rate." Metzger goes on to insist, "From everything that I HAVE SEEN, these places all seem to be run by law-abiding, friendly, intelligent people. They all seem to be doing okay financially, even though there are so many of them...I guess people in LA must like pot, huh?. I’ve never heard one neighbor complain about the pot dispensaries." He concludes, "No one cares but the politicians. The issue has been settled by the free market, so to speak. The local range of opinion...ranges from positive to benignly not giving a shit...I’ve not seen one business harmed by their proximity to a medical marijuana dispensary, nor have I heard a peep from any local business owners about any perceived negative effect the pot shops have had on them, because there haven’t been any negative effects."

In an editorial published on Thursday, the LA Times summed up the mess quite succinctly: "Is LA's new ban even legal?" it asked. "There's no clear answer to that question, but a recent court ruling suggests that it isn't. After Los Angeles County imposed a blanket ban on pot distribution in unincorporated areas in December 2010, it was challenged by a Covina collective, which won a key victory this month in the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal. Writing for the three-justice panel, Justice Robert Mallano said the county's ban was preempted by state law and contradicted the intent of the Legislature." 

So here's where we're at: LA has now banned all but the tiniest marijuana collectives. When it attempts to enforce this ban, the city will be sued. This means that action will be delayed for months—or quite possibly until the state Supreme Court weighs in on a series of marijuana cases next year. Mission accomplished?

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By Tony O'Neill

drug trafficking

7/27/12 3:44pm

Venezuela Hosts More Traffickers Than It Admits


The border state of Apure is a "haven" of drug
trafficking. Photo via

The Venezuelan state of Apure is one of the busiest hubs for cocaine trafficked out of Colombia, which it borders. Security forces claim to be making progress there, seizing cocaine and dismantling airstrips in their fight against organized crime. "We are hitting drug trafficking hard all the time,” says Ramón Carrizalez, the governor of Apure. "Very few countries are carrying out a policy like ours." But local residents paint a different picture, saying that the area is inundated with low-flying planes, and is actually ruled by the FARC revolutionary guerrilla organization, which oversees drug shipments. The guerrillas reportedly intimidate local residents, collecting protection money from local businesses, ranchers and fishing camps along stretches of the Venezuela/Colombia border. “We all knew what was going on," says one citizen, referring to traffickers' control of the state's airstrips, "but no one said anything. What were we going to do about it? The one that should be doing something is the government. They should be constantly patrolling the area.” Luis Lippa, a former governor of Apure, agrees. “Our airspace has been taken over,” he says. “Our national territory has been reduced.”

Although the US has collaborated with governments in Mexico, Honduras and Colombia to crack down on drug trafficking, an antagonistic relationship with leftist President Hugo Chavez has hampered such efforts in Venezuela. Back in September, President Obama designated the country as failing to meet its obligation to crack down on organized drug crime, citing a federal report that says Venezuela is "one of the preferred trafficking routes out of South America" and has a "generally permissive and corrupt environment." In 2010, an estimated 24% of the cocaine shipped out of South America—over 200 tons—passed through Venezuela, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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By May Wilkerson

Addiction and the elderly

7/27/12 2:20pm

Jane Velez-Mitchell: We Let Older People Down

Q: There are more elderly addicts now than ever before. Are we doing enough to help them?

[Jane is now exclusively answering your questions about addiction, recovery and the like. Send your questions to janevelezmitchell@thefix.com.]

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By Jane Velez-Mitchell

Celebrity Roundup

7/27/12 12:42pm

Celebrity Roundup: July 27, 2012


"Dr." Tom comes to Brand's aid. Photo via

Just because Scientology may have lost Katie Holmes to her separation from husband Tom Cruise doesn’t mean they’re stopping with celeb recruitment. Their latest target, some say? Russell Brand, Cruise’s Rock of Ages co-star, who has notoriously struggled with addiction. Cruise thinks Scientology might be just the ticket to help Brand kick his habits. “Tom thinks Russell’s battle with alcohol and drug addiction is a way to reach out to the vulnerable,” an insider reports.

Rumors have been flying about the whereabouts of Katherine Jackson, the Jackson family matriarch. Although there's little certainty as to what's really going on, some are claiming that she was drugged by her children—after she called the Calabasas home in the middle of the night and asked that her security team be replaced with that of her daughter, Janet Jackson. She apparently sounded intoxicated, but Katherine—a devout Jehovah’s Witness—doesn’t drink. Is the Jackson clan up to its old tricks

At this point, Frances Bean Cobain could probably teach a master class in ACOA/codependency issues, so it’s heartening to hear that she’s putting her hard-won experience to good use helping out Demi Moore’s daughters: Scout, Rumer, and Tallulah Willis. Reportedly, the girls all went to school together, and Cobain is advising Moore’s daughters to give their mom “tough love.” Admittedly, that strategy doesn’t seem to have worked so well for Francis Bean's own mom, Courtney Love.

Big Brother celeb Willie Hantz was arrested this week under suspicion of DUI in Louisiana after he attempted to flee the scene of a fight, then refused to take a breathalyzer or blood test. But apparently, the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. "I wasn't driving,” Hantz tweeted after the incident, “I was sitting in the driver's seat with the car running. I know stupid." Who are we to disagree?

As is par for the course for Jersey Shore stars, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is embroiled in yet another lawsuit over failing to uphold his end of an endorsement deal. The twist? The company in question, Performance Brands, is also claiming that Sorrentino’s prescription drug addiction—for which he sought treatment earlier this year—puts him in violation of his contract. Perhaps it's for the best: we would have been wary of a Sitch-endorsed fat-burning cream anyway. 

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By Sam Lansky


7/27/12 11:20am

Meet the "Robin Hood" of Suboxone


Is this "Robin Hood" helping, or enabling?
Photo via

New Mexico is the state with the highest fatal drug overdose rate in the country, at 27 deaths per 100,000 population. If you live there, and you’re addicted to painkillers or heroin and want to get clean, you might have heard of "Mystery Man"—an Albuquerque guy who raises money selling guns and crack to buy out patients’ legitimate prescriptions for Suboxone. He then turns around and sells the pills on the street for five bucks a pop to addicts who either can’t get in with Suboxone doctors or are looking to tide themselves over until their next full agonist fix. An addiction-treatment Robin Hood? He thinks so. “People don’t overdose no more,” he says. “They’re just mellow. If you take it, you won’t be stealing, you won’t be robbing, and you won’t be prostituting.” But there are those who disagree. “Mystery Man [is] not a doctor,” says special agent Keith Brown, who’s in charge of the DEA’s New Mexico force. “He doesn’t know anything about how the medicine should be used, the dosing of it, any side effects. I think it’s dangerous for all involved.”

Charles O'Keeffe, the former president and CEO of Reckitt Benckiser—the corporation that developed Suboxone in partnership with the federal government—told NPR “there’s not much money to be made” treating addiction with pharmaceuticals. But Reckitt’s pharma earnings shot up more than sixfold between 2004 and 2009—largely due to Suboxone sales. “Buprenorphine is now the 41st most prescribed drug in the US. Five years ago, it was 196th. It’s a money machine,” Dr. Steven Scanlan, medical director of Palm Beach Outpatient Detox, which has a specialty in detoxing addicts from opioids, tells The Fix. Suboxone (also known as buprenorphine, or “bupe”) is becoming known as “prison heroin,” and the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research published a warning this spring predicting a wave of Suboxone misuse. 

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By Jennifer Matesa


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