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.”
- Mexico's Drug Murders Down 15-20% [FOX]
- Pot-Smoking Moms Tired of Being Judged by Wine Drinkers [MSNBC]
- Longtime American Fugitive is Arrested [New York Times]
- Marijuana Fields In Sierra Nevada Linked To Rare Wildlife Deaths [Huffington Post]
- Cory Booker Slams Drug War [US News & World Report]
- Mason High School Drug Bust: Teen Charged With Leading Marijuana Ring [ABC]
- Duran Duran's Days of Sex & Drugs [Huffington Post]
Late last week, Oregon joined Washington and Colorado on the list of states whose voters will have the chance to legalize marijuana in November. If they pass Measure 80, Oregonians could be purchasing pot legally as soon as January 1. But public opinion is split: a survey last month found that 43% of respondents in the state believed pot should be legalized, while 46% wanted it to remain illegal. Recent polls show higher support in the other two states: 50% in Washington and 61% in Colorado.
Advocates remain hopeful, but these numbers may still not be high enough—history shows that with marijuana reform laws, momentum is generally lost during campaigns, rather than gained. "A betting person might make a bet strongly that none of these are going to succeed, that they're all going to fail within very, very high pluralities," Allen St. Pierre, executive director of pot advocacy group NORML, tells The Fix. "But certainly, NORML is very hopeful that one of these is going to get into the majority, which will then set up a tremendous conflict with the federal government that will hopefully resolve itself, as it usually does, in favor of the state rather than the federal government." Should marijuana be legalized in any of these states come November, they will be in violation of federal and international law, so the better solution may be to go through the court system. "The argument is made here, that this ought to be a nation-wide reform, and have Congress—from our biased-point of view—fix the problem it started in 1937 by making marijuana illegal and having it go from the top down," says St. Pierre.
Regardless of the outcome this fall, St. Pierre sees the legalization of marijuana as a fait accompli—it's just that it may take years to get there. “It’s pretty clear that this issue is not going away for some years to come because of the public opinion swinging so quickly in favor,” he tells us. Projections estimate that at the current rate of movement, public approval for legalizing marijuana may not reach a crucial majority until 2021. However, "At some point, another state will take another bite of the apple and somebody will eventually get a majority.” This fall, Montana and Nebraska are also considering legalization initiatives, and Massachusetts will have medical marijuana on the ballot. Advocates have a long road ahead no matter what the outcome, but feel that getting these initiatives on the ballots is a good start. “There is a schism between the federal and state governments and the more and the more these states keep either passing voter initiatives or legislation," St. Pierre argues. "It’s only going to create greater friction with the federal government, agitating them towards some degree of reform."