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Drug War

6/11/12 2:24pm

Mexican Elections Signal Shift in Drug War Strategy

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Enrique Peña Nieto, the front-runner,
vows to prioritize saving lives. Photo via

With Mexico’s presidential election just a few weeks away, the top three candidates have all vowed to focus more on reducing drug war violence and less on targeting drug traffickers. While the candidates say they will still continue combatting trafficking, all three plan to eventually withdraw the Mexican army from the fight. More than 50,000 people have died since the current president, Felipe Calderón, began using the army more aggressively than any previous Mexican leader back in 2006. The current presidential front-runner, Enrique Peña Nieto, suggests that Mexico should continue working with the US against organized crime, but should also focus on what is best for Mexico, rather than what other governments want. “The task of the state, what should be its priority from my point of view, and what I have called for in this campaign, is to reduce the levels of violence,” he says. The two other main candidates, Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Josefina Vázquez Mota, agree that reducing the death toll takes priority. “Results will be measured not by how many criminals are captured, but by how stable and secure the communities are,” Vázquez Mota says. While these pledges are a step in the right direction, some say they are not enough to fix the problem. “None of the candidates has yet to articulate an alternative vision for how their country will move beyond the prohibitionist nightmare that has plagued Mexico not just in recent years but in fact for decades,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “What the next president of Mexico needs to do—and what President Calderón should also do before departing office—is align themselves with other Latin American presidents who have boldly called for all drug policy options to be considered, including various types of decriminalization and legal regulation."

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By Chrisanne Grise

Political Scandal

6/11/12 1:33pm

Conservative Org Accuses Bryson of DUI

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Bryson's got a lot of explaining to do. Photo via

The cause of US Commerce Secretary John Bryson’s two hit-and-run crashes Saturday is yet-to-be-concluded, but a Conservative organization was quick to suggest, via Twitter, that Bryson had been drinking. The Conservative super-PAC American Crossroads tweeted on Monday morning: “@AmericanXRoads: ‘How does @CommerceSec have 3 car crashes in 5 minutes and alcohol NOT be involved? #Skills.’” Bryson hit two cars three times and was found unconscious behind the wheel of his Lexus and taken to an area hospital. "The investigation is in its preliminary stages," officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and San Gabriel Police Department said in a statement. Since the tweet’s publication at 8:02 am, American Crossroads deleted the tweet and apologized for failing “miserably” to make a joke—around the same time the US Department of Commerce announced that 68-year-old Bryson had suffered a seizure behind the wheel.

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By Gabrielle Wuhl

Music and sobriety

6/11/12 12:31pm

Sober at the Bonnaroo Festival

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The Soberoo tent at Bonnaroo.
Heidi Vanderlee

When you think of the Bonnaroo festival—which took place this weekend, on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn.—the first thing that comes to mind is music, and the second is often drugs or alcohol. It may not seem like the friendliest place for sober folk, so it was a pleasant surprise to find Harold Owens of MusiCares—an organization devoted to helping musicians in need of medical care and addiction recovery—sitting in a tent labeled, “for friends of Bill W.” in the musicians' area. He tells visitors, “Whenever you want to have a meeting, we’ll have a meeting.” A few hours later in the tent, Walt, a kind-eyed man in his 60s, shared about the beauty of being present for his job and for the music, and his gratitude for sober support at Bonnaroo. This was MusiCares' first time at Bonnaroo, but it already holds meetings at Coachella, Sasquatch!, the Warped Tour and elsewhere.

On the other side of the gates, among massed Roo-ers decked out in multicolored feathers and face paint, was Soberoo—which describes itself as “a group of clean and sober music fans who choose to remain drug- and alcohol-free at Bonnaroo and other music festivals.” Volunteers handed out yellow stickers saying “Another Dopeless Hope Fiend” and “One Show at a Time.” Yellow balloons floated above the tent as a welcoming signal, visible from all over the festival. At 4pm on Saturday, raising their voices above the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly, who were playing nearby, about 60 people shared in a crowded tent. They repeatedly expressed gratitude for being able to experience the music they love soberly, with the support of Soberoo. “I truly believe I can do anything and go anywhere as long as I don’t drink or use,” said one shirtless man in his 20s, his face shiny with glitter. “That obviously includes Bonnaroo now. Knowing there’s a meeting here gives me the freedom and confidence to do what I want.” Others said how happy they were that the meeting has grown from just a couple of dozen people in the campgrounds to a large tent in the more accessible main area. Leaving the tent, the Soberoo crowd melted back into the sea of blissed-out festival-goers, swigging water and heading for the next show. To quote Soberoo (which isn't AA-affiliated): “Dude, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...”

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By Heidi Vanderlee

Decriminalization of Marijuana

6/11/12 11:34am

RI May Decriminalize Pot—Who's Next?

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Rhode Island takes the high road
Photo via

Rhode Island could soon become the 15th state to decriminalize marijuana possessionand plenty more could follow. The state’s General Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation last week (50-24 in the House and 28-6 in the state Senate) to punish adults caught with under an ounce of pot with a mere $150 fine, instead of much larger fines or possible jail. Minors caught with pot would have to complete a drug awareness program and community service. A recent survey by Rasmussen showed that most Americans favor such legislation. In fact 56% of respondents backed legalizing and regulating marijuana, up from 50% from the end of last year and 46% in 2010. “It’s now politically viable to talk about these things,” says Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project—a Washington, DC-based group that supports the reduction or elimination of penalties for medical and recreational pot use. “The public understands that there are substances that are far more harmful—alcohol, tobacco—that we regulate. People are realizing just how much money is being wasted on prohibition.” Not all is peaceful and green in Rhode Island though. Gov. Lincoln Chafee blocked three dispensaries from opening last year after the state’s top federal prosecutor warned they could be prosecuted, while others worry that legalizing pot could be a slippery slope. “People ask me what the most dangerous drug is, and I say marijuana," says Robert DuPont, who served as the US drug czar under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. "Other drugs have serious consequences that are easy to recognize. Marijuana saps people’s motivation, their direction. It’s a drug that makes people stupid and lazy. That’s in a way more dangerous.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

Water pipes

6/11/12 10:47am

One Third of Students Use Hookahs

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More dangerous than cigarettes? Photo via

One in three college students smokes "shisha", according to a new study—but hitting up the hookah bar on summer break could be seriously bad for your health. Hookah smoke is just as toxic as cigarette smoke—but worryingly, an hour-long hookah session results in the inhalation of 100-200 times as much smoke of a single cigarette, states a CDC fact sheet. The new study—published in the Nicotine and Tobacco Research journal—found that half of the one out of three college students who have smoked hookah don't smoke cigarettes. More than 100,000 students from 152 different universities participated in the study. “Although current waterpipe use was reported across all individual and institutional characteristics,” say the authors, “fully adjusted multivariable models showed that it was most strongly associated with younger age, male gender, white race, fraternity/sorority membership and nonreligious institutions in large cities in the western United States.” Lead author Dr. Brian Primack says in the study that smoking hookah is just as addicting as cigarettes and “should be included with other forms of tobacco in efforts related to tobacco surveillance and intervention.” Water pipe smoking has become highly popular in the US, with many bars and lounges emerging across the country. Hookah fans have told The Fix that the "fun," sociable nature of the practice is what makes it so attractive.

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

6/11/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: June 11, 2012

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A cop's-eye view of Raymond Kulma
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