As suspected here yesterday, the Your Interview with the President livestream was a letdown for anyone hoping to hear some sense from President Obama on marijuana reform. The question that garnered the second-largest amount of votes—it advocated marijuana legalization, and was posed by a retired police officer—didn't make the cut. Among the pressing national issues that were covered: What late-night snacks the President enjoys, how he celebrates wedding anniversaries, and his tennis schedule. As in previous years, the contest—in which people submit questions for the president, which are then ranked by popularity—drew many questions on the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, which won large numbers of votes. Many of them, however, were mysteriously deleted by the Google-owned YouTube service, after being deemed “inappropriate.” The marijuana question garnered over twice as many votes as the nearest video question and was topped only by a written one about copyright law and the recent file-sharing crackdown.
Why such a popular policy reform question should be deemed inappropriate for this supposed exercise in democracy is a mystery to Stephen Dowling, the retired LAPD officer and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition board member who asked it. He says: "It's worse than silly that YouTube and Google would waste the time of the president and of the American people discussing things like midnight snacks and playing tennis when there is a much more pressing question on the minds of the people who took the time to participate in voting on submissions. A majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana to de-fund cartels and gangs, lower incarceration and arrest rates and save scarce public resources, all while generating new much-needed tax revenue. The time to discuss this issue is now. We're tired of this serious public policy crisis being pushed aside or laughed off."
- Mexico Drought Hurts Marijuana Growers [USA Today]
- Heroin Abuse at Record-High Levels in Twin Cities [Minnesota Public Radio]
- Money Laundering, Tax Evasion Suck Billions From Mexican Economy [LA Times]
- Retiring Foe of Gaming Addiction Warns Against Online Gambling [Connecticut Mirror]
- NJ Trucker Four Times Over Alcohol Limit [Wall Street Journal]
- Student's Counterfeit Vodka Warning [Press Association]
- Police Offer Super Bowl Party Kits to Prevent Drunken Driving [Cleveland.com]
A Daily Beast story by this reporter details the major spike in homicides in Philadelphia since the new year: 32 in under a month. This number far outpaces much larger cities and puts Philly on track—if the trend continues—for one of the bloodiest years in recent memory. Two types of “hot spotting” interventions are practiced; the first is the standard issue police response of flooding the most violent areas with authority, enforcing near-martial law until order is restored. The other, more innovative approach is "Philadelphia Ceasefire"—a new social program based on the violence intervention model profiled in the much-praised documentary, The Interrupters. Make no mistake; to speak of urban crime “hot spots” is invariably to talk about the drug war. Philadelphia’s homicide spike is largely driven by the drug trade—as such spikes have been for many years.
The two neighborhoods targeted by both law enforcement and violence interventionists are North Central Philadelphia and the Badlands. The former area is predominantly African American, with a dense patchwork of crack corners; the latter is a mainly Puerto Rican barrio that's the primary distribution hub for heroin and PCP. Philadelphia has seen a score of law enforcement operations target these areas over the years: "Safe Streets," "Sunrise" and "Prevention Point" are just a few. Each follows the same pattern: Lock down dope corners by parking police cruisers around the clock and flood the general area with patrols. This method is effective at restoring some order in the short term. But martial law is expensive, the city is perennially cash strapped, and once the homicide headlines have cooled off the cops always leave. Dope corners then roar back to life and it’s business as usual in North Philly.
The Ceasefire model is very promising; you can read more about its innovative peer-based public health approach here. But the model may work less well in Philadelphia than in Chicago and Los Angeles, where gang-based organized crime superstructures make it easier to predict when retaliatory violence will flare and to dispatch “Interrupters” to quell it. Philly doesn’t do gangs; every corner has its own drug crew and this hyper-local, fractious network of micro-crime organizations makes predicting when and where guns will pop off more difficult. But with adamant resistance to drug policy change in even a Democratic White House, programs like Ceasefire—that seek to mitigate the impact of drug-fueled violence—may be the best we have.
Drug war documentary The House I Live In took top Grand Jury Documentary Prize honors last night at the Sundance Film Festival, beating out 58 other films entered in the competition. Directed by Eugene Jarecki, the film tells the story of the 40-year US war on drugs, which has resulted in 44 million arrests since its inception. “My hope is to move people away from the drug war, to move them away from believing tough-on-crime rhetoric from politicians that is simply fortifying their political standing and lining the pockets of corporations who benefit at the expense of everyday people,” says Jarecki. The film portrays the drug war as an expensive folly that's failed to meet its stated goals, while costing the US more than a trillion dollars. It also also examines the US prison system which, according to Jarecki, has incarcerated up to a third of its total population for drug offenses. Jarecki previously won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for his 2005 documentary Why We Fight.
A 17-year-old girl whose diet has apparently consisted of nothing but chicken nuggets—and the occasional portion of fries or slice of toast—since the age of two has collapsed and been rushed to hospital. Stacey Irvine was a picky eater as an infant. Then when she was two, her mother took her to a McDonald’s near their home in Birmingham, England, and Stacey tasted her very first chicken McNugget. “I loved them so much they were all I would eat,” she says. “I just couldn’t face even trying other foods. Mum gave up giving me anything else years ago.” Because of her "addiction," she never even tastes fruit or vegetables. The factory worker collapsed at her job last week, suffering from anemia, inflamed veins and breathing difficulties. She was so deficient in essential vitamins and minerals that she was rushed to hospital to have them administered intravenously. Although her condition has improved, doctors say she's far from safe. A fried chicken nugget contains little nutritional value, but lots of fat, sodium and "empty" calories. A 20-piece portion holds 58 grams of fat and 926 calories—that's nearly half the total daily allowance of calories, and more than the daily allowance of fat. Nutritionist Dr. Carina Norris describes Stacey’s case as the most extreme food addiction she's seen in ten years in the field: “She should view her health scare as a warning—a wake-up call that she needs to drastically change her diet.”
Drug dealers have been exploring ways to sidestep new laws introduced last year to govern “pill mills” in Florida—long the nation’s hub for painkiller distribution. After the state banned doctors from distributing narcotics like oxycodone direct from clinics, hundreds of people have tried to open private pharmacies; a pharmacy now must register with DEA and be licensed by the state to administer drugs requiring a doctor's prescription. Many applicants who get turned down in Florida have been applying in Georgia: 95% of Georgia applicants are somehow connected to Florida. And the DEA expects yet more pill-pushing pharmacies to surface in Tennessee and North Carolina once they get pushed out of Georgia. "Traffickers adapt to situations," says Mark Trouville, special agent in charge of the DEA field offices in Florida. "We knew once we put pressure on the pill mills, the wrong people would start opening pharmacies." Many Florida pharmacies are still selling thousands of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills to people recruited by drugs dealers. But since the new laws came into effect, the number of Florida doctors in the US top 100 for purchasing oxycodone has dropped from 90 to 13, according to the DEA.