Weed Watch

Latest dispatches from the drug war

At their annual meeting in Philadelphia in December, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators passed a resolution condemning the war on drugs and supporting legislation repealing mandatory minimums and diverting nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs. The resolution calls for legislation that includes "quantifiable and measurable goals" and "a drug policy agenda that prioritizes a public health, not a criminal justice approach, to drug policy. ... The war on drugs has failed, and while states have continually increased their expenditures to wage the war on drugs, policies which rely heavily on arrest and incarceration, have proven costly and ineffective at addressing these issues."

Among the members in attendance was state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who said he wholeheartedly supports the NBCSL resolution, and has already heeded the groups call. Indeed, Dutton has already filed one bill (HB 254), which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and downgrade sentences for possession of larger amounts. (Dutton filed a similar bill last session which languished in committee, but only after a public hearing where former Dallas Cowboy Mark Stepnoski head of the Texas chapter of NORML testified in favor of the measure before a rapt audience of apparent legislator fans.) Dutton said the state spends too much money and resources to punish low-level drug offenders. If a person has a drug habit, youre never going to make it go away by putting them in jail, he said. Lets never make the cure worse than the disease.

In other positive news, the FDA last week approved a pilot study to determine whether the psychedelic drug Ecstasy can help terminally ill patients suffering with "end-of-life" anxiety and depression, reports the Drug Reform Coordination Network. Pending final approval by the Drug Enforcement Administration (which has say-so over possession and use of all Schedule I drugs), the study, led by Harvard Medical School researcher Dr. John Halpern, will begin in the spring with 12 cancer patients in the Boston area. Halpern calls Ecstasy an "empathogen," which can reduce stress and increase empathy in users. Halpern's is the second Ecstasy study to receive FDA approval in recent months – ending years of prohibition in the wake of the psychedelic studies conducted by another Harvard researcher, Timothy Leary. In December, the FDA also approved a South Carolina study that is testing the use of Ecstasy in treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Halpern's study will be funded with a $250,000 grant from the Florida-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Back to school means back to drug detection for the Dallas ISD, which has signed a nearly $50,000 contract with a Louisiana company to conduct "trace scanner" sweeps to detect the presence of drugs at 47 middle and high schools. The freshly inked contract means DISD will be the first large school district in the country to use scanners to ferret out trace amounts of drugs on campus. The scanners pick up microscopic traces of substances and are commonly used in airports to detect bomb-making materials. DISD officials did preliminary scans last year in selected schools and found traces of heroin-laced marijuana and evidence of a so-called "love nest" in a school stairwell where students snorted coke, reports the Houston Chronicle. "They weren't the results we were looking for," DISD spokesman Donald Claxton told the daily. The suburban Red Oak school district hired the same company, Trace Detection Services, to scan 1,500 high school students two years ago, in response to school officials' fears that two campuses were "awash in cocaine." Officials scanned lockers and school-issued ID cards, which "are school property, so they could be examined without invading students' privacy," Red Oak district police Chief Scott Lindsey told the paper. Instead of a sea of coke, officials mostly found traces of marijuana – on only 5% of students. The results were a "relief" Lindsey said, and district officials are planning a second scan.

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