On May 31, Ross Ulbricht lost his appeal with the Second Circuit appellate court. He will serve out the remainder of his life sentence, a sentence passed down in part due to allegations that he commissioned multiple murders-for-hire. Whether or not Ulbricht ordered these hits, his case illustrates how, by criminalizing drugs, the United States government has created an institution that incentives violence.
Ulbricht did not begin with violent intentions. He was an Eagle Scout who founded The Silk Road as a beacon of freedom. He agonized over the idea of a hit: As Wired reports, “He had talked to Inigo [an employee] about how he just wishes the best for people, and loves them in the libertarian spirit—even Green [Ulbricht’s first alleged target], in flagrante delicto.” But for Ulbricht and others involved in the drug industry, violence was in his self interest…
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In most states, MDMA possession is a felony, even on first offense. In Texas, possession of less than one gram of this Schedule I drug could land someone two years in prison. In New York, possession of less than one gram—and up to five grams—could lead to five years of imprisonment. By definition, a Schedule I classification is reserved for drugs that have been deemed to have no accepted medical use.
Today, however, a growing number of medical trials are using MDMA to treat various mental health conditions. In 2016, the FDA approved a clinical trial for MDMA-based treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Organizations like Rick Doblin’s Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) have been early proponents of further exploring MDMA’s medical and therapeutic benefits. Many supporters tout MDMA as a possible treatment not just for combat veterans suffering PTSD but also those suffering depression. Underground, MDMA for years has been used by victims of sexual assault and those with anxiety; early adopters of MDMA-based psychotherapies have noted improvement. It’s doesn’t always bring about full healing, but it’s certainly helped people with diverse medical and emotional needs.
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Atlanta’s city council is contemplating making a smart move by decriminalizing marijuana possession (up to an ounce) within city limits. The current ludicrous threat of jail time would be replaced with a paltry $75 fine.
Many say Atlanta has a major policing problem along racial lines—more black residents are getting arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, to an eery degree. Proponents of this new policy say decriminalization could partially ease those tensions.
Currently, punishments vary for first-time possession of up to an ounce. On the second offense, however, you can pay up to $1000 in fines and spend up to one year in jail. Possessing more than an ounce can result in one to ten years behind bars.
A $75 fine would be a welcome change and would show that Atlanta is yet another in a long list of cities attempting to restore sanity to drug sentencing.
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Last month, President Donald Trump appointed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the head of a task force aimed at curbing opioid use and abuse. On April 11, it was announced that Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino would likely step down from his current position to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as the “drug czar.” However, increased drug control is unlikely to prevent drug-related deaths. Before instituting harsher drug policies, Christie and Marino must acknowledge that drug regulation has already made the situation deadlier.
Throughout his political career, Christie vowed to further regulate various drugs ranging from marijuana to heroin. Despite his “get tough” attitude on narcotics, his state has seen opioid deaths climb by 214 percent since 2010. Yet Christie continues to make battling overdoses his top, and seemingly only, priority in his final year in office. He recently signed a bill into law that bars doctors from issuing a script of longer than five days for first-time painkiller prescriptions. It also requires that any prescription of a pain killer for acute pain is the “lowest effective dose.”
Similarly, in his time in Congress, Marino has focused a lot on drug issues. He introduced drug regulation bills in the house, including the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act which aims to stop drug trafficking across borders, and a bill that increases collaboration between the Drug Enforcement Agency and prescription pill companies.
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Once he was safely a lame duck, President Barack Obama let states set their own marijuana policies, pardoned or commuted thousands of prisoners’ sentences and talked more freely—and less hypocritically—about the need to end the war on drugs. In fact, his Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) concluded that Richard Nixon’s famous War on Drugs was now a relict by sending the wrong message in prioritizing punishment over treatment. (In reality, the war did continue, even if the phrase had been covered neatly with a tarp for a few years under the guise of “laboratories of democracy.“)
Now we’re in Donald Trump’s America, with Trump’s ODCP and Trump’s Department of Justice. Attorney General Jeff Sessions heads the latter and he’s expressed befuddlement that the American people aren’t cheering his musings on the prospect of kicking the drug war up a notch to prevent some imagined dystopian future of convenience-store marijuana sales. Unfortunately, POTUS’s supposed pick for drug czar, U.S. Representative Tom Marino, is likely to be just as bad as Sessions. A Republican from Pennsylvania, Marino’s voting record on the drug war makes him well-suited for this position in a Trump administration.
As the Washington Post reports, Marino seems to gung-ho on the “Let’s vaguely pretend this is about public health” front, a position that is all the rage on the right. For Marino, protecting public health may involve “hospital-slash-prisons.”
During a 2016 congressional hearing about heroin, Marino wrung his hands on drug abuse and mostly, how it affects children. His full quote, in context: “One treatment option I have advocated for years would be placing nondealer, nonviolent drug abusers in a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals. Once the person agrees to plead guilty to possession, he or she will be placed in an intensive treatment program until experts determine that they should be released under intense supervision. If this is accomplished, then the charges are dropped against that person. The charges are only filed to have an incentive for that person to enter the hospital-slash-prison, if you want to call it.”
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