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Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Mary Jane can Shrink the Brain
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Heavy marijuana use shrinks brain parts: study

Brain scans showed the hippocampus and amygdala were smaller in men who were heavy marijuana users compared to nonusers, the researchers said. The men had smoked at least five marijuana cigarettes daily for on average 20 years.

To which I have to say: dang! that’s a lot of weed! (although not this kind of weed, for any federal officials out there reading). One would suspect that there are a number of symptoms to be associated with such behavior including, but not limited to, joblessness (or, at least, a string of lousy ones).

The

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Friday, May 30, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT: ‘Legal Weed’ is just beer, but Feds want to cap sales

The federal government is telling the owner of a small brewery here [Weed, CA] that the pun he’s placed on caps of his Weed Ales crosses a line.

“Try Legal Weed,” the caps joke.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau says those three little words allude to marijuana use.

[...]

The bureau’s bureaucrats have told Dillmann he needs to stop using the “Try Legal Weed” bottle caps. If he doesn’t, he could risk fines or sanctions. His worst fear: being forced out of business.

This, of course, insane. First, it is a play on words. Second, even if it was a plea for the usage of marijuana, I was unaware that the First Amendment had been repealed when it came to the subject of cannabis. Indeed, as Vaune Dillmann, owner of the brewery, said:

“This is ludicrous, bizarre, like meeting Big Brother face-to-face,” he grumbled recently. “Forget freedom of speech and the 1st Amendment. They are the regulatory gods, a judge and jury all rolled into one. This is a life-or-death issue for my business.”

According to said regulatory gods (in this case, spokesman Art Resnick):

“We consider it to be a drug reference, and find it to be false and misleading to the consumer in terms of what may or may not be the properties contained within that product,”

Well, good to see the feds wisely using their limited resources to keep us all safe from puns on bottle caps.

h/t: Jenda via e-mail who pointed me to this ABA Journal piece.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Police killed in Mexico drug raid

Seven policemen have been killed and four injured in Mexico’s latest incident of drug-related violence.

[...]

Nearly 1,400 people have died this year across Mexico as the country’s drug cartels fight among themselves and government forces.

That figure includes 450 police officers and other government officials.

And why all the deaths? There are at least $20 billion reasons (the approximate profits for Mexican cartels per annum these days).

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

“Just think how long he might have lived were it not for his drug experimentation.”-James Joyner regarding the death of LSD inventor, Albert Hoffman, who expired at the age of 102.

I had a similar thought when I saw the headline.1

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  1. And no, I am not endorsing LSD usage or suggesting thats drug experimentation leads to long life-but it is rather amusing (especially given ONDCP rhetoric). []
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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Strong euro behind cocaine flows

The euro’s strength against the dollar may explain a rise in the availability of cocaine in Europe and a decline in the US, a US anti-drugs official says.

John Walters, director of US national drug control policy, said the amount of cocaine seized at the US south-western borders had declined.

The price and the purity of cocaine in US have also fallen, he said.

Meanwhile, Europe has seen a huge increase in availability as traffickers take advantage of the exchange rate.

Given that the entire drug industry is about huge profits, it should hardly be a surprise that the traffickers prefer those profits in the stronger currency.

The euro has risen by almost 20% against the dollar in the past 12 months to hit a record above $1.59. On Friday, the euro fetched $1.5825.

The euro has become an attractive currency for investors because of relatively high interest rates in the eurozone.

The US dollar, meanwhile, has suffered because of a number of factors including a slowing economy, low interest rates and problems from the credit crisis.

Of course, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, John Walters, says that the shift is the result of US and Mexican interdiction efforts (via the AP) and also points to Venezuela’s government turning a blind eye to the usage of their territory.

Beyond issues of the Euro and of US policy, the bottom line is that traffickers will take the path of least resistance and are extremely good at adapting, over time, to efforts to staunch the flow of their products. Mexico become the main route for drugs into the US as the US government got better at interdicting drugs coming from the Caribbean into Miami. While it may well be that the US and Mexican efforts are having an effect, the bottom line is that the drug cartels will find a new way to get their product to market.

It is perhaps the safest bet in the land that whatever diminution to the price and quality of cocaine entering the US will be reversed shortly. We have frequently seen blips on the drug war radar that are always touted as a sign that we are finally about to turn the corner. Yet, it never happens-and as long as people like intoxicants (and billions of dollars can be made providing them) that corner will not be turned.

Despite that fact, the US will continue to pour billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain, whilst continuing to militarize both Latin American law enforcement and our own (to the detriment of democracy all around).

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Police ‘kill Colombian drug lord’

Colombian police say they have killed one of the country’s most notorious criminals and drug lords.

Media reports say the dead man is Victor Manuel Mejia Munera, although officials earlier said it was his brother, Miguel Angel.

[...]

The brothers were not only prominent drugs traffickers, but also led part of the new generation of paramilitary groups that sprang up after the demobilisation of the illegal United Self Defence Forces of Colombia, the AUC.

Indeed, the linkage to the AUC is more significant than the drug trafficking, per se, given that the narco-linked paramilitary groups have been more a more corrupting and violent influence in Colombia than any other group in the last two decades.

In terms of two dead cocaine traffickers, the honest truth is that they will be easily replaced.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008
Coca’s Continual Comeback: This Time, Peru
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT: Peru sees cocaine making a comeback

Peru’s cocaine industry, the world’s largest and most violent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is again on the upswing. Plots of coca bushes, whose leaves yield cocaine, have increased by about one-third since 1999, to about 127,000 acres, according to Peruvian and United Nations estimates.

And this time, the traffickers may be more difficult to combat because the flashy kingpins from Colombia have been replaced by a piecemeal network, a sort of gold rush of international entrepreneurs.

Production is still well below the record highs of the early 1990s, and neighboring Colombia has surpassed Peru as the global cocaine leader, supplying 90% of the U.S. market, according to the State Department. Moreover, President Alan Garcia is a staunch foe of the drug.

[...]

But Peru, the world’s No. 2 supplier, feeds a booming demand in Brazil, Europe, East Asia and as far away as Australia, authorities say. The density of coca plantings has doubled in some cases, experts say, and the fertilizer-nourished leaf now yields a greater proportion of cocaine alkaloid, the active ingredient in cocaine.

And the basic narrative on coca production continues:

During the 1990s, U.S.-backed enforcement efforts chased much of the coca trade to Colombia. Now, some say, the wheel is turning: Pressure in Colombia is shifting production here.

The new twist (although not as new as the story makes it out to be) is that instead of large drug organization like the Medellin or Cali cartels being the main managerial components of the trade, there are now a large number of small, basically independent operators who much be combated.

Of course, the basic story will remain the same: as long as there are a mounds of money to be made trafficking in cocaine, the US government can spend as much as it likes trying to stop it, the effort will be in vain. So instead of actually diminishing the amount of coca under cultivation, all the US essentially does is move the cultivation around (even incentivizing cultivators to grow in new areas).

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Monday, March 17, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: First coca find in Brazil Amazon

Coca plantations and a fully-equipped laboratory for making cocaine have been found for the first time in a Brazilian part of the Amazon rainforest.

A senior army officer said the find might mean drug traffickers were trying to find new locations to grow coca.

A good guess, I would say.1

Here’s the kicker:

The army says it is the first time that plantations like this have been discovered in the Brazilian Amazon, where the climate was not thought to favour coca fields.2

[...]

The army believes drug traffickers may be trying to adapt or genetically modify the coca leaf and find new locations for plantations.

This is significant as it simply means that there are even more places to grow the stuff than was thought to be the case and therefore makes the existing crop eradication efforts underway in the drug war even more difficult to sustain successfully.

In total, four plantations were discovered covering an area of between 100 and 150 hectares, according to the government news agency Agencia Brasil.

[...]

The coca, which was almost ready for harvest, was found along with a fully equipped laboratory prepared to manufacture cocaine.

This is classic balloon effect behavior-as the Colombians work to put the squeeze on coca cultivation, it simply bulges out elsewhere-this time into a new area, which, as noted, further complicates the policy calculus.

These coca farms were located near the Colombian border near the Brazilian town of Tabatinga, which is on the Amazon River.

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  1. Indeed, I don’t think it was a science experiment, or a Chia Pet Gone Wild… []
  2. Emphasis mine. []
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Saturday, March 15, 2008
More Tales from the Drug War (Coca Chewing Edition)
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Lawmakers defend traditional coca use

Lawmakers defiantly chewed coca in Peru’s Congress on Thursday while criticizing a U.N. recommendation to criminalize traditional uses of the plant.

The coca leaf, the raw ingredient of cocaine, is used by millions of people to stave off hunger and fight altitude sickness. It is also used in teas, in cooking and by fortune tellers.

[...]

Supa and Congresswoman Maria Sumire offered coca to their colleagues on the Congress floor from small hats. Dozens of politicians took handfuls and chewed the leaf during a raucous session with boos and hisses.

Earlier this month, the International Narcotics Control Board of the United Nations in its annual report urged Peru and Bolivia to ban coca chewing, with an eye toward cutting cocaine production.

The only reason that there would be a movement to ban traditional usages of coca leaf would be as a means of making it easier (in theory) to control the growth of the plant. Basically if there is no such thing as a licit coca bush, then crop-eradication becomes more straight-forward.

The thing is, the chewing of coca is not the same thing, by any stretch of the imagination, as using cocaine. The usage of the coca leaf as described above is little different than caffeine usage by millions globally on a daily basis. It is a mild stimulant, nothing more. Further, it is part of the culture of the Andes, and has been used for thousands of years in this way. Even if the practices are outlawed they won’t stop and further, such a ban would have a negligible effect on the drug trade. However, this is typical drug war logic-since the main problem really can’t be solved, the best thing to do it nibble around the edges to make it look like something is being done.

For a tad more on the coca leaf, including pictures of me with a coca bush, go here.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008
Flawed Drug War Thinking
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Is salvia the next marijuana?

Native to Mexico and still grown there, Salvia divinorum is generally smoked but can also be chewed or made into a tea and drunk.

Called nicknames like Sally-D, Magic Mint and Diviner’s Sage, salvia is a hallucinogen that gives users an out-of-body sense of traveling through time and space or merging with inanimate objects. Unlike hallucinogens like LSD or PCP, however, salvia’s effects last for a shorter time, generally up to an hour.

Salvia divinorum is not one of the several varieties of common ornamental garden plants known as Salvia.

Indeed, one suspects that there are any number of items that are currently legal that once smoked or otherwise ingested would induce a high. Are we going to make all of those illegal as well? Is there really a massive salvia-smoking problem in the US. And, for that matter, are our anti-marijuana policies really something worth replicating?

At least they aren’t targeting the ornamental plants, as I have several in my yard and I quite like them.

The sad thing is, many people think as follows:

Mike Strain, Louisiana’s Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner and former legislator, helped his state in 2005 become the first to make salvia illegal, along with a number of other plants. He said the response has been largely positive.

“I got some hostile e-mails from people who sold these products,” Strain said. “You don’t make everybody happy when you outlaw drugs. You save one child and it’s worth it.”

But here’s the problem: that is an absolutely horrid standard for making laws. By that logic we should outlaw automobiles because it is incontrovertibly the case that banning cars would saves not just one life per annum, but thousands upon thousands. Yet, somehow, we keep driving. Indeed, people die of all sorts of things every year that are perfectly legal-anything from amusement park thrill rides to sports to food allergies discovered too late. Shall we outlaw all of those things as well? Indeed, one suspects that there are more deaths as the result of basic recreational activities such as sports, hiking, water skiing and the like last year than were caused by salvia smoking in the last century. Actually, the story answers that question, after a fashion:

No known deaths have been attributed to salvia’s use, but it was listed as a factor in one Delaware teen’s suicide two years ago.

However, because it sounds good, and because no one is in favor of “one child” dying, we spend billions on nonsensical anti-drug policies.

BTW, my point isn’t to support salvia smoking, but to note that this notion that we make policies based on saving one life is absurd, yet it pervades anti-drug politics. Further, I am so thoroughly convinced of the failure of our current approach to drugs that any expansion gets my hackles up.

Beyond any of that, the story itself is poorly written, insofar as the proper comparison here is to mushrooms or LSD (or some other hallucinogen), not marijuana, which is a depressant and really has nothing in common, in terms of effect, to the drug described here.

h/t: PB, who further discuses the “if it saves one kid” argument.

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