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I read somewhere that for poorer American kids, a conviction for personal use of cannabis is a common (the most common?) first step in a vicious circle alienating them from the job market and eventually taking them to prison.

While use of cannabis is just as prevalent among middle-class youth, but doesn't prevent those kids from mostly turning into "productive members of society".

The implication of which being that harsh sentences for the most minor drug offenses have an overall negative effect on the people the legislation is supposed to protect.

I might have read this here in RSP, so maybe someone is sitting on some reliable sources that I can pass on to a friend who is trying to convince his political organization that we should decriminalize substance abuse (while still keeping other laws regarding trafficking etc).

I know how to use search engines of course, this is just in case someone happens to have some very credible and convincing sources right under their fingertips

Or if you just felt like discussing this and become angry with each other, that's fine to.
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Derry Salewski
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Is your friend an American?

I mean, I guess I don't know how a lot of it all works with regards to people having to disclose minor records and stuff on job applications. I did work in substance abuse rehab for a while, though, so I suppose i have more insight into it than the average person.

But really . . . no. By gut tells me that people who have no money, poor education, and limited opportunity are going to slip into bad habits that eventually lead to prison because they have no money, poor education and limited opportunities. Not because of pot laws (though I'm sure that criminalized pot along with various profiling by law enforcement might catch a disproportionate number of law breakers from those demographics.)

I mean, you say youth. It's still a crime for youth, right in any USA place that's "legalized" it? It is in Portland ME I'm pretty sure. There's science saying it negatively affects youth development. I'm not a scientist though.

Anyway, I think if the energy was more focused on providing people with opportunity and education (which would hopefully redistribute the money a little bit) it would more effectively keep youth out of prison than changing the laws around pot (though, feel free to change those, I guess.)

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Bill Grant
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Koldfoot wrote:
People who use the word "cannabis" are immediately suspect of having a different agenda than the one they claim.

I'd like to be enlightened on what that agenda is. (Serious question, I'm not aware of a difference between using the word pot and the word cannabis.)
 
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David desJardins
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I wouldn't put this at the top of the list of problems, or call it the "first step". I think it's way easier to get a decent job with an education and a drug conviction than no education and no drug conviction. For most of these kids, the first (and second, third, fourth) steps happen way before they are teenagers.
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scifiantihero wrote:
But really . . . no. By gut tells me that people who have no money, poor education, and limited opportunity are going to slip into bad habits that eventually lead to prison because they have no money, poor education and limited opportunities. Not because of pot laws

Of course, but everything else equal, does it help on balance?

Maybe I'm not thinking about teenagers, but more like 20-year-olds. Something about the prisons being full of people who have just handled narcotics in some way, and with no other criminal record. But when they come out, they're sort of stuck with one type of career.

Or I could just have been exposed to some very slanted opinion piece that was liberal in its way of handling facts. That's what I'm trying to find out.

(And my choice of words has more to do where I come from in a geographical sense than political.)
 
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David desJardins
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I would not say I'm an expert on this, but I believe few people are imprisoned for simple marijuana possession. This is from Rolling Stone, not exactly a right-wing law-and-order mouthpiece:

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/lists/top-10-marijuana-m...

Fact: About 750,000 people are arrested every year for marijuana offenses in the U.S. There's a lot of variation across states in what happens next. Not all arrests lead to prosecutions, and relatively few people prosecuted and convicted of simple possession end up in jail. Most are fined or are placed into community supervision. About 40,000 inmates of state and federal prison have a current conviction involving marijuana, and about half of them are in for marijuana offenses alone; most of these were involved in distribution. Less than one percent are in for possession alone.

I'm sure there is a racial and class element here---if you're an upper-class white man carrying some marijuana you're likely to get off much better than if you're a poor black man---but in any case I don't think that drug possession is the key factor in economic struggles for almost anyone in the US. Is this one more thing on top of many others? Maybe.
 
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James King
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> Excerpts from the book "DRUG CRAZY: How We Got Into This Mess & How We Can Get Out" by Mike Gray (Random House, 1998):

In 1909, the medical profession was informed that a miracle remedy for drug addiction had been discovered. It was almost infallible and it took about five days, tops. This amazing revelation meant that opium addiction was no more difficult to overcome than nail-biting. All you needed to kick the habit was a little discipline and a long weekend.

Not surprisingly, the man who planted this silly idea in the minds fo the American establishment wasn't a doctor himself, although he was often referred to as "Doctor Towns" in the press. He was in fact an insurance salesman from Georgia -- a self-taught farm boy who went on to be the Colonel Harlan Sanders of the drug-treatment industry. And like the silver-haired Colonel Sanders, his success was based on a secret formula.



Charles B. Towns

Charles B. Towns arrived in New York in 1901 with a plump nest egg from his foray into the life insurance business, and enough guts to taken on Wall Street. But as many another farm boy has learned, Wall Street devours amateurs and he was quickly picked clean. Defeated for the first time in his life, Towns was still in shock when an acquaintance came up to him one day and whispered, "I have got a cure for the drug habit -- morphine, opium, heroin, codeine -- any of them. We can make a lot of money out of it."

"That's a job for a doctor."

"It's a job for a man with an almighty nerve. You've got that. I've got the formula."

The formula turned out to be a powerful laxative mixed with a couple of deadly poisons. Needless to say, it had a profound impact on the patient. The first volunteer Towns and his partner experimented on tried to escape from the hotel room after the initial dose, and he had to be held down for two daysto keep him from committing suicide. Then, "At the end of 48 hours, the divide was crossed.... He was offered a hypodermic of the drug... and he declined it."



Dr. Hamilton Wright

"This is a cure!" cried Dr. Hamilton Wright, chief of the Opium Division of the U.S. State Department. Unfortunately, word of this vitriolic cure spread quickly on the streets, and after that it was impossible for Towns to get any more volunteers. So he finally kidnapped a junkie that no one would miss -- a racetrack trout -- and locked him up like the first victim. Though the formula had been modified, this patient didn't like it, either. -- "When I get out of here and tell the boys what you've been doin' to me, your life won't be worth 20 cents!" But after five days, they sent him home "a well man."

Convinced he was onto something monumental, Towns began pushing for recognition in the medical establishment. In his high white collar and pince-nez glasses, he certainly looked like a doctor but with no diploma, he was easily dismissed as a snake-oil salesman. So he decided to leap over all these small-minded practioners and present his case to one of the country's leading authorities on addiction and alcoholism.



Dr. Alexander Lambert

Dr. Alexander Lambert of Cornell University was, above all else, an open-minded scientist, and he agreed to let Towns demonstrate his cure on a few addicts at Bellvue Hospital. The results were impressive -- or so they seemed -- and the fact that Dr. Lambert had personally witnessed it was another star-crossed collision, for Lambert happened to be Teddy Roosevelt's personal physician. Word of Town's magical mystery cure quicly made it to Washington, D.C., and everybody was so relieved that any any questions were swept aside.

The reason for the apparent success of this poisonous remedy was that nobody ever bothered to do a follow-up study. Since it was the rare individual indeed who showed up for a second treatment, Towns claimed later that his method was 90% successful. A full decade later, it finally occurred to Dr. Lambert that there was a gaping hole in the evidence, and he set out to track down a number of ex-patients toee how they were doing since taking the treatment years before. He was stunned. Of some 200 people he had treated at Bellvue, "I found that 4 or 5% really stayed off drugs altogether."

So the presumed 90% cure rate turned out in fact to be a 95% failure rate, but then the damage had been done. The mistaken idea that there was a cheap, easy cure for drug addiction had become of the founding myths underlying our narcotics laws. It explains to some degree why the 700,000 citizens who were already addicted -- many of whom had acquired the habit innocently in the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- would soon be simply cast adrift to fend for themselves. By 1920, Towns and his cure had been discredited, but our unforgiving approach to dealing with addicts was already institutionalized....

The anti-narcotics legislation that Wright fashioned finally made its way through Congress in the winter of 1914. The Harrison Narcotics Act, named for the Tammany Hall Democrat who ushered it through the U.S. House of Representatives, appeared on the surface to be nothing more than a means of gathering information. It called on everybody in the drug trade to purchase a license and keep precise records. The debate had little to do with the evils of addiction, focusing instead on the nation's international obligations under The Hague Convention. At the final reading, the bill passed in a few minutes. The New York Times didn't even mention it.

Although the medical profession had been largely brought around in support of the act, they were in for a rude awakening. Hamilton Wright had installed a couple of landmines in the bill, and the tripwire was hidden in a clause the doctors thought was supposed to protect them. There was one extra word in the sentence: A physician could prescribe narcotics "in the course of his professional practice ONLY." The interpretation of this phrase was left to the Treasury Department, and to the revenue agents, giving dope to an addict was NOT "professional practice." It was simply feeding a bad habit -- not only immoral, but now illegal.

The medical profession was completely unaware of this development. When one middle-aged morphine addict expressed her fear that the Harrison Act would cut her off, the surgeon general of the United States personally reassured her. He said the act was intended simply to gather information. Meanwhile, down at the Treasury, they were sharpening their lances.

It should be remembered that the men who were about to enforce the Harrison Narcotics Act were under the impression that a foolproof cure existed for addiction. If the Towns formula could cure an addict in five days, obviously withdrawal was no big deal. Any weak-willed pervert unwilling to take a simple treatment and get straight would have to be dealt with forcefully. Armed with righteous indignation, they set out to rid the nation of drug addiction. And thus, Congress, without any clear sense of the enormity of what they had done, set the stage for the criminalization of a quarter-million drug-addicted citizens.

Six weeks after the Harrison Act went into effect, the New York Medical Journal carried an ominous observation: "... the immediate effects of the Harrison anti-narcotic law were seen in the flocking of drug habitues' to hospitals and sanitoriums. Sporadic crimes of violence were reported, too, due usually to desperate efforts by addicts to obtain drugs.... The really serious results of this legislation, however, will only appear gradually and will not always be recognized as such. These will be the failure of promising careers, the disrupting of happy families, the commission of crimes which will never be traced to their real cause, and the influx into hospitals for the mentally-disordered of many who would otherwise have lived socially-competent lives."

The easiest way to understand the mind of a drug addict is to use food as a metaphor. Imagine you've been told by the government that food is so bad for you that it's been taken off the market. You might be able to handle it for a couple of days, and after that, you wouldn't be able to think about anything else but food, food, FOOD --- how to get it, where to get it, and where to steal the money now that a hot dog with mustard is suddenly $50.00. But even this metaphor is an inadequate measure of the addict's urgency because a junkie, though starving, will trade food for dope. This consuming desperation, never clearly grasped by either the lawman or the average physician, would prove to be the fatal flaw in the plan to free humanity from the scourge of addiction.

What Hamilton Wright and his colleagues had expected to be a brief skirmish of a drug war would instead turn into the longest-running war in U.S. history. As one contemporary put it: "We had not taken the drug peddler into account. We had not realized that the moment restrictive legislation made these drugs difficult to secure legitimately, the drugs would also be made profitable to illicit drug traffickers."

The man who wrote those words was in a position to know. In 1914, Dr. Charles E. Terry was the city health officer for Jacksonville, Florida. He's considered one of the leading authorities on this period, and his book, "The Opium Problem," is quoted in every history of the era. Terry's study flew in the face of conventional wisdom when he found that most addicts were women and that whites on drugs outnumbered blacks on drugs by 2 to 1. And the cure rate -- even with the famous Towns formula -- was never more than 5%.

But Dr. Terry's report contains one fact that is as stunning today as it must have been to him himself: "One of the most important discoveries we made at that time was that a very large proportion of the users of opiate drugs were respectable hard-working individuals in all walks of life, and that only 18% could in any way be considered as belonging to the underworld." In other words, 80% of his patients had jobs, homes, families and reputations. And while it may seem bizarre to read that narcotics addicts can hold down jobs and be useful, productive citizens, it turns out there is no scientific evidence to the contrary. In fact, the medical literature is filled with thoroughly-documented records of addicts who functioned normally throughout their lives. Among the mountain of case histories, one of the most remarkable is the story of Dr. William Stewart Halstead, "the Father of Modern Surgery."



Dr. William Stewart Halstead


Halstead, the dashing young son of a distinguished New York familiy and former captain of the Yale football team, was already a prominent surgeron in Manhattan while in his 20s. In the decade after the Civil War, Halstead was experimenting wth the then-recently invented hypodermic syringe and the new drug, cocaine, and he made a significant discovery: When he injected cocaine into the skin, the nerves were deadened. It was the first effective local anesthetic and it was a major leap for modern surgery. Unfortunately, Halsted was also experimenting on himself, and he found that when he injected the drug directly into his veins, he got a rush that was better than sex to him. "Cocaine hunger fastened its dreadful hold on him," a colleague wrote. "He tried to carry on, but a confused and unworthy period of medical practice ensued. Finally, he vanished from the world he had known."

Halsted didn't vanish. He was shanghaied. His friends chartered a schooner with a trusted crew and sailed him to the Virgin Islands and back in a desperate attempt to wean him from his habit. They managed to keep him clean for a couple of months, but as soon as he hit the beach, he started shooting up again. In a last-ditch effort, he checked himself into a hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, and after one relapse -- through sheer willpower and inner strength -- he emerged triumphant, completely cured.

Or so the story went.

Shortly after that, in 1886, Halstead joined with Osler, Welch, and Billings -- the "Big Four" -- to found the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital. Halsted's skill and ingenuity as a surgeon made him world famous. His private life was exemplary. He married a thoroughbred southern belle and they lived together in "complete mutual devotion" until Halsted's death 36 years later. The fairy tale would have ended there except for a small black book with a silver lock and key.

In 1969, on the 80th Anniversary of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the book was formally opened according to the instructions of its author, Sir William Osler, one of the four original hospital co-founders. In it was the "secret history" of the Hopkins, and here Sir William revealed that Halsted had cured his cocaine habit by switching to morphine. In other words, one of the four founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital was a morphine addict for more than 40 years, and while one of his colleagues knew all about it, the others apparently never suspected. According to all reports, it had no observable effect on Halsted's performance at home or at the office.



Lord Moynihan, M.D.

Listen to British surgeon Lord Moynihan on Halsted's technique as a surgeon in the operating room: "Halsted's technique was frequently light, swift, sparing movements with the sharpest of knives, instead of free, heavy-handed deep cutting... the minimum of hemorrhage instead of the severance of many vessels...." Throughout his career, Halstead tried to kick the habit and couldn't. He was never able to get by with less than 180 milligrams of morphine a day. "On this," said Osler, "he could do his work comfortabvly and maintain his excellent physical vigor."

Halstead's story is revealing not only because it shows that a morphine addict on the proper maintenance dose can be producitve. It also illustrates the incredible power of the drug in question. Here was a man with almost unlimited resources -- moral, physical, financial, medical -- who tried everything he could think of to quit, and he was hooked until the day he died. It brings into focus the plight of those addicts all over the country who were about to be cut off with nothing.

But the problem that seemed so daunting to medical men like Terry and Halsted looked like a piece of cake to the lawmen. Addicts -- and the doctors and pharmacists who enabled them -- were to be hunted down and forced to change their ways or else. Another hint of their naivate' about the scale of the problem is contained in the Harrison Act itself: It calls for an appropriation of $150,000.00 for enforcement. Eighty years later, we are spending that much every three minutes for drug-law enforcement.

The Justice Department strategists understood quite clearly that the Harrison Act was on shaky ground constitutionally. Hamilton Wright and his colleagues had been so skillful in disguising it as tax law that judges all over the country were interpreting it as a tax law. And when the first case reached the Supreme Court in 1916, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. blew the government's brief out of the water, In a 7-2 decision, the Court tossed out the indictment against a Pittsburgh doctor who had sold a narcotics prescription to an addict, and a host of other doctors, druggists, and addicts who had already been convicted had to be turned loose.

The Treasury Department enforcers scrambled to deal with this unexpected damage and immediately began agitating in Congress for additional legislation. In the short run, they managed to keep the medical profession in line through intimidation. According to the Narcotics Division's own numbers, they indicted some 35,000 people over the next couple of years without ever bringing the cases to court -- thus terrorizing the medical profession into compliance without risking defeat at the hands of the judiciary. Meanwhile, they went looking for a better case -- something vividly outrageous that might change the minds of at least three judges on the high court.

At a different moment of our history, this kind of rough-and-tumble federal intimidation might have been met with public outrage. But in the 1920s, the American people were going through a sea of change in attitudes. Among the major losers in this transformation would be the victims of drug addiction. Back in 1900, the country had looked upon addicts as unfortunate citizens with a medical problem. By 1920, two decades later, drug addicts had become "drug fiends," twisted, immoral, untrustworthy. Like vampires, they infected everything they touched. There was no room for compassion here. The only way to get rid of a vampire was to drive a stake through his heart.

The image -- the Drug User as Vampire -- was to become a driving force in the public mind. And the origin of this powerful symbolism can be traced to a single individual: Spanish War hero Richmond Pearson Hobson.



Captain Richmond Pearson Hobson

At one time, Captain Hobson, "the Hero of Santiago," was the highest-paid lecturer in America, and after each of his public appearances, the women in the audience would line up to kiss the dashing young naval officer. He was known as "the most kissed man in America," and they even named a caramel candy after him -- "Hobson's Kisses." President McKinley personally decorated him for valor in the Cuban engagement, where he was said to have single-handedly stopped the Spanish Fleet. In fact, his mission had been a total failure. His assignment had been to sail the aging U.S.S. Merrimac into the channel entrance at Santiago habor and scuttle her there to trap the Spanish fleet -- as Hobson himself put it: "Homeric manhood, erect and masterful on the perilous bridge of the Merrimac...." Unfortunately, the rudder jammed, the ship never made the channel, and Hobson had to be rescued by the Spaniards. But it was a short war and there were hardly enough heroes to go around, so the Navy promoted him to captain and by 1906, "the Hero of Santiago" was a congressman.

Now accustomed to the limelight, Hobson became uneasy when he felt it ebbing away. So he reincarnated himself as a champion of the temperance cause and once again found himself at center stage. He had a way with words. he called liquor "the Great Destroyer," and when he coined that term in a Congressional debate, his admirers demanded that a copy ofhis speech be sent to every household in America. But his most remarkable contribution was his quasi-medical analysis of the human brain.

Hobson had no more medical training than the eminent Charles Towns, and he was equally undaunted. The brain, he explained, is divided into various vertical layers like a building, with the baser instincts in the basement. Alcohol attacks the penthouse, "the top of the brain, ... organ of will, of the consciousness of God, of the sense of right and wrong, of ideas of justice, duty, love, mercy, self-sacrifice and all that makes character." Unfortunately, he said, Negroes and Indians were particularly susceptible to alcohol "because their mental buildings were not as tall as the white man's." According to Hobson, when alcohol reached the top of the brain of Negroes, "they degenerate... to the level of the cannibal."

When his campaign was crowned with success in the enactment of Prohibition, Hobson needed a new focus for his unlimited moral indignation, and he retired from the scene for a few months in search of a worthy demon. It's hard to imagine what took him so long. The evil drug heroin was practically tailor-made for a moral crusade. Not only could it be held accountable for all crime and vice, it had the added advantage of being a foreign import. In a frenzy of public appearances, lectures and writings, Hobson introduced a chilling new concept. Heroin, he said, transforms the addict into a monster who has no control over himself and is compelled to spread his disease like Count Dracula. It was a masterstroke in the art of propaganda.

"The addict has an insane desire to make addicts of others," said Hobson, and he horrified audiences with stories of wretched young zombies infecting their pals with heroin-laced ice-cream cones. "One addict will recruit seven others in his lifetime," he said, and he claimed there were over 4,000,000 addicts in the United States -- a figure 16 times higher than the Public Health Service estimates for that time.

Hobson's impact would have been powerful under any circumstances, but the early 1920s saw the dawn of commercial radio and almost overnight the great crusader found himself addressing the whole nation at once. NBC, one of the few national networks, gave him uninterrupted free time on 400 of its affiliate radio stations -- an unprecedented audience -- and he warned America that there was evil afoot: "Suppose it were announced that there were more than a million lepers among our people. Think what a shock the announcement would produce! Yet, drug addiction is far more incurable than leprosy... more communicable... and is spreading like a moral and physical scourge. The whole human race, though largely ignorant on this subject, is now in the midst of a life-and-death struggle with the deadliest foe that has ever menaced its future."

In fact, there was never a shred of evidence to back Hobson's pseudo-scientific speculations, but his crusade united all the old Prohibition allies -- the Kiwanis, the Masons, the Elks, the WCTU -- and they simply overwhelmed the handful of scientists who tried to put the brakes on this juggernaut. And despite the fact that 50 years of medical research has consistently debased each of Hobson's assumptions in detail, his terrifying stereotype of the addict as an "infected bloodsucker" lives on in the headlines -- and in the American psyche -- to this day.



 
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