The Drug Policy Digest

Saturday, May 31, 2003
And, on a Lighter Note ...
Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird (Week of June 1, 2003)

While two co-appellants chose to have lawyers represent them before the Supreme Court of Canada in their challenge of their marijuana convictions, David Malmo-Levine spoke for himself, addressing the justices for 40 minutes on May 6, arguing that his right of "substance orientation" was similar to someone's right of sexual orientation. After his session (which he began by waving hello to the justices), Malmo-Levine revealed that his entire courtroom wardrobe was made of hemp and that he had taken a few hits of hashish beforehand. Said he, "I was happy, hungry and relaxed, but I was not impaired." See MSNBC for story.

When Holding a Party is a Crime - The "New" RAVE Act
Measure would criminalize some "harm reduction" efforts

Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum covers the latest version of a proposed federal measure previously known as the "Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE)" bill and now called "the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act" in an opinion piece in yesterday's New York Times. President Bush signed this legislation into law on April 30th of this year as an amendment to the AMBER Alert bill (S151).

The author of the recently published Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use,' Sullum is provocative and gets the award for picking the title most likely to offend drug warriors and concerned parents everywhere. I would be a little alarmed myself - the book's jacket is a stark white-on-white photography of an unlit marijuana cigarette - but I don't think too many people are influenced one way or the other about their personal decisions to use or abstain from intoxicants by what they read in anything longer than a sound bite. Sullum's book is an excellent read, however, and is thought-provoking material for those concerned with examining other approaches to addressing America's drug problem.

Sunday, May 25, 2003
Maryland Governor Ehrlich Signs New Medical Marijuana Bill Into Law
Victory Claimed by Marijuana Proponents as Republican Governor Resists Pressure from White House

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday became the nation's first Republican governor to sign into law a measure that relaxes criminal punishment for seriously ill people who use marijuana to relieve pain and other symptoms, according to a Washington Post story in today's issue.
It is important to note that this measure does not "legalize" medical marijuana for patients whose physicians recommend the drug in the sense that California's Proposition 215 did. The Maryland measure drops the penalties associated with any such use from a year in state prison and a $1000 fine to a $100 fine and no jail time. In order to receive this reduced penalty, a marijuana user who claims he was using the drug for medical purposes is permitted to launch a "medical necessity" defense. If successful, the penalty would be limited to the $100 fine.

An Associated Press report posted on the Marijuana Policy Project website today says that: "Refusing to bend to pressure from the Bush administration, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed a bill Thursday that reduces criminal penalties for seriously ill people who smoke marijuana.

Ehrlich is the first GOP governor to sign a bill protecting medical marijuana patients from jail, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. The Bush administration had pressed him to veto the measure."

Clearly pleased with the outcome, MPP Executive Director Robert Kampia states: "Governor Ehrlich's courageous action in the face of a hostile White House shows that our campaign to protect medical marijuana patients is truly nonpartisan."

Saturday, May 24, 2003
New Survey Shows College Students About as Conservative as General Population
35 percent Believe Marijuana Use Should be "Legalized."

In a survey released yesterday by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government (Institute of Politics), 35 percent of respondents asserted that marijuana should be legalized, in contrast to a recent Time/CNN poll of the general population that revealed 34 percent of our citizens believe that this is a desirable action. Lesser measures, such as "decriminalizing" the drug or "depenalizing" use of marijuana were not examined.

The study concludes that, as 59 percent of the students questioned "will definitely" vote in the 2004 election (I'm sure they definitely "plan" to vote, but such claims are not very reliable), "Campus Kids" is a potential source of votes and volunteer activity for national candidates. "Campus Kids" joins the roster of other identified groups such as "Soccer Moms" and "Office Park Dads." Read the complete results on the IOP/Kennedy site here.

Monday, May 19, 2003
Epilepsy Drug May Help Alcoholics Quit Drinking

According to the Associated Press (as cited in Friday's Wall Street Journal), the "epilepsy drug" topiramate (prescribed as Topamax [Ortho-McNeil]in the United States) may help some alcoholics curtail their drinking or quit drinking completely. The WSJ's story (excerpted) is below. The full text of the study itself is available for free to those who wish to read it -- unlike the WSJ story -- by clicking here.

Topamax's use for this purpose is legal in the United States as an "off-label" (approved by the FDA, but for a different purpose) drug. Other off-label uses have included the use of the medication as an appetite suppressant. The use of any treatment (drug or non-drug) to diminish (as opposed to eliminate) drinking remains controversial as complete abstinence is thought to be the most effective approach to controlling alcoholism.

WSJ article text:
An epilepsy drug offers significant promise in helping alcoholics quit drinking, and it appears to be more effective than drugs now in use for the problem, a new study shows.

Half of the 55 alcoholics who took the antiseizure drug topiramate either quit drinking altogether or cut back their drinking sharply.

Researchers found that those given the medication were six times more likely than those on a dummy pill to abstain from alcohol for a month, according to the report published Friday in the Lancet.

"This finding is a major scientific advance in the treatment of alcoholism," said Domenic Ciraulo, head of psychiatry at Boston University. Dr. Ciraulo wasn't connected with the research.

Three drugs now are available world-wide for combating alcoholism. One of them, disulfiram, sold as Antabuse, makes people feel sick when they drink.

"The problem with that drug is that people know that if you want to drink, all you have to do is throw the tablet away. It is not a treatment. All it does it punish you for drinking," said Bankole Johnson, chief of alcohol- and drug-addiction research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and lead investigator in the latest study.

The other two drugs -- acamprosate, available in Europe but not the U.S., and naltrexone -- are given to ward off relapses once an alcoholic has stopped drinking.

"What is good about topiramate is you can take it while you are still drinking," Dr. Johnson said.

Scientists believe that the brain chemical dopamine is what provides the pleasure from alcohol and that topiramate, sold as Topamax by Johnson & Johnson, works by washing away the excess dopamine released by drinking alcohol.

Long-term studies in epileptic patients show no serious problems related to topiramate.

The study involved 103 hardcore alcoholics followed for three months. Many had already tried methods such as Alcoholics Anonymous, medication, psychotherapy and rehab clinics. When they enrolled in the study it had been at least six months since they had been in treatment, and they were drinking the equivalent of two bottles of wine a day.

Fifty-five drinkers were given topiramate, while 48 were given a dummy pill. The dose of topiramate was gradually increased.

Ray Litten, chief of treatment research at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said topiramate could be a significant advance in treating alcoholism.

"It does look like topiramate might be stronger than naltrexone or acamprosate," Mr. Litten said. "It's very promising, and it certainly has potential, but this is only one study and more trials need to be done."

Mr. Litten said a combination of drugs and psychological therapy is considered the best treatment.

"Alcoholism is a complex disease, and there's no magic bullet out there," Mr. Litten said. "But just to get a menu of different treatments is a step in the right direction."

Many experts say abstinence should still be the goal, but Dr. Johnson argues that treatments that help alcoholics cut down -- say, from 10 drinks a day to two a day -- are worthwhile.

"If you can make most people stop drinking at a hazardous level, you have done them a power of good. You are going to improve these people's quality of life, help save their marriages, their jobs," Dr. Johnson said.

Sunday, May 18, 2003
No May 18th would be complete without these words: Happy Birthday to my friend, Mark Kleiman!!!

New Study Suggests Student Drug-Testing May Not Deter Drug Use

The New York TImes says that a recently published study by University of Michigan researchers demonstrates that there is no connection between mandatory student drug testing (as currently practiced) and decreases in student drug use. The story states:

--> "Drug testing in schools does not deter student drug use any more than doing no screening at all, the first large-scale national study on the subject has found.

--> The United States Supreme Court has twice empowered schools to test for drugs — first among student athletes in 1995, then for those in other extracurricular activities last year. Both times, it cited the role that screening plays in combating substance abuse as a rationale for impinging on whatever privacy rights students might have.

--> But the new federally financed study of 76,000 students nationwide, by far the largest to date, found that drug use is just as common in schools with testing as in those without it.

-->"It suggests that there really isn't an impact from drug testing as practiced," Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston, a study researcher from the University of Michigan, said. "It's the kind of intervention that doesn't win the hearts and minds of children. I don't think it brings about any constructive changes in their attitudes about drugs or their belief in the dangers associated with using them."

--> The prevalence of drug use in schools that tested for drugs and those that did not was so similar that it surprised the researchers, who have been paid by the government to track student behavior for nearly 30 years and whose data on drug use is considered highly reliable." (NYT 5/17/2003)

Mark Kleiman points out that (in an unfortunate episode of timing) Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bryer chose Friday (5/16) to make a public statement supporting the rationale behind drug testing.

The article cited by The Times piece is "The relationship between student illicit drug use and school drug-testing policies." by Yamaguchi, R., Johnston, L. D., & O’Malley, P. M. (2003). Journal of School Health, 73(4), 159-164. For an abstract of the article, click here.

Read the Times story here.

Monday, May 12, 2003
Heroin Seizure in Australia Shows North Korea's Role in Drug Distribution.

An article in today's Washington Post discusses a heroin seizure in Australia from a North Korean ship. The seizure, 110 pounds, was of Southeast Asian origin. The article also mentions methamphetamine trafficking from Southeast Asia -- Burma produces the drug in tablet form called "Yaba" -- primarily for consumption in Thailand. The drug, according to DEA sources, has also shown up in California.

Read the Washington Post story here.

Bill Bennett Gambling Controversy Raises Issues of Hypocrisy and the Essential Nature of Addiction

For those in the drug policy field who have been watching the Bill Bennett gambling scandal, it might be useful to avoid the glee of seeing Bennet's credibility evaporate almost overnight and look for the deeper lessons to be learned from his situation. Bennet, the nation's first "Drug Czar" under (former) president George high stakes Bush, has been exposed as a high stakes and, possibly, compulsive gambler. According to news reports, he has blown something like $8 million feeding his gambling habit. In a classic illustration of the role of denial in the addiction process, Mr. Bennett states that he doesn't have a problem and could have stopped any time he wished. No stranger to charges of hypocrisy, Bennet, a chain smoker while Drug Czar, once remarked that his nicotine habit differed significantly from the addictions suffered by users of illicit drugs in that he hadn't "been involved in any drive-by shootings recently."

Michael Kinsley has written in the Washington Post that: " If there were a Pulitzer Prize for schadenfreude (joy in the suffering of others), Jonathan Alter of Newsweek and Joshua Green of the Washington Monthly would surely deserve it for bringing us this story. They are shoo-ins for the Public Service category in any event. Schadenfreude is an unvirtuous emotion of which we should be ashamed. Bill Bennett himself was always full of sorrow when forced to point out the moral failings of other public figures. But the flaws of his critics don't absolve Bennett of his own." Kinsley's piece is must reading.

Mark Kleiman has posted an important analysis of the import of the Bennett Revelations and adds that the observation that Bennett .... "For years, he's been part of a low-stakes poker game in Washington involving the Chief Justice [William Renquist], Justice [Antonin] Scalia, and Robert Bork. Having a poker game in your home appears to be a felony under the D.C. Criminal Code, though playing in such a game doesn't seem to be covered. You can reasonably think that such laws deserve to be ignored, but then you can reasonably think that about the marijuana laws as well.]" Kleiman's take on the Bennett affair is complete and cogent - read it here.

Read the original Washington Monthly piece at this link. The story is called The Bookie of Virtue." ... a cheap shot, but surely appropriate here.