Saturday, February 25, 2006

Strategic Planning Retreat: Photo Spread

Friday evening cooking contest (we're not just activists, we can cook too!):
Strategic Planning:And your two favorite bloggers...

Possums on pot

The Drug Czar's "blog" reports that police in New Zealand have recruited pot-loving possums in their ongoing effort to eradicate marijuana plants.

"New Zealand police have an unusual ally in their annual crackdown on the country's illegal marijuana harvest—possums.

"They love it, absolutely love it," Detective John Nicholls, of Motueka, told the Nelson Evening Mail after returning from a week-long police and air force helicopter hunt for pot plants at the top of the South Island.

He said one crop was "chewed to bits—it was the worst I've ever seen."

I love the silliness of this story, absolutely love it - especially since it serves as a bit of comic relief to the seriousness of the strategic planning retreat SSDP is engaging in this weekend.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Winds of Change in the Windy City

I just landed in Chicago Midway airport, and am now sitting in the food court, munching on some french fries, and mentally preparing for what will be one of the most important weekends in the history of drug policy reform. Today, at 4pm, SSDP leaders from across the country will convene in Chicago and commence the 2006 Strategic Planning Retreat. Simply put, the purpose of this retreat is to formulate a strategic plan for the organization as we move forward throughout the coming years. I am honored to be a part of this event and could not ask for a better group of activists to take on this endeavor with me.

SSDP is at a crucial turning point. Having been founded by a few ambitious college students just eight years ago, we have grown into an expansive, well-recognized, and highly effective organization. We have recently seen a significant victory in the form of partial repeal of the HEA Drug Provision. We are filing two lawsuits against the government, one of which has been endorsed by the New York Times. And SSDPers around the country are assessing the current drug policies on their campuses, and formulating campaigns to enact sensible drug policies close to home.

This weekend, we will take this momentum, whittle it to a point, and over the coming years, drive it deep into the heart of the Drug War. An ambitious goal, to be sure. But if there's anyone that can do it, it's the DARE Generation.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Bill" of Rights

States are increasingly telling people convicted of crimes to fork over loot just for exercising their right to public defenders, according to the New York Times.

The bills are meant to help states cover the increased cost of the criminal justice system.
National figures concerning fees assessed to criminals are not available, but Washington is something of a case study. The state sends out some 79,000 bills every month, and it collected about $25 million last year. But these collection efforts are barely making a dent in the $1.2 billion owed by former offenders, much of it for the cost of prison room and board, which can reach $50 a day. The budget of the State Department of Corrections for the two-year period ending in 2007 is more than $1.4 billion.
Some people are even stripped of their right to vote until they pay up in full.
Beverly Dubois, a 49-year-old former park ranger in Washington State, spent nine months in jail for growing and selling marijuana. She still owes the state almost $1,900 for court costs and various fees. Until she pays up, the state has taken away her right to vote.
Vanita Gupta from the NAACP notes that the threat of legal bills doesn't just affect people who have actually committed crimes.

"The prospect of having to pay for court costs is going to dissuade some defendants from going to trial," Ms. Gupta said. Even an innocent defendant, she said, may prefer a guilty plea to a trial if the downside includes not only a longer sentence but also a crushing debt.
When the government plays criminal justice bill collector, people are unnecessarily prevented from moving on with their lives, not unlike when they are affected by the HEA Drug Provision or the other bans on public benefits for people with drug convictions.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Justin Holmes doesn't need titles!

The ongoing scare over the warning label being placed on stimulants is starting to bother me.

My problem with this drama first started a week or so ago, when the headlines all played various themes of, "Ritalin and similar drugs...." As I have said before, I have a problem with the extent to which the powers that be have convinced us to willingly except their terminology for drugs – from the classifications (“medicine,” “drug,” “drink,” on one level, “stimulant” and “depressant” on another level) right down to the actual names of the drugs – we repeat, with a straight face, names from “Paxil” to “Adderall” to “Acid” to “Crank” without ever really considering how biased this naming system is.

When the news media repeats this jargon, it compounds the problem. When it occurs in headlines (and not just a few of them – hundreds in one day), it becomes truth in too many minds.

Now we see an interesting juxtaposition. For so long, speedy drugs like amphetamine and methylphenidate have been billed as “medicine” for the treatment of “attention deficit disorder,” an affliction I’m quite sure I could have been diagnosed with as a child and probably even now if I wanted even easier access to these drugs than the market on a college campus already affords. Suddenly, when people report having side effects which are very typical of these kinds of drugs, a stark reminder is cast that yes, indeed, these are drugs.

"Every single adult patient I saw today, the first thing out of their mouth was, 'Am I going to drop dead on this?' Every single one of them," said Dr. Timothy Wilens, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

We have come to blindly trust the “established” medical regime so much that we forget our own experiences (personal or otherwise) with drugs. We have come to accept the schema of “disorders” to such a degree that we have forgotten the infinitely fine scale of human thought and the chemistry with which it corresponds.

Of course, it goes without saying that these drugs do help some people with concentration problems, just as SSRIs help some people with chronic depression. They may not be addressing the most fundamental cause, but their effects are obviously helpful for a segment, albeit small, of the population suffering from these problems.

Personally, I don’t really care much about whether or not these drugs have one warning or another on the side of them – I don’t think it will make people think any more critically about their role in society and the disorders which are invented to market and sell them.

Perhaps a more appropriate warning would read, “Caution: The disorder, malady, disease, ailment, sickness, bug, infection, syndrome, or condition for which this drug has been prescribed may not actually exist.”