NY set to award valuable marijuana dispensary licenses first to black, brown people most targeted by old marijuana drug laws

This seems like a great idea, if it works as it’s intended:

If you or a loved one have a pot conviction, you could have a new employment opportunity. New York will give you first dibs to sell marijuana, legally.

While 19 states have legalized recreational weed, New York is the first to offer its initial dispensary licenses solely to entrepreneurs with marijuana convictions. It’s a move aimed at offering an advantage to people, disproportionately in Black and brown communities, harmed by the war on drugs.

“We think that leaning into folks who are not only justice-involved, but have that business experience means that we’re going to find a bunch of applicants who have gone through some significant challenges to still open and operate successful businesses,” Office of Cannabis Management executive director Chris Alexander said in an interview. “We just took a different approach.”

Most states have let medical dispensaries be the first to roll out recreational products, which has largely let big fish get bigger. And places like Illinois and Detroit created lotteries or restrictions to promote diverse ownership in their adult-use weed sectors only to see them mired in legal challenges and legislative fixes for years. So, New York — one of the nation’s largest cannabis markets — went further.

New Yorkers with past cannabis-related convictions and business experience will get the first chance at Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licenses. If selected, the state will set up the applicants with a retail location and financing to help develop their storefronts — with shops openings potentially as early as the end of the year.

That “social equity” framework, as set forth in in the 2021 law as part of the state Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act which legalized the drug for adult use, underpins the state’s efforts to ensure those most harmed by the decades-long prohibition of marijuana — and not large multi-state operators — are at the center of New York’s recreational program. The Democratic-led Legislature pushed for the measure as part of the law.

Here’s the rub: California was supposed to also set up this type of program for those residents — black and brown people — most sent to prison under draconian marijuana laws.

But loopholes, along with government inertia and stupidity, have made the program a farce.

Let’s hope NY state learns from those mistakes.

You can find out more about those New York cannabis dispensary licenses at this link.

A variety of strains at a recreational marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)

Magic mushrooms slowly entering the mainstream as mental health treatment

Scientific American takes a look at the growing use of the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms to treat all manner of mental health issues:

Magic mushrooms are undergoing a transformation from illicit recreational drug to promising mental health treatment. Numerous studies have reported positive findings using psilocybin—the mushrooms’ main psychoactive compound—for treating depression as well as smoking and alcohol addiction, and for reducing anxiety in the terminally ill. Ongoing and planned studies are testing the drug for conditions that include opioid dependence, PTSD and anorexia nervosa.

This scientific interest, plus growing social acceptance, is contributing to legal changes in cities across the U.S. In 2020 Oregon passed statewide legislation decriminalizing magic mushrooms, and the state is building a framework for regulating legal therapeutic use—becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to do so. For now psilocybin remains illegal and strictly controlled at the national level in most countries, slowing research. But an international push to get the drug reclassified aims to lower barriers everywhere.

After a flurry of research in the 1950s and 1960s, psilocybin and all other psychedelics were abruptly banned, partly in response to their embrace by the counterculture. Following the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, psilocybin was classed in the U.S. as a Schedule I substance—defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Psilocybin production was limited, and a host of administrative and financial burdens effectively ended study for decades. “It’s the worst censorship of research in history,” says David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London.

You can read the rest at this non-paywalled link.

Some music festivals now embrace having anti-overdose drug Naloxone on-hand

This is according to the good people over at KHN:

A 26-year-old was found dead at his campsite during the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in 2019. The toxicology report linked his death to a grim trend that has only worsened since. In his system were both ecstasy and fentanyl — a dangerous combination, especially if people don’t know the party drug contains the highly potent synthetic opioid.

Attendees of multiday concert festivals like Bonnaroo, held on an isolated farm in Coffee County, Tennessee, don’t seem to have much trouble sneaking pills and powders past security. And those drugs can be laced with fentanyl, which is why medics who work at these events carry the overdose reversal medication naloxone these days. But first responders can’t be everywhere, and the fast-acting drug needs to be administered quickly.

“We are showing up with it in huge quantities,” said Ingela Travers-Hayward, whose Ohio-based nonprofit This Must Be the Place is flooding festivals with Kloxxado, a nasal spray version of the lifesaving medicine. “We want to move around the campground and proactively hand this out.”

Travers-Hayward and her husband, William Perry, who became a rehabilitation counselor after addiction sent him to prison for a decade, are crisscrossing the country this summer distributing doses of Kloxxado that have been donated by the manufacturer, Hikma Pharmaceuticals. Their summer tour wraps up at Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada on Labor Day weekend.

Music festivals once frowned upon Naloxone, and some banned it. But even though what’s known as harm reduction — the concept of minimizing the negative effects of illicit drug use without trying to stop it altogether — has gained acceptance, it’s far from embraced. Less accepted than naloxone among concert promoters is helping people test their drugs for fentanyl. Companies don’t want to be seen as condoning drug use.

If you’re staging a music festival that goes on all night (or, for that matter, two or three days) you are already condoning drug use. And making money off of it.

It certainly ain’t coffee keeping all those kids up for that amount of time.

Everyone knows it, but I guess for legal reasons they have to keep up the fiction. Having Naloxone at a festival can be explained away that you’re providing it for drugs people took before they got to the festival. Having fentanyl testing kits acknowledges that your target customers are taking drugs at your event.

I used to be a bouncer at Boston’s largest nightclubs. For 20 years. The things I saw people do while they were high would amaze most people who’ve never worked in that kind of environment.

But when someone was a mess to the point of passing out, our first responsibility was not to call first responders because having first responders show up at your club was a black mark against your license. Too many ambulances and your liquor license could come up for review.

We got them off the dance floor or out of the bathroom or wherever we found them and took them to a back room where we tried to revive them ourselves. I heard of one place in Boston that allegedly used to take them out and put them in the alley behind the club. That was cold.

Boston finally changed the rules so that calling first responders for a medical emergency could not be used against your license.

You can read the article by Blake Farmer (of Nashville Public Radio) at this KHN link.

Rave attendees enjoying their coffee highs.

I did not know the basis for “Go Ask Alice” was basically a con job

If you’re a person of certain age, chances are you were assigned the 1971 book “Go Ask Alice” in middle or high school. The book was used by educators everywhere as a cautionary tale against rebellion and drugs. Kids loved it because of it contained swearing and frank expressions of sexuality.

I don’t recall reading the book, but I remember seeing it everywhere.

I also don’t remember the attendant controversies. Publishing industry drama is rarely on a teenager’s radar. Apparently it was a big deal.

From Wikipedia:

Upon its publication, almost all contemporary reviewers and the general public accepted it as primarily authored by an anonymous teenager. According to Lauren Adams, Publishers Weekly magazine was the only source to question the book’s authenticity on the grounds that it “seem[ed] awfully well written”. Reviews described the book as either the authentic diary of a real teenage girl, or as an edited or slightly fictionalized version of her authentic diary. Some sources claimed that the girl’s parents had arranged for her diary to be published after her death. However, according to Alleen Pace Nilsen, a “reputable source in the publishing world” allegedly said that the book was published anonymously because the parents had initiated legal action and threatened to sue if the published book could be traced back to their daughter.

Not long after Go Ask Alice’s publication, Beatrice Sparks began making public appearances presenting herself as the book’s editor. (Ellen Roberts, who in the early 1970s was an editor at Prentice Hall, was also credited at that time with having edited the book; a later source refers to Roberts as having “consulted” on the book.)[54] According to Caitlin White, when Sparks’ name became public, some researchers discovered that copyright records listed Sparks as the sole author—not editor—of the book, raising questions about whether she had written it herself.Suspicions were heightened in 1979 after two newly published books about troubled teenagers (Voices and Jay’s Journal) advertised Sparks’ involvement by calling her “the author who brought you Go Ask Alice”.

I bring all this up because New Yorker writer Casey Cep takes a look at the ongoing questions about “How a Mormon Housewife Turned a Fake Diary Into an Enormous Bestseller.”

If you had twenty dollars and a few hours to spare during the fall of 1970, you could learn about “The Art of Womanhood” from Mrs. Beatrice Sparks. A Mormon housewife, Sparks was the author of a book called “Key to Happiness,” which offered advice on grooming, comportment, voice, and self-discipline for high-school and college-aged girls; her seminar dispensed that same advice on Wednesdays on the campus of Brigham Young University, a school from which she’d later claim to have earned a doctorate, sometimes in psychiatry, other times in psychology or human behavior. “Happiness comes from within,” Sparks promised, “and it begins with an understanding of who and what you really are!”

Such an understanding seems to have been elusive for Sparks, who was then calling herself a lecturer, although she would soon enough identify as a therapist and occasionally as a counsellor or a social worker or even an adolescent psychologist, substituting the University of Utah or the University of California, Los Angeles, for her alma mater, or declining to say where she had trained. But, wherever she studied and whatever her qualifications, Sparks was destined to become best known for being unknown. Although her book on womanhood was a flop, she went on to sell millions of copies of another book, one that even today does not acknowledge her authorship, going into printing after printing without so much as a pseudonym for its author. “Go Ask Alice,” the supposedly real diary of a teen-age drug addict, was really the work of a straitlaced stay-at-home mom.

I think it’s hilarious that the whole thing started to unravel because Sparks, the moralizing anti-drug housewife-turned-crusader, was greedy for attention and couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

You can read the rest of the New Yorker article here.

BTW it’s a common misconception that Jefferson Airplane’s hit “Go Ask Alice” was based on the book, when it was actually the other way around: the publisher picked the name because of the song.

There was a made-for-TV movie of the same name starring William Shatner and Andy Griffith. Weirdly, it has a not terrible rating from IMDB. As usual with movies of this kind, the bad reviews are more interesting than the gushing ones.

See page below from TV Guide.

NY Times throws more cold water on stories of cops who overdose on fentanyl merely by touching it in the field

On June 16, a Kansas City TV station ran a story about a local cop who, having simply had slight skin contact with fentanyl during an arrest, passed out and had to be revived with multiple doses of Narcan. Today the New York Times examines the cops-fentanyl phenomenon.

The [Kansas City] officer was taken to a nearby hospital and later released, and, like clockwork, the vivid footage began circulating. But there’s one major problem with all this: It’s nearly impossible for the symptoms depicted to have been caused by “fentanyl exposure.” The scientific literature shows, definitively, that brief contact with fentanyl is not sufficient for it to enter the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier to cause such a rapid overdose. All the way back in 2017, America’s leading toxicological societies noticed the spread of these viral exposure stories and tried to put them to rest; there have since been countless fact-checks and scientific debunkings by major news outlets, including one from The Times’s editorial board. Last month, a 33-year-old clinical toxicologist and emergency-medicine pharmacist named Ryan Feldman co-published a case study about the time he accidentally spilled a mammoth dose of pure liquid fentanyl all over himself at work; he simply washed it off, with no adverse effects.

It’s not that the symptoms seen on video are feigned. Some psychologists suggest a kind of “mass psychogenic illness” is afoot, or a form of conversion disorder — neurological symptoms without a clear physical cause — or, potentially, simple panic attacks. Police officers have been told, by authorities including the Drug Enforcement Administration, that microscopic amounts of fentanyl can be deadly; they are taught to fear this substance. Their bodies may react accordingly, exhibiting symptoms, like rapid breathing, that are indicative of distress and panic. (Fentanyl produces the exact opposite effect; high doses result in slow and shallow breaths.)

There have been so many debunkings of these stories that one suspects that most reporters and editors know by now what they are doing when they push these false narratives about the danger of casual, glancing fentanyl exposure.

PBS and Nova ask: Is Delta-8 legal cannabis?

I feel old.

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Delta-8. ‘Twas a time when this kind of thing would have definitely not escaped my notice.

Oh, well. You get older, and getting high for the sake of getting high become less alluring.

Anyway, no judgment meant at all for people who are using such things.

But PBS and NOVA have a short film up about it that might be worth taking a look at.

Part of the transcript reads:

Narrator: You may not know this, but there are actually several different kinds of THC—the chemical in cannabis that makes you feel high. The well known one that comes from the cannabis plant is technically called Delta-9 THC.

But a new kind has emerged in the past few years—it’s called Delta-8 THC. Instead of coming directly from the cannabis plant, Delta-8 is synthesized in the lab.

Kyle Boyar: The chemical formulas are exactly the same. All that’s happened now is we’ve just moved the bond over one.

Narrator: In other words, Delta-8 and Delta-9 have the same number and type of atoms, but one of the bonds connecting those atoms is in a different place.

Kyle: The only difference is we have a double bond that’s been moved. So the double bonds on one side with Delta-9, then you move it over and it becomes Delta-8.

Narrator: So why is this new THC variety now being heavily marketed for both medical and recreational uses? Well, mainly it’s a way for cannabis producers and distributors to get around laws in states that ban THC.

To understand why, you have to start with the plant hemp. Hemp is legally defined as cannabis with no more than 0.3% of Delta-9 THC. Hemp is legal, and so is its crucial ingredient CBD. And from CBD, you can synthesize Delta-8 THC.

So in states that have banned cannabis that contains more than 0.3% of Delta-9 THC, Delta-8 falls into a legal loophole.

You can read the rest here. Or watch it below.

Drug companies lie when they say they have to charge high prices so they can invest in new R&D

It’s a notion that conservative columnists and think tanks — including Andrew Sullivan — have pushed with great confidence: pharmaceutical manufacturers in America and elsewhere must be able to charge exorbitant prices because they then plow that money into research and development which yields the next new wonder drugs.

But if we start with the baseline average that big pharma likes to put forth — that it takes $2.6 billion dollars R&D to bring a drug from basic science through FDA final approval — then AARP says its own analysis says that big pharma makes back its $2.6 billion dollars relatively quickly and then goes on to reap huge profits:

A new AARP analysis finds that the billions of dollars Medicare Part D spent over five years for just 10 top brand name prescription drugs more than made up for the money drugmakers say it costs to research and develop new medications.

AARP’s Public Policy Institute looked at total Medicare spending between 2016 and 2020 on the 10 brand name drugs that the program spent the most on in 2020. This research found that, for example, Medicare spent $27.2 billion during that period to pay for Eliquis, a blood thinner used to treat atrial fibrillation (Afib), a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat. That’s more than 10 times what the pharmaceutical industry says is the average cost to develop a new drug: $2.6 billion.

“These findings speak to the drug companies’ ongoing argument that they can’t reduce prices because they need that money for research and development,” says Leigh Purvis, AARP Public Policy Institute director of health care costs and access. “What this shows is that they’ve more than recouped those costs from Medicare Part D alone.”

On average, total Part D spending on the drugs reviewed over the five-year period was more than five times higher than the average cost to develop a new drug.

As part of its Fair Drug Prices Now campaign, AARP has called on Congress to lower the prices of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with drugmakers, placing a cap on Part D out-of-pocket costs and levying penalties on companies that raise medication prices higher than the rate of inflation.

Purvis pointed out that the money the drugmakers get from Medicare doesn’t include sales of the drugs through other types of health care coverage or sales in other countries. “This is just a small snapshot of how much money they are making from these drugs,” Purvis said.

The AARP report also cited 2021 data from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, which found that from 2016 to 2020, the 14 leading drug companies spent $577 billion on stock buybacks and dividends—$56 billion more than they spent on R&D over the same period. The $2.6 billion average cost of development, Purvis said, is an industry-generated estimate and other researchers have challenged that figure as too high.

Keep in mind that many highly respected drug development studies have disputed that $2.6 billion cost-of-development figure, saying it’s actually much lower for almost every drug developed. Note also that, very often, much of the cost of basic science and clinical trials is borne by the government through the NIH (i.e., the taxpayers).

You can read the rest here.

Medicare spending dwarfs development costs

Here’s a look at what Medicare spent on 10 brand name medications from 2016 through 2020. In all cases, the spending was much more than the $2.6 billion the drug industry says it spends to bring a product to market.

  • Eliquis, used to treat atrial fibrillation: $27.2 billion
  • Revlimid, used to treat cancer: $20.1 billion
  • Xarelto, used to treat atrial fibrillation: $16.7 billion
  • Januvia, used to treat diabetes, $15.9 billion
  • Lantus Solostar, used to treat diabetes, $12.7 billion
  • Imbruvica, used to treat cancer: $9.6 billion
  • Symbicort, used to treat asthma and COPD: $8.7 billion
  • Trulicity, used to treat diabetes, $7.9 billion
  • Ibrance, used to treat breast cancer: $7.8 billion
  • Jardiance, used to treat diabetes: $4.9 billion

SCOTUS: Doctors who prescribe in good faith cannot so easily be convicted of trafficking

When a majority SCOTUS opinion is written by Justice Stephen Breyer, and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, you know its an odd decision:

The Supreme Court today unanimously sided with two physicians who were convicted of drug trafficking based on opioid prescriptions that federal prosecutors portrayed as medically inappropriate. Six justices said the government is required to prove that a doctor “knowingly or intentionally” exceeded the authorization for medical use of controlled substances. Three justices disagreed with the majority’s legal analysis but concluded that a doctor cannot be convicted of drug trafficking if he acted in “good faith.”

The decision in Ruan v. United States sends both cases back to the lower courts so they can assess the defendants’ arguments that the instructions received by the juries that convicted them misstated the law seriously enough that they are entitled to new trials. But whether or not they prevail on those claims, the ruling represents an important limit on prosecutions that have long had a chilling effect on pain treatment. Physicians who prescribe opioids based on an honest belief that they are practicing good medicine now have less reason to fear that they will nevertheless face federal charges that could send them to prison for decades.

Kate Nicholson, executive director of the National Pain Advocacy Center, is “thrilled with the ruling,” which she says “entirely tracked the argument we made in our amicus curiae brief.” Under Ruan, she notes in an email, “doctors authorized to prescribe controlled substances can only be convicted for violating the Controlled Substances Act when they intend or know that they are prescribing in an unauthorized manner.” That requirement, she says, is especially important for “doctors treating patients in pain, who might otherwise be deterred from meeting the needs of their patients by the fear that disagreement with their medical judgment would subject them to serious criminal liability.”

The fact is that some very wise and learned doctors were becoming skittish about prescribing legitimate pain killers because they were afraid of the government coming after them if patients end up abusing them.

I’m willing to tolerate a few pill mills in exchange for cancer patients in unimaginable (for most of us) pain getting the meds they need to make their often short lives bearable.

Are cops nearly dying from just touching fentanyl during drug busts?

It didn’t take writer Alex Pareene very much in the way of digging to find out that cop-vs-fentanyl stories are overblown except in the most extreme circumstances. So he called Kansas City’s Channel 5 to see if they were going to follow-up their melodramatic story about a cop having a fentanyl-related brush with death with a real news story in which the reporters talked to actual experts (as opposed to just the cops). Experts who would say that it was unlikely that the cop vs. fentanyl incident happened the way the cops said it did:

It was relatively easy to get the news director of KCTV5 in Kansas City on the line. I am just putting that here for the record, if you happen to be a Kansas City resident. There’s a phone number on the website.

It was not easy to get the news director of KCTV to answer a pretty simple question. A few days ago, the station put out a very dramatic story about a police officer’s seeming brush with death. The headline was: “‘I knew I was dying’: How 5 rounds of Narcan possibly saved KCK police officer’s life.” The “possibly” is pretty important there, because in reality, an overdose would’ve been stopped by one round of Narcan, and a fentanyl overdose is exceedingly unlikely to occur from incidental physical touch. If that was how it worked, that is how users would ingest it, and first responders suffering from effects of exposure would stop breathing, not get short of breath. This is all pretty basic stuff that ER doctors and nurses and medical experts of various stripes attempted to share in the responses to KCTV5’s official account and the account of the lead reporter of the story, to no avail.

In response to the blowback to the story, the station added an editor’s note. Oddly, the clarification did not address a single one of the actual expertise-based criticisms of the story. Instead, it quoted the police (again) and the Drug Enforcement Administration, a federal law enforcement agency that was, not coincidentally or ironically, one of the original sources of the idea that a beat cop’s life is endangered in the mere presence of an opiate that hospital workers handle daily.

The news director at Channel 5 mostly likely knew they were wrong because that news director became snotty and hung up on Pareene.

Snotty is a always a good sign when talking to a journalist that they’ve been caught doing something lazy and/or stupid and they just can’t own up to that fact.

In all but the most extreme (and therefore unlikely) circumstances, real experts on fentanyl say that the same simple precautions that cops should be taking at every crime scene (gloving up is huge) would nearly always be enough to protect them from fentanyl.