Cocaine and Colombia

The first line of a recent Washington Times story about cocaine in Colombia spells the country incorrectly. ‘Ninety-five percent of the cocaine sold on the streets of the United States today comes from Columbia.’ Don’t get me wrong, we all make mistakes. But c’mon. Really? Then, the rest of the article mixes the spellings.

It’s weird.

Here’s what’s going on, according to the Economist:  “In October some 200 FARC troops here, like up to 15,000 of their comrades across the country, will assemble at a designated area and start putting their weapons into containers under the watchful eyes of a UN mission that will later supervise their destruction. ‘There’s optimism, but there’s also a lot of mistrust,’ says a burly man who is the civilian leader in the FARC territory and gives his name as ‘Grossman.’

The FARC’s disarmament and conversion into a political party is the crux of a peace agreement forged over four years of hard talking in Havana and signed in Cartagena on September 26th. It is not quite true to say, as Juan Manuel Santos, the president, told the UN General Assembly on September 21st, that ‘the war in Colombia is over.’ There are other illegal armed groups. But the struggle between the FARC and the state, exacerbated in earlier years by right-wing paramilitaries, was by far the biggest conflict. It was responsible for most of the 220,000 deaths due to conflict and thousands of kidnappings seen over the past five decades. It displaced perhaps 6m people.

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The agreement comprises 297 dense pages. It is of enormous complexity and involves controversial trade-offs, especially between peace and justice. Politically, if not legally, it can only come into effect if it is ratified by Colombian voters in a plebiscite on October 2nd. Polls suggest that around 60% of those that turn out will vote Yes. But will enough do so to meet the minimum 4.5m votes (13%) campaign in which the naysayers, inspired by Álvaro Uribe, a former president, accuse Mr Santos of selling out democracy and claim he could and should have struck a harder bargain. The Yes campaign counters that its opponents really favour war.”

Essentially, this was the best deal that could be struck.

Even the conservative Washington Times, which can’t even spell the country’s name properly, agrees.

“The White House, the Drug Enforcement Administration, State Department and Department of Defense all have means to coordinate with and assist Colombia in fighting drugs. It’s time to recognize the FARC peace deal for what it is — necessary but dangerous — and take steps to avoid the growth of a narco-state in Colombia that could well fuel a drugs-and-crime epidemic in the United States.”

With all the discussion over Donald Trump’s cocaine habit, Colombian policy seemed particularly relevant!

Here’s a classic!

 

 

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Rebranding: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Coffee

For millions of Canadians, there is no icon in business more collectively beloved than Tim Hortons. “Tim’s” – as the franchise is affectionately called – long ago transcended the humble domain of doughnuts and coffee. Instead, it is now a part of the Canadian national identity – one of those rare brands by which individuals and societies categorize themselves.

Forget beer. Tim Hortons coffee is Canada’s drug of choice.

beer

And it is a fascinating historical and political development that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party cleverly latched onto this when pitching itself to the masses. The Tories held photo-ops inside Tim Hortons outlets across Canada and made sure to be photographed delivering Tim Hortons goodies around various communities.

In 2009, one researcher felt that the Tim Hortons X factor was essential enough to warrant asking voters which party leader was more likely to buy their coffee at Tim’s. No surprises here, the Conservatives edged the Liberals in this category. Canadians had, in short, developed a culture of conservative coffee.

With the recent election of Justin Trudeau and a new Liberal government (which promised hope and change), the time is right to take a step back and assess the relationship between Tim Hortons and politics.

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Trudeau family at Halloween. May the 4th be with you.

* * * * *

Tim Hortons opened its first location in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario. It was co-founded by NHL player, Tim Horton, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, among other teams. In succeeding decades, thousands more popped up across the country, making it more successful in Canada than McDonald’s. Sure, the arrival of the coffee chain in a small town sometimes meant the end of local ‘mom-and-pop’ shops, but its presence produced more excitement than resentment. Getting a Tim Hortons was a sign that a community – however small – had made it.

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Tim handles the puck

Over the course of 50 years, Tim Hortons caught and surpassed the big-name American burger chains to become the undisputed champion of Canada’s “quick service restaurant” market.

By 2004, the term “double-double” entered the Oxford dictionary of Canadian English, signifying recognition of its importance to everyday speech. Ordering a drink of this kind represented, at least for some commentators and scholars, more than just habit. It was and remains an act of solidarity within the national body politic. According to the Globe and Mail, one estimate suggests Tim’s sells nearly eight in 10 cups of coffee sold in Canada.

double doublealways fresh

Most pharmaceutical companies would kill for that kind of market share.

This road to dominance was chronicled in Ron Joyce’s Always Fresh, an insider’s account of Tim Horton and the business named after him.  At times, it is a devastatingly blunt account of the chaotic and complicated personal story behind one of Canada’s most successful businesses.

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Ron Joyce, one of the co-founders of the franchise, chronicles the drugs, the infidelity, an epic court battle, and one spectacular, fatal car crash – that of Tim Horton himself, which was booze-fuelled and largely overlooked until recently.  Joyce, in short, takes his readers behind the counter, into the kitchen, and demonstrates the inner-workings of the company.

The tone of tenor of the book are inherently and recognizably free-market. It is a Horatio Alger, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, local-boy-makes-good narrative. First, Joyce settled in Hamilton and worked menial jobs in factories, scraping together enough to get by. Later, he joined law enforcement and increased his measly pay by taking on a variety of odd jobs, including: a produce truck driver, construction worker, and then Brinks guard. Finally, he simply fell into the restaurant business in his mid-thirties and then, through sheer hard work and force of will, he went on to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country.

We have all been exposed to this upwardly mobile narrative before, and it surely one that resonates with free-market advocates and, more generally, economic conservatives. Yet, Joyce’s story is intriguing because it showcases how success can tear at the fabric of friendship and family. According to Maclean’s, “It’s as much about jealousy, greed and betrayal as it is about cash flow and marketing.”

According to Douglas Hunter, politicians, especially the Conservative Party, saw tremendous value in the legend of Tim Hortons and seized on the idea that the company, as well as the hockey player founder, was representative of the average Canadian.

When Condoleezza Rice visited Canada in 2006, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay was photographed taking her to Tim’s. Newspapers referred to this as “double-double diplomacy,” even though she chose to have her coffee black with one sweetener, rather than two creams and two sugars.

Prime Minister Harper also used the Tim Hortons logo as a political stage, including a 2009 speech that welcomed the company back to Canada after it relocated its corporate headquarters from the U.S. To make this political statement, Harper declined an invitation to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, much to the chagrin of the national press.

Harper explicitly referenced how the company was an “essential Canadian story,” which included “success and tragedy,” as well as “big dreams in small towns,” “old fashioned values and tough-fisted business,” “hard work and hockey.” To use David Farber’s phrase, this muscular nationalism, an unshakable patriotism that was popularized by Harper.

Similarly, as Canada prepared to go to war in Afghanistan, the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, contended that troops should have a Tim Hortons at Kandahar Airfield. It would cost the public at least $4 million, but access to Canada’s drug of choice was a boon to morale. “There’s nothing more Canadian than sipping a double-double in Kandahar airfield while you’re watching a hockey game,” noted Gen. Hillier.

According to Hillier’s Afghanistan commander, Brigadier-General David Fraser, when asked what he thought about the idea: “Tim Hortons better get its ass over here, as far as I’m concerned.”

* * * *

The identity crisis Canadians have suffered since Confederation in 1867 has helped Tim Hortons achieve its emblematic status. It doesn’t help that Canadians are so close to the United States and struggle with what makes us distinct.

Essentially, this means we have been desperate to clasp on to everything that helps delineate and comfort us, particularly in a post-1980s globalized world in which national culture has become so tangled with acts of consumption.

Tim Hortons has seized on that and the Conservative Party seized on that, too. “The worst thing a company can do is tell you straight up ‘We are important to your identity,’” says Douglas Hunter. Instead, the politicians made that point. Tim’s was used as a prop and a backdrop. And the coffee formed part of a political strategy, which has helped reinforce the iron grip of a gentle brand.

And while Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, promised hope and change on the campaign trail he made sure to stop in to Tim’s for a cup of coffee. Some drugs, it seems, are hard to kick.

Legal pot won’t affect workplace drug testing, expert says

In today’s Star Phoenix, Alex MacPherson reports on mandatory drug testing in the workplace.

It’s a thoughtful piece and useful for the business community.

Drug-test-Results-Report

The legalization of marijuana will raise numerous issues in the business community, in labour law, and among unions and union members, including pre-employment and random drug testing.  We can see just how complex this will be when we take a look at the United States.

In June of last year, Colorado’s Supreme Court found it legal for a given company to fire an employee who has legally smoked marijuana. But here’s the thing: this shouldn’t be viewed as a sign that employers in every state will have the right to fire employees who use marijuana under the protection of state laws. The reason is that Colorado has its own specific set of labour laws and marijuana laws that led to the court’s finding. 

Basically, different states have different laws when it comes to the consequences for employees who test positive for drugs. Take Maine: the law there prohibits companies from firing employees the first time they test positive, and requires them to offer an opportunity to enter rehab.

Read MacPherson’s article.

drug-testing

Twin Addictions? Zombies (i.e., The Walking Dead) and Bath Salts

In 2015, we are grappling with the addictive properties of The Walking Dead. Based on the best-selling comic book and developed for TV by Frank Darabont, the series has proven to be as enduring and enslaving as many popular drugs.

walking-dead

With only a month left in Season 6, many questions surround the future of Rick, Daryl, and the rest. The zombie hordes have broken through the wall. Ron has set his sights on Carl and the next episode, which is called “Start to Finish,” will likely see the end of a character. But who will it be? Who’s going to lose a body part or two? Tune in…

But zombies don’t only frequent the big and small screen. They don’t simply occupy pages of novels and graphic novels. Quite the opposite. In recent years, drug addicts on bath salts have been portrayed as nightmarish zombies tearing at the flesh of unwitting victims. Let me explain.

bath salts

Bath salts are examples of new classes of designer drugs, which are sometimes referred to as “legal highs.” These are substances with psychotropic effects that have been or are marketed and distributed for recreational use by exploiting gaps in existing drug legislation. Another popular example is the synthetic cannabinoids (“fake marijuana”) marketed under names such as Spice.

In 2012, the Americans made bath salts illegal through the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act and then with the Synthetic Cathinones Control Act a year later. At roughly the same time, Canada introduced measures to ban the key ingredient in bath salts, methlyenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).

The move to schedule and control the drug was surely warranted, yet one can easily detect how the drug was sensationalized as part of this process. Lurid and grotesque stories were reported about bath salts, including the naked zombie attacker who was shot by police in Miami while biting a victim’s face. Rudy Eugene, the face-chewing “zombie,” wasn’t on any bath salts, contrary to a majority of the stories.

Yet, the nation went into full-on moral panic mode. From PBS and Spin to Forbes and GQ magazine, the public was exposed to the new menace in American society. It was the stuff of nightmares. It was a Zombie Bath Salt Apocalypse.

The Big Picture

Cathinones are naturally occurring amphetamine-like substances that come from Khat, a plant found in eastern Africa which has been chewed since at least the tenth century. Synthetic cathinones, not surprisingly, are lab-created derivatives of this compound, dating back to 1928 or so.

By the 1990s, the use/misuse of the synthetic cathinones began to pop up on radar screens and became an issue with law enforcement and government officials.

Before the recent regulation in the past few years, the designer “bath salts” were purchased from dealers, through online distributors, or at book stores, gas stations, and head shops. They got the nickname because they resembled the everyday Epsom salts that bath-lovers pour in their water when they take a soothing soak.

But there are trade names as well: “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Ocean Burst,” “Monkey Dust,” “Sextacy,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “White Lightning” are just some of the varieties one can put in the body rather than the bathtub. Tough to detect, they can be snorted, smoked, or injected.

And the effects of these are similar to MDMA. Users have reported increased energy and empathy, more sociability, and mental and sexual stimulation. The negative side effects of bath salts, on the other hand, have included difficulty breathing, fatigue, insomnia, muscle twitching, nausea, paranoia, violent behavior, and tachychardia.

A Vicious Circle

Compared to traditional psychotropic drugs (cocaine and LSD, for instance), there is relatively scant medical information available. That has not prevented its assignment to the category of Schedule I, meaning it has no known and accepted medical use.

Yet certain researchers raise interesting points. One is that classifying bath salts as schedule I substances without pre-clinical or human research is very problematic.

This move restricts the number of laboratories and institutions with licenses to study the bath salts. As a result, finding an accepted medical use becomes even more difficult, even though there have been suggestions that bath salts could be a viable alternative to amphetamines in dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or severe, treatment-resistant Depression.

This is, in short, a case of the snake eating its tail, and one does not have to look any further than LSD to detect some historical parallels. In the late 1960s, the recreational abuse of LSD as well as the anti-authority, counter-cultural, and outright malevolent images associated with it helped to scuttle research. Now, after over forty years, LSD has begun to make a slow return, and perhaps even a comeback.

lsd

Hyperbole and inaccurate information played a role in the scheduling and controlling of LSD, in other words. This was also the case when it was reported that crazed Mexicans who smoked marijuana went on vicious rampages, or when it was reported that Chinese workers were raping white women in opium dens while customers were “Chasing the Dragon.” With bath salts, which are the latest in a long line of drugs used for their euphoric effects, this hyperbole was readily apparent.

No, bath salts will not turn you into a cannibalistic criminal like Rudy Eugene in Miami. And, no, bath salts will not give you super strength. But the media had no problems in pushing such narratives on news consumers.

Should we be surprised about this type of journalism? Or that it dovetailed with the first synthetic cathinone legislation in 2012, which was passed the same month as the attack? Far from. If anything, the history of drug policy demonstrates how predictable this is.

In the future, the best way to avoid cowering in bed (or hiding behind a big wall) in the face of an imminent zombie bath salt apocalypse is with candor. It’s probably best not to cut off avenues of research or focus on gory thoughts about face-chewing.

the-walking-dead

And, at the very least, it would be prudent to recognize the challenges and dangers of designer drugs like bath salts, even as we place them in a longer history of drugs. This way, like Rick and Daryl, we can create a proactive strategy for evading the zombie hordes.

Saskatoon top place in Canada to be charged for marijuana possession

Saskatoon is one of the cities in Canada that cracks down hardest on possession of minor marijuana and this is incredible, especially in light of the provincial government’s newly unveiled policies on liquor regulation.

As seen here and  here, the Wall government has ushered in a series of new rules that liberalizes alcohol policy in Saskatchewan. We are privatizing liquor in the province. And we are also – to supporters, at least – rationalizing widely unfair policies.

booze 1

It’s strange, then, that the rate of enforcement for possession of marijuana is so variable. In Saskatchewan, for example, Regina is much more lenient than Saskatoon. And we must question what this ultimately means? Just as consistent liquor policies drove debates in government and within the electorate, the lack of rationalization and parity in enforcement rates deserves more consideration.

 

Mr. J. Lundstrom, a Saskatoon -based marijuana advocate.

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The CBC decided to interview me recently about Saskatoon’s enforcement of marijuana.

This is the beginning of the story:Saskatchewan is the place you’re most likely to get busted for simple possession of marijuana and Saskatoon tops the list of major Canadian cities. According to 2014 data from Statistics Canada, 77 per cent of the time Saskatoon police stop someone suspected of having pot, they lay a charge.That compares with 48 per cent in Regina . The Canadian average was 39 per cent.

Meanwhile, if you look at the per capita rates of pot charges, Saskatoon ranks fourth behind Kelowna, Gatineau and Sherbrooke.

Lucas Richert, a history instructor at the U of S who has an academic interest in pop culture and drugs in North America, said we have to look at many factors when it comes to any conclusions we derive from enforcement rates. “Saskatchewan is a microcosm of wildly inconsistent enforcement rates across Canada.” Saskatoon has chosen a specific course of action on pot, Richert said.

“Saskatoon has traditionally adopted the so-called broken windows approach to enforcement of marijuana,” he said. “The broken windows approach is the idea that a visible police presence and severe crackdown on smaller infractions will deter larger crimes.” He added that resources are a large factor to consider when looking at these rates, as well as “the philosophy of a given chief.”

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

Now, the full article can be seen here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-top-place-in-canada-to-be-charged-for-marijuana-possession-1.3249579

On a final note, I wanted to underline a CRUCIAL part of this tale, a part of the interview that didn’t make it to the news – Police Chief Clive Weighill has been very progressive in certain areas, but his policy vis-a-vis marijuana is perplexing. Part of the story has something to do with the fact that he is President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), although this deserves much more exploration in the months and years ahead.

Dallas Buyers Club and Saskatoon Marijuana

I just penned a short piece on Dallas Buyers Club and the current debates about medical marijuana in Saskatoon, SK for the Star Phoenix.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

With the federal election fast approaching, the Harper government’s move to enlarge Canada’s marijuana industry, and the RCMP’s potential actions against dispensaries here in Saskatoon, a lot is happening!

 

The piece begins this way:

In the award-winning 2013 movie, Dallas Buyers Club, we are exposed to heroic patient activism during the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Based on the true story of AIDS-stricken Ron Woodroof, a hard-partying Texas tradesman, the film shows a strikingly thin Matthew McConaughey battle his sickness and the legal authorities in Texas.

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Woodroof, who’s unhappy with his illegally purchased AIDS medicine, and on the edge of death, seeks out alternative and experimental drugs from a doctor in Mexico. Then Ron, being the savvy entrepreneur that he is, quickly establishes a club (a dispensary) to sell his unregulated, sometimes dangerous, imported medicines. In doing so, he operates outside the law and is forced to confront the existing power structure of drug regulation. At one point in the film, Ron storms a town hall meeting of citizens, drug company leaders, and regulators and starts finger-pointing. “People are dying. And y’all up there are afraid that we’re gonna find an alternative without you.”

Saskatoon’s current struggle with illegal marijuana dispensaries has many parallels.

Mark Hauk, who operates Saskatoon’s first medical marijuana dispensary, is one of 13 pot club owners across Canada who has recently received a notice from Health Canada warning of possible RCMP raids.

These stores and clubs are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled and expanded last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.Dallas-Buyers-Club-poster-2013-movie-poster-HD

While this system was certainly upgraded through the Harper government’s Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation, there are still areas for improvement.

According to Neil Boyd at Simon Fraser, “…it is really quite bizarre that they’re using a mail-order system for marijuana as medicine; that’s not the way medicine is usually dispensed. Medicine is usually dispensed through a visit to a physician and through a pharmacy.”

The entire opinion-editorial, which is called “Pot problems have a familiar ring,” can be found here.

Happy Halloween, and a Freaky Fen-Phen Article

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Happy Halloween, everybody!

The best part of the day is not the cute kids in their adorable costumes. Or the wild parties. Or seeing Michael Jackson’s Thriller over and over and over again. No. The best part has to be the treats.

As I was casually munching chocolate bars with my coffee this morning (Wunderbar is my favourite, hands down!), I thought about the implications. For many Canadians and Americans, cleanses are the answer. Some hit the gym, while others get more drastic and take all sorts of diet pills. Often, it is buying the hot new diet pill, like Time magazine shouts below.

Fen-Phen was one of the hottest diet drugs of the 1990s; unfortunately, it proved dreadfully unsafe. In the Encyclopedia of Pharmacology of Society, I offer a short overview of this weight loss therapy. I recount some of the more ghoulish aspects of the drug. I provide insight into the macabre nature of diet pills, much as I did with another frightening article called Trimming Down.

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This textbook, which is about 2000 pages, will be a fantastic resource for all those people wondering about the role of drugs – including diet drugs – in everyday life. Honestly, the price of the book is blood-curdling, but it’s certainly worth the chills. It answers some crucial questions: How powerful is the drug modern industry? What’s it’s role in society, and how are we influenced by it? Who are the major players? And what does the future of drugs hold?

So, have a great Happy Halloween. Enjoy the candy and costumes. Me, I’m going to probably dole out some treats and watch the Princess Bride, as per household tradition. Remember, a book of Pharmacology and Society’s girth would be a great tool to take out all manner of goblins, ghouls, or rodents of unusual size (ROUS)!

Cheers! Enjoy your treats.

 

LSD Has Wondrous Potential

The return of LSD? Call it a comeback? Maybe, maybe not.

Has LSD Matured?
The Return of Psychedelic R&D
By Lucas Richert and Erika Dyck

In February 2014, Scientific American surprised readers with an editorial that called for an end to the ban on psychedelic drug research and criticized drug regulators for limiting access to such psychedelic drugs as LSD (Lysergic acid-diethylamide), ecstasy (MDMA), and psilocybin.

A few months later, Science further described how scientists are rediscovering these drugs as legitimate treatments as well as tools of investigation. “More and more researchers are turning back to psychedelics” to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, various addictions, and other categories of mental illness wrote Kai Kupferschmidt.

Dr. Osmond, the man who coined "psychedelic"
Dr. Osmond, the man who coined “psychedelic”

Historians of medicine and drugs have long held a view that psychoactive substances conform to cyclical patterns involving intense periods of enthusiasm, therapeutic optimism, critical appraisals, and finally limited use. The duration of this cycle has varied, but this historical model suggests psychedelics are due for a comeback tour. It was just a matter of time…

See the full article at Alternet.org
http://www.alternet.org/drugs/lsd-has-wondrous-uses-we-havent-even-begun-tap

Is it Time to Treat Heroin Addiction…with Heroin?

This article was posted on Alternet.org and ActiveHistory.ca http://activehistory.ca/2014/12/heroin-as-treatment-the-calculations-of-a-new-junk-equation/

Heroin as treatment? The calculations of a new ‘junk’ equation

By Lucas Richert

“I have learned the junk equation,” wrote William Burroughs in his semi-autobiographical 1953 book, Junkie. “Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increase enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.” According to Burroughs, the beatnik, spoken word performer, and author of such other novels as Naked Lunch and Queer, heroin was a way of life for habitual users and addicts. It was not simply a drug that enhanced the quality of one’s everyday experiences, nor was it a means to be a more productive individual. Rather, junk was an end in itself.

Burroughs, for his part, used methadone treatment to deal with his junk addiction. Heroin has had a long and troubled history. It started out like many other illegal drugs, including cocaine, LSD, and mescaline, and was initially touted as a wonder drug. Accepted as a legitimate product in the marketplace and tool in the doctor’s black bag, it was widely available in the U.S. and Canada during the 19th century.