Pubdate: Sun, 09 Oct 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Timothy Egan


PORTLAND, Ore. - The budtenders of the Rose City are relentlessly
helpful with tips pairing a marijuana strain that is "equal parts
fruity and musky" with a stimulating Sichuan dish. As Oregon, the
place where empires once clashed over the global trade of beaver furs,
glides into a second year of legalized recreational pot, the state is
determined to show the world that a certain kind of drug prohibition
belongs in history's Dumpster.

Soon, with the likely passage of legal pot in California next month,
all of the West Coast - from the tundra of Alaska to the sun-washed
suburbs of San Diego - will be a confederacy of state-regulated
marijuana use.

Across the Pacific, a completely a different view of drug use is
playing out in the horror of the Philippines. That country is ruled by
Rodrigo Duterte, a crude and brutal strongman known as the Donald
Trump of the Philippines. Under his watch, more than 3,500 suspected
drug users and dealers have been killed. Many of those murders are
"extrajudicial," as the State Department calls them.

Comparing his vigilante campaign to Hitler's Holocaust, the Philippine
president recently said "I'd be happy to slaughter" three million drug
users. By killing that many of his own people, Duterte said he would
"finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from
perdition." This is a Category 5 human rights disaster in the making,
and should be universally condemned.

The world has always been bipolar when it comes to our fellow humans
prone to addiction and chemical diversion. One impulse is hysterical -
the sweeping, lock-'em-up tragedy of the United States following the
crack epidemic, the numerous executions in places like Iran and the
Philippines. The other is historical, at least by modern standards:
the attempt by states in the American West (and a ballot measure in
Maine this year) to call out the drug war for the farce that it is.

Throughout these swings, little has changed among a vulnerable cohort
of humanity. And until a way is found to permanently balance dopamine
levels, we will always have small but significant portion of the
population prone to addiction. Benjamin Franklin abused laudanum, an
opium and alcohol mixture for his bodily pains. And Sigmund Freud was
more than a casual user of cocaine.

The current opioid epidemic in places not usually associated with drug
dens and dirty needles shows that addiction is not confined to ZIP
codes of economic despair. On Staten Island, home to many a New York
cop, there have been 71 deaths attributed to heroin overdose so far
this year.

Heroin is the drug of choice in small towns in New England and
wide-open rural areas across the country. Blacks and Latinos use and
sell drugs at roughly the same rate as whites, but 57 percent of the
people locked up for a drug offense in 2014 were nonwhite.

Perhaps because so many addicts are white and suburban, or white and
rural, there is now a rare bipartisan consensus emerging for wholesale
reform of the drug laws.

We can start, nationwide, with marijuana. Though legalization is not
without its problems - a spike in emergency room visits attributed to
edible pot, persistent black market dealers - it's mostly been no big
deal. Across the legalized West, consumers frequent their corner pot
shop to talk varietals and buzz strength. Homegrown gardeners pass on
suggestions to avoid bud rot as harvest nears. Tax revenue from sales
- - though not a panacea - flows to schools and roads and treatment programs.

It all works, for the most part. And when California, now the world's
sixth largest economy, passes its legal pot measure in November as
expected, it will truly be game over for this absurd form of

So why are nearly 600,000 people arrested in the United States for
simple possession of marijuana every year? And why is pot still
illegal on the federal level? People in the loop of this policing
circle know it is an absurd and Sisyphean use of law

The opioid crisis is a tougher problem. Some years ago, at the height
of the crack scare, I was given an assignment to go to the worst drug
dens in urban America. I ran into my share of scary and sketchy dudes,
yes. But where I expected to see "super-predators" and lifetime addled
"crack babies," I instead found a fascinating variety of people
struggling with an ancient affliction. Many of them could not get into

A clear majority of Americans now favor pot legalization. The problem
is the federal government, which still classifies marijuana as a
Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin and L.S.D. If pot was legalized
nationwide, with a tax on every sale designated for treatment, it
would free up the police to get at serious crimes, while ensuring that
no addict would be denied treatment for lack of funds. As with most
social reforms, it only seems impossible until it's obvious.
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MAP posted-by: Matt