“Alive Inside”: Music may be the best medicine for dementia

A heartbreaking new film explores the breakthrough that can help severely disabled seniors: It’s called the iPod VIDEO

"Alive Inside": Music may be the best medicine for dementia

One physician who works with the elderly tells Michael Rossato-Bennett’s camera, in the documentary “Alive Inside,” that he can write prescriptions for $1,000 a month in medications for older people under his care, without anyone in the healthcare bureaucracy batting an eye. Somebody will pay for it (ultimately that somebody is you and me, I suppose) even though the powerful pharmaceutical cocktails served up in nursing homes do little or nothing for people with dementia, except keep them docile and manageable. But if he wants to give those older folks $40 iPods loaded up with music they remember – which both research and empirical evidence suggest will improve their lives immensely — well, you can hardly imagine the dense fog of bureaucratic hostility that descends upon the whole enterprise.

“Alive Inside” is straightforward advocacy cinema, but it won the audience award at Sundance this year because it will completely slay you, and it has the greatest advantages any such movie can have: Its cause is easy to understand, and requires no massive social change or investment. Furthermore, once you see the electrifying evidence, it becomes nearly impossible to oppose. This isn’t fracking or climate change or drones; I see no possible way for conservatives to turn the question of music therapy for senior citizens into some kind of sinister left-wing plot. (“Next up on Fox News: Will Elton John turn our seniors gay?”) All the same, social worker Dan Cohen’s crusade to bring music into nursing homes could be the leading edge of a monumental change in the way we approach the care and treatment of older people, especially the 5 million or so Americans living with dementia disorders.

You may already have seen a clip from “Alive Inside,” which became a YouTube hit not long ago: An African-American man in his 90s named Henry, who spends his waking hours in a semi-dormant state, curled inward like a fetus with his eyes closed, is given an iPod loaded with the gospel music he grew up with. The effect seems almost impossible and literally miraculous: Within seconds his eyes are open, he’s singing and humming along, and he’s fully present in the room, talking to the people around him. It turns out Henry prefers the scat-singing of Cab Calloway to gospel, and a brief Calloway imitation leads him into memories of a job delivering groceries on his bicycle, sometime in the 1930s.



Of course Henry is still an elderly and infirm person who is near the end of his life. But the key word in that sentence is “person”; we become startlingly and heartbreakingly aware that an entire person’s life experience is still in there, locked inside Henry’s dementia and isolation and overmedication. As Oliver Sacks put it, drawing on a word from the King James Bible, Henry has been “quickened,” or returned to life, without the intervention of supernatural forces. It’s not like there’s just one such moment of tear-jerking revelation in “Alive Inside.” There might be a dozen. I’m telling you, one of those little pocket packs of tissue is not gonna cut it. Bring the box.

There’s the apologetic old lady who claims to remember nothing about her girlhood, until Louis Armstrong singing “When the Saints Go Marching In” brings back a flood of specific memories. (Her mom was religious, and Armstrong’s profane music was taboo. She had to sneak off to someone else’s house to hear his records.) There’s the woman with multiple psychiatric disorders and a late-stage cancer diagnosis, who ditches the wheelchair and the walker and starts salsa dancing. There’s the Army veteran who lost all his hair in the Los Alamos A-bomb test and has difficulty recognizing a picture of his younger self, abruptly busting out his striking baritone to sing along with big-band numbers. “It makes me feel like I got a girl,” he says. “I’m gonna hold her tight.” There’s the sweet, angular lady in late middle age, a boomer grandma who can’t reliably find the elevator in her building, or tell the up button from the down, boogieing around the room to the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around,” as if transformed into someone 20 years younger. The music cannot get away from her, she says, as so much else has done.

There’s a bit of hard science in “Alive Inside” (supplied by Sacks in fascinating detail) and also the beginnings of an immensely important social and cultural debate about the tragic failures of our elder-care system and how the Western world will deal with its rapidly aging population. As Sacks makes clear, music is a cultural invention that appears to access areas of the brain that evolved for other reasons, and those areas remain relatively unaffected by the cognitive decline that goes with Alzheimer’s and other dementia disorders. While the “quickening” effect observed in someone like Henry is not well understood, it appears that stimulating those undamaged areas of the brain with beloved and familiar signals – and what will we ever love more than the hit songs of our youth? — can unlock other things at least temporarily, including memory, verbal ability, and emotion. Sacks doesn’t address this, but the effects appear physical as well: Everyone we see in the film becomes visibly more active, even the man with late-stage multiple sclerosis and the semi-comatose woman who never speaks.

Dementia is a genuine medical phenomenon, as anyone who has spent time around older people can attest, and one that’s likely to exert growing psychic and economic stress on our society as the population of people over 65 continues to grow. But you can’t help wondering whether our social practice of isolating so many old people in anonymous, characterless facilities that are entirely separated from the rhythms of ordinary social life has made the problem considerably worse. As one physician observes in the film, the modern-day Medicare-funded nursing home is like a toxic combination of the poorhouse and the hospital, and the social stigma attached to those places is as strong as the smell of disinfectant and overcooked Salisbury steak. Our culture is devoted to the glamour of youth and the consumption power of adulthood; we want to think about old age as little as possible, even though many of us will live one-quarter to one-third of our lives as senior citizens.

Rossato-Bennett keeps the focus of “Alive Inside” on Dan Cohen’s iPod crusade (run through a nonprofit called Music & Memory), which is simple, effective and has achievable goals. The two of them tread more lightly on the bigger philosophical questions, but those are definitely here. Restoring Schubert or Motown to people with dementia or severe disabilities can be a life-changing moment, but it’s also something of a metaphor, and the lives that really need changing are our own. Instead of treating older people as a medical and financial problem to be managed and contained, could we have a society that valued, nurtured and revered them, as most societies did before the coming of industrial modernism? Oh, and if you’re planning to visit me in 30 or 40 years, with whatever invisible gadget then exists, please take note: No matter how far gone I am, you’ll get me back with “Some Girls,” Roxy Music’s “Siren” and Otto Klemperer’s 1964 recording of “The Magic Flute.”

“Alive Inside” opens this week at the Sunshine Cinema in New York. It opens July 25 in Huntington, N.Y., Toronto and Washington; Aug. 1 in Asbury Park, N.J., Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia; Aug. 8 in Chicago, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., Palm Springs, Calif., San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., and Vancouver, Canada; Aug. 15 in Denver, Minneapolis and Phoenix; and Aug. 22 in Atlanta, Dallas, Harrisburg, Pa., Portland, Ore., Santa Fe, N.M., Seattle and Spokane, Wash., with more cities and home video to follow.

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/15/alive_inside_music_may_be_the_best_medicine_for_dementia/?source=newsletter

Commonly Used Drug Can Make Men Stop Enjoying Sex—Irreversibly


Some of the symptoms reported include impotence and thoughts of suicide and depression.

No one should have to choose between their hairline and their health. But increasingly, men who use finasteride, commonly known as Propecia, to treat their male pattern baldness are making that choice, often unwittingly. In the 17 years since Propecia was approved to treat hair loss from male pattern baldness, many disturbing side effects have emerged, the term post-finasteride syndrome (PFS) has been coined and hundreds of lawsuits have been brought.

Finasteride inhibits a steroid responsible for converting testosterone into 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) the hormone that tells hair follicles on the scalp to stop producing hair. Years before Propecia was approved to grow hair, finasteride was being used in drugs like Proscar, Avodart and Jalyn to treat an enlarged prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia). Like Viagra, which began as a blood pressure med, or the eyelash-growing drug Latisse, which began as a glaucoma drug, finasteride’s hair restoration abilities were a fortuitous side effect.

Since Propecia was approved for sale in 1997, its label has warned about sexual side effects. “A small number of men experienced certain sexual side effects, such as less desire for sex, difficulty in achieving an erection, or a decrease in the amount of semen,” it read. “Each of these side effects occurred in less than 2% of men and went away in men who stopped taking Propecia because of them.” (The label also warned about gynecomastia, the enlargement of male breast tissue.)

But increasingly, users and some doctors are saying the symptoms sometimes do not go away when men stop taking Propecia and that their lives can be changed permanently. They report impotence, lack of sexual desire, depression and suicidal thoughts and even a reduction in thesize of penises ortesticles after using the drug, which does not go away after discontinuation.

According to surgeon Andrew Rynne, former head of the Irish Family Planning Association, Merck, which makes Propecia and Proscar, knows that the disturbing symptoms do not always vanish. “They know it is not true because I and hundreds of other doctors and thousands of patients have told them that these side effects do not always go away when you stop taking Propecia. We continue to be ignored, of course.”

In some cases, says Rynne, men who have used finasteride for even a few months “have unwittingly condemned themselves to a lifetime of sexual anhedonia” [condition in which an individual feels no sexual pleasure], the most horrible and cruel of all sexual dysfunctions.”

“I have spoken to several young men in my clinic in Kildare who continue to suffer from sexual anaesthesia and for whom all sexual pleasure and feelings have been obliterated for all time. I have felt their suffering and shared their devastation,” he wrote on a Propecia help site.

Sarah Temori, who launched a petition to have finasteride taken off the market on Change.org, agrees. “Many who have taken Propecia have lost their marriages, jobs and some have committed suicide due to the damage this drug has done to their bodies,” she writes. “One of my loved ones is a victim of this drug. It’s painful to see how much he has to struggle just to make it through each day and do all the daily things that we take for granted. No doctors have been able to help him and he is struggling to pay for medical bills. He is only 23.”

Stories about Propecia’s disturbing and underreported side effects have run onCNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and on Italian and English TV news.

The medical literature has also investigated finasteride effects. A study last year in Journal of Sexual Medicine noted “changes related to the urogenital system in terms of semen quality and decreased ejaculate volume, reduction in penis size, penile curvature or reduced sensation, fewer spontaneous erections, decreased testicular size, testicular pain, and prostatitis.” Many subjects also noted a “disconnection between the mental and physical aspects of sexual function,” and changes in mental abilities, sleeping patterns, and/or depressive symptoms.

A study this year in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology finds that “altered levels of neuroactive steroids, associated with depression symptoms, are present in androgenic alopecia patients even after discontinuation of the finasteride treatment.”

Approved in Haste, Regretted in Leisure

The rise and fall of Propecia parallels other drugs like Vioxx or hormone replacement therapy that were marketed to wide demographics even as safety questions nipped at their heels. Two-thirds of American men have some hair loss by age 35, and 85 percent of men have some hair loss by age 50, so Propecia had the promise of a blockbuster like Lipitor or Viagra.

Early ads likened men’s thinning scalps to crop circles. Later, ads likened saving scalp hair to saving the whalesand won awards. Many Propecia ads tried to take away the stigma of hair loss and its treatment. “You’d be surprised who’s treated their hair loss,” said one print ad depicting athletic, 20-something men. In 1999 alone, Merck spent $100 million marketing Propecia directly to consumers, when direct-to-consumer advertising was just beginning on TV.

Nor was Propecia sold only in the U.S. Overseas ads compared twins who did and did not use the product. In the U.K., the drugstore chain Boots aggressively marketed Propecia at its 300 stores and still does. One estimates says Propecia was marketed in 120 countries.

Many have heard of “indication creep,” when a drug, after its original FDA approval, goes on to be approved for myriad other uses. Seroquel, originally approved for schizophrenia, is now approved as an add-on drug for depression and even for use in children. Cymbalta, originally approval as an antidepressant, went on to be approved for chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Less publicized is “warning creep,” when a drug that seemed safe enough for the FDA to approve, collects warning after warning once the public is using it. The poster child for warning creep is the bone drug Fosamax. After it was approved and in wide use, warnings began to surface about heart problems, intractable pain, jawbone death, esophageal cancer and even the bone fractures it was supposed to prevent. Oops.

But finasteride may do Fosamax proud. In 2003, it gained a warning for patients to promptly report any “changes in their breasts, such as lumps, pain or nipple discharge, to their physician.” Soon, “male breast cancer” was added under “postmarketing experience.” In 2010 depression was added as a side effect and patients were warned that finasteride could have an effect on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests. In 2011, the label conceded that sexual dysfunction could continue “after stopping the medication” and that finasteride could pose a “risk of high-grade prostate cancer.” In 2012, a warning was added that “other urological conditions” should be considered before taking finasteride. In 2013, the side effect of angioedema was added.

A quick look at Propecia approval documents does not inspire confidence. Finasteride induces such harm in the fetuses of lab animals, it is contraindicated in women when they are or may potentially be pregnant and women should not even “handle crushed or broken Propecia tablets when they are pregnant.”

Clinical trials were of short duration and some only had 15 participants. While subjects were asked aesthetic questions about their hairline during and after clinical trials, conspicuously absent on the data set were questions about depression, mental health and shrinking sexual organs.

In one report an FDA reviewer notes that Merck did not name or include other drugs used by subjects during trials, such as antidepressants or GERD meds, suggesting that depression could have been a known side effect of Propecia. Elsewhere an FDA reviewer cautions that “low figures” in the safety update are not necessarily reliable because the time period was “relatively short” and subjects with sexual adverse events may have already “exited from the study.” An FDA reviewer also wrote that “long-term cancer effects are unknown.” Breast cancer was noted as an adverse event seen in the trials.

Propecia Users Speak Out

There are many Propecia horror stories on sites founded to help people with side effects and those involved in litigation. In 2011, a mother told CBS news she blamed her 22-year-old son’s suicide on Propecia and Men’s Journal ran a report called “The (Not So Hard) Truth About Hair Loss Drugs.”

In a database of more than 13,000 finasteride adverse effects reported to the FDA, there were 619 reports of depression and 580 reports of anxiety. Sixty-eight users of finasteride reported a “penis disorder” and small numbers reported “penis deviation,” “penis fracture” and “micropenis.”

On the patient drug review site Askapatient.com, the 435 reviews of Propecia cite many examples of depression, sexual dysfunction and shrunken penises.

One of the most visible faces for post-finasteride syndrome is 36-year-old UK resident Paul Innes. Previously healthy and a soccer player, Innes was so debilitated by his use of Propecia, prescribed by his doctor, he founded a web siteand has gone public. Appearing on This Morning last month, Innes describes how using Propecia for only three months on one occasion and three weeks on another produced a suicidal depression requiring hospitalization, sexual dysfunction and a reduction of the size of his reproductive anatomy, none of which went away when he ceased the drug. He and his former girlfriend, Hayley Waudby, described how the physical and emotional changes cost them their relationship, even though she was pregnant with his child.

In an email I asked Paul Innes if his health had improved after the ordeal. He wrote back, “My health is just the same if not worse since 2013. I am still impotent with a shrunken penis and still have very dark thoughts and currently having to take antidepressants just to get through every day. Prior to Propecia I was a very healthy guy but now I’m a shadow of my former self. I have only just managed to return to work in my role as a police officer since taking Propecia in March 2013.”

Obamacare drug benefits block access to vital medicines

http://www.economics21.org/files/Medicare-Part-D-Prescription-drug-plan.jpg?1379597781

 

By Kate Randall

8 July 2014

An estimated eight million people have signed up for health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Obama administration has touted this figure as proof that significant numbers of Americans now have access to “affordable,” “high quality,” health care. A look behind the numbers, however—examining the actual content of the plans offered through what is commonly known as Obamacare—reveals a different story.

Many of those enrolling have been shocked to find that many of the more affordable plans offered by private insurers on the ACA health care exchanges come with narrow networks, severely restricting their choices of doctors, hospitals and drugs. Those stepping outside of these networks can face massive deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.

Many of the Obamacare plans are specifically designed to restrict provider networks and drug benefits. While the ACA mandates that certain “essential” benefits must be covered, such as preventive care, and that those with preexisting conditions cannot be excluded, the insurance companies have set premiums and trimmed benefits to make sure their bottom lines are not adversely affected.

Most of the least expensive ACA plans have “closed” drug formularies—a list of allowable prescription drugs, both generic and brand name, that are allowed through the policy. When vital drugs to treat chronic diseases are excluded from the formularies, patients can be saddled with the full cost of theses medications. Making matters worse, these out-of-network costs do not count against deductibles or out-of-pocket maximums.

An article by Dr. Scott Gottlieb at Forbes looked at drugs to treat two chronic conditions: rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and multiple sclerosis (MS). It examined the drug coverage for these conditions offered through the lower-cost, mid-range “silver” ACA plans in the most populous counties in ten states, and found that “none of the plans provided coverage for all of the drugs, or covered any of them without significant cost sharing.”

If paid for outright, the cost of these disease-modifying drugs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars annually. According to the Forbes examination, three drugs used to treat MS were each excluded from two of the ten plans. Estimated annual retail costs for these drugs were staggering: $53,000 for Aubagio, $57,660 for Avonex, and $55,500 for Extavia. Another MS drug—Tecfidera, which costs $62,508 annually—was left off of six of the ten plans.

Of the ten plans studied, similar results were found for drugs to treat RA:

* Xeljanz, annual cost $29,820, excluded from four plans.

* Orencia, annual cost $32,076, excluded from two plans.

* Kineret, annual cost $35,736, excluded from two plans.

* Remicade, annual cost $21,552, excluded from three plans.

* Actemra, annual cost $37,320, excluded from four plans.

Adding to the nightmare for consumers, the precise drug formularies are often difficult to determine before selecting a plan. According to a study by Avalere Health, this formulary information is difficult or impossible to access in almost half of plans sold on the federal healthcare.gov site and the state-run sites. On 38 percent of sites the formulary is not accessible at all, while it was very difficult to access on four percent of sites, and difficult on seven percent.

This means that an individual or family facing a medical diagnosis such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis may sign up for a plan through one of the exchanges, only to find that the drug they need to treat the disease will either not be available, or will have to be obtained outside the plan network at a steep cost.

Patients and their families will be faced with the difficult decision of obtaining the drug at an exorbitant cost, plunging them into debt or personal bankruptcy. Others unable to secure the finances to pay for the drugs will be forced to go without, spelling undue suffering and possible premature death.

As with other aspects of the Affordable Care Act, the restrictive drug policies reflect trends in the health care system overall, as well as serving as a launching pad for instituting even deeper cuts to patient care and treatments. Unlike Medicare, the national insurance program for the elderly and disabled, the ACA offers insurance for sale on the exchanges directly from private insurers, with modest subsidies available for low-income people.

Obamacare’s “individual mandate” requires individuals and families without insurance through their employer or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid to obtain coverage or pay a fine. These penalties will rise to 2.5 percent of taxable income by 2016, guaranteeing a steady stream of cash-paying customers to the for-profit insurers.

Outside of the ACA exchanges, drug manufacturers and the pharmacy benefit management (PBM) organizations are currently sparring over drug prices, particularly for so-called specialty drugs to treat conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis. The battle has nothing to do with providing access to these valuable medicines and everything to do with boosting the companies’ profit margins.

More than 210 million Americans nationwide currently receive drug benefits administered by PBMs, which are responsible for processing and paying prescription drug claims as well as developing drug formularies and negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies. The largest PBM is Express Scripts, a Fortune 100 company with 2013 revenues of $104.62 billion.

In an effort to get the drug companies to lower their prices on certain drugs, Express Scripts recently removed 48 drugs or medical products from a formulary covering more than 25 million people that went into effect in January. One of these was the respiratory drug Advair, produced by GlaxoSmithKline. Advair sales in the US fell 30 percent in the first quarter as a result, while sales of Symbicort, a drug made by rival AstraZeneca that remained on the formulary, rose by 20 percent.

Dr. Steven Miller, chief medical officer of Express Scripts, told the New York Times that the PBM’s new formulary would save the clients who adopt it about $700 million this year, or about 2 to 3 percent of their spending on drugs. These clients are in the main corporate customers looking to reduce health care costs by restricting provider networks and increasing out-of-pocket costs.

David Lassen, chief clinical officer at Prime Therapeutics, a PBM owned by various Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, told the Times, “We are seeing an increased request for these narrower formularies and excluded drugs.”

Patients who rely on these drugs to treat debilitating and life-threatening medical conditions are often forced to stop using the prescription drug recommended by their doctors, with the decision left up to the bureaucrats at Express Scripts, CVS Caremark and the other big PBM’s as they wheel and deal over prices with the profit-gouging pharmaceutical giants.

A report last year by the research and consulting firm GlobalDate of London projected that the pharmaceutical industry will reap between “$10 billion and $35 billion in additional profits over the next decade” as a result of the new plans sold under the Affordable Care Act. This means the US drug industry’s market value would mushroom overall by 33 percent, from $359 billion in 2012 to $476 billion in 2020.

Everything you need to know about UFOs

On July 2nd avid watchers of the skies celebrate World UFO day—the anniversary of the supposed crash of a flying saucer near Roswell in 1947. Helpfully, the National UFO Reporting Centre, a non-profit, has catalogued almost 90,000 reported sightings of UFOs, mostly in America, since 1974. It turns out that aliens are considerate. They seldom disturb earthlings during working or sleeping hours. Rather, they tend to arrive in the evening, especially on Fridays, when folks are sitting on the front porch nursing their fourth beer, the better to appreciate flashing lights in the heavens (see chart). The state aliens like best is Washington—a finding that pre-dates the legalisation of pot there. Other popular destinations are also near the Canadian border, where the Northern lights are sometimes visible. UFOs tend to shun big cities, where there are lots of other lights, and daylight hours, when people might think they were just aeroplanes.

http://www.economist.com/node/21605918?fsrc=nlw|hig|27-06-2014|5356c2cf899249e1ccaef231|

‘Godfather of ecstasy’ Sasha Shulgin who introduced MDMA dies at 88

Published time: June 03, 2014 09:44
Edited time: June 03, 2014 11:1

Alexander Shulgin (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

Alexander Shulgin (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

American medical chemist and pharmacologist of Russian descent Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin, best known for introducing the MDMA (ecstasy) drug to psychology, passed away Monday “peacefully surrounded by friends and family.” He was 88.

Shulgin was an icon of the psychedelic movement in the US, synthesizing previously unknown psychoactive substances and testing them on himself, making detailed reports of his experience later transformed in a number of books, including PiHKAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved) and TiHKAL (Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved).

Through his experiments, Shulgin reportedly synthesized over 200 new psychoactive substances and rated them according to his personal Shulgin Rating Scale.

Alexander Shulgin (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

Alexander Shulgin (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

Shulgin studied organic chemistry at Harvard University. After joining US Navy in 1943, he got interested in psychopharmacology and after the end of WWII completed a post-doctoral course at the University of California, San Francisco, in the late 1950s.

After working as a chemist at Bio-Rad Laboratories, he worked for Dow Chemical as senior research chemist. In 1965 he chose to pursue his own research in psychiatry and pharmacology, organizing a laboratory at his house in Berkeley, California.

A major shift in his research took place in 1976, when Shulgin got acquainted with the MDMA substance first synthesized in 1912 at laboratories of Merck, the German chemical and pharmaceutical company.

In collaboration with Californian psychologist Leo Zeff, Shulgin introduced the substance to hundreds of US psychologists as an aide to talk therapy.

In 1979, Shulgin met his wife-to-be Anna, who became his closest research co-worker and co-author of his books over the years to come.

Alexander Shulgin (R), pharmacologist and chemist known for his creation of new psychoactive chemicals, and his wife Ann (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

Alexander Shulgin (R), pharmacologist and chemist known for his creation of new psychoactive chemicals, and his wife Ann (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

In November 2010 Shulgin suffered a stroke and spent some time in hospital in San Francisco. Because the treatment costs were high and Medicare covered only about 80 percent of them, Shulgin’s admirers organized a fundraising campaign, gathering donations that helped him have proper medical treatment over the next few years.

A few months before he suffered a stroke, Shulgin gave a popular interview to VICE Media’s Hamilton Morris, which was published in May 2010 under a title ‘The Last Interview With Alexander Shulgin’.

In March 2010, director Etienne Sauret released a “Dirty Pictures” documentary on Shulgin’s life and scientific research, describing him as a “rogue chemist who discovered the effects of MDMA (aka Ecstasy) and over 200 other mind-altering drugs.”

http://rt.com/usa/163300-pharmacologist-alexander-shulgin-died/

_________________________________________________

Dear Friends, Sasha died today, at exactly 5 o’clock in the afternoon. He was surrounded by family and caretakers and Buddhist meditation music, and his going was graceful, with almost no struggle at all.

Thanks to all of you, and Blessings,

Ann Shulgin

What Happened to Cyberpunk?

June 8, 2012 // 11:30 AM EST

PART II OF CLAIRE EVANS’ CYBERPUNK SERIES ASKS 10 LEADING SCI-FI THINKERS/WRITERS WHAT CYBERPUNK HAS BECOME. FIND IT HERE.

Cyberpunk, in the popular consciousness, conjures a glut of dissociated images:Blade Runner’s slummy urban landscape, hackers in sunglasses, Japanese cyborgs, grubby tech, digital intoxication, Keanu Reeves as Johnny Mnemonic. But it began as an insanely niche subculture within science fiction, one which articulated young writerly distaste for the historically utopian optimism of the medium and, in turn, provided an aesthetic reference point for burgeoning hacker culture, before metastasizing into a full-on cultural trend.

One of the movement’s chief ideologues, Bruce Sterling, wrote in the introduction to his seminal anthology Mirrorshades that technology in cyberpunk writing was “not outside us, but next to us. Under our skin; often, inside our minds.” In cyberpunk novels, technology isn’t controlled by white-coat boffins in a distant lab on the holy altar of Science, but in our homes, on our streets, in our bodies. Unlike their predecessors in science fiction, the cyberpunks didn’t evangelize gleaming rockets or futuristic weapons. Theirs was a world of technological jetsam, of bionic drugs, of machines in varying states of obsolescence, of cyclopean corporate greed, of subverted tools, of sprawl, error, and menace. With a “faintly hallucinatory sheen around the edges of its dirty chrome fittings,” as another of its major prophets, John Shirley, put it.

Top: still from Johnny Mnemonic. Bottom: photo by Isle of Man

In the cyberpunk world, we don’t behold technology from a safe distance. We jack in, and in doing so, alter our minds. Enter cyberdelics, the cyberpunk spin-off that blended the psychedelic movement with underground technologies, and was championed by people like Timothy Leary and R. U. Sirius. The trend largely ended with the dot-com era; other derivatives of cyberpunk, like steampunk, atompunk and decopunk, manage to persist.

STILL FROM THE NEUROMANCER VIDEO GAME.

Fun as it all sounds, cyberpunk has been out of vogue for over two decades. Sterling pronounced it dead in 1985; a 1993 Wired article rang a more formal death knoll for the movement, predicting, just as the hippies eclipsed the beatniks, the arrival of a new culture in its stead. “The tekkies,” it announced, “will arrive sometime in the mid-1990s, if not sooner.”

Arguably, cyberpunk was less a movement than a tiny subculture – the same Wiredarticle swears there were never more than a hundred hard-core cyberpunks at any time – almost immediately reified, first by the mainstream science fiction establishment, then by mass-market media. As a result, most of the cyberpunk written after the late 1980s was merely genre fiction, and most of its adherents superficial, viz. the hacker glossary Jargon File’s definition of “self-described cyberpunks” as “shallow trendoids in black leather who have substituted enthusiastic blathering about technology for actually learning and doing it.” The Hollywood “Netsploitation” movies of the mid-90s (HackersThe Net) signaled what those hard-core guys already knew: the tekkies’ arrival on the scene notwithstanding, cyberpunk burned out not long after it first lit up.

Top: dummy magazine covers from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, by Tom Southwell, 1982. Bottom: German BMW print ad emulating Blade Runner, 2006

In a sense, it’s a generational thing. In 1980, the writer Bruce Bethke – whose short story “Cyberpunk” inadvertently christened the genre – was working at a Radio Shack in Wisconsin, selling TRS-80 microcomputers. One day, a group of teenagers waltzed in and hacked one of the store machines, and Bethke, who’d imagined himself a tech wiz, couldn’t figure out how to fix it. It was after this incident that he realized something: these teenaged hackers were going to sire kids of their own someday, and those kids were going to have a technological fluency that he could only guess at. They, he writes, were going to truly “speak computer.” And, like teenagers of any era, they were going to be selfish, morally vacuous, and cynical.

Put this way, if punk rock was a counterculture for the television age, then cyberpunk aimed to articulate the teenage anomie of the dawning computer era. Blame the German BMW ad that borrowed liberally from Blade Runner, the decidedly un-punk 1993 Billy Idol record named for the movement, or Matthew Lillard’s braids inHackers, but people sometimes forget the second half of the portmanteau: punk. The genre was conceived to bring countercultural ethos into the 21st century. Cyberpunks hated Buck Rogers like punks hated disco, and they were twice as nihilistic.

Of course, this means that with time, and the inevitable shifting of “the Man” that ensued, most cyberpunks grew out of their anger, or abandoned their co-opted subculture with disdain. It also means, however, that some of the kids who grew up reading William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, and Bruce Sterling became the adults who run the world. And like true old punks, the values – and fears – of their formative years have carried through.

So, back to the question: what happened to cyberpunk? The answer is simple. It’s under our noses.

Privacy and security online. Megacorporations with the same rights as human beings. Failures of the system to provide for the very poor. The struggle to establish identity that is not dependent on a technological framework: the common themes of the cyberpunk classics are the vital issues of 2012. Quite simply, we’re already there, and so of course cyberpunk as a genre is unfashionable: current events always are. Even William Gibson and Neal Stephenson don’t write science fiction anymore. Why bother? We live immersed in the cyberpunk culture that its O.G. prophets envisioned.

Cyberpunk speculated a world where high-tech lowlifes might wheedle themselves inside of monolithic systems – and might, in using the tools of the system against itself, claim some of the future for themselves. And while precious few of us are stalking through Tokyo slums in leather trench coats and mirrored shades, hopped up on cybernetic enhancements, activism coordinated in digital hangouts has effectively toppled governments. We don’t pal around with mercenary cyborgs, but crypto-anarchic hacker collectives are bigger players on the global stage than most nations’ armies. Policemen and more secret entities now rely on robot eyes to scan for suspicious activity while unmanned vehicles and cyber weapons wage their own quiet wars.

CCTV headquarters, OMA, Beijing, 2009

Nearly every large metropolis now has its own second life of location-based game layers; whole buildings are wrapped in screens. There are ads for video games on video billboards, and ads on billboards inside of video games – sometimes even ads for other video games. And, really, anyone with the know-how can buy designer drugs on secret websites using an experimental decentralized online currency.

One of the things that defines science fiction is precisely its tangled hierarchy: do we have Mars rovers because aerospace engineers grew up reading Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, or did Clarke and Heinlein predict the future? Does Anonymous launch DDoS attacks on government websites, rupturing the system, because they all read Neuromancer when they were 15, or is William Gibson just that good? Probably a little of both, in that case.

It’s impossible to know, but we can assume that our idea of technology, our sense of what it can do and how we can live with it, is always going to be at least partially informed by the speculative fiction that first introduced us to it. This is maybe cyberpunk’s most obvious lesson, but it bears repeating: the bigger and weirder you dream, the bigger and weirder the future gets.

PART II OF CLAIRE EVANS’ CYBERPUNK SERIES ASKS 10 LEADING SCI-FI THINKERS/WRITERS WHAT CYBERPUNK HAS BECOME IN THE YEAR 2012. FIND IT HERE.

http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/what-happened-to-cyberpunk–2

Corporations Want Control of the Marijuana Industry — Here’s How to Stop It

Putting the growing legal pot business in the hands of for-profit corporations could pose serious and dangerous consequences to the public

Sam Walsh, a budtender, sets up marijuana products as the 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary prepares to open for retail sales on January 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado

The standard debate about marijuana legalization has been “Should we, or shouldn’t we?” For better and for worse, the country appears to be moving toward answering that question in the affirmative. The next logical question is, or ought to be, “What sorts of organizations do we want to supply that legal marijuana?”

The debate typically skips past that crucial question and presumes that legal cannabis will be produced and sold by for-profit companies—with the government setting some regulatory limits such as restricting access to minors. Colorado and Washington, the two states where voters have already approved legalization, have gone this commercial route.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem so bad. After all, the companies that have obtained licenses to produce or sell marijuana in Colorado, and the quasi-legal medical marijuana dispensaries that operate in a number of states, seem quaint and countercultural right now—hippies enjoying a nice middle-class lifestyle clucking over little plots with fifty or a hundred plants. But such mom-and-pop operations aren’t likely to last.

Cannabis is just a plant. If cannabis production ends up looking anything like modern agriculture, these small, independent operations will be shunted aside by bigger, professional farms. And if cannabis distribution looks anything like distribution of other consumer goods, those farms will supply companies that use marketing savvy to develop and exploit brand equity. These more organized enterprises will be driven by profit and shareholders’ interests, not concern for public health or countercultural values. And as these companies grow, they’ll begin to wield considerable political power. (Note that even the current legal cannabis industry, in its infancy, already has trade associations, lobbies, and holds annual conventions.)

While a few small firms may adroitly adapt to a low-volume, high-touch niche market serving primo brands to college-educated connoisseurs—akin to microbreweries—a larger, corporate reality looms. With 60 percent of marijuana being used by people with a high school education or less, we should expect the majority of consumers to shop for value: they’ll seek Walmart-style everyday low prices, not boutique ambience at boutique prices.

So if we want to avoid a legal cannabis market dominated by large companies that push to sell as much as possible to as many people as possible, then what do we do? How do we design a legal market that protects public health and limits drug abuse?

The most effective model, as Mark Kleiman explains, may be restricting sales to government-owned and -run stores. Right now, that is at best a long shot. Marijuana is still prohibited under federal law, and a state law involving the state government directly in the trade would likely be preempted by the Controlled Substances Act. Even if the federal laws do change, government stores may be political nonstarters, hated by both moral conservatives and libertarians alike. There are two other models, however, that could work. One restricts production and sale to nonprofit organizations. The other restricts production and sale to small user co-ops.

Model 1: The legalization of nonprofit production and sale

Entrusting the supply of sensitive commodities or services to nonprofits—such as blood banks, credit unions, art museums, and so on—is not new. Indeed, a good chunk of economic activity in the United States is conducted by organizations that are neither government nor for-profit enterprises.

Of course, simply designating an organization as a nonprofit doesn’t guarantee that it won’t be self-aggrandizing and politically powerful. (Nonprofit hospitals and universities, for example, compete aggressively, though they are typically more restrained by ethical principles than are corporations.) But in the nonprofit arena one can do more to guard against those tendencies. For example, a nonprofit seeking a marijuana license could be required to have a board of trustees whose members are selected by child welfare and public health agencies. The state could require that any licensee’s charter documents (e.g., its articles of incorporation or bylaws) pledge that it operate in ways that meet demand but eschew promotion, and stipulate that all excess net operating revenues be donated to drug prevention, treatment, or other charitable causes related to substance abuse.

Placing the cannabis industry in the hands of nonprofits committed to fostering public health would rejigger the incentive structure. For-profit corporations seek to grow sales and, as with alcohol and tobacco, the greatest revenues come from the most vulnerable populations; 40 percent of past-month marijuana users today meet clinical guidelines for substance abuse or dependence (on marijuana, alcohol, and/or some other substance). Nonprofits, by design, operate under different prerogatives. They are not inherently interested in expanding sales or streamlining production, since their mission is to serve the public interest, not to maximize shareholders’ profits.

The usual knock against nonprofits is that they do not operate as efficiently as do for-profit businesses. But that hardly matters, because after legalization marijuana production costs will be very low. A typical heavy user can be supplied annually by three square feet of greenhouse space (at forty grams per harvest, four harvests per year), and professional farmers’ annual costs for comparable crops run between $5 and $20 per square foot. Outdoor farming would be even cheaper; all of the marijuana currently consumed in the U.S. each year could be produced on about 10,000 to 15,000 acres—or about a dozen modest Midwest farms.

Production costs today are high because growing is done by two entities: criminal organizations, whose comparative advantage is avoiding enforcement, not practicing agronomy; and by plant-loving aficionados supplying medical dispensaries and other high-end markets from artisanal operations. A decade or so down the road, when the for-profit marijuana farming sector approaches the efficiency of tomato or pepper farmers, the production cost for a joint’s worth of basic, high-potency intoxicant, which runs about $4 today, will drop to about a nickel.

The challenge under a system of legal availability is therefore not achieving greater efficiency and lower prices but, rather, keeping prices from falling too far, since low prices are not good for public health. Multiple studies have shown that consumption rises as price falls. Consumption may be especially price sensitive among heavy users, because marijuana now takes a bigger share of their personal budgets, and among cash-strapped teenagers: two groups whose consumption we’d prefer to see go down, not up.

Low prices also undercut revenues from taxes that are assessed as a percentage of value, as in Colorado and Washington. While nonprofits would not pay corporate income or property taxes, their products would be subject to excise and sales taxes, and employees’ wages would be taxable. (Bringing employees’ wages above the table might generate roughly as much tax revenue as will the sales and excise taxes, something the debate often overlooks.)

Restricting production and sale to nonprofits also solves the problem of how to allow production without also allowing aggressive marketing, including promotions that appeal to youth, such as the Joe Camel campaign or alcopops. It’s very difficult to limit commercial entities’ advertising and other promotional efforts, since they enjoy constitutional protections as “commercial free speech.” (Most restrictions on alcohol and tobacco advertising come from voluntary restrictions, negotiated agreements, and lawsuits, not legislation, which helps explain why they are so weak.)

Placing the industry in the hands of public health-minded nonprofits sidesteps the problem of overzealous promotion, because their interests would be aligned with social welfare, not with shareholders. Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol court youth because it is the only way they can grow, and growth is in their DNA. Nonprofits operate under different incentive structures.

Model 2: Co-ops

Another option would be to restrict production and distribution to user co-ops. The co-op model might be described as “grow-your-own plus share-with-others.” Alaska effectively legalized grow-your-own when its supreme court ruled that growing up to twenty-five plants was protected by the state constitution’s privacy rights, and Colorado’s 2012 proposition, in addition to legalizing large-scale commercial production, allows any adult to grow up to six plants.

One issue with grow-your-own, however, is that not everyone has the time, inkling, or skill to grow marijuana. While growing marijuana would not challenge a professional farmer, it is trickier than growing carrots, and it suffers from the zucchini problem. One productive plant produces more than the average user can consume, but one plant that dies produces nothing. So grow-your-own is feast or famine. Furthermore, some users like variety, and they may not be able to grow all of the strains they would like to consume. Co-ops solve that problem by allowing each registered member to grow one plant or grant that growing right to another member. Members could share or trade within the co-op. Someone who grew Cannabis indica, for example, could swap with someone who grew Cannabis sativa. Someone whose plant thrived might give some of the product to a member whose plant died, knowing that the shoe might be on the other foot after the next harvest. Co-ops would be small, perhaps restricted to 100 members (and thus 100 plants total), enough to overcome the problems of grow-your-own but not enough to allow large-scale production.

Uruguay, which recently became the first country to legalize the production, sale, and use of marijuana, allows such co-ops, or “clubs.” Spain has allowed them too, for quite some time. (Spain’s laws criminalize the sale but not the possession, so sharing falls in a legal gray area.)

The co-op model would not offer all the advantages of full-blown legalization. It would not generate tax revenue, and its small scale and informal nature would leave production looking much like it does today for medical-grade marijuana—a relatively inefficient activity providing handcrafted products. Co-ops might also produce a narrower range of traditional products, like smokable marijuana and simple edibles, but not necessarily candies, bath oils, and highly concentrated forms such as butane hash oil.

Nevertheless, permitting co-ops could take a sizable bite out of the black market. More than half of marijuana users already report that they most recently obtained marijuana for free or by sharing. Others paid, but bought from friends or family. Just 7 percent reported buying from someone other than a friend, relative, or family member. So retail marijuana distribution already operates via an informal co-op model. Shifting to a formal co-op system would simply mean that product would come from co-ops, rather than black market criminal operations.

There is a spectrum of options for legal supply, ranging from none (prohibition with no medical exception) to for-profit enterprise subject only to standard business regulations. The pros and cons of the extreme positions have been well discussed. Prohibition produces black markets, arrests, and imprisonment; private enterprise promotes greater consumption in all forms, including greater abuse.

Colorado and Washington have chosen to swing from close to one end of the spectrum (prohibition except for a quite permissive medical system) to close to the other end (for-profit enterprise subject to standard regulations plus some regulations particular to marijuana). They have skipped over several viable intermediate alternatives.

Allowing organizations to produce, distribute, and sell marijuana but restricting that privilege to nonprofits is better than the Colorado and Washington strategies in almost every respect. In fact, the only people who should prefer commercial marijuana enterprises are those who themselves hope to make millions operating businesses, or hardcore libertarians who don’t believe that government should interfere in a consumer’s right to harm himself through his own bad choices.

And there may be wisdom in moving incrementally. States that jump all the way to the commercial version of legalization will have a hard time stepping back to a nonprofit or co-op model. Once a legal industry becomes entrenched, and has lobbying clout, it will be very hard to uproot. Likewise, a state monopoly model, favored by many experts, will only become an option after national legalization if there is not already an established commercial interest that would fight it. Unless voters are certain that they want for-profit businesses to control the marijuana trade, it would make sense to legalize the industry with one of these intermediate models, at least at first.

HIP-HOP IS ON TRIAL IN AMERICA

By Lauren Schwartzberg 


Illustrsation by Nick Gazin

On April 9 I sat in the second row of New Jersey’s Supreme Court as lawyers debated whether the admission of violent rap lyrics provided proof or prejudice in Vonte Skinner’s attempted murder trial. I was one of about 50 people in the circular, blue-carpeted courtroom, facing the judges, who didn’t look like particularly huge hip-hop fans. They were all white—four men with hairlines in various stages of retreat and two women who were likely sporting orthopedic shoes underneath the benches. Sitting right in front of me were four lawyers. Two were prosecuting him on behalf of the state, while the other two—one defense attorney assigned by the state and one from the New Jersey division of the American Civil Liberties Union—were fighting for Skinner. They were all also middle-aged, white, and categorically wack. They took turns arguing over Skinner’s rap lyrics, reading them aloud with the same stodgy awkwardness with which Brian Williams rapped Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.”

So far, Skinner has served (as of May 15) 2,084 days of a 30-year attempted murder bid. The chain of events that led him to that prison cell in Burlington County Detention Center happened on November 8, 2005. That night, Lamont Peterson was shot in the stomach, chest, back, and side of his head, instantly becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Peterson was a drug dealer working on a team with Skinner. When the police found Peterson lying on the street partially beneath a parked car, they asked him who had filled him full of lead. First, Peterson said he didn’t know. On the way to the hospital, he told another officer it was Skinner. Later, he reverted his account. Finally, after speaking with his mother, Peterson changed his mind once more and said it was Skinner.

Nine days after the initial shooting, Skinner was arrested while driving his girlfriend’s Chevy Malibu. In the back seat of the 212-pound black man’s car the police found his book of rhymes, which they ultimately used to make his conviction. In Skinner’s initial criminal trial, the prosecution read aloud 13 pages of Skinner’s rhymes, which featured bars like “I’m the [person] to drive-by and tear your block up / Leave you, your homey, and the neighbors shot up / Chest, shots will have you spittin’ blood clots up.” Even though some of the songs were written four years before November 2008, the prosecution claimed they proved his “motive and intent.”

The first trial led to a hung jury, but in the follow up Skinner was convicted of attempted murder. Skinner appealed, claiming that admitting the lyrics as evidence constituted a mistrial. The appeal judge agreed. Now that appeal has made it all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court for the final decision.

It is impossible to know just how many trials have permitted rap lyrics as evidence because lyrics are often admitted and read in court without objection or questioning, so the stenographer does not take further note. But lyrics have been used in high-profile cases against rappers like Lil Boosie, C-Murder and Tupac affiliate C-Bo. And academics who have been called as expert witnesses in cases that question the admittance of lyrics, estimate that the problem is pervasive across the country. Prosecutors, on the other hand, argue that if an amateur rapper writes, sings, speaks, or just creates lyrics that advocate violence, he or she is more likely to commit a crime. This line of thinking has put rap on trial in America and many rappers behind bars.

Vonte Skinner’s case is especially important right now as the use of rap lyrics as evidence continues to grow. Detectives in New York City are now monitoring amateur YouTube rap videos for clues into gang violence and crime. And prosecutors are running with it. A training manual produced for the National District Attorneys Association advises, “Through photographs, letters, notes, and even music lyrics, prosecutors can invade and exploit the defendant’s true personality.” If there’s no precedent set in New Jersey against using lyrics as evidence, artistic freedoms in outlets from videos to lyrics to social media posts will continue to break down and convictions made out of bias against rap will land more innocent people behind bars.

Rap as an art form is particularly vulnerable to bias in the courtroom. Dr. Stuart Fischoff conducted a study in 1999 called Gangsta’ Rap and a Murder in Bakersfield. The study tested the biasing effects that result from reading gangsta rap lyrics to a jury. Fischoff’s results were stark—people were more affected by rap lyrics than accusations of murder. To the jury, reading violent gangsta rap lyrics in court invited incredibly strong associations with negative personality traits. “This would suggest,” wrote Dr. Fischoff, “that nice males don’t write ugly lyrics and that males who do are emphatically not nice.”

A big reason for the bias some have against rap comes from misconceptions about the genre. Many outsiders don’t understand its conventions. Charis Kubrin, an associate professor of criminology, law, and society at University of California, Irvine, relates rap to any other form of expression. “A horror film that doesn’t have violence in it, that doesn’t have blood, guts, and gore is not a good horror film,” Kubrin said. The same goes for gangsta rap.

Also, there is often a purpose behind hip-hop’s violent and graphic imagery—a purpose that is either not understood or willfully ignored by the courts. The grisly and debauched lyricism is often a reflection of the culture we live in, and through those controversial words, the music addresses social and political concerns. Because of this quality, Ezra Rosenberg, who is fighting for Skinner on behalf of the New Jersey ACLU, believes rap lyrics deserve “the highest rung of the free-speech hierarchy.”

Although Yale has released an anthology of rap and most colleges have hip-hop studies classes, the general population still struggles to understand rap as a legitimate art form. “The art of rap is deceptive,” Jay Z wrote in his autobiography Decoded. “It seems so straightforward and personal and real that people read it completely literally, as raw testimony or autobiography… It’s all white noise to them until they hear a bitch or a nigga and… feel vindicated in their narrow conception of what the music is about.”

With rap music, it’s sometimes difficult to separate the narrator from the person speaking the lyrics, which is why those words have been landing artists behind bars.

“I guess some people in this country are allowed creative license and others aren’t,” said Tajai of Souls of Mischief, a 23-year-old Oakland hip-hop quartet. “I mean, you’re going to indict me for some music I made? In that case, shouldn’t Bob Marley be in jail for shooting the sheriff?”

“It’s not only ‘This is my life, the realest shit ever.’ I’m also trying to talk about kids in general,” Patrick Morales, otherwise known as Wiki of Ratking, said of his lyrics. “It’s not just for us or just from our perspective. It’s [for] all the kids of New York.”

With the reality that everything they write in a song could be misconstrued and used in a court of law against them, some rappers are already feeling the chilling results of cases like Skinner’s

“I’m probably not going say everything that’s in my head,” Morales of Ratking said. “I like to not care about that stuff, but it’s only natural.”

The New Jersey ACLU’s amicus brief for the Skinner case was written by Rosenberg specifically to push the court to set a precedent and create a standard test for including rap lyrics in trial. It only allows them to do this when “evidence and the crime are so direct, both temporally and in fact, that admissibility will not abridge free expression.” Even so, it’s a spectrum, according to David Rudovsky, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who teaches a course on criminal law and procedure. “On the one hand, it’s far too dangerous to admit lyrics because they’re too general, but even when we get to specificity, like the rapper explaining ‘I knifed her a certain way, cut off her legs a certain way,’ how do we know that’s not just idle rap?”

At the Skinner trial, the judges seemed to be leaning toward calling it a mistrial, repeatedly questioning and pushing the prosecution to explain how lyrics can legitimately prove a killer’s motive four years after they were written. However, they seemed more hesitant about making a broad precedent on rap lyrics in general. Either way, “Most of the time Supreme Courts uphold convictions at the lower level when it’s about rap lyrics,” Kubrin said. “This could be a turning of the tide, if you will.”

“It’s becoming a big issue, but I think the New Jersey opinion will be a significant one because that’s a respected court,” Rudovsky said. “The lyrics were so general and so unconnected to the crime that it’s illegitimate for the jury to hear [them],” he added.

As the Skinner trial drew to a close, Rosenberg, the last one to speak before the judges, touched on the painful fact that one-third of African American males end up in jail in America today. The systematically ignored underclass started rapping in the late 70s and early 80s to shed light on that hidden condition and now they’re being prosecuted for it. “Gangsta rap arguably grew out of mass incarceration of African American males in cities,” Rosenberg said. “It is cruel and ironic that rap then contributes to this mass incarceration.” We’ll have to wait about three months to see if the New Jersey Supreme Court is ready to put an end to this vicious cycle.

http://www.vice.com/read/hip-hop-is-on-trial-in-america?utm_source=vicenewsletter

Michael Alig on Michael Alig

Club Kid killer relives bloody crime

New York party promoter Michael Alig was released last week after serving 17 years in jail. The self-proclaimed “King of The Club Kids” infamously slayed his drug-dealer friend, Angel Melendez, in March 1996, before dismembering the body with his accomplice, Robert “Freez” Riggs, and disposing of it in the Hudson River. Here, in his own words, is his story.

It was just after we had heaved the cardboard box containing Angel’s remains into the Hudson that we heard the deafening sound of helicopters. Police searchlights blinded us as we cowered by the roadside, raising our hands above our heads.

In truth, there was no 4 a.m. swoop on that dark, chilly morning in March 1996. It was a figment of our drug-addled imaginations. Our day of reckoning on the West Side Highway was a paranoid hallucination caused by panic, fear and the mountain of heroin we’d consumed.

Yet the dismembered corpse that Freez and I threw into the river and the sickening crime we had committed were all too real.

Eighteen years on, looking back at the person I was at that time, I feel nothing but shame and disgust. I was a selfish junkie who killed another human being. But that’s not the Michael Alig I am today or the Michael Alig I was before I became an addict — the misfit from the Midwest who came to New York City in search of acceptance, opportunity and a whole lot of fun.

It was August 1984 and I can still remember the knot of anxiety and excitement in my stomach as we crossed the George Washington Bridge as Mom and her boyfriend, Bill, drove me to Fordham University in the Bronx. It was intimidating looking at the famous Manhattan skyline, wondering how I was going to compete with all the beautiful, smart, talented, rich people living there.

But soon I moved in their circles. I managed to latch onto a student called Ludovic, a flamboyant, sexually ambiguous type who was dating the artist Keith Haring.

One night, Keith threw a party at Area, one of the coolest clubs in the city. In my hometown of South Bend, Ind., a nightclub was a honkytonk of men with beer-gut bellies watching sports on TV. This was a modern-day speakeasy with 300 people lined up outside. The doorman selected who got in, one at a time, like a florist chooses roses and carnations for a bouquet. Grace Jones was there. Cameras flashed. Ludovic, who was led out of our limo on a leash, wore nothing but underwear and white body paint.

As a gay teen coming to terms with my sexuality, I was overwhelmed and exhilarated. It was liberating.

Talk about being in the right place at the time. While the rest of the country was entrenched in depressing Reaganomics and “Just say no,” downtown New York nightlife was having a moment.

It was a Warholian scene of self-proclaimed celebrities with names like John Sex, Billy Beyond and Sister Dimension. Their job was to go out every night and be fabulous.

Eighteen years on, looking back at the person I was, I feel nothing but shame and disgust.

 - Michael Alig

They were doing the fame thing backwards. Instead of accomplishing anything — writing, painting or acting — their plan was to first achieve a measure of celebrity. Once they got famous, everything they did amplified their notoriety. I wanted entry into this exclusive community.First thing I did was ditch the tacky Izod pants and Mondrianesque T-shirts which I’d thought were so cutting-edge in South Bend.

I dropped out of college, earned $50 plus tips as a busboy at Danceteria and started organizing my own party nights. The first one at club owner Rudolf’s venue Tunnel was themed “Consumer Hell.”

Satirizing the idea of conspicuous American consumption, I paid someone to bring me 10 shopping carts from a store in New Jersey. TV commercials played on the video screens. I wore a hat made out of an Oreo box and Fruit Loop earrings. People arrived in Saran wrap dresses stuffed with Cheerios and Fluffer Nutter. It was crazy.

The idea of The Club Kids came about after I met James St. James, the flamboyant socialite, and my boyfriend DJ Keoki, who built up a following at Tunnel and later Peter Gatien’s marquee clubs in Manhattan, Limelight and USA.

The clique expanded to include RuPaul, Robert “Freez” Rigg, Jennytalia and Gitsie. I loved the idea of packaging someone like a product, like the old movie industry in Hollywood who took Norma Jean and made Marilyn Monroe.

We became the darlings of the club scene, paid merely to show up and bring a bit of fabulousness to the mix. We led a pampered existence of fancy dinners and media exposure.

Meanwhile, one of my biggest successes as a promoter was “The Filthy Mouth Contest.” I had to do something that would cause a stir and figured I’d have a competition where you went on stage and said the raunchiest, dirtiest thing ever. Whoever shocked the audience most would win $100.

People talked about being raped or raping someone. It devolved into public masturbation with beer bottles. Everyone was riveted. They couldn’t leave the room. I don’t know what the take was that night, but I got paid $500. “Thank God I quit college,” I thought. “I’m going to be a millionaire.”

By March 1988, we made the cover of New York Magazine. I was going through my Little Lord Fauntleroy period — the bower around the neck, the ruffled shirt and the knickers. We were guests on Geraldo, Donahue and Joan Rivers. Our message was: “Love yourself. Don’t give a f— what other people think about you.”

In the early days of Club Kids, it really was quite beautiful and positive. We helped the disillusioned and the disenfranchised believe in themselves — the gay kid from Iowa who didn’t dare tell anyone for fear of being mocked.

Even though I didn’t really buy it myself, I was very good at getting that message out.

Then, in the early ’90s, while I was employed as one of Peter’s directors, a darker side emerged to the club scene.

Drugs were introduced such as Rohypnol and the animal tranquilizer ketamine, known as Special K. Cocaine and ecstasy were social drugs that made people chatty and euphoric. These were heavy downers that turned them into zombies.

Strangely enough, I’d always been anti-drug. I hated it when Keoki took cocaine. Usually, when I found it in his pockets, I’d flush it down the toilet.

But one time when I discovered his stash, I confronted him, put it on the back of my hand and snorted it. It was a selfish thing. It was like I was saying: “How does it feel now that your drug use has encroached upon our relationship? Now I’m a drug addict too!”

It didn’t take long before things imploded. The drinking, drugging and lack of boundaries took its toll. I wound up in the hospital twice after overdosing on a near-lethal concoction of heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine.

As for the club scene, it was the beginning of the end.

By mid-1995, the Drug Enforcement Agency was on our case.

The Limelight was repeatedly threatened with closure by the police, who suspected drug trafficking. They said we had a laissez-faire attitude and allowed dealers to operate in our clubs.

In truth, we were paying them around $200 a night to host events. They weren’t the Gambinos, they were small-timers, often drag queens who made only enough money selling drugs to support their own habit.

One of them was Angel Melendez, a 25-year-old Club Kid who lived in Queens but sometimes stayed over at my apartment with the others on weekends in Manhattan. He was a good guy, but we looked down on him because he was part of the Webster Hall crowd, whom we considered second-rate.

In the middle of March 1996, we got word that the DEA was coming to our clubs on a certain Saturday night to arrest 30 or so dealers. The agency was going to threaten them with a lot of police time unless they turned state’s evidence against Peter.

My job was to call them all and tell them not to show up that night and explain why. But Angel came to Limelight anyway around 2 a.m.

On my instructions, the doormen turned him away. But he wanted to show off to his friends who were visiting from out of town.

“Are you at least going to pay me for tonight?” he groused. He had accumulated several nights’ wages that were kept in the club safe.

But again, we refused to let him in because of the threat from the DEA. “It’s for his own good,” I said. High on alcohol and Zanax, Angel left, disgruntled and humiliated.

Then, just a few hours later at around 10 a.m., he showed up at my apartment on 43rd Street and 11th Avenue, the place where I lived as part of my salary at Limelight.

“I want my money,” Angel demanded, still high. “Take me to the club to get it.” My mind was shot because I was just coming off a four-day binge on cocaine, Special K, heroin and crystal meth.

What happened next was a silly, pushy catfight.

Freez, staying over because he was helping renovate the apartment, poked fun at Angel’s captain’s hat. He always wore the same thing — the hat and a pair of wings.

“We only let you hang out with us because you have drugs!” Freez yelled.

“Are you going to let him speak to me like that?” Angel asked, looking at me.

There was a scuffle and I went flying through a glass china cabinet. A large piece of glass pierced my back and blood spurted everywhere.

Angel started biting me and Freez tried to pull him off.

Freez reached for a hammer that was lying on a nearby table and hit him with the wooden handle. Angel fell to the floor. We sat on top of him and, wrapping a sweatshirt around my hand, I smashed it into Angel’s face.

We were all high on ketamine. Maybe it was the combination of me doing it for too long or having more strength than I realized, but Angel stopped writhing.

To be honest, I was less terrified about being caught than going to hell.

 - Michael Alig

We laid him on the couch, thinking he was unconscious. It wasn’t until a few hours later that we realized he was dead.The following days were a blur.

In a haze of drugs and a state of fear, we panicked. Instead of calling the police or even an ambulance, we made the horrifying decision to run from reality and try to cover up the crime.

Involving the authorities, as gross and selfish as it sounds, would have involved being sober, facing the terrible thing we’d done. We were junkies. We didn’t do that.

Besides, once this got out, it would be the end of the Limelight and the other clubs. Hundreds of people would be out of a job. Lives would be ruined because of the scandal.

So we dragged Angel into the bathtub and went to get ice. We had baking soda and Drano in the apartment — the only things we could think to use to mask the odor — and poured Drano over Angel’s body.

Then we left him there while we took enough heroin to work this out.

Opiates give you this blanket of comfort where you think everything is OK, when it it’s obviously not.

I don’t know who made the decision but, about eight or nine days later, Freez went to Macy’s to buy a pair of butcher’s knives.

We had 20 bags of heroin delivered from our dealer. We did bag after bag. “I hope I overdose tonight,” I told Freez. “Then you are going to have two bodies to get rid of.”

We did it relatively quickly, cutting at the joints. There was really no blood left because it had dried. Freez sprayed Calvin Klein’s Eternity all over the bathroom to disguise the smell, which was ironic.

That night, we put the legs in a duffel bag and threw it into the river by the Intrepid around 4 a.m.

Then we put the torso and head in a TV box and took it down to the Hudson at 26th Street.

We were crazy paranoid the whole time. I kept imagining the police were coming, scrambling helicopters and hunting us down with giant searchlights.

To be honest, though, I was less terrified about being caught than going to hell.

I think that’s why I confessed to Gitsie and some of the other people I knew. But I told them in a manipulative, matter-of-fact way so they thought I was making it up.

“Freez and I killed Angel,” I told friends at a dinner party who were asking about his disappearance one night.

In August 1996, I went to see the Manhattan DA because rumors were circulating in the media and on the club scene. But nobody took it seriously. The police thought it was one of my pranks or some kind of performance art.

Meanwhile, Angel’s brother, Johnny, came to town and was badgering them for answers. He was pressing the issue and was frustrated nobody was searching for Angel.

I went to rehab in Denver, but it was a halfhearted attempt to get sober.

My dealers were flying across from New York to supply me with Special K, cocaine and methamphetamine. I was in a state of numb haze. Because of the drugs, I wasn’t alive emotionally enough for the crime to bother me. I knew that the minute I stopped using, I would have to face the truth. I was afraid of this flood of reality.

But Angel’s remains were recovered from the Hudson in the fall.

In November 1996, the law caught up with me. I was staying with my boyfriend, Brian, in a hotel in Toms River, NJ, when the police knocked on the door.

Michael Rodriguez, the DA, was actually kind. “We know that nobody wanted Angel to die, but it’s not going to go away,” he said. “Somebody has to pay.”

They let me bring my heroin to get me up to Rikers because I told them I would get sick in a couple of hours. “You’ve got a lot bigger problems to worry about than a couple of bags of heroin,” the officer told me.

Prison isn’t supposed to be easy, and it wasn’t. But, over the years, I found my place.

I started painting and expressing myself through my art. I learned a lot about patience.

After the 2003 movie “Party Monster” was released, based on my life, I received hundreds of letters from kids who were disenfranchised and felt like the whole Club Kids thing was speaking to them. It was really validating.

The prison phones were segregated for whites, Hispanics and blacks, but the Bloods let me use their phone. One of the leaders was the kingpin of this ecstasy ring on Staten Island and Brooklyn. I guess he had been sending dealers to my clubs.

He told all the other Bloods not to touch me because I ran all these great clubs. They saw me as a like-minded figure because I had my own kind of gang with the Club Kids. It was this subversive, anti-authority thing and they saw me eye-to-eye on this.

But I was still using drugs inside. Percocet mainly.

It wasn’t until March 2009 that I finally decided that enough was enough.

I’d learned this through therapy, but it took a really long time to sink in.

I committed a crime while I was on drugs and, for me to continue to use drugs while incarcerated for whatever reason was to say: “I don’t care about what I did.”

The idea of this seemed so disgusting, so obscene that it made me feel like slime. I thought: “I can’t do this anymore. If I have to go through a year of withdrawal, well, you know what, I killed someone and that’s the price I have to pay.” And maybe I’ll feel better about myself later on when I actually did pay a price instead of masking everything continually with drugs.

And that’s where I am now.

It’s a stipulation of my parole that I don’t contact Angel’s relatives, but maybe they’ll reach out to me.

I know that whatever I tell them, they will never get closure.

But I’d like them to know that, when he was alive, Angel was just like the rest of us Club Kids — a misfit from the sticks who was very much loved in our alternative family of friends.

Meanwhile, last Monday, when I was released from jail after 17 years, my friend drove me into Manhattan across the George Washington Bridge. I gazed at the Manhattan skyline and it felt exactly like the first time I came to New York three decades ago. I had the same knot of excitement and anxiety. But I’ve been given a second chance in this city full of misfits and dreamers. I’m glad I’ve survived.

http://nypost.com/2014/05/12/party-monster-relives-catfight-that-ended-in-murder/

Pot Economics: What’s the Future of the American Marijuana Market?

With widespread legalization more than just a pipe dream, the U.S. now grapples with an influx of a new form of ‘over the table’ income.

Photo Credit: william casey / Shutterstock.com

In November 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington state made historic decisions to legalize marijuana for recreational sale and use, flying in the face of anti-pot moralists, drug warriors, and a century’s worth of prohibitionist policy. At the start of this year, these policies began to take effect, with pot shops opening for business for the first time on this side of the Atlantic.

Once thought to be a mere pipe dream, legalization now seems like an inevitability; at the time of this writing, no fewer than eleven states are considering some form of legislation to allow marijuana to be sold over the counter, and at least a dozen others are considering decriminalization or medical-marijuana measures. Tired of federal foot-dragging, states as disparate as Alaska, New Mexico, and Vermont are cautiously weighing the potential benefits of legalization, persuaded not only by abstract arguments about individual liberty but also by hopes of pumping money into their economies. Meanwhile, advocates have been quick to promote marijuana as just the medicine states need to fill their coffers, create new jobs, and cut costs by keeping nonviolent drug offenders out of jail (see original article’s sidebar, “The Drug War: Wasting Lives and Dollars”).

But what would the economic impact of widespread legalization be? There are dozens of factors to consider, particularly on the revenue side of the equation: How many people will be consuming marijuana, and how much? What states stand to benefit most from growing it? Will big business take over its production and sale, or will it remain in the hands of independent growers and dealers? And how large, in dollar terms, might this whole sector end up?

The jury is still out on what the ultimate financial impact of legalization would be, but in the past few years a growing body of research has explored the possible contours of a new marijuana economy. This, combined with some publicly available data and the wisdom of a few folks who have watched the legalization movement grow over the last 40 years, can give us a good sense of how the plant might (or might not) live up to its proponents’ expectations.

It seems like high time for a little lesson in pot economics.

Out of the Shadows

Because marijuana is currently grown, distributed, and sold almost entirely on the black market and is used largely out of the public eye, assessing the value of the national market for marijuana (including imports and non-recreational uses, such as hemp fiber) is tricky. The trade journal Medical Marijuana Business Daily currently estimates that a fully legalized cannabis market could be as large as $46 billion per year, while more conservative observers peg it at anywhere between $10 billion and $40 billion.

There are about 7.6 million frequent marijuana smokers in the United States, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Nearly 23.9 million Americans use the drug semi-regularly. Marijuana is sold widely on the black market, and is readily available on street corners, in bars and nightclubs, and in high-school hallways (as 80 percent of students reported to the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2012). Except for the relatively small number of people who have purchased medical marijuana through licensed dispensaries, the vast majority of these users buy their weed on this black market — either directly from dealers or from friends with access to a dealer.

In a world where marijuana is legal to buy and possess, this would not likely be the case for long.

Assuming that demand for the drug remains relatively stable (see original article’s sidebar, “The Demand Question”), a legal marketplace for marijuana will likely replicate the current distribution system for alcohol and be sold in stores with special permits. Where exactly it could be sold would largely be a matter for state and local regulators to decide, just as it currently is with alcohol; municipalities might allow lower-strength varieties to be sold in corner stores (like beer and wine are in many states) or coffee shops (à la Amsterdam), but it’s virtually certain that any store selling any quantity or type of weed would need to get a special license.

Whatever the market’s size, the governments of Colorado and Washington are hoping that taxing the drug will help to bring in some badly needed revenue. Washington placed a 25 percent excise tax on marijuana with its new law, and Colorado voters passed Proposition AA in November to approve a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana. These measures are expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for each state, including a projected $500 million for Washington alone by 2015.

A study by the RAND Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center describes marijuana buyers as a “Wal-Mart, not a Whole Foods” market, generally preferring the less expensive Mexican strains to higher-quality bud from Northern California. However, the market for domestic marijuana has expanded in recent years. As NPR reported in 2011, commercial prices for marijuana in areas like California have been falling for years, down to as low as $2,500 per pound, as a crop of new suppliers has sprouted up.

This brings up the issue of whether marijuana will be allowed to move legally through international trade channels, just as alcohol is today. If marijuana is approved for importation, this could certainly drive down its price in the United States, just as Mexican imports already do. But Mexico isn’t the only player in the game: this fall Uruguay boldly announced that it would begin to allow the use and sale of legal, regulated marijuana nationwide, at the astonishingly low price of $1 per gram (compared to $15 or more per gram here). Tariffs and added costs for packaging, shipping, and distribution would certainly bring the costs up on its way to the United States, but if other countries follow Uruguay’s example, U.S. producers may have to lower prices to compete.

So while questions about who’s going to actually buy this newly legal good are of interest to regulators looking to collect taxes on marijuana to fund state and local initiatives (both Colorado and Washington have promised to spend millions of the initial revenue on education), they are likely to be affected by the rise of a legal supply of cannabis, both at home and abroad. A supply that comes, of course, from the farm.

Growth Market

Although it has been illegal to grow marijuana in the United States for nearly a century, renegade grow-ops have persisted in the face of draconian crackdowns by local law enforcement and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In 2012 alone, the DEA eradicated just under four million plants (down from 6.7 million in 2011), over 92 percent of which came from outdoor grow operations. Nevertheless, ineffective enforcement policies and crafty concealment techniques have allowed farmers to continually move their product through back-channel distributors across the country.

In order to flourish in the outdoors, the cannabis plant requires fertile soil that is slightly acidic, daytime temperatures between 75 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and at least twelve hours of sunlight per day. There are numerous strains, which can be grown in somewhat different climates, and for the most part marijuana can be grown on a large scale throughout most of the United States during the summer months.

While property values, local water quality, and the timeline of legalization in each state will ultimately determine which states are able to take advantage of this new cash crop, we may already have an idea of who will be the biggest contender in the fight to be to marijuana what Georgia is to peanuts.

In 2006, Jon Gettman, a former head of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) and an adjunct professor of public administration at Shepard University in West Virginia, published a paper estimating the scale of American marijuana production. Through an analysis of government eradication efforts over the prior three years, Gettman found that marijuana would be one of the largest cash crops in the United States if it were legal, and was already “the top cash crop in twelve states, one of the top three cash crops in 30 states, and one of the top five cash crops in 39 states.”

In addition, “five states (California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii and Washington) had marijuana crops worth over $1 billion,” with the national pot crop worth more than our national soybean and wheat crops combined.

Not all of the money to be made will come from selling marijuana to consumers as a drug. While only the female buds of the plant cannabis sativa contain adequate levels of the chemical THC (tetra-9-hydrocannibol) to cause a “high,” the rest of the plant has a variety of applications that may pique the interest of small and big business alike.

Hemp — as the non-intoxicating parts of the cannabis plant are called — is used in over 25,000 products worldwide, according to a 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service, and is used frequently in products sold by companies like The Body Shop and Whole Foods, which are forced to import their hemp products due to U.S. laws prohibiting the cultivation of any kind of cannabis. The same report estimated the current size of the U.S. hemp market at about $500 million, with a large potential to grow should its products be more widely available for sale (both inside and outside of the United States).

From the Corner to the Boardroom?

These mouth-watering figures have been and will likely continue to be a part of the argument made by politicians and business types in favor of making marijuana legal. But it’s important to put them in perspective, and consider who really stands to gain. It’s not yet clear whether American pot growing and selling will, in the future, be managed by a dispersed network of independent producers or fall into the hands of large corporations.

Put simply, will smokers be buying from Mom and Pop’s Pot Shop, or going down to the corner store to buy a pack of Marlboro Greens?

In August 2013, a young entrepreneur named Brian Laoruangroch made digital headlines when a wacky commercial for his new company Prohibition Brands premiered, featuring Laoruangroch sporting a cowboy outfit and hokey southern accent. In it, Laoruangroch touted what he saw as an oncoming “green rush” in the marijuana industry as part of a pitch to raise “up to $50 million through venture capital groups, crowdfunding sites, and investors.”

Although most media outlets made light of the crass humor and sexy cowgirls Laoruangroch used in the commercial, it was interesting how the 2½ minute video put a face (in this case, a mustachioed face) on the fast-growing realm of Big Marijuana—that is, corporate production of legal marijuana. When I interviewed Allen St. Pierre, the Executive Director of NORML and a marijuana advocate for several decades, he laughed at the mention of Laoruangroch’s antics, but said that the emergence of figures like him wasn’t surprising.

According to St. Pierre, the new generation of pot entrepreneurs is more motivated by monetary gains than their older, rogue counterparts, and often come from much different backgrounds. “These people have CVs not based on being the toughest guy on the block, but from having gone to Yale and Harvard,” he said.

Not that St. Pierre believes big business should be shunned. In the past decade many legalization advocates like NORML have been among the biggest proponents of a marriage between big business and marijuana, seeing a so-called “free market” approach as vital to marijuana’s successful transition from the black market.

“Do we gird against the idea of corporate tobacco? Yeah, because that industry has been shown to be really malevolent,” says St. Pierre. But “NORML doesn’t think that corporations are evil, or that capitalism is bad.”

There are other ominous signs of marijuana’s oncoming corporatization on the horizon. Last May, former Microsoft manager Jamen Shively appeared side-by-side with former Mexican President (and corporate executive) Vicente Fox to promote the launch of his own weed company, Diego Pellicer. To Shively, Pellicer could position itself early on to become the first national, Starbucks-like brand associated with marijuana, if it is able to get its financial ducks in a row and avoid the ire of the DEA. Even the weed magazine “High Times” has started its own $100 million private equity fund in anticipation of a coming windfall.

But just as the inaugural class of legal pot capitalists begins to rise, there are more than a few who see big business interests as anathema to the spirit of drug policy reform.

“My greatest apprehension is that profit, and only profit, will become the main determining factor in how cannabis is distributed,” said Steve DeAngelo, co-founder and executive director of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in California.

DeAngelo says that while he understands that the mainstreaming of marijuana sales will inevitably lead some to seek wild profits, he fears for the day when weed will be sold not by an informed specialist but by an indifferent cashier at 7-Eleven or Wal-Mart. To him, the not-for-profit model developed by Harborside, which puts the needs of his patients ahead of profit — in the form of free patient services and charitable donations to the community — would be much better.

At Harborside this includes not only providing marijuana to those in need, but “wellness services”: a library, a “grow your own” seminar, a holistic care clinic, and a volunteer arrangement that allows needy patients to receive a gram of medicine in exchange for every hour put in. A system like this could serve as a community-centric model for future recreational sales. A profit-focused operation run according to the Big Marijuana ethos may only be interested in meeting its quarterly sales projections.

“If you have a non-profit environment, you’re more likely to attract operators who are really going to be dedicated to doing what’s best for society, and not putting the bottom line first,” he said. “Instead of being offered a variety [of services] to benefit people, they’ll be moved in and out as quickly as possible.”

(It should be noted that Harborside is not a legally registered, tax-exempt non-profi — DeAngelo merely operates “not for profit.” Due to marijuana’s current status under federal law, the IRS will not allow medical marijuana dispensaries to seek non-profit status.)

But St. Pierre and others argue that medical dispensary owners like DeAngelo are merely businessmen themselves, looking to protect existing market share by badmouthing new competition. One could hardly make the same claim about Scott Greacen, executive director of the Arcata, Calif.-based conservation group Friends of Eel River. Situated on the coastline of the notorious marijuana-farming Humboldt County, Greacen’s organization has witnessed firsthand some of the highs and lows for this new industry as it’s blossomed from a small handful of ex-hippies and cartel affiliates to a full-blown source of regional livelihood.

“We see that there are big groups waiting in the wings, ready to come in and start producing at large scale,” Greacen said. “I think that’s a pretty poor public-policy choice. Keeping it out of the hands of the corporations is one of the things we can do that makes sense.”

Of particular concern to Greacen is the environmental impact that large corporate producers could have, especially if met with lax, unspecific regulations for growing ever-larger crops. Many grow operations already make use of pesticides, rodenticides, and other chemicals potentially harmful to humans. With a $100 million dollar crop at stake, a company like Prohibition Brands or Diego Pellicer has a strong incentive to use such chemicals and cut other corners in search of maximum profits, according to Greacen.

But he stresses that not all is lost. Local government initiatives in Humboldt and Mendocino counties have proven promising to advocates for a sustainable, independent producer-oriented pot industry, with groups like the Emerald Growers Association lending their support in the effort to keep “homegrown” truly homegrown.

As to whether or not marijuana will ultimately go the way of alcohol and tobacco with such an enticing multibillion dollar carrot dangling on the horizon, Greacen gives the only answer he can so early in the game: “We’ll see.”

For the broader legalized market, the future may come sooner than some might think, given how much interest has been stoked by the ongoing experiments in Colorado and Washington. Those still skeptical of the march towards legalization and regulation ought to understand that the current early stage is the best time to shape the industry’s future character. Certainly not later, when entrenched interests will be fighting tooth and nail to protect their slices of the pie.

So for anyone with an alternative view of what the future landscape ought to look like — whether informal, independent growers and sellers, nonprofit and community-oriented organizations, or a small business — the time is ripe to get ahead of the would-be cannabis carpetbaggers.

________________

SOURCES: Marijuana Business Factbook 2013, Medical Marijuana Business Daily (mmjbusinessdaily.com); Washington Office of Financial Management, August 2012, (ofm.wa.gov); Michael Montgomery, “Plummeting Marijuana Prices Create a Panic in California,” National Public Radio (npr.org); Jon Gettman, Ph.D., “Marijuana Production in the United States (2006),” Bulletin of Cannabis Reform, December 2006 (drugscience.org); Renée Johnson, “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity,” Congressional Research Service, July 24, 2013 (fas.org/sgp/crs); Charles Brown and Phyllis Resnick, “The Fiscal Impact of Amendment 64 on State Revenues,” Colorado Futures Center, Colorado State University, April 24, 2013 (webcom.colostate.edu); American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, June 2013 (aclu.org).

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