We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby: Legal Pot

Country music legend Loretta Lynn knows how to step up to the mic and belt out a tune, and her songs normally tell a story of heartbreak, heartache, and every other “cry-in-your-beer” type of tale imaginable. She’s also crooned about change, especially where a woman’s rights are concerned. A great example is her song, We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.

I’m thinking Lynn’s song title could also apply to the evolving laws in the U.S. regarding marijuana use, possession, and sales. After all, this country has come a long way since Nixon’s drug war began. A war that, in my opinion, hasn’t worked since day one. And this is especially true regarding marijuana. I say this because I was once soldier in that fight, spending countless hours trekking through thick woods, underbrush, poison oak and ivy, searching for pot growing operations. Sure, I like many investigators, was pretty darn good at finding the telltale signs and following them to plants as small as tiny shoots to nearly 20-foot tall green giants. Then, after I found what I was looking for, I’d set up surveillance on the sites and, when I had enough information and when the time was just right, I and a team of officers raided the operation(s).

In fact, the leaf pictured above is one from a rather large operation I found after seeing a man standing on the side of a country road. He was doing nothing wrong. Had nothing in his hands. Didn’t even look suspicious. But he was standing on the side of the road in an area where the nearest house was probably five miles away in either direction. Of course, I wasn’t driving a marked police car, nor did I look like a cop. So I stopped and asked if he needed a ride. He declined, saying he was walking to “the store” and that he expected his girlfriend to come by any second. To me he was a huge red flag. My intuitive radar was beeping in high gear.

So I continued on my way, but planned to come back after dark and see what I could find. I had someone drop me off near where I saw the man standing and off I went, creeping along through the woods. After two hours and a few dozen mosquito bites and cuts and scrapes from briars, I found what I was looking for, a creek. I knew growers needed a water supply, so I followed the narrow stream until I reached the “pot” of gold, a huge plot of marijuana plants.

A nighttime photo of me standing among the hundreds of marijuana plants I found that night. No, my head is not that tall. I quickly stuck the cap on top of my head so some sort of badge showed up for the evidence photo. Believe me, I totally disliked wearing a hat.

To make a long story short, I later arrested the growers, found a packaging operation on their property, along with numerous pounds of dried and drying marijuana. We go to court and the judge slaps them on the wrist and lets them go. No telling how much time, effort, manpower, technology, and money went into that one investigation alone. And there were, and still are, many of those police investigations going on today across the country.

You know, I’ve often thought I’d live to see the day when marijuana was taken off the list of illegal drugs. At the very least, I truly expected to see it reduced to a classification lower than Schedule I, the group that includes drugs such as heroin. Even cocaine is classified lower than marijuana. Why is marijuana at the top of the list? Who knows?

Well, as we all know, the will of the voting public has been heard in Colorado and Washington, with New York following at their heels. Those two states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. I expect we’ll see more states adjusting their marijuana laws in the near future.

I’m thinking pot smokers everywhere should, at the very least, think about Loretta Lynn as they fire up their newly-legal bongs, because, as her lyrics say, “Times have changed and I’m demanding satisfaction, too. We’ve come a long way, baby.”

How about you? Do you think the country is moving in the right direction? Should marijuana be made legal?

 

Read more
DUI/DWI: The Breath Test

The party was a blast and you drank a little of everything in sight, including a swallow from the host’s aquarium. Sure, it was a dare, and you spit the goldfish back into the tank, but that should’ve been the first hint that you’d consumed a wee bit too much alcohol. But it wasn’t. Neither was carrying on a conversation with the coat rack and kissing your boss goodbye before stumbling outside where you relieved yourself into a bed of pansies while singing a medley of Celine Dion tunes.

You weren’t drunk. No, not you. At least that’s what your lips were saying while your brain was doing its best to tread water in a whirlpool of beer, whiskey, rum, and tequila. So you got behind the wheel of your prized VW and headed for home. Where you ended up, though, was at the police station, thanks to a few wrong turns and “misunderstandings” with dancing streetlights, mailboxes that insisted on playing chicken with your front bumper, and the row of hedges that used to be a part of the new landscaping in the front yard of the mayor’s house.

So there you sat, quietly humming Lady Gaga’s latest, while a red-faced police officer who, by the way, couldn’t be much older than your kids, fiddled with some sort of gadget while asking you questions. Too many questions, actually. And why, you wondered, did he keep looking at his watch?

Now he’s asking you to…this is ridiculous. You refuse to cooperate with his little test. What’s the worst that could happen? Well…

The scenario above may sound a bit silly, but it happens more often that you’d think. Here are the steps to conducting a breath test on a person who’s suspecting of driving under the influence of alcohol (this is after all the roadside tests have been conducted and the driver is indeed suspected of being under the influence of alcohol).

*These steps apply to the Commonwealth of Virginia. As always, procedures and laws may vary in other areas. By the way, operators/officers conducting the tests must be licensed by the Division of Forensic Sciences. Not all police officers are licensed to conduct the tests.

The procedure:

– The officer must observe the suspect for a minimum of 20 minutes prior to the test. This is so the officer can be certain the suspect has not burped, belched, consumed any additional alcohol, eaten, or consumed beverages of any type.

– the operator presses the enter key on the device, starting a test sequence.

– operator swipes their license through the slot on the device, which then displays their individual information – name, agency, license number, etc.

– operator swipes the suspect’s drivers license, which records their information and enters it in the appropriate lines of the final certificate of analysis. Those without a license require manual entry of information.

– auto testing sequence and purging of the machine is complete at this point. If there is a reading outside the allowable values the testing must be terminated.

– after a few self-check messages, a prompt of “Please blow until the tone stops” begins flashing on the screen.

– the prompt flashes for three minutes, or until the subject blows into the mouthpiece.

– subject blows into the mouthpiece.

– a portion of the breath is then collected into a fuel cell where it is analyzed.

– the mouthpiece is removed and the device purges and waits for the next sample.

– after a two minute wait, and watching the subject to be sure he/she hasn’t burped, etc., a new prompt displays and the operator installs a new mouthpiece.

– the prompt “please blow” appears on the display

The machine provides the data from the two tests and the result used as the official number (blood alcohol content – BAC) is the lowest of the two tests. A certificate of analysis is printed.

Next on the agenda is usually a night spent in jail. By the way, refusing to take the breath test can result in a 12-month suspension of your drivers license and, you could still be found guilty of the DUI if the officer testifies to his observations of your actions during field sobriety tests, etc.

Driving is a privilege, not a right, and everyone who is issued a license to drive (in Va.) implicitly agrees to submit to a breath test when they’re suspected of driving under the influence. No exceptions.

Alcohol Facts

1. Between 90% and 98% of alcohol is oxidized in the liver.

2. Only a small amount of alcohol is excreted through perspiration, the breath, and urine – 2% – 10%

3. The body starts to eliminate alcohol the minute it enters the liver via the blood system. The rate of elimination from the body is between .015 to .018 g/210L per hour, depending, of course, on factors such as disease, drug use, and exercise. Urination and perspiration have no effect on the rate of elimination. Sex and weight also have little to do with the rate of elimination.

 

Read more
Do Terrorists Really Moonlight As Master Gardners?

Is it possible that when not bombing, raping, and killing innocent people, terrorists are hard at work pruning, weeding, and planting? Have they secretly attended colleges and earned degrees in ornamental horticulture?

Well, law enforcement officials in some areas believe there’s a direct connection between terrorism and the flowering evergreen shrub Khat (pictured above).

The Texas Department of Public Safety launched a large scale investigation into the sales of Khat and its possible connection to African terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab. They believe the sales of the chewable plant benefit and support the terrorist groups.

Khat (pronounced “cot”) is native to East Africa and nearby areas. The plant is legal to grow, possess, and ingest in many countries. However, it is illegal to possess in the U.S., Germany, and Canada. Khat produces the chemicals Cathine and Cathinone. Cathine is a Schedule IV drug, while Cathinone, which similar to some amphetamines, is classified as a schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs have no known medicinal value in the U.S. Heroin and LSD are also in the schedule I class of drugs. And, almost unbelievably, marijuana is still classified as a schedule I drug, while cocaine and methamphetamine are a step below in Schedule II.

Users of Khat chew the plant’s leaves, stems, and twigs, much like tobacco chewers use their product. Leaves are also brewed as tea, dried and sprinkled onto food, and they’re even smoked to achieve the desired result.

Khat seized by the DEA

Khat is a stimulant and the high from using it is similar to that produced by methamphetamine and cocaine.

A man prepares Khat for a night of chewing and tea drinking with friends

The effects of Khat on the body are an increase in blood pressure and pulse, a brown staining of the teeth (chewing), stomach and other gastric troubles, and like cocaine and meth use…insomnia. Users may also experience exhaustion, paranoia, hallucinations, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, and mild to extreme hyperactivity.

Dried Khat leaves

Khat has been found in some bath salts, the synthetic drug once sold legally in many convenience stores other shops.

Bath salts are now illegal in the U.S.

Bath salts have been linked to suicide, homicide, self-inflicted injury, delusions, and child-endangerment.

 

Read more
Valerie Brown: A Writers Guide To Controlled Substances

Controlled substances fall under control of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the state police. Local police and sheriffs become involved when an incident falls under their jurisdiction – or when they are working with federal or state agencies.

Agencies and Organizations

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforces the controlled substances laws of the United States. The DEA investigates and prosecutes drug law violators through 226 domestic offices and through 85 international offices. Employees of the DEA include Diversion investigators, Special Agents, Chemists, and Intelligence Research Specialists.

State police regulate the dispensing, storing, and administering of all controlled substances. For example, a physician, pharmacy or researcher in Texas must obtain a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) number to store and prescribe controlled substances.  The Texas Department of Public Safety maintains drug rules for them to follow. See Texas DPS Rules.

 

Laws and regulations

Drug schedules came from legislation and resulted in five categories. Each category depends on the severity of abuse of the substance and its legitimate use in the medical community. These schedules include I-V. Accordingly, each schedule corresponds to an offense for possession and distribution of the substance. 21 U.S.C. United States Code Sections 801, 801a,, 802, 811, 812, 813, and 814 determine when a drug can be placed under a schedule or removed from it.

The Drug Enforcement Administration – along with the Food and Drug Administration – make decisions about changes of the various schedules and substances that fall under them.

Amendments to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. Food and Drugs include, among others, The Domestic Chemical Diversion and Control Act of 1993 and The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008.

Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse. Drugs in this schedule include herion (diacetylmorphine), LSD (lysergic acid diethlylamide), marijuana, ecstacy (MDMA), mescaline and peyote, among other highly addictive and controlled substances.

Schedule II substances also have a high potential for abuse. Substances in this category include cocaine, Ritalin ®, opium, methadone, oxycodone, morphine, Adderall, codeine, hydrocodone, PCPC (Phencyclidine and pentobartital.

Schedule III substances lead to a lower potential for abuse than Schedule I and Schedule II substances. These substances include Katramine (a PCP replacement), Vicodin/Tylenol 3, Marinol (used during chemotherapy), anabolic steroids, and testosterone.

Schedule IV has a lower potential for abuse – in relation to drugs in Schedule III. Drugs under Schedule IV include Valium (diazepram), Klonopin (clonazepam), Xanax, Lunesta, Ambien, Phenobarbital, Tramadol, and Soma.

Schedule V substances have a low potential for abuse. They still, however, have to be dispensed for a medical purpose. These substances include Lyrica, cough medicine containing codeine, and Lomotil.

Pharmaceutical companies

Known now as “Big Pharma”, pharmaceutical companies patent drug names that may eventually become generic (as was the case with heroin). Any of these drugs developed for legitimate purposes can be abused or sold on the street level.

United States

Eli Lilly

Drug patents: Zyprexa (patent expired 2011), Prozac (fluoxetine) patent expired 2001

Merck & Co.

Drug patent: Ecstacy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine)

Johnson & Johnson

Drug patent: Concerta (patent expired 2011) – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Abbott Laboratories

Drug patent: Depakote (valproic acid) anticonvulsant and mood stabilizer for bipolar disorder

Bristol-Myers Squibb

Drug patent: Abilify (anti-depressant and anti-psychotic)

Israel

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Drug patent: Copaxone (to treat multiple sclerosis)

Switzerland

F. Hoffman La Roche Limited

Drug patent: Pegasys (hepatitis C drug) – later the patent was revoked

United Kingdom

GlaxoSmithKline

Drug patent: Paxil (Paroxetine Hydrocloride) – anti-depressant

Germany

Bayer AG

Drug patent: diacetylmorphine – trade named Heroin – for heroisch (German) heroic  (English), was first marketed as a cough suppressant and morphine substitute. Heroin converts to morphine, once metabolized. But because of its high rate of addiction, heroin was eventually no longer used for its original purpose.  It became a Schedule I controlled substance.

However, in Switzerland, clinics dispense free heroin to help users overcome their addition.

Drug paraphernalia

Profits come not only from the illegal sale of controlled substances on the street, but also from the paraphernalia associated with drug manufacturing, sale and use. These are sold mostly in head shops. However, head shop items are not necessary to process, cook, or consume controlled substances. For example, heroin users heat and inhale heroin using aluminum foil. Substances can also be heated using a household items such as a teaspoon or tablespoon.

Growing Threats

Krokodile

Not as common in the United States as in Russia is the flesh eating drug nick-named Krokodile.  Krokodile destroys flesh – leaving bones exposed and even leads to amputation of limbs because of its devastating effects.

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2078355,00.html

Meth

Methamphetamine can be made from over-the-counter medications. Its use can be devastating – not only in a user’s appearance, but in their internal health. Users commonly end up with sores on their body and face, in addition to “meth mouth” where the teeth become brown and yellow shark teeth – or are eaten away altogether.

Methamphetamine – link before and after shots

Molly

Molly is the drug Ecstacy, now being used with a new name.

Kratom

The Kratom Craze has created another threat to substance abuse.

Conclusion

Writing about controlled substances requires knowing about the Drug Enforcement Agency and the role it plays in enforcement of drug laws. In addition, it helps to become familiar with state police regulation of controlled substances through drug rules. Knowing Schedules I – V and how substances can change from one Schedule to another (over time) is also required.

And despite legitimate patents for controlled substances, there will always be street level drugs that combine controlled substances or at least ones that are used contrary to their original purpose.

Further reading

Rush by Kim Wozencraft

Go Ask Alice, Author Anonymous

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Suzanne

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

*     *     *

Valerie Brown’s interest in law and law enforcement came from her experience with a Law Enforcement Explorers Group, in addition to a trimester law enforcement program. She continued her interest in government and law by graduating from the University of Texas with a B.A. in Government and by completing her M.A. in Legal Studies at Texas State University. She is inspired by her father who was a chief chemist at a major petrochemical company.

*Images – DEA and Wikipedia Commons public domain

Read more