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Drug Policies For The New Millennium . . . [continued]
Notes on the Lindesmith-DPF Conference, by Erowid Crew Member V
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Plenary Session II
New Mexico Panel

The New Mexico state legislature recently considered a comprehensive and unprecedented package of drug policy reform bills. How was bi-partisan consensus built? What was learned? Those most intimately involved in the process tell the story.

Intro to the session by Katherine Huffman, Director, New Mexico Drug Policy Project, The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation: Unfortunately many members of this panel were unable to make it - Tony Anaya's mother-in-law died, Roman Maes had 'heart stress' and was unable to make it. We have State representative Cisco McSorrelly from Alberqueque as an addition to the panel, and the Governor was also able to make it!

Gov. Johnson has become a spokesman on drug policy reform, building on history here in New Mexico. 25 years ago a decriminalization measure was introduced in New Mexico. New Mexico was first state to do a medical research in the late 70s, through the New Mexico harm reduction act. The (NM) Senate bill they recently proposed encompassed public health and treatment and civil asset forfeiture, but it died due to deadline. Harm reduction bills included a syringe bill, a bill getting naloxone (an opiate antagonist drug that blocks the effects of overdosing on heroine and thus can instantly save people who would otherwise die) to the users and doctors. A bill that protects people from liability in doing harm reduction with naloxone for first responders. Three bills for sentence reduction were introduced:
  • one removed mandatory sentencing aspect
  • a marijuana decriminalization bill
  • a comprehensive sentencing reform bill.
Polls found that in New Mexico
  • 78% support med marijuana
  • 65% support marijuana decriminalization
This was across the board for Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians etc. All of this and more can be found at Gov. Johnson's website and the Lindesmith website.

Honorable Joe Thompson
New Mexico House of Representatives

(intro and greeting, leading to... )

We can't afford to think Democrat or Republican on this issue. Within the two party system, extremes within each party drive that party. (To get work done in this area), we have to deal with our own ranks- . and they control a lot . You have to be prepared to go to your base and make a good argument around these changes. And we're only as good as our worst argument, and our worst sources.

So: Work with your advocates and prospective sources.
Keep your cool.
Look at people you have to deal with and make information accessible to them.
Protect our champions (because they're crucial to these issues).
My favorite thing about Governor Johnson is that he doesn't make deals. On the other hand, that's also my least favorite thing about him (laughter). What he taught me is that you can't deal outside of the issue - you'll trade away too much.

Gary Johnson
New Mexico Governor

(much applause and cheering for the governor throughout his speech)

A chronology - two years ago I got reelected.. When asked about drugs, I would say (the WOD) was a miserable failure. Early in my administration, I met with my cabinet, and told them if pressed on this I would talk about alternatives and legalization. It was like a grenade on them. For my first term, I put himself in a position to credibly address this. I wanted to not only say 'it's a failure' but how to include alternatives, including legalization. I met with John Dendahl (Republican party chair in New Mexico) and told him about this. What I did not know was the compelling argument for legalization.. I had no idea. It took 6 weeks to absorb the information.. and clearly there was a compelling argument for legalization. George Schultz recently called me - we discussed this and he said he had no idea the argument was so compelling, so this is common..

So.. when asked, I said we should legalize marijuana..I was just trying to be honest about it.. From there I was asked about other drugs.. and I said there was a model for heroin legalization -meaning simply that one existed, not that we should necessarily go there.

For me it is legalization of marijuana and harm reduction for other drugs.

I've fought a real communication battle - and I want to give kudos to the New Mexico press, they are why I've survived today. In New Mexico we've have had a more advanced dialog than any of the other states. I put a moratorium on it for awhile, then put together a task force, 12 people who put in a lot of time. Meanwhile, rising awareness of these issues, and the task force comes up with things to do in New Mexico.

So, now we have a package... I went to Joe (Thompson, state representative who just spoke). He had the impression we weren't arresting marijuana users.. but we ARE: 800,000 a year.

Law-enforcement has 'taken it on the chin' -they are not perceived as being the 'friends' of the people. I've found conservative Republicans are with me on this.

My understanding is that New York state brought down Prohibition -(of alcohol in the 1920s and 30s). They refused to police those laws; perhaps New Mexico can do the same for these issues.

(rousing applause for the governor and a standing ovation)

Cisco McSorley
New Mexico State Senator

For ten years I've struggled over this issue.. it has been an interesting fight. In 1995, we passed a bill to do away with asset forfeiture. I was asked to talk about what we have learned.

Without strong support from the executive branch, we could not do anything. We have to couple drug law changes with drug rehabilitation. One important thing: How are elected officials going to survive to fight this tomorrow?? We need to realize we are fighting a swamp battle as well as a frontline battle.. and so how are you going to survive?

If heroes today are gone tomorrow, that sends not only the message that the topic wasn't right, but that it isn't safe.

We now have two instances just recently of presidential daughters.. maybe this is a message - that our current president could have been busted for what we know he did - and if so his attitude might be different but he wouldn't be president. How do we make this a positive message?

Honorable Alex Valdez
Secretary, New Mexico Department of Health

I read something the other day that said 'people before politics' - and I think that it should be 'people before drugs'. And yet in the final analysis the question is, what are the effects on our families, our selves, our communities?

We're about to train officers in use of Narcan (naloxone).. if you value the life of a person, then this is a good idea.. and saving that life is worth the $1.50 it (the Narcan) costs. When we look at it as people rather than drugs.. what we see is that there are people on a daily basis who are dying from the use of drugs.. and we must take whatever steps necessary to save that life.

Without a doubt McSorley is correct - if you do not have a commitment to treatment, it will all fall through. We must go forth and be articulate, for it will be a long long discussion. My wife said, in a discussion about all this: I'm scared' and a lot of people are scared.. so people need to bring the greatest of thoughts and discussion. The better prepared we are, the more effective we're going to be.. this discussion needs to last for many years.

Plenary Session III
Ecstasy: Science, Medicine, Culture

MDMA -- and other drugs often sold as "Ecstasy" -- have grown rapidly in popularity in recent years, giving rise to a wave of media sensationalism and drug war politicking. But a reasoned debate can be heard amid the hysteria: researchers, policy reform advocates, and harm reduction activists are investigating Ecstasy's actual harms and benefits. Panelists consider the current scientific research on MDMA, its use in psychotherapy, the rave culture, and strategies for reducing the harms associated with Ecstasy.

Chair Marsha Rosenbaum
Director, The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation West

(Brief intro) Ecstasy is the only drug seeing a rise in use (Stats) and a large number of media scare stories have brought it into the public eye. Today we are going to hear from experts on the facts around ecstasy.

Rick Doblin
President, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies

(Intro: Rick Doblin is the head of MAPS, an organization with 1800 members that support research efforts; their primary goal is to make MDMA a prescription medicine)

I'm focused on making Schedule 1 drugs legal. So first let's look at, how did we get (to the point where valuable drugs are illegal) here?

The philosopher and psychologist William James was able to take simply go buy nitrous oxide.. he used it to learn and understand philosophy. Freud used it to explore the psyche. Today it takes multiple government approvals and more. I've looking specifically at how the FDA is regulating its policies, and how likely those approaches are going to continue. Especially, what proof is needed to regulate something, and how that applies to MDMA.

How can it be regulated that it won't be completely accessible but can still available (for its useful purposes)?

I feel it is important to use the word 'legalization' and the word 'psychedelic'. We need to establish trust with the American public around these words.

What I'd like to communicate is that the FDA is our primary ally in supporting legal use. Their institutional mission is to develop drugs to treat illness, while many of the other governmental agencies of not have that as their primary mission.

Many women are getting synthetic heroin for childbirth. It needs to be strongly regulated but its usefulness in certain situations is acknowledged, so the FDA is open to using drugs that need to be regulated.

From what we know about MDMA, its therapeutic potential is profound. It is subtle, not like mescaline etc.. MDMA is more gentle and profound... it is a starter psychedelic. (Using it, ) you have a sense of self-acceptance. Prior to when it was illegal, I was able to work with rabbis, monks, and zen priests to work with meditation.. they all responded favorably, it supported their attempts at transcendental and other useful states (SEE LINK:

The history of the research: the attempts to do research have been a struggle. MDMA was first synthesized in 1918.. then it appears in the early 1950s with the U.S. army when they were trying to develop weapons (to shock and stun the enemy). Later research on MDMA was only done on animals as far as we could tell, until the rise of the psychedelic movement. It was first criminalized, then medical use was criminalized.

I looked all over the world to try to find permission for therapeutic use. In Spain we have a study approved to study post-traumatic stress disorder, treating rape patients with MDMA. Now, after 1000 papers on MDMA (in the literature), we are ready to go to the FDA. Only Zoloft is currently approved for PTSD, despite the fact that they know Zoloft only covers up symptoms.

If there isn't too much interference, we will start their 5 year plan of research. But now I want to turn this over to Sue, who will be talking on her use of MDMA to work with her husband who died of cancer.

SUE's personal story with MDMA
(See more at MDMA and a couple struggling with cancer - )

Over the next few days many people will be telling you what the statistics are on MDMA.. I can only tell you my personal experience.

I'm a 32- year old widowed mother of three. I'm proud to say I'm a responsible drug user. (applause) My husband's terminal cancer (was a terrible thing) - and no one was helping us work through the emotional issues. Shane was diagnosed with kidney cancer when he was 22...he was told he was terminal and had one and a half years to live.

We didn't know how to deal with it, or the emotional process or the fears. We developed huge walls around us. It became an unspoken elephant walking around the room, destroying a beautiful thing.

A friend told us about the research on MDMA.. and that it might help us deal with and learn from the cancer. So, we did some research. And we found enough information where we felt confident enough to go into our first session.

(In that first session) in a 6 hour time period we were able to sit down and talk about everything we were avoiding.. all without fear or judgement. I never knew you could reach levels like that.. such openness and honesty between two people. ONE NIGHT CHANGED TWO PEOPLE - and it only took one session.

After, we woke up not knowing if it was temporary .. but everything had changed. It was like there was nothing wrong any more, no fears or anger. I could cry without fear of getting his walls up... words cannot express how it changed. (she stops in tears for a bit).

We learned that night how to become a team.. how to deal with the cancer. Before the first session, his health had started failing. He was sleeping an extra 4-5 hours, was in pain constantly, he wanted to die. After the first session, the next day he wakes up and says no more painkillers, he wants to live -and he was doing things again. Emotionally, physically, he was fine.

Life was perfect again.

Unfortunately there are a few things you can only stave off for so long. Three years - far past when the doctors had said he should have died - his body started breaking down. He was operating on 40% lung tissue, his kidney had been removed, he had a brain tumor. The doctors said he should have been dead years before.

So we had another session. We attempted this last session with the expectations to confront the issues we were going to be facing.. he was on oxygen and painkillers.. he was 'not human ' anymore as he put it, he was a zombie.

So we withheld his painkillers for 12 hours (before the session). Watching the video of him later, I could see how hard he fought to live. He wanted to talk about funeral arrangements and other things like that, and he wanted to talk to me, making sure I was gonna be ok.

(But in that session) - we addressed nothing. Instead, we spent the next hours recapping our lives together. We laughed, and cried, and we lived again. We lived our entire life together in that night, plus 50 more years -- we took back what the cancer took.

One miracle drug gave him one free night to live.

Also amazing.. at the beginning of the session he was holding himself up because of the bedsores, and the incredible pain they caused. A couple hours into the session there was no physical pain, and he was able to relax and be comfortable. I need you guys to understand that.. it took away his emotional cancer AND his physical cancer.. one of the drugs we have will do that.

To me this is a miracle and for people not to see that, they are blind if they cannot see that.

Twenty-eight days after this last session, he passed away. And it was perfect. We were able to achieve perfection - he died very happy and very content. He died very full. And we were all ok with it, because we had learned to be ok with it.

After he died, we were in shock. Shock can be a good thing, I don't care what anybody says. But eventually that wore off.. and I dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts. It was horrible.. I wish I could express that one. My health started failing too. Ten years ago I had a hysterectomy due to cancer, then for 10 years I was ok. But then my pap smear came back.

I was depressed and suicidal. My doctor had put me on very high doses of anti-depressants-- 60 mg of Paxil.. 300 mg of Wellbutrin and 1 mg of (something else).

I was a depressed zombie. Iit was suggested I try the healing powers of MDMA again. I got hooked up with a wonderful woman who's an underground therapist, but she told me I needed to get off my antidepressants for two weeks. By the end of that I had little sanity left.

After one session (with MDMA).. I have not been back on the antidepressants. Again - it was ONE session -- it gave me the ability to cope and to understand and to heal.

Conventional therapy... well, might have worked if I had a couple of years to go through with it. But I woke every morning wanting to die. I did not have the time -- many people do not have the time. They give us antidepressants hoping it will mask the symptoms till you have time to deal with it.

Now...all my prescriptions are gone, I don't need them.

My government tells me this medicine has no benefits. I tell them they are insane. There are too many people out there who stand to benefit.

They need to listen to the people in need. I could just let my husband be forgotten.. but he taught me courage. In one night of taking MDMA.. he learned and he taught me.

People in terminal condition should no be forgotten, they should be listened to.

Charlie Grob, MD
Harbor-UCLA Medical Center

I have a lot of concerns about health and safety of young people.. and certainly the MDMA issue is relevant there. I also have for many years been fascinated by the therapeutic potential of the entire class of hallucinogens - in how hallucinogens might be effective in patient populations that are nonresponsive. The groups most relevant there are chronic PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, and physical pain in terminal illness.

And in the treatment of drug addiction and alcoholism. We do not have robust efficacious treatments for these - room for the field to look at this area is rich with potential. If we look at the last 30-40 years, there are published cases and whole studies from the 1950s and 60s which show what appears to be a quite effective treatment outcome for alcoholics with hallucinogens.

But the situation is as Rick (Doblin) reviewed. There are great possibilities that should have been tested a long time ago, but all opportunities were blocked. Instead we see a vast social experiment, as kids and others use MDMA in uncontrolled ways.

Our knowledge is still quite limited. A lot of concern around is due to sensationalized media. But close examination makes it clear that the case is not closed. We do know of genuine medical risks with MDMA:

First, since set and setting are absolutely key - with uncontrolled use in society we see highly risky settings. These and the mental set of the individual going in have led to some degree of risk. But much of these risks are preventable.

As adolescents don't respond well to 'just say no' -- especially if they know they're not hearing the facts - a far more effective and safer approach would be to just tell the truth to our young people.

Unfortunately, we're not seeing that. But we are seeing private efforts - the example of Holland, for instance, and their unique system. We find they have vigorous government-sponsored harm reduction measures in place. In the UK, more akin to the U.S., you see less harm reduction. If you control for differences in population, you find the rate of fatalities is four times greater in the UK than in Holland.

I really believe the harm reduction approach will save lives and is the proper approach to take.

Briefly, let me mention known medical risks:
  • temperature regulation in susceptible people. There have been cases of this leading to clotting abnormality leading to kidney and liver failure and death. Numbers of people experiencing this are low.
  • also have a phenomenon only recently known of, water intoxication. In Colorado this year there was one. People know they need to replace fluid, but they drink extraordinary quantities of water.. they dilute out their electrolytes, serum sodium drops, and there have been deaths reported. This is an example of where a little knowledge has led to tragic occurrences.
  • drug interactions: many people who take this and go to raves are people with medical conditions who have prescriptions. Some of these have adverse reactions with MDMA. In the Archives of Internal Medicine, there's an article about a young man who previously took MDMA with no problems.. but later was treated with (couldn't catch the name of the compound). This created an interaction with MDMA that induced severe cardiovascular problems. He couldn't clear the drug from his bloodstream.
  • problems with cardiovascular system and MDMA - dramatic elevations of blood pressure, cardiac rhythm problems. These things are not sufficiently studied, and they are problems because people do not have adequate information. So they are making errors in judgment. This is ALL PREVENTABLE if we have a system that stresses health, safety, and wellbeing.
To keep things in perspective: .in the UK, half a million to a million people a weekend take MDMA - and there are 15 deaths/year. There are
  • 800 deaths a day due to alcohol
  • 2000 deaths a day due to cigarette smoking
  • In the U.S., one-third of all college age youth reported binging on alcohol.
All this focus on club drugs, but alcohol is a far greater problem.

As for neurotoxicity: there is a lot of hype, a lot of media sensation about even one dose causing permanent brain damage. Let me say that the case is not closed. Much of the neurotoxicity research has serious flaws -- it is a politicization of science. Paradigms running counter to it never get funded.

We know there are profound effects on serotonin systems but we don't know what that means. In rats, cell bodies are spared but axons are damaged. One researcher has claimed effects in large animal (like primates). But if you examine pharmacokinetics of different animals, you find these data may not be applicable (to humans).

There may be some issues with extended use. The human studies are seriously flawed. We need to examine what went into the studies versus what was reported. Let me just reiterate that we really do need to open up approved sanctioned studies with approved paradigms. We need to open up dialog ; we need to open up treatment paradigms.

We're repeating the 1960s. Research into psychedelics was shut down completely because of cultural reaction.. we should instead be able to have a rational dialog. Here's a quote: former Sen. Robert Kennedy's wife Ethel had severe alcohol problems and was treated with LSD (successfully, for a time), and Senator Kennedy was aware of that success. In 1966, congressional sessions were held to shut down LSD research. Sen. Kennedy said at these hearings:
"Why, if these substances were worthwhile 6 months ago, why aren't they worthwhile now??"
We have lost sight of the fact that these drugs could be useful to our society.

Dustianne North
Ph.D. Candidate, UCLA

(on screen.. and music in background.. music and dancing)

I'm going to be talking on culture of dance and the rave underground. I'm a social worker concerned about youth; a scholar interested in youth-based and counterculture; and a person in the dance community. I want to first give thanks for the opportunity to represent my community today. I want to show you what a truly healing and meaningful experience many in the community have had.

Ours is not a perfect community - in fact there are some distressing dynamics. But it is arguably the biggest movement in the world. The question is whether the mainstream will support it in a positive direction.

Dance culture is about people of all ages, races, beliefs, lifestyles... free to be themselves. Why do we dance? We are in a society that has lost all sense of compassion. In a time that we can contact anyone in the world, we are missing intimacy.

We want to help each other and overcome the dividers between us. Somehow the idea of electronic beats and threading songs together... we are happy, smiling, dancing, and getting to know each other -- better than fighting or hiding in gated culture.

Dance culture strives to redefine community by reintroducing ancient ideas of tribal culture. Dance helps people connect to the tribal energy. It is worldwide and more than a generation old, the first group has become artists and so on.

Many of us have chosen to put our energy back into the movement. Bonds that exist outside gatherings and support our daily lives. Our intent has become more defined - as we say in the community, "Peace, love, unity, and respect."

We balance collectivity with individual needs. Three aspects:
  1. self help and mutual help efforts; we readily assist each other with meals and place to stay and other support.
  2. our community fosters self-expression and nurtures professional and personal development. People are respectful of the environment and the body.
  3. intimate personal relationships, with an emphasis on community and individual needs, leads to a creation of community in which honesty and healing become more the norm.
So what about use of MDMA? Some people use it and some do not. Ritual and experimental use of mind-altering drugs is accepted in practice. but calling us a drug culture does us an injustice. Individual experiences with E (MDMA) vary widely. It's true there is a negative pattern, of people getting too high too often, crashing in the middle of the week and getting started again. Most people get caught in this cycle for a time but get out of it.

We are greatly in need of services supportive of us. The point is that participation in dance culture is one of our greatest strengths, (and we should support this, and reduce its negative aspects).

We are proud that our movement has increased -- but outside individuals have discovered there's money to be made on us. We care about our community, and we don't like having our culture threatened by this. We are demonized about being 'all about drugs'.. while they push alcohol and tobacco at us. They are using our electronic music to sell cars and everything else.

Our core is still strong and the dance movement still thrives. But because of corporate culture's popularization, it is being threatened. And public hysteria grow, and makes it impossible to find legal safe spaces.

But don't despair -- there is much good news in the dance movement. Our movement wants to benefit others, engage in peaceful demonstrations and other things.

I'm here to ask your support. How to do that?

I call on both the dance community and the mainstream to address conflicting messages and do harm reduction. (To work on ) human relationships, transformation, communication and community. So if you are someone who wants to help, start by rejecting the demonization of our culture. Try to understand and educate yourself.

I know it's your instinct to protect and teach, but kids have something to teach, too.

Theo Rosenfeld
Pala Community Development

What can we do about ecstasy? The risks are real - people die. People do get taken out of parties in ambulances. There is a potential for long term risk, excessive use or drug abuse.. there is some potential here.

(Some paraphrasing here: He discussed the importance of set and setting in producing a positive experience, and how this affects the MDMA experience. He noted problems with DMA are often simply a function of how it is done in a dance room packed with people engaged in aerobic activity. Because raves are often targeted by police, well-ventilated and supportive environments are rare and increase the danger associated with MDMA. This problem needs to be addressed as a community - there should be a community response to legal structures which impose conditions that our intrinsically unsafe and put the lives of our children in danger. )

Another acute problem that everyone needs to know about: a lot of people buying ecstasy are not getting MDMA. (Unknown to them, ) some people are buying drugs with higher risks. A number of deaths have been attributed to MDMA but were PMA. The community response to this has been excellent, but the response from the government has been useless., because it is NOT a controlled substance. (That is , making laws have not controlled it.)

It has been amazing for me as a community organizer to see the response to these problems. People and groups taking responsibility to go out and test people's drugs at parties, to find out whether or not the ecstasy contains MDMA.

One major problem: information is KEY. But unfortunately we are also facing hysteria (that prevents information). There is a lot of rhetoric instead, breaking down communication, driving away efforts to support (the community and our knowledge). We need more education and a lot less hysteria.

In our culture, 'people who don't use drugs are good' and vice versa. There are no good models of responsible drug use. Being told you're going to turn into a horrible thug on drugs is a bad idea - it confuses people (and sets up expectations).

There's no context for moderate use. There's no language for people to articulate appropriate use of drugs versus abuse.

We need to help people evaluate what is worthwhile to them, what is healthy for them. Some of the most important steps are to accept us and our culture. Very few people have these problems given how many are using them. We need to open up honest dialog about the truth of these things. We need to incorporate people into our culture so that they feel they have a role in it.

(I commend) Rick (Doblin) and Sue(previous speaker) here for providing role models. People wouldn't rush out to buy drugs if they could see celebratory and appropriate behavior. Getting high is NOT the same thing as getting fucked up!!

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