SEARCH

Entries in Legal (3)

Wednesday
Jun082011

New Jersey, New York Ranked Worst for 'Individual Freedoms'

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Live free or die? New Hampshire may be on to something, according to researchers at George Mason University's Mercatus Center who used a variety of statistics to rank the 50 states for their just-published report on which are the freest -- and least free -- from taxes and government regulation.

Their horserace has ranked New York as the "least free state in the Union" followed by neighboring New Jersey. New Hampshire and South Dakota were in a virtual tie for most "free" state.

The professors who authored the study believe that this freedom as they define it makes a lot of difference to the happiness and well-being of the governed.

Many people "don't want to have their lives dictated by people in their state capital," says William Ruger, political science professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, who co-authored the report with Jason Sorens, political science professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

"As academics, we were first interested in the scientific question of how states differ, why, and with what implications," said Ruger. "It was natural to then compare them in terms of their respect for individual freedom given how important this is to both of us."

Ruger, who is in the reserve component of the Navy, served in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009. He said his project was not related to his time in Afghanistan, though "those who love freedom ought to take it upon themselves to defend and uphold our individual rights."

"Sometimes we do so with the pen, sometimes with the sword," he said.

New York was ranked dead last in part because it has the highest taxes in the country, including those on property, selective sales, individual income, and corporate-income, according to the report. They cited New York's spending on "other and unallocable" expenses, including public welfare, hospitals, electric power, transit, and employee retirement, as another reason for its ranking.

The report created four other lists ranking freedom based on fiscal policy, regulatory policy, economic freedom and personal freedom.

Maryland was ranked last based on personal freedom, though it was #43 in overall freedom. The report cited Maryland's gun laws, which are the second-strictest in the country, as well as "fairly harsh" marijuana laws, extensive auto regulations, harsh gambling laws, "burdensome" homeschooling laws, high drug arrest rates and lack of status for same-sex partnerships.

Beyond making policy recommendations for each state, such as proposing that Maryland legalize same-sex civil unions and strengthen medical-marijuana law while decriminalizing low-level possession, Ruger said there were two critical policy implications from the study.

First, freer states are attracting citizens from other states while less-free states are losing citizens -- and their tax dollars.

"This is true for both economic freedom and personal freedom," Ruger said. "People are voting with their feet and moving to open, tolerant, and economically free states and away from nanny-states."

Second, Ruger said that economic freedom is associated with income growth. The study results showed that a 0.25 unit increase in economic freedom increases the average annual growth rate in personal income by about 0.25 percentage points.

Statistically speaking, South Dakota should have a growing population and increasing incomes because the state ranked first in economic freedom and second in overall freedom. Census Bureau data shows more people at least moved to South Dakota from other states (29,631) than left for another state (25,950) in 2009.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Taxpayer Money Created 'Legal Marijuana' Used by Teens

Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government might not be scrambling to ban "Spice," the "legal marijuana" that's sending teens to emergency rooms across the country, if it hadn't helped invent the drug in the first place.

As detailed in an ABC News 20/20 investigation, Spice, K2 and other substances in a new wave of legal designer drugs are widely available at convenience stores and suburban malls, though they've been responsible for more than 4,000 calls to the nation's poison control centers in the past year.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has placed an emergency ban on a handful of the chemicals that are used to make Spice, but there are hundreds more chemicals readily available – most of them designed by Clemson University scientist John W. Huffman using a grant from the government's National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Over the course of a decade, Huffman created nearly 500 "cannabinoids" that affect the brain in a much more powerful way than THC, the active component in marijuana. About five years ago, entrepreneurs began spraying the chemicals he invented on plant matter to create "legal marijuana."

"I figured that somewhere along the line, some enterprising individual would try to smoke it," Huffman told ABC News in a recent interview. But, said Huffman, given the dangers of the chemicals, anybody who smokes them "is incredibly foolish."

"They're playing Russian roulette," he said. "I mean, it's just like taking a pistol with one bullet in it and spinning the chamber and holding it to your head and pulling the trigger."

Huffman first obtained the NIDA grant in 1984, which ultimately totaled $2,564,000, when the government asked him to synthesize the human metabolite of THC.

In the 1990s, NIDA asked him to switch gears and either develop medicine or study the "cannabinoid receptors" in the brain, which respond to marijuana.

Huffman and coworkers began creating a family of cannabinoid chemicals in his laboratory, all of them identified with his initials and a number.

In the summer of 1994, one of the undergraduate students working in his lab created JWH-018, a strong cannabinoid that is easy to make and is now the "JWH" chemical most likely to be found in Spice and other similar products.

"JWH-018 can be made by a halfway-decent undergraduate chemistry major in three steps from commercially available materials," said Huffman.

In 2005, Huffman published a paper that included detailed synthetic procedure for making all of the compounds in the JWH class. By then, there were 465.

Within a year, JWH-018 and related substances were being used as recreational drugs in Europe.

"I assume that somebody picked our papers, and saw a way to make some money," said Huffman.

In the past year alone there have been 4,000 calls into poison control centers relating to the drugs. Side effects include heart rate stimulation, blood pressure elevation, anxiety, and hallucinations. "Beyond the acute effects [there] are psychiatric effects that have led individuals to harm themselves, sometimes fatally, and exhibit extreme paranoia and delusions not unlike schizophrenia or other psychoses," said Anthony Scalzo, director of the Missouri Poison Control Center.

The DEA put an emergency ban on the sale of JWH-018 and one other JWH chemical in March, along with three other chemicals commonly found in Spice.

The irony that the government funded the chemicals now being examined by the DEA has not eluded lobbyists for retail stores who sell the Spice and K2.

"The vast majority of these chemicals were created with government financial support," said Dan Francis, executive director of the Retail Compliance Association, a coalition of head shops who sell the products.

"It's a three- to five-billion-dollar industry," said Francis, who says that Spice products should be regulated but not outlawed.

Huffman says he has his own doubts that prohibition would work, but emphasizes that the people who are selling Spice already know it's bad for humans, based on anecdotal evidence, even if no scientific research has been completed. "The physiological effects of these compounds have never been examined in humans," said Huffman. "There have been a number of cases of people who've committed suicide after using them."

DEA Special Agent Gary Boggs says the agency has to gather enough research on any specific chemical before any substance is controlled. The five chemicals that are now banned are those that the agency found most often in Spice products.

"We're going to continue to look at other chemicals that are out there that are being sold in an effort to circumvent the control of those five substances," said Boggs.

Sen. Check Grassley, R.-Iowa, has proposed legislation that would ban all the JWH chemicals so that Spice makers can't simply switch recipes.

Huffman said that despite the unintended use of his chemicals that have had devastating effects on teens, he is proud of his research, which could potentially lead to the development of new medicines.

"If somebody wants to misuse it, it is the responsibility of the people who misuse it to take responsibility for their own actions," said Huffman, who retired from Clemson in 2010.

A NIDA spokesperson defended the agency's funding for Huffman's research, saying that studying "artificial variations of brain chemicals...has yielded major research and clinical advances."

Research into cannabinoids, said the spokesperson, "has the potential to usher in the next generation of pain medications," as well as possible treatments for obesity and multiple sclerosis.

"The scientific record demonstrates that the cost of discontinuing the pursuit of potentially life-saving medications, because such compounds could be illegally diverted and abused, would be unacceptably high."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct182010

New Highs: Growing Support for Legalizing Marijuana in California

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Voters in California could set the precedent for the rest of the country November 2 as they go to the polls for a ballot measure that would make California the first state in the country to fully legalize marijuana.

Proposition 19 would allow people 21 and older to cultivate up to 25 square feet of marijuana and carry up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use at non-public locations. The state would regulate businesses selling marijuana and collect fees and taxes the way it does for cigarettes and alcohol.

Support for the controversial measure is gaining steam, polls show, but it remains to be seen whether young voters, the main demographic group that supports Proposition 19, will come to the polls.

Even if Proposition 19 passes in California, it's unlikely to get a pass from the federal government. Recreational use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law and Attorney General Eric Holder made it clear last week that the Justice Department would enforce the federal law even if Proposition 19 passes.

Proponents of the measure, however, argue that it would not only help California's sizable budget deficit, but would in turn reduce crime by shifting law enforcement's focus to harder substances and targeting only serious offenders.

Marijuana is California's biggest cash crop, worth $14 billion in sales, nearly double the state's second biggest revenue generator, dairy.

This is not the first time that a state has dabbled in such a measure.  Earlier this year, a marijuana-legalization bill was introduced in Washington, but it was struck down by the state legislature.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio