High times: why TV is getting blazed on cannabis comedies

With HBOs High Maintenance proving to be a breakout hit and Netflix planning their own pot-com, whats behind the surge in small screen stoners?

Television loves a good zeitgeist to latch onto but, as trends go, marijuana is hardly new, with the first recorded use of it dating way back into the BC era. So why are small screen execs suddenly obsessed with it? Breakout hit High Maintenance has just been commissioned for a second season on HBO, while at least four other major shows are in development. The legalisation of the drug in Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon is clearly having an influence, but is that all it is? Or have attitudes to cannabis on TV been changing for longer than that?

For years, marijuana was portrayed as either an evil gateway drug or as a prop to signify that the character using it was a hopeless, lazy slacker. While drug use on TV is not regulated by FCC rules, there are certain moral guidelines that networks were obliged to uphold, at least before 10pm (if only to fend off the inevitable viewer complaints). When the counter culture movement was thoroughly under way, the small screen dealt with it in one of three ways: ignoring it altogether, actively preaching against it (the sole reason Dragnet returned in the 60s was to preach against the drug-using youths of the era) or portraying it slyly, as exemplified by Scooby Doos perma-stoned heroes, Shaggy and Scooby, who made their TV debut long before Cheech and Chong showed up in the 70s.

By the 1980s Miami Vice was tackling drugs and Nancy Reagan was making a bizarre cameo in Diffrent Strokes to promote the Just Say No campaign. In the 1990s, we had cringeworthy special Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue!, which saw Alf and the Muppet Babies teach a pot-smoking teenager how to say no to drugs. But by the early 90s, cannabis was no longer shocking, and the obligatory drugs episodes of Roseanne, Home Improvement, Blossom and even Dinosaurs were less effective at fear-mongering (although even as late as 1997, family drama 7th Heaven was telling people that weed ruins your life).

For a long time any show that wanted to be positive about the issue had to side-step it, like That 70s Show, where the characters got stoned without a single spliff being seen on screen. Weeds marked a change in attitudes when it debuted in 2005, but that focused heavily on the illegality of Nancy Botwins actions, painting her as an anti-hero.

As attitudes towards weed soften and with it being decriminalized if not quite legalized in many more US states, the depiction of marijuana on TV is changing. Now we see characters using it in the same way that youd previously show characters having a drink; its a recreational activity that doesnt have any moralizing attached to it. Characters in Girls, Broad City, Mr Robot and more smoke, without it leading to a worthy storyline about addiction or a descent into crime.

HBO has set the bar high by turning web series High Maintenance into a hit show this month. Each episode tells a different story, featuring different characters, all linked by the unnamed man who delivers their weed (played by Ben Sinclair, the co-creator of the show along with Katja Blichfeld). The characters all smoke, but thats not the main focus. The series tells stories that are by turn sweet, funny, dark and a bit gross, but all of them dig deep into the core of humanity. The show is brilliantly unexpected the first episode provides a wonderful subversion of the friendship between a gay man and a straight woman but the weed is simply a device to explore these disparate characters. And no one is ever judged for wanting to get high.

Amazon has just greenlit the pilot episode of Budding Prospects, a comedy about weed farmers in 1983 from the director of Bad Santa, and they had also previously announced that they had Highland in development, a series starring Margaret Cho as an addict who leaves rehab and moves in with her family who run a pot dispensary.

Netflix has also gotten in on the trend, ordering 20 episodes of Chuck Lorres Disjointed, a comedy starring Kathy Bates as the owner of an LA-based cannabis dispensary, and Kevin Smith, a man who knows a thing or two about writing stoner characters, has filmed a spec pilot about a weed dispensary in LA. Even NBC has been considering a weed show, with Parks and Recreation star Adam Scotts Buds, a comedy set in a marijuana shop in Denver.

These light-hearted comedies are a long way from the drugs are bad, mkay? special episodes of 90s sitcoms. Not all drugs are getting the comedy treatment heroin and meth are still the reserve of heavy-going dramas (Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a running joke about the characters being crack addicts, but its just about the darkest sitcom on TV right now, so probably doesnt count) but TV producers have clearly loosened up when it comes to cannabis. Perhaps its down to changes in law and public opinion (a recent survey shows that 50% of Americans support the legalization of recreational marijuana), or perhaps the slacker stoner character type was just so damn likable that it won us all over. Either way, for the next few years at least, the futures looking pretty darn green.

VIA: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Do Not Resist: new film shows how US police have become an occupying army

Craig Atkinsons documentary about police militarization in America asks an important question: how did we get here?

Craig Atkinsons documentary about police militarization, Do Not Resist, is filled with unsettling scenes like the one where a Swat team destroys a familys home during a drug raid that nets small amounts of loose marijuana. But the most disturbing scene transpires during the relative placidity of a seminar when a hugely successful lecturer tells a room full of police officers: We are at war and you are the frontline.

What do you fight violence with? Superior violence. Righteous violence. Violence is your tool You are men and women of violence.

The speaker, Dave Grossman, is a retired army lieutenant colonel with a packed national speaking schedule. In the film, Grossman also promulgates the notion that one perk of violent encounters is that police often say that afterwards they have the best sex of their lives, which Atkinson, in an interview, sees as parallel to promising virgins to a suicide bomber.

I wanted to show how ubiquitous his philosophy is and how it has been adopted throughout law enforcement, says Atkinson, whose movie won best documentary feature at the Tribeca Film Festival. It opens in New York on Friday and then gradually rolls out. (Grossman refused to be interviewed for this story.) I dont think they should be incentivizing law enforcement to commit violence. This is a rape and pillage philosophy versus a protect and serve philosophy.

Justin Hansford, an assistant professor at St Louis University school of law, says this mentality has long existed but that the 9/11 attacks created a new level of fear among citizens and police and timidity among the politicians who should be preventing this escalation. Its a jambalaya of all the wrong ingredients, he says.

The seemingly endless police killings from Ferguson to Tulsa and Charlotte are directly linked to this issue, Hansford and Atkinson say.

When so many people are being killed you need to look at why so many people in law enforcement are imbued with fear and are trigger happy, Atkinson says. I would love to open the debate of how were training our officers.

Peter Kraska, the chair at the Eastern Kentucky Universitys school of justice studies says this mindset has hardened in many police departments. There has been a major shift so the culture of policing is now split and there is a huge component acting in an irrational manner and viewing themselves in this more militaristic way.

Atkinson started making the film because he felt the hunt for the Boston marathon bombers was chaotic and heavy-handed in its use of military equipment but his interest started closer to home. His father was an officer in a city near Detroit and a longtime Swat team member and Atkinson was shocked to learn how the Swat mission had gradually changed.

Swat deployments are also occurring at a greater rate than ever. Atkinsons film cites statistics: in 1980 there were 3,000 Swat deployments but by 2005 that number had climbed to 45,000. Estimates place current annual numbers between 50,000 and 80,000.

Much of that growth stems from a distorted twist on the famous Field of Dreams quotation: if you arm them they will raid. The federal government has been mindlessly handing over everything from bayonets to armored vehicles to police departments, inadvertently creating what may feel like an occupying military force: since 1997, the Pentagons surplus giveaways have been worth more than $4bn, while the Department of Homeland Security has provided millions more in grants.

Im not against the hardware, Atkinson says and Hansford echoes the belief that Swat teams and armored vehicles are necessary for the rare instances of acts of terrorism. However, thats not how theyre used.

Eighty percent of Swat teams missions are now for minor offenses, usually drugs, and nothing to do with their vital and original function, says Pete Kraska, the chair of graduate studies and research in the school of justice studies at Eastern Kentucky University.

Theres mission creep, Kraska says, adding that using machine guns for civilian protest or raiding peoples homes at 4am over minor, non-violent activities is manufacturing dangerous situations.

Hansford says this complete overkill is especially galling because Swat teams are targeting black and brown communities and do not go into white areas plagued by heroin epidemics with the same aggressive tactics.

In the film, Swat teams revel in the adrenaline rush of military-style training with heavy weaponry and armored vehicles and one officer justifies it all by citing the need to be ready for Isis, WMDs and a situation like what they had in Missouri saying that civil protests warranted tanks and machine guns.

Atkinsons movie takes viewers to places they probably never think much about. We kept restricting ourselves to what we could actually show, he says.

There was plenty to show, such as the public meetings in Concord, New Hampshire, about whether to accept a grant worth more than $250,000 for an armored vehicle. A retired colonel who served in Falluja testifies that this is wholly unnecessary while another veteran says it would make Concord live less free. The local council, however, votes 11-4 to bring it on.

In South Carolina, Atkinson shows a crew that badly damages a home where all they find is some loose weed at the bottom of a bookbag. They arrest the man and then confiscate $1,000 he had for buying landscaping equipment for work. An officer tells the family it was an extractionary technique and we felt we needed to do it, and says with a shrug to the camera that drug raids are a 50-50 proposition in terms of finding something worthwhile.

Atkinson shows that particular raid because he wanted to show how civil asset forfeiture (where the police confiscate goods and money for their own use before a person is even found guilty) has spiraled out of control but adds that he went out on a half-dozen raids around the country and the police never found anything worthwhile. Do you know the type of ill will generated in these communities? he says. It makes the police seem like an occupying force.

Eugene ODonnell, a former New York City police officer and prosecutor who is now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, strongly disagrees, saying the genuine risks of terrorism or heavily armed drug dealers justify the behavior. He says seeing something sinister in militarization is patently absurd and says liberals, but especially libertarians, simply dont believe in police and think its all Jim Crow, its all abuse. They are a danger to society and are getting black people killed because police are afraid to get out of their cars.

ODonnell acknowledges the excess and overreach of what he calls penny ante raids and says they should be reined in but points out that drugs are still illegal and argues that going in with overwhelming force can be safer for everyone.

That viewpoint is taken up in the movie by the FBI director, James Comey, who gives a speech that uses Trump-like phrasing to dismiss legitimate concerns, when he talks about so-called warrior cops, a term I have heard, and the militarization of police. He then proclaims monsters are real and justifies the need for these weapons. The editing is a bit selective: the clip ends before Comey acknowledges that the issue is the way in which we use it when and how we deploy advanced equipment; when and how our officers are trained to use that equipment. The way we do it matters enormously. But Comey, like many defenders of militarization against an armed citizenry, does not speak out for stronger gun control to reduce the need for such equipment and attitudes.

Do Not Resist shifts gears in the last 15 minutes to look at the explosive growth in police use of technology, from cameras in public spaces to facial recognition software to social media analysis. At first glance this seems far less problematic, especially since cameras helped lead to the speedy arrest of the alleged terrorist in the recent New York City bombing. But Hansford argues these surveillance tactics can be just as insidious. The truth is not used for justice equally, it is used for power and control, he says. It feels like a less direct threat because it is less visceral but there is a real danger of a slippery slope where the technology will be used for minor infractions and not enforced equally.

Kraska is pessimistic about possible change, pointing out that departments can ramp up under the guise of community policing by saying they need armored vehicles and Swat teams to create a climate of order for the community. But that really is the model of an occupying force.

Atkinson, who hopes that police academies would screen his film as part of training, counters that he has met officers who are moving away from the Dave Grossman philosophy, realizing its actually more dangerous for them and that de-escalation makes officers lives safer. He believes these officers are looking for ways to get back to that old police motto, to protect and serve.

VIA: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson Says His Crohn’s Disease Would Keep Him Off TV If He Didn’t Have Weed!

Pete Davidson

is a total pothead!

But since the comedian has Crohn’s disease, he uses medical marijuana for actual medical purposes.

Related: Pete Pens Powerful Tribute To Father Who Died On 9/11

In an interview with High Times, the Saturday Night Live star revealed he lights up almost every day to alleviate the symptoms of his medical condition — specifically, so he can eat. He explained:

“I got Crohn’s disease when I was 17 or 18, and I found that the medicines that the doctors were prescribing me and seeing all these doctors and trying new things… weed would be the only thing that would help me eat.”

The 22-year-old explained that living with Crohn’s — a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract — would cause him to be in “pain all day” and unable to eat.

Related: Lorne Michaels Comments On Leslie Jones’ Racist Twitter Trolls

But thankfully, a little cannabis did the trick in getting his appetite back, which is basically the reason why we see him on TV today! He continued:

“My stomach would be in pain all day and I wouldn’t be able to eat, but then I’d smoke and I can eat and do my shows. I wouldn’t be able to do SNL if I didn’t smoke weed. I wouldn’t be able to do anything really. Me performing not high has gone awful. It’s awful for me because I don’t feel well.”

Davidson went on to say he gets offended over the assumption that people who smoke weed are lazy and unproductive, adding:

“I work really f*cking hard and I take care of my sh*t and I need weed in order to do that. I’m sick, I have Crohn’s … so it sucks.”

Clearly, the funny man is more than just your average stoner!

Ch-ch-check out Davidson’s informative interview (below) and catch him on the season premiere of Saturday Night High Live this week!

[Image via High Times/YouTube.]

VIA: http://perezhilton.com/

Racist Trump Troll in a Gorilla Mask Is Exposed

Tristan Rettke, a fervent Trump supporter online, suddenly brought his politics into his real life in a very ugly way.”>

JOHNSON CITY, Tennessee Hours after leaving jail on $10,000 bail, Tristan Rettkethe 19-year-old student who allegedly donned a gorilla mask while handing out noose-tied bananas to Black Lives Matter demonstrators on his East Tennessee State University campustried to offer some amends, at least to his friends.

In a text message sent Thursday and retrieved exclusively by The Daily Beast, he wrote, Im going to be withdrawing from school, and I also want to say to everyone thanks for being my friend and letting me into your group, and Im sorry if I betrayed everyones friendship.

He added: Kinda unsure where the future is gonna take me now but things are going to be tough.

The note came a day after he allegedly disrupted an 11 a.m. campus rally in which about a dozen ETSU students had gathered in Borchuck Plaza to sound off about police-involved shootings of unarmed black men. The plaza is a main artery connecting many of the universitys dorms and academic buildings, and serves as a hub where people feel free to speak without fear of reprisal from the administration.

Some of the demonstrators raised prefab mirrors with the names of Michael Brown and others slain by the police affixed on top. On the bottom of the mirrors was the question: What if this were you? The demonstrators stood in a circle around the fountain in the middle of the plaza, with their mirrors facing outward at passers-by.

Thirty minutes later, the barefoot spectacle that was Rettke joined them. Hed learned about the event on the social media app Yik Yak, according to the ETSU police report.

The night before, Rettke had recruited a female friend to go with him to Wal-Mart to grab the gorilla mask, rope, and bananas, which Rettke apparently told her were for a school project.

She had no idea what was happening, one of Rettkes friends said. She felt so guilty that it had happened because she thought it was part of her responsibility.

During the protest, Rettke crept out from the direction of the library wearing the gorilla mask and brandishing a burlap sack embroidered with a marijuana leaf and a Confederate flag in what the police report calls an attempt to provoke the Black Lives Matter protesters.

Clad in a pair of overalls, Rettke unspooled a rope and attached a banana to the end, dangling it in front of the stunned students.

He proceeded to shuffle around, baiting protesters one banana at a time. Bystanders stopped in their tracks to stare at him.

Then Rettke, clutching his cellphone and evidently recording his instigating antics, began gliding around holding a sheet of white paper with the handwritten words Lives Matter.

Not all white people are like that, said one student, who, like many in the affronted crowd, showed remarkable restraint.

Rettke kept going for about five minutes before a protester smacked one banana out of his hand.

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Jaylen Grimes, who was holding his own sign reading Black Lives Matter =/= White Lives Matter, could be seen calming the miffed student.

When he was then offered a banana, Grimes played along and took it. And when Rettke held out another banana, he took it again.

A lot of us didnt take it, Grimes said, but I just took it as a sign of peace offering and to show him that, just because hes being disrespectful towards me, I wont be disrespectful towards him.

Gradually, the crowd swelled, with more students chiming in and documenting Rettkes behavior.

An ETSU public safety officer then weaved through the throng of gawkers and grabbed Rettkes arm, parking him at a bench near the plaza perimeter. The officers report noted that the masked man was causing a problem.

Students cheered when Rettke was removed. You left your rope, shouted one protester, picking the forsaken hemp off the ground.

As Rettke sat on the bench, students formed a semicircle around it and held up their phones in the hopes that the man beneath the gorilla mask would be exposed.

And they got their wish. Rettke removed his mask and then shielded his face with his hands before he was eventually escorted to a campus police car parked nearby.

The cop whod initially removed Rettke later returned. No matter what anyones opinion is, thats beyond opinion, the officer told Grimes. Thats bullshit, and were not going to tolerate it.

The youth was taken back to the colleges public-safety office and ultimately booked for civil-rights intimidation, a class D felony, and given an interim suspension by the college.

The actions of this one individual go against the values of our university, where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect, a university spokesman said in a statement that praised other students restraint, thoughtfulness, and strength in the face of inappropriate and offensive behavior.

It was a little surprising, the friend said. I would probably guess he did it thinking there was nothing wrong with it and didnt expect to get this kind of attention. Im sure he thought of it as a joke and then realized what he had got himself into when the cops showed up.

The friend added, It was definitely wrong, though.

Were sorting everything out, Roger Rettke, Tristans father, told The Daily Beast. We dont know what the final determination is going to be on all of this.

His friends on campus, where Rettke played on the mens intramural kickball team and in ultimate frisbee matches, told The Daily Beast that while Rettke had a tendency to take jokes a bit too far, he was a smart student whom they didnt see as a bigot.

He just didnt know how to interact, one said. And he didnt always pick up on the social cues.

The only thing that I kept thinking was that this was just a joke that was taken way, way, way too far, one of the students said. How he interacts with other people, theres no indication that he would do anything like this. Thats why the first thing that popped into my head was, Oh, hes just playing a really, really bad joke. A crude joke.

Rettke would often debate on Yik Yak, where he expressed fervent support for Donald Trump. However, he could be demure whenever politics came up in person.

I remember one day the subject of Trump was brought up and he said, Oh, well, I support Trump. Im not going to vocalize that to you guys. I dont want to make anybody upset, one student recalled.

VIA: http://www.thedailybeast.com

How the marijuana tax could help Portland’s minority-owned businesses

People of color are conspicuously absent from Oregons lucrative legal weed business. Now, advocates say a proposed 3% marijuana tax could help

Brooke and Rodney Smith opened their Portland, Oregon cannabis dispensary, PDX Tree, in November 2014 the same month Oregon voters approved a ballot initiative for legalizing recreational marijuana. While they were excited to enter what they hope will be a lucrative experiment in entrepreneurship, they say the states fluctuating policies, as it transitions from medical marijuana into recreational sales, have been a headache.

In order to get started, the Smiths had to pay the city for both a medical and recreational license $3,500 and $4,795 annually plus an additional $4,750 licensing fee to the state of Oregon. Because their store caters to both patients and potheads, theyve also had to navigate the rules on the potency and amount of marijuana theyre allowed to sell, depending on whether its medical, edible or recreational.

This was the hardest thing Ive ever done, said Brooke Smith. Our personal finances are all screwed up; our credit cards are maxed … We love what we do, but it definitely hasnt been a cakewalk.

The Smiths joined the Oregon Cannabis Business Council to seek guidance on the process, but they say theyre the only African American members. Brooke participates in a number of cannabis organizations and has never run into another African American who owns a marijuana-related business. She only knows of one other dispensary in Portland that is black-owned. The reason for the scarcity, she said, has to do with education and missed opportunity.

The reality today is that were not well educated on how to handle our personal finances, said Smith, who used to work as an insurance agent before moving into marijuana. Our parents didnt pass this down to their kids, so weve had to figure it out without a lot of support and backing.

The legal marijuana trade is booming in Oregon. The government has collected more than $25m in sales taxes so far in 2016, according to the states Department of Revenue. With a 25% tax on the stuff, that translates to more than $100m-worth of weed sold so far. But a range of cultural, educational and legal barriers may have kept minorities from cashing in.

Support for minorities who want to enter the budding trade could come in the form of a new 3% sales tax on recreational weed in Portland, a ballot measure that will be voted on in November. Oregon will tax marijuana at 17% starting in January, and the additional 3% tax aims, in part, to help people of color in launching their own innovative small businesses.

The Portland lawmakers behind the bill project that the additional tax could bring in at least $3m per year, part of which would go toward assisting neighborhood minority-owned businesses of any type, in the form of incubator programs, management and job training and financial support. The accrued tax revenue would also be funneled into drug and alcohol education and treatment programs, public safety investments and supporting women-owned businesses. Finally, a portion would go toward a grant program for people who want to expunge past marijuana-related charges from their criminal records but who cant afford the hefty legal fees involved.

Theres a myriad of things in that legislation that can help our communities of color, said Jesce Horton, the Portland-based owner of both a cannabis cultivation facility and a line of gourmet edibles who co-founded the nonprofit Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) last year. But its really about us making sure we come together and apply for those funds, and put ourselves in a position to take advantage.

Minority Cannabis Business Association vice chair Jeannette Ward, left, with a man named Jacob, right, who got his record expunged of marijuana charges in August. Photograph: MCBA

Hortons group wants to help Portlands people of color benefit from the tax funding by encouraging them to enter the weed business. But he recognizes that it could be an uphill climb for some. As a 1,000-member nationwide organization, only 10% of MCBA members actually work in the cannabis industry, according to Horton. Most are trying to find a way in. And in Portland, Horton only knows a few African Americans who are proprietors of pot.

In the absence of hard data on minorities in the legal weed market one of the few available estimates pegs minority involvement in dispensaries at 1% nationwide the MCBA is currently working on a study with the University of California, Berkeley on the demographics of the cannabis industry.

But Horton, who helped Portland commissioner Amanda Fritz draft the language of the proposed 3% tax, believes the lack of people of color in legalized marijuana has to do with heavy regulation, barriers to accessing capital and gaps in the right information.

Furthermore, among minorities in Portland, working in legalized cannabis comes with its fair share of taboo. People are a little bit scared of jumping into the industry first and knowing that, looking at statistics, they may be the first to get arrested or they may be putting themselves or their families in jeopardy, Horton said.

Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite comparable usage rates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And the decriminalization of marijuana may not do much to change the imbalance. For example, the Colorado Department of Public Safety revealed that, shortly before marijuana was legalized there in 2014, the number of white teenagers arrested on marijuana charges in the state decreased by 8% between 2012 and 2014, the most recent years for which data is available. Yet for black teens, the arrests increased by 58%, and for Hispanics by 29% during the same period.

The ACLU of Oregon said that while it doesnt yet have statewide numbers on marijuana arrests or citations since legalization in July 2015, its interested in learning whether Oregon will follow Colorado with a persistent racial disparity in marijuana violations.

Tree PDX, the Smiths Portland dispensary. Photograph: Brooke Smith

My guess is we will see something similar here, as theres evidence that racial disparities exist across the criminal justice system, and marijuana legalization wont correct that larger issue, said Sarah Armstrong, communications and outreach director of the ACLU of Oregon.

While marijuana is now legal in designated quantities in these states, many past offenders still have cannabis convictions tainting their records, ultimately road-blocking them from moving on with their lives.

There are an awful lot of people with marijuana offenses that are struggling because they have that on the books, said Oregon state Representative Lew Frederick, who in 2015 proposed legislation that would allow a person to submit a request to have his or her record cleared of a marijuana possession. They then get cant jobs, they cant get houses or education, they cant apply for business loans, he said.

Thats something that Fritz hopes Portlands proposed marijuana tax can abate through a grant program for those who need assistance paying the $1,000 or more in legal fees it can cost to expunge the past cannabis charges from their records.

My understanding is that when the ballot measure passes, it will be the first in the nation to designate some of the money to correct past inequitable actions in the criminal justice system, said Fritz.

Donald Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said hes all too familiar with the drill of expungement. Hes still dealing with his own record after a raid of his dispensary back in 2012, when authorities accused him of selling pot for recreational use, a practice that was then illegal. He and his co-founder accepted a plea bargain for felony drug possession charges, and eventually reopened their dispensary in Portland.

With only a handful of minorities on his council, Morse said he would definitely get behind the 3% cannabis tax. If we can earmark funds to make loans to help persons of color get a leg up and be their own business owners, I think thats the right thing to do.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/sep/29/portland-marijuana-tax-minority-business

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Breakup Documentary Canceled by NBC

Angling for a sit-down with either of the warring sides in the Jolie-Pitt divorce, sources say NBC pulled a documentary on the Brangelina split to avoid burning bridges.”>

The divorce battle between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is becoming increasingly bitter, with tabloid accusations that Pitt lunged at his son Maddox during a row with his wife, and that he is a bad dad with a fondness for alcohol and marijuana.

It has even been alleged that Jolie filed for divorce after Pitt reportedly made contact with Maddox during a fight on their private jet, and that booze and perhaps even pot were involved, according to TMZ. Pitts camp denies the weed allegations, saying he voluntarily submitted to a urine test early on in an investigation into the incident to disprove those claims.

The alleged altercation between the couple is said to have taken place aboard a private plane as the family flew from Nice, France, to Burbank, California, on Sept. 14.

[Pitt] got drunk and was fighting with Angie, an insider told Us Weekly of the incident. Maddox stepped in to defend Angie and got in Brads face.

But this divorce is still really only in the phony war stage. All these allegations and accusations arent so much the opening salvos as statements of intent; early bids for public sympathy (mostly on Jolies part), which happen to be illuminating the terms of engagement and the terrain (custody of the couples six kids) on which the conflict will be fought.

All the briefings and counter-briefings are unattributed and taking place off the record, but one network appears to be betting that, eventually, either Jolie or Pitt is going to sit down and tell all to the camera.

And the hope that either of the parties may choose to open their heart to NBC is what insiders are telling the New York Posts Page Six is behind a decision by the networks in-house production company, Peacock Productions, to abruptly abandon the making of a one-hour special on the breakup of Brangelina.

Network sourcesin a counter-briefing worthy of the divorce battle itselfhave insisted to Page Six that the show was actually being made by sister channel Lifetime and the cancellation has nothing at all to do with NBC.

However, a source told Page Six: The special was canceled at the last minutethe show had already booked talking heads, hair and makeup, B-roll… Staffers were working to slam it all together Now theyre all like, F–k! We just did all this work for nothing?

The source went on to reveal to the Post that the special was, canceled at the last minute because NBC was terrified that if they upset Brad or Angie, they wouldnt get a sit-down [with either].

However, another source described as close to the production said the show was actually commissioned by Lifetime, and that it was Lifetimes vice president of nonfiction programming who pulled it.

Read more: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/09/29/brad-pitt-and-angelina-jolie-breakup-documentary-canceled-by-nbc.html

An Intriguing Link Between Police Shootings and Black Voter Registration

Since January 1, 2016, there have been 714 fatal police shootings in the United States. That comes to79 deaths a month, 18 a week, and three a day. For context, the US recorded43 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus and 25 deathsfrom West Nile in the same time frame.

For most, if not all, public health issues, some segments of the population are more vulnerable than others. Americans who engage in unprotected sex are more likely to contract Zika virus, while older peopleare more likely to die from West Nile.

Maimuna Majumder


Maimuna Majumder is an Engineering Systems PhD candidate at MIT and computational epidemiology research fellow at HealthMap. Her research interests involve probabilistic modeling, Bayesian statistics, and systems epidemiology in the context of emerging infectious diseases.

And when it comes to fatal police shootings, black Americans are more likely to be shot and killed.

Earlier this month, police shot and killedthree black Americansover a span of six days. Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, and Keith Scott are among174 black Americansto diein suchshootings so far this year.

Computational epidemiologists like myself specialize in transforming numbers likethese into public health insight, usually by way of mathematical modeling. Our main goals are identifyingat-risk groups and proposingmitigation strategies. Though we typically focus on disease, our methods—and interests—apply to anything that injures or kills. So we decided to apply them to the United States’ fatal police shootings.

Though black Americans comprise12 percent of the US population, they account for27 percent of the victims in fatal police shootings reported between January 1, 2015 and July 7, 2016, according to a database compiled by the The Washington Post. Moreover, police officers were twice aslikely to shoot and kill unarmed black individuals than unarmed white individuals.

Race representation in the US population and in fatal police shootingsWIRED/MAIMUNA SHAHNAZ MAJUMDER

This broader phenomenon—the over-representation of black Americans within the context of fatal police shootings—is heterogeneous across the United States. To understand how this trend plays out in different parts of the country, we’vedefined an “over-representation ratio” for each state: the percentage of fatal police shootings in which a black American was killed divided by percentage of black Americans. Though the national average over-representation ratio is 2.3 (27 percent divided by 12 percent), some states clock in at several times that. In Ohio, where 13-year-old Tyre King was killed, its 4.0.

In a truly race-neutral universe, youwould expect an over-representation ratio of 1. However, some argue that over-representation of black Americans—both in armed and unarmed fatal police shootings—is justified due to a “concentration of criminal violence”within black communities. According to 2009 datafrom the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black Americans were charged with 62 percent of robberies, 57 percent of murders, and 45 percent of assaults in the nation’s 75 biggest counties (despite comprising 15 percent of the total population in these counties).

In a truly race-neutral universe, you would expect an over-representation ratio of 1. In Ohio, where 13-year-old Tyre King was killed, its 4.0.

This doesnt necessarily mean black Americans are more likely to commit these crimes. In fact, black individuals are more likely than white individuals to be charged, convicted, and incarcerated for the same crime. And perhaps unsurprisingly, states with higher black-to-white incarceration ratios have higher over-representation ratios.

So, why are some states so much worse off than others?

To address this question, we collected data on a number of important socioeconomic indicators for each state that sawat least one fatal police shooting involving a black victim between January 1, 2015 and July 7, 2016 (there were 39). We then used multivariate linear regression to determine which, if any, indicators were statistically significant determinants of state-by-state over-representation ratio—the outcome of interest.

Along with the percentage of eligible black Americans registered to vote, we examined indicators like black-to-white incarceration ratio, median household income, the Gini index (as a measure of income inequality), and percentage of population with college education. By including these additional indicators in the model, we couldglean how much influence each had on the over-representation ratio while controlling for the others—critical in situations where the indicators themselves are correlated, like household income and college education.

Multivariate linear regression results. KFF, Mauer & King, US CensusWIRED/MAIMUNA SHAHNAZ MAJUMDER

What we found was staggering. The number one determinant of over-representation in fatal police shootings—after controlling for all other aforementioned indicators—was the percentage of eligible black Americans registered to vote within the state in question. In other words, the higher the percentage of eligible black Americans registered to vote, the lower the over-representation ratio in a given state. Furthermore, states suffering from increased rates of income inequality (i.e. Gini index, median household income) demonstrated higher over-representation ratios, while states with increased diversity (i.e. percentage of noncitizen residents) demonstrated lower over-representation ratios.

What does this all mean? In addition to promoting diversity and reducing income inequality, these preliminary results suggest that increasing voter registration among black Americans could potentially reduce the risk of fatal police shootings of black victims.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Minority groups are routinely excluded from voter registration drives due to higher rates of unlisted individuals. Furthermore, most states require voters to register several weeks before Election Day—a practice that disproportionately suppresses minority registrants. (Voter registration remainsopen in most states ahead of Election Day 2016; check whether youre registered to vote here.)

Despite controlling for several socioeconomic variables, these results dont conclusively imply causation. But they’re a reasonable starting point. Expanding on that knowledge and finding other potentially actionable mitigation strategies will require reframing the issue as a public health crisis, with a focus on data-driven research and policy recommendations.

Yetthe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’ttouched gun violence research—let alone fatal police shootings research—since 1996, when the National Rifle Association accused the agencyof promoting gun control. Though the government lifted the ban two years ago, federal funding remainshard to come by, and government-sponsored gun violence research isat a standstill.

In the interim, non-governmental research groups are working hard to fill the void. Among them is HealthMap, a computational epidemiology lab based out of Boston Childrens Hospital and Harvard Medical School, which will soon launch an interactive gun violence platform. By harnessing digital data sources—like online news, Internet search query trends, blogging and micro-blogging sites—this platform will provide real-time, open access gun violence information to researchers, policy makers, and the general public.

If society wishesto reduce the burden among those most at-risk, public health organizations must be given the opportunity to carefully examine gun violence—and fatal police shootings—just as theydo disease.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2016/09/intriguing-link-police-shootings-black-voter-registration/

California Wildfire Burns Aggressively Across Steep Terrain

A blaze in a rugged area south of San Jose threatened hundreds of structures and destroyed at least one home as it burned aggressively, after charring more than 3 square miles of dry brush and timber.

A heat wave in parts of drought-stricken California worsened the wildfire that began Monday and forced hundreds of people from their homes in remote communities along the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It was 10 percent contained Tuesday night, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

One remote area where the fire burned is 30 minutes up a winding dirt road. Another is dotted with large-scale marijuana growing operations. A main route along the ridgetop is not accessible, even to firefighters, because of downed utility lines.

Flames lit up the mountainside above a roller coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and a residence was reduced to rubble, though its hot tub still stood. The fire consumed a large home sitting on a hilltop plot and poured out thick, black smoke, while another house sat unscathed below.

The blaze broke out Monday during a statewide heat wave that brought witheringly low humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s.

The heat baked even coastal cities that normally benefit from the Pacific Ocean’s cooling effect. But the high temperatures were expected to start easing late Tuesday.

“This fire is a good reminder that even though we are approaching October, this time of year is historically when we experience the largest and most damaging wildfires,” Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

It threatened 300 buildings, though it’s not clear if they were homes or smaller structures. The fire, which was partially under control, also burned close to television and radio towers. No injuries were reported.

Anthony Lopez returned to his home, which is still under evacuation orders, Tuesday. He was overjoyed to find his dozens of marijuana plants standing and his 1972 Buick Skylark uncharred.

Doreenann Bellamy packed her dog, photo albums and firearms into her pickup truck as she and her husband left their home.

“Everyone on the mountain has guns, and you’ve got to grab your guns first,” she told The Mercury News in San Jose (http://bayareane.ws/2cH4hpE ).

Danielle Mays anxiously waited for a neighbor to bring her Boston terrier, Layla, and her cat, Callie.

“That’s it; that’s what matters,” Mays told the newspaper Monday. “I have fire insurance for the rest.”

To the north, embers from eucalyptus trees engulfed in flames spread to 13 homes, destroying four houses in a Petaluma, California neighborhood of modest homes bordered by a major highway, authorities said.

Petaluma fire Battalion Chief Jeff Holden said damage in the other homes ranged from a scorched fence to burned backyard decks, sheds and windows.

One woman was injured and received burn blisters on the bottom of one foot.

The fire started in grass near an off ramp of Highway 101 and was blown by the wind into parched eucalyptus trees, Holden told the Press Democrat.

Authorities evacuated about 20 homes and shut down most of the freeway’s northbound lanes for nearly two hours.

Dozens of firefighters from nearby cities joined Petaluma fire crews to fight the blazes. The last crew clearing the scene five hours after the fires started, Holden said.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/09/28/california-wildfire-burns-aggressively-across-steep-terrain.html

What Is Spice And Why Is The Drug So Dangerous?

The Conversation

Synthetic cannabis, of which Spice is an example, is linked to serious health issues ranging from difficulties breathing to psychotic episodes. But, despite well-known issues, these drugs are still in demand and homeless people, particularly, are at risk of mental health issues from their use. So what exactly are these drugs made of and why do they cause such violent reactions.

Spice is not a single drug, but a range of laboratory-made chemicals that mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis. Research suggests that Spice and other forms of synthetic cannabis is capable of producing much more intense and prolonged effects at much lower doses than natural cannabis. This is because, while the THC in natural cannabis only partially reacts with the body, synthetic cannabis reacts far more fully.

To understand the biology behind the intense reaction to Spice we need to look at the parts of the bodys central nervous system that react to cannabis the cannabinoid receptors and the chemical part of the drug that reacts with the body the agonist.

While THC is a partial agonist (it only partially reacts with cannabinoid receptors), synthetic cannabis is often a full agonist. In this way, the more adverse effects observed with synthetic cannabis use stem from its ability to completely saturate and activate all of the bodys cannabinoid receptors at a lower dose.

Although the consequences of long-term regular use are not well defined, experts believe that synthetic cannabis has the potential to develop, or cause a relapse of mental illness, especially if there is a family history of mental disorders.

Where does Spice come from?

In 2008, the first synthetic cannabinoid which reacts with the body in the same way as cannabis was identified on the recreational drug market. JWH-018 was an aminoalklindole originally developed by John Huffman of Clemson University in the US and sold under the brand name: Spice. Aminoalkylindoles the most common sub-family of synthetic cannabinoids – are produced, in kilogram quantities, through quick and simple chemical reactions using legal substances.

These substances are produced on a large-scale by chemical companies based in China and then shipped, as bulk powders, to Europe by air or sea. Once in Europe, the synthetic cannabinoids are mixed with (or sprayed onto) plant material using solvents such as acetone or methanol to dissolve the powders. The combination is then dried, packaged and sold as either incense or smoking mixtures.

JWH-018 is now a controlled substance in many countries under narcotics legislation. But the prevalence of next-generation synthetic cannabinoids now known colloquially as Spice or Mamba continue to be the largest group of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in common usage. As of December 2015, 14 different sub-families of cannabinoid agonists have been identified indicating that there are potentially hundreds of these types of substances circulating via the internet and often across international borders.

Why is it so dangerous?

Different brands of smoking mixtures can have very different effects, but the strength of a specific brand appears to owe more to the ratio of cannabinoids to chemically inactive plant material in the mixture, rather than the variation in the chemical structure of compounds themselves. In other words, the specific type of chemical in the mixture is less important than how much chemical there is compared to what has been put in to provide bulk.

Due to the high potency of some synthetic cannabinoids, the amount needed for each hit can be as little as a few tens of milligrams (about the size of a match head). The intoxicating effects of more potent brands such as Clockwork Orange, Pandoras Box and Annihilation can be quite overpowering. Some people experience difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, and shakes and sweats, all of which can lead to a severe panic attacks. At higher doses, balance and coordination can be severely affected. Users can experience a loss of feeling and numbness in their limbs, nausea, collapse and unconsciousness.

Continued use of synthetic cannabinoids can cause psychotic episodes, which in extreme cases can last for weeks, and may exacerbate existing mental-health illnesses in susceptible users. But most reports of severe mental health, addiction and acts of violence as a result of regular use tend to be among prisoners and homeless people. These groups are much more likely to report high rates of drug dependency, self-define as having addictive personalities and disclose a range of diagnosed mental-health issues including dual diagnosis (drug dependence and at least one mental-health disorder, or at least two personality or psychotic disorders) and existing offences for violence.

Because of the substantial risks of synthetic cannabinoids, many countries have already outlawed their production, possession and distribution. But it is unlikely that the war on drugs will show any sign of relenting, given the rapidly evolving nature of the recreational drugs market and the lack of globalised drug-control legislation. Only by working collectively can scientists, medical professionals and law makers help to stem the flow of these dangerous compounds before they pose a serious threat to health of vulnerable groups in society.

The ConversationOliver Sutcliffe, Senior Lecturer in Psychopharmaceutical Chemistry, Manchester Metropolitan University and Robert Ralphs, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/what-is-spice-and-why-is-the-drug-so-dangerous/

Reporter who quit on air to fight for pot legalization could face decades in prison

Pending trial of advocate Charlo Greene raises questions about the war on drugs and could have broader legal implications as more states move to legalize weed

Charlo Greene did not plan to curse on live television, but on 22 September 2014, the words came pouring out.

Then a reporter for KTVA, a station in Alaska, Greene ended her segment on marijuana by revealing that she was a proponent of legalization and was the owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club, the subject of her news report.

Fuck it, I quit, she said, before abruptly walking off camera. The 26-year-olds stunt shocked her colleagues and made her a viral sensation overnight.

Greene quickly became a full-time cannabis advocate, working to help Alaskans access pot after the state became the third in the US to legalize recreational pot in November 2014.

But despite the voter-approved initiative, Alaska has not helped her start a legitimate marijuana operation. On the contrary, the state launched a series of undercover operations and raids at her club, ultimately charging her with eight serious criminal offenses of misconduct involving a controlled substance.

If convicted, she could face 24 years behind bars.

Its almost dizzying when you try to make sense of it, Greene said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian about her upcoming trial. It could literally cost me the rest of my adult life.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/28/charlo-greene-alaska-cannabis-club-reporter-marijuana