Tag Archives: weed

How Drug Traffickers Use America’s Coast-to-Coast ‘Pot Pipeline’

On a new episode of WEEDIQUETTE, Krishna Andavolu tracks a shipment of bud from California to New York. Decreased enforcement in the Empire State and increased production out west has created a coast-to-coast "pot pipeline"—which Krishna follows alongside a trafficker who's mastered the route.

WEEDIQUETTE airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on VICELAND.

Plus, on a new episode of BONG APPÉTIT, Abdullah Saeed throws a Southern-style barbecue with industry legend Kevin Bludso. They dig into hemp-raised pork, cook up cannabis-infused cornbread, and top it all off with barbecue sauce that will get you stoned.

BONG APPÉTIT airs Wednesdays at 10:30 PM on VICELAND.

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Meet the Moms Who Treat Their Kids’ Autism with Cannabis on ‘WEEDIQUETTE’

On a new episode of VICELAND's show WEEDIQUETTE, Krishna Andavolu meets the mothers breaking federal law to treat their children's autism with cannabis. Though the local government might prohibit it, these parents have a conviction that helping their kids shouldn't make them criminals.

WEEDIQUETTE airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on VICELAND.

Plus, BONG APPÉTIT is back with a new episode, and Abdullah Saeed is teaming up with the founders of LA's Trap Kitchen to infuse their signature dish with a generous helping of cannabis oil. Abdullah and his buddies serve up the potent pineapple bowls—filled with jasmine rice, beef short rib, and lobster—to Slink Johnson, the comedian and actor who stars in Adult Swim's Black Jesus.

BONG APPÉTIT airs Wednesdays at 10:30 PM on VICELAND.

Want to know if you get VICELAND? Head here to find out how to tune in.

Inside the UK’s Secret Cannabis Coffee Shops

Sitting six floors up, looking down on London's rooftops, and the city workers leaving the high rises nearby, I sip a coffee and smoke a joint of Moroccan hash, bought over the counter five minutes ago.

I'm in one of the many clandestine, Amsterdam-style coffee shops to have popped up across the UK over the past few years—places that all have their own motivations and character, whether they're open-doored and profit-driven establishments, or more private and community based, but which all share one key characteristic: You can smoke—and sometimes buy—weed on the premises. This is just one of six venues that I know of in this part of London, and beyond the capital, similar setups exist all the way from Peterborough in eastern England to Newcastle in northeast England.

These under-the-radar smoking spots have been around for years—famously, cannabis-legalization campaigner Colin Davies was arrested in 2001 after opening the Dutch Experience Cafe in Stockport, Greater Manchester, England—but there's evidence that there's been a jump in numbers recently. Granted, that evidence is entirely anecdotal, but considering these places aren't exactly going to be clamoring to register with their local government, it's about the best kind of evidence we have.

The Teesside Cannabis Club—a local chapter of the UK Cannabis Social Clubs—has been operating as a hub for the local weed-smoking community for many years, but early in 2017, members decided to find and open a permanent venue for social cannabis consumption. Unlike some of the more low-key setups, absolutely nothing illegal is sold here. The club provides the coffee-shop experience, selling soft drinks and snacks, but has a strict bring-your-own policy when it comes to the cannabis itself. There's also a ban on any alcohol and hard drugs.

"We currently have just under 100 members, but we have new people contacting us every month," says Michael Fisher, cannabis activist and founder of the club. "Some people come from up to 50 miles to come here and spend an evening." Attendees range from 20 to 70 years old, he says, and some of the "older members are actually starting to bring their friends."

The address of the venue itself isn't publicly available, but like many other UK cannabis clubs, the Teesside branch maintains a website and Facebook page, with Fisher's face up there for everyone to see. Being such a public venture, what do the locals make of it, and is there not a worry that police are going to come charging through the door at any point?

"We really get along with the locals—we chat to everyone, and we don't cause problems," says Fisher, highlighting the fact that getting along with the locals has meant no one's reported them, which means a lack of police attention. "It's probably the world's worst-kept secret where we are, and we just bought a new six-foot sign to put up outside. The police don't need to raid the club—they can see everything we do on social media, and if there are any problems, they have my phone number; they know where I live."

The Teesside club falls under the jurisdiction of Durham Police Force—the first in the UK to publicly relax its stance on cannabis policing, with Commissioner Ron Hogg saying in 2015 that users will only be targeted if they're growing plants for commercial gain or smoking weed in a "blatant" way. The fact that all consumption takes place behind closed doors undoubtedly acts in the Teesside club's favor, but perhaps its main saving grace is its strict no-drugs-for-sale policy.

WATCH: High Society, Weed in the UK – Meeting Granny Growers, Drone Dealers and Pot-Friendly Politicians

Other coffee shops—for example, the ones that sell cannabis products over the counter—don't have this kind of luxury; if the police were aware of them, they would likely swoop in to close them down. However, these places also provide something you won't find anywhere else in the UK: a menu to choose from and time to inspect the product before buying, without the pressure and potential rip-off of a rushed street-corner deal.

I visit one such coffee shop north of London in Nottingham, which—for obvious reasons—doesn't want to give out any real names and identifying details, but clientele-wise is full of students and, surprisingly, mainly international students. The owner, "Chris," tells me the idea of a raid doesn't bother him much: "I don't care about that," he says. "It's all good. There's a lot worse stuff going on [in this area]. We never have any problems with police."

Mind you, that apparent apathy doesn't stop one member of staff from staring intently at a screen showing different CCTV angles of the building for the entire two hours I'm there.

Away from the counter, patrons are giggling, chatting, and smoking—and I hear at least four different languages being spoken. "I prefer students coming here, especially foreign ones," says Chris. "They cause no trouble, and they spend a lot of money. If many locals found out about this place, it would probably cause me hassle."

The coffee-shop space has opened up the social lives of some regulars. The guy I'm sitting next to, Ahmed, tells me, "This spot always puts on big football games, so we come every time to watch them. I'm Muslim, so I prefer being somewhere I can smoke up instead of drinking beer." His friend chips in: "Yeah, some people like going to the pub on Fridays. That's not me. You'll find me here every Friday."

This relaxed nature is, of course, slightly misleading. Buying and smoking weed in the same way you would a beer, it all feels incredibly normal and legal. But it's not: The reality is that this place is an illegal business that could be raided at any point. In 2010, for instance, three men were put in jail for conspiring to sell drugs at a "cannabis cafe" in Lancing, a village on the western edge of England—but only after police had smashed their way into the premises multiple times, earning the business the nickname "the hole-in-the-wall cafe," and eventually built up enough evidence to convict.

The menu at the unnamed London cafe

Back in London, I visit another coffee shop with weed for sale. The owner isn't keen to speak but does allow me to take a few photos of the menu.

A regular here, Ash, tells me: "I come here because I'm a medical user who only benefits from specific indica strains, and my local dealer doesn't give a shit—gives me stuff with random names, which makes it hard to find out if it will bring me the relief I need or not."

The menu here consists of the widest variety of strains I've ever seen in the UK; many are lab-tested medical-grade cannabis from the United States. However, it's not cheap, with a solitary gram regularly going for $40 to $65, as opposed to the $12 to $25 average you'll find on the street.

"I pay a lot more for my weed here, but I like the menu," explains one customer. "I'm obsessed with trying different flavors of dro, to be honest. Being able to come here, it's like Disneyland."

Another says, "I come here to smoke Cali weed. I love Cali weed."

I overhear a load of chat about the cannabis industry and the latest cannabis strains—all pretty-for-the-heads stuff, but this place is ostensibly marketed toward the general public. Other spots, such as the Dog House Smoking Club in Leicester, in eastern England, are geared much more toward the hardcore enthusiasts—the kind of people who know how to make butane hash oil at home without accidentally blowing up all of their belongings.

This place is much smaller than the others—a converted shed, essentially—and there are only two other people there when I visit. The owner—who asks to go by "Dog"—tells me, "Here, we have an invite-only policy. The public can't come and go, but people can bring their friends over. I like to keep it controlled and get to know everyone. I do this for my passion for bud more than anything—it's a place for friends to socialize, where we can smoke the best bud possible."

Dog tells me that he dreams of cannabis being legal so he can open a place with the same philosophy but where anyone over the age of 18 is able to walk in. The arguments for legalization are numerous, spanning a range of potential economic and social benefits, and these coffee shops play into that: They provide an environment in which advice can be offered and quality is assured; they stop children from smoking; they answer any worries people might have around people consuming weed in parks or on the street; and, importantly, provide easy access for medical users looking for specific strains.

A guest at a London Smoking Club event

One of the largest gatherings of cannabis consumers is the London Smoking Club (LSC). However, unlike the other clubs, the LSC does not function within a permanent venue. It also doesn't sell any cannabis products, operating under the same bring-your-own policy as the Teesside club. Instead, it holds pop-up events and socials at preexisting venues, with members attending to socialize with other like-minded people and build connections in the cannabis community—whether for medical or recreational reasons.

"For some people, this is their Friday night; for some people, they come to just try and find nice flowers; some people come down to get recommendations for growing equipment, etc.," says "Drekanots," one of the people behind the club. "It's just generally a safe space for people who have anything to do with cannabis."

Drekanots goes on to argue that such a space is needed when the law is the way it is and when the public is so judgmental of the community. "If a member of the public looked down on us, I'd want to ask them why—find out how and where they built up that view," he says. "At the end of the day, this is our hobby, our passion… just like a car club or a golf club—each to their own."

Although the club is primarily social, it also has political motivations. "We've held plenty of events for charity, raising money for cancer charities and the like," says Drekanots. "We feel it's important to do things like this to show that smokers are just as much a part of society as anyone else. We are currently planning some more campaigns to do this year."

The LSC is also trying to facilitate the lab testing of cannabis products—something that's much needed in the UK—but setting up a testing lab is difficult under the current laws.

Just like the other coffee shops and clubs I visit, the LSC has never had any problems with the police. When I ask the Met Police and the National Police Chiefs Council to comment on the issue of cannabis, social clubs, and venues that actually sell weed over the counter, both decline. This could be down to two extremes: Either the authorities are fairly clueless on the issue, due to a lack of resources in the face of government cuts, or they just don't have the motivation to act. Since Durham Police announced that they won't be going after low-level cannabis offenders, multiple other forces have followed—and it stands to reason that police would prefer to see weed users congregate in private and not in public.

Of course, that's just speculation. But what's certain is that while the government continues to ignore the evidence pointing to the benefits of legalization, they will continue to miss out on millions of dollars in lovely taxable weed money.

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VICE Talks Weed with Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at VICE Canada's Toronto office to discuss the government's weed legalization bill at an exclusive live event on April 24th, 2017. Trudeau and MP Bill Blair, who has been the Liberals' pointman on this file, were questioned about the new legislation at the live event, hosted by Manisha Krishnan. They also took questions from guests who will be directly impacted by the new laws and through those conversations, touched on harm reduction, the possibility of pardons, how dispensaries will fit into a new system focussed largely on big licensed producers, and how the government plans to keep the products from licensed producers safe.

Donald Trump’s Drug Czar Is Very High on Forced Rehab

The man Donald Trump is reportedly set to tap as America's next "drug czar"—officially, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy—shares Attorney General Jeff Session's passion for renewing the War on Drugs. At a hearing on the heroin problem last year, Congressman Tom Marino said he supports mandatory inpatient treatment for "nondealer, nonviolent drug abusers", and that he likes the idea of placing them in a "hospital-slash-prison" setting.

Let's set aside for a second that a plurality of drug arrests in America involve non-addicted pot smokers who do not need any treatment. What the public and the press typically fail to question in covering this issue is whether coerced treatment works at all—and if it does, if it is the best use of limited resources.

To the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this is a settled question: in its Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment, one of the key planks is that "treatment doesn't need to be voluntary to be effective." But some researchers who have recently reviewed the data came to the opposite conclusion, and in my own experience and reporting, I've found demonstrable negative effects when people are coerced into getting help.

A frightening report released last year by Massachusetts, for instance, found that, at least in their state, people who had been treated for addiction without their consent were more than twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose compared to those who had attended voluntarily. Meanwhile, according to the most recent data, around one third of patients in the addiction treatment system nationally are there under some sort of legal pressure—and in some programs, criminal justice referrals make up the overwhelming majority of patients. Drug courts, which are designed expressly to use coercion to get people into treatment, now include some 120,000 defendants annually.

Dan Werb, assistant professor of public health at the University of California—San Diego, recently reviewed the data on the "hospitals-slash-prisons" Marino is so high on. In these centers, participants don't have a choice: they are forced into treatment and not even given the option of a cell.

"The main finding is that there is so little evidence," he tells me. "There's much more robust evidence on the value of voluntary treatment." Of the studies that exist on compulsory treatment, the majority (77 percent) found either no clearly proven effect on drug use or crime—or that forced treatment actually made people worse by increasing their likelihood of arrest or relapse(22 percent).

Some of the included studies were conducted in countries where compulsory treatment is little more than forced labor (and some of it is torture). But even in the United States, there is plenty of forced rehab that doesn't actually do much good. One study of 506 defendants mandated to a Texas rehab for six months found no significant difference in recidivism between graduates, dropouts and people who weren't mandated to the program. Another study of over 2,000 American military veterans found that although those who were mandated into treatment initially seemed more likely to succeed, five years later they were no more likely to be in recovery than those who chose to be in treatment.

Oh, and there is a storied legacy of US treatment programs that featured unpaid labor and torturous practices, too.

David Farabee, professor of psychiatry at the University of California—Los Angeles, who has studied the effects of coercion on treatment for decades, notes that much of the data here is confounded by what scientists call a "selection effect." What this means, essentially, is that pre-existing differences between the groups being compared actually account for what look like treatment effects. In the case of addiction treatment, research has long shown that—up to a point—spending more time in treatment is associated with better outcomes.

That has led to the conclusion that a "higher dose" of treatment is more effective. But there's a massive problem with drawing that lesson from these data. That is: many treatment centers expel people for relapsing—and those who drop out are often doing so because rehab has not made them better at sustaining abstinence. In other words, those who stay longer are more motivated to recover, regardless of any effect of treatment. According to Farabee, research on legal sanctions to motivate people to stay in treatment shows that they do stay longer—but that doesn't mean that they actually have better outcomes.

Adds Farabee, "The more you dig, the more you see that the notion that coercion is a panacea is unfounded. The best thing you can say is that people are more likely to show up if made to do so."

Alex Stevens, professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, is the author of a review of the data on people who are given a choice between treatment and prison. He found that in this case, legally-coerced patients do no better or worse than those who come voluntarily. But it's hard to tell what that really means. For one, people who were considered as being there "voluntarily" actually had other pressures on them. "His wife said he had to come, otherwise she'd leave, his boss said he'd lose his job—or someone is just bored of being arrested all the time," he explains.

Check out the VICE Sports explainer on weed in the NFL. 

A bigger problem is the effects that coercion has on treatment quality and the programs themselves. Consider, for example, the fact that trauma and PTSD are highly linked to addiction, particularly childhood sexual abuse. Imagine trying to sincerely open up about these painful and highly personal experiences in a room full of people who are rolling their eyes and crossing their arms and are unlikely to maintain any type of confidentiality since they haven't really consented to the conditions of treatment.

Farabee has conducted focus groups with prisoners about addiction treatment during incarceration. "Every single time, generally older guys would say, 'I actually am sick and tired, I want to quit. Can you get rid of the guys who don't want to be here?' That was repeated in multiple focus groups over the years."

Another negative effect that coercion can have on treatment quality is less obvious, but perhaps more important. Research shows clearly that having a strong therapeutic connection between practitioners and patients is one of the best predictors of good outcomes. But this is difficult to do when patients see their therapist as just another agent of the government who will report them to the court when they fail.

Moreover, there's lots of evidence that a more respectful treatment environment—not a punitive or confrontational one—is way more effective. If programs have to work to attract people into attending—rather than having customers forced to accept their services—they are far more likely to create such spaces. This problem is further reinforced by the ideology of legal coercion: treatment failure results in incarceration or other punishment for the patient—not negative consequences or fewer referrals from the justice system for the program. When you don't hold programs accountable for how they treat patients and when treatment quality actually requires kindness and empathy, criminal justice coercion can be a seriously negative force.

There's also a basic fairness question here: Why should people who've been arrested have priority in getting healthcare over those who voluntarily seek help?

"It's generally widely accepted that addiction is a mental illness that should be treated through the public health system and through clinical protocols," says Werb. "That begs the question: what is the best deliverer of healthcare in addiction treatment? I think it would be very difficult to make the case that somehow the justice system is a better deliverer than the health care system."

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The UK’s National Health Service Prescribed Cannabis for the First Time

A doctor has prescribed medicinal marijuana to an 11-year-old boy, in what is believed to be the first example of the National Health Service utilizing a UK ruling last year allowing the prescription of drugs derived from cannabis.

Billy Caldwell, from Northern Ireland, had been traveling to the US to procure cannabis oil to treat his epilepsy, which at its worst had him suffering from up to 100 life-threatening fits every day. When his supply of cannabis oil was running out and a trip back to Los Angeles was not possible, his mother, Charlotte, took him to see a general practitioner.

After acknowledging what he called a "unique and unusual" situation, Dr. Brendan O'Hare opted to prescribe Caldwell an oil containing cannabidiol (or CBD)—the compound in cannabis with medicinal qualities—but not THC, the psychoactive element of the plant. Charlotte was able to pick up the oil from her local pharmacy.

Photo by Charlotte Caldwell/Facebook

Charlotte has long been campaigning for people to be given access to the treatment and said: "It's a huge step forward. It's an alternative treatment, and it's worked out well for Billy."

Norman Lamb MP, the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, said: "It's wonderful that Billy has been helped in this way with what is potentially life-saving treatment. I don't think anyone seriously argues against him getting access to treatment that has had such a dramatic impact on his life. There is no logic in denying it to others if it can be equally effective. There's lots of evidence, particularly in conditions involving lots of pain, that medical cannabis can be extraordinarily powerful and effective."

Top photo: homemade cannabis oil, made by DIY weed doctors in Scotland

We Asked Teens If It’s Really Easier to Get Weed Than Booze

This article first appeared in VICE Canada. 

In every possible way, the Canadian government's legalized marijuana bill made clear it had one top priority—keeping children safe from cannabis.

Liberal MP Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, has been the poster boy for the government's project and the loudest voice in this regard.

"Frankly, in most urban centres across this country, it is far easier for a kid, an under-aged youth, to acquire marijuana than it is to acquire alcohol," the MP said last Thursday. According to him, when the children do get weed, it's "often" from "a gangster behind some apartment building" or "a criminal in a stairwell" or even both: "a gangster in a stairwell".

The tone deaf language he used is laced with racial charge and cringe. To me, an older white man (and a former top cop!) making statements about kids getting drugs from gangsters in stairwells indicates one thing and one thing only: Narc Alert! But I wondered whether real children thought differently. With concern for their stairwell-based safety, I asked some pot-smoking teens in Toronto where they get their weed and if it truly is easier for them to do so than it is to "acquire alcohol."

Some teens, despite smoking weed themselves, told VICE that alcohol is much easier to get. Seventeen-year-old James said he only smokes weed once a month because of this. To him, "[alcohol] is not viewed as serious," so he can get it from his parents or older friends. If he smokes weed instead he must wait until he is with his friends who smoke more regularly. Newly 18-year-old high school students Brandon* and Arianna agreed. Brandon said alcohol is "definitely" easier since he is only occasionally carded while buying alcohol and Arianna explained that she simply uses an ID she borrowed from an older student who has graduated. According to Brandon, he smokes marijuana twice a week but he says it's harder now that he buys from dispensaries, which "can be uptight and much more expensive [than buying from dealers as he used to]" often charging "more than 50 percent above street value." Arianna said she smokes four to five times a week, buying only from "friends that keep it on them."

But other stoner teens told VICE they find weed-buying a simple task.

Max, 17, says he would never go buy alcohol by himself but he frequents three different dispensaries, which "don't care whether you're underaged or not".

Niki, 17, has never had trouble getting weed but if she does not have her fake ID and no one can "pick up" alcohol for her, she is out of luck. Apart from being difficult to acquire, she also thinks alcohol is a much worse substance of choice. "I feel like [alcohol] messes with your inhibitions more than weed does. You are more likely to make bad decisions when you're drinking," Niki said. This seems to be the consensus among most of the teens I interviewed, who told me they smoke weed the same or more than they drink. "You feel [weed] a lot less the next morning," Brandon said.

Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier also claimed it's much easier to get weed than cigarettes. James rarely smokes weed but he said he goes through "half a pack [of cigarettes] a week." When asked whether it is easier to acquire cigarettes or weed, he initially said "definitely cigarettes" but changed his answer to weed "if you have your card." In the latter case, he is referring to membership cards for which one can sign up in order to buy weed from specific dispensaries. Arianna has never bought weed from a dealer or a dispensary and she does not smoke cigarettes often "unless [she's] on vacation" but if she ever wanted one, she says she would just go to a convenience store and use her fake ID.

Acquiring weed and alcohol has also changed rapidly even in the past two years, according to 17-year-old Beatrice and her 18-year-old weed supplier, Ryan. Ryan said that weed is much easier than alcohol to get now that he goes to the dispensary, but at their high school in North York that was not always the norm. If they wanted alcohol, they could either steal it from parents or order it like pizza from an "old Russian lady and her step-son in a small little red car."

According to Beatrice, "You just, like, know [illegal alcohol suppliers aka bootleggers'] numbers, text them and tell them what you want and they drop it off at your house for a fee. It was really sketchy." Ryan said their "entire grade used it, like, two years ago" but now they have friends who are old enough to buy it themselves.

Despite a few manageable obstacles, weed and alcohol both seem very accessible for young people, at least in a major urban centre like Toronto. I made sure to specifically ask the children I talked to whether or not they have acquired weed from gangsters behind apartment buildings, criminals in stairwells, or any intersection of the two, and almost across the board the answer was: No. (Niki vaguely said, "It's happened before.") Toronto teens might not be targeted by the "gangsters" Bill Blair imagines, but maybe he should be warning parents about grandmas with cell phones who drive small red cars.

*Some names have been changed to protect privacy.

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Photos From Vancouver’s Massive 4/20 Party

Vancouver's 4/20 event is arguably the biggest and longest-running weed celebration in the world (San Francisco comes close, but we can all be chill, right?) and yesterday's was a special one considering it could be the last smokeout where weed was illegal.

Cops estimate about 35,000 showed up on Vancouver's Sunset Beach, and we've got the pictures to prove it.