Inside the Heroin Epidemic Sweeping Through Vermont
One Saturday afternoon this fall, the two of us drove toward Burlington, Vermont, on a narrow highway that snakes through the Green Mountains. Rolling fields gave way to hardwood forests, maple trees aflame with red and orange leaves—the kind of bucolic scenery that brings in nearly 14 million tourists and $1.7 billion of their money every year. Our destination was a small farm in Colchester that looks like something right out of a postcard: a red barn, a sign that said “Community Pig Roast,” even chickens and dogs running around in the yard.
Josh was waiting for us at a table on the porch in a flat-brim hat and hoodie. He’s a Vermonter born and bred, a 23-year-old with an easygoing stoner charisma familiar to anyone who grew up in the area. The stories he told, on the other hand, sound like they could have come out of the worst drug- and crime-infested neighborhoods of a big city.
He’s run heroin to Vermont from New Jersey six times in the last 18 months. His suppliers hand Josh 25 bricks of the stuff and tell them it’s his responsibility until he gets to Vermont and to “hide it good.” Heroin is much cheaper in the big cities to the south than it is in the Green Mountain State, and Josh takes full advantage of this—he can make $600 off of $10 worth of the raw he buys. He doesn’t have much in the way of professional ethics. “I’ve ripped people off by throwing hot cocoa in an empty bag,” he told us. “Scoop a little dirt off the ground and throw that in there, dude.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, but there are still use cases that are very controversial, like medical marijuana for children. Some claim it’s a wonder drug for epilepsy, severe autism, and even to quell the harsh side effects of chemotherapy, while others decry pumping marijuana into still-growing bodies. We went to the small town of Pendleton, Oregon, where medical marijuana is legal, to visit Mykayla Comstock, an eight-year-old leukemia patient who takes massive amounts of weed to treat her illness. Her family, and many people we met along the way, believe not only in the palliative aspects of the drug, but also in marijuana’s curative effect—that pot can literally shrink tumors.
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I Went on a Hash Making Holiday in Northern Morocco
Until the Spanish occupation of northern Morocco in the 1920s, Chefchaouen was basically a closed city. In fact, when troops first arrived, they found Jews in the area speaking a medieval form of Castilian Spanish that hadn’t been heard on the Iberian peninsula for around 400 years, and a population that was more opposed to Christianity than reddit’s entire swamp of militant keyboard atheists.
But thanks to the Spanish valiantly wiping out decades of cultural heritage, the city has now opened up to become a popular tourist spot. Backpackers flock in from around the world to take selfies next to its beautiful blue-washed architecture, eat its famous regional goat cheese, and—more than anything else—take advantage of the thriving local hash industry.
Morocco is said to produce nearly half of the world’s hashish, and it’s estimated that around 800,000 Moroccans work in the industry—mostly in the Rif, the mountainous region of northern Morocco where Chefchaouen is located. The debate about decriminalizing that industry has been bubbling away in parliament for a while, with a member of the opposition saying in August that his party hopes to legalize cannabis production within the next three years.
The Feds Will Let States Legalize Pot… Maybe
Ever since Colorado and Washington state voted last November to legalize marijuana and treat it like alcohol or coffee or anything else that comes from nature, maaaaaaaan, the question has been how the federal government would respond. Would the people in charge of conducting the war on drugs really be OK with letting state law trump federal law? Well, the Department of Justice released a memo today and it turns out that yes, they’ll let everyone from Seattle to Denver light up legally—but there are some caveats, as always.
The memo (which can be read in full here) says that the DOJ has already been prioritizing stopping the really bad crimes that are connected to marijuana, like the sale of pot to kids, revenue going to cartels and other criminals, and violence that’s connected with the weed trade. It goes on to advise prosecutors that focusing on those activities is still a good idea before tackling the meat of the matter at hand: though some states have legalized weed, it shouldn’t change the Feds’ policy of going after drug growers and dealers who are killing people, growing pot on federally-owned land, or breaking the law in other ways.
Inventing drugs is a tradition that dates back to Homer. From the Odyssey and its lotus-eaters to the psychotropic inventions of the substance-addled Philip K. Dick, from the ambrosia and manna of mythology to the psychedelic Spice of the desert planet Arrakis, fake drugs populate the literary canon in all kinds of unlikely places.
Why create fake drugs when there are so many varieties of existing substances in the world? Well, sometimes it’s a plot conceit: how else are those babies going to be born with telekinetic mutations, or those interstellar captains going to see safe paths through space-time? Most of the time, however, a fake drug in literature or film plays a very specific metaphorical role.
- by Claire Evans