The royal baby and the twins of Panna

Pooja 1 and Pooja 2 in the Special Newborn Care Unit, District Hospital, Panna

Pooja 1 and Pooja 2 in the Special Newborn Care Unit, District Hospital, Panna

PANNA, India — Pooja 1 and Pooja 2, twin girls named after their mother, lay side by side on a green cloth in the special newborn care unit.

The monitors beeped in the background as another baby cried in an incubator. Their bodies pale and shrunken and their eyes hardly open, the twins had thin cannulas up their nose to give them oxygen and intravenous lines fixed to their feet.

They both weighed about 1 kilogram each, severely underweight, and at risk of many life-threatening complications. Their breaths came fast and in grunts, and Pooja 1 seemed to have a harder time, but other than that they looked identical.

“Their chances of survival are fifty-fifty,” said Dr. LK Tiwari, the only pediatrician at District Hospital in Panna, as he flicked the feet of Pooja 2 to test her muscle reflex.

When I came back from the hospital, I read the news that Prince William and Kate Middleton’s baby had been named — George Alexander Louis. The royal baby had been born a healthy 3.8 kgs.

The Panna twins had still not been given permanent names. The mother Pooja wanted to give Pooja 1 the name “Kajal” (a cosmetic used to adorn the eyes), whereas the father Ramu wanted to name her Anjali (divine offering). For Pooja 2 they had both agreed on a name, Jyoti (light).

As the world focused its lens on the future King of England, I decided to focus mine on the two girls from the heart of India.

In the overcrowded waiting room of the newborn unit, the mother Pooja squatted in the corner, her shy eyes apprehensive as she stared at the floor. The nurses went by her, in and out of the unit, but she was not allowed to hold her babies just yet.

When Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, came out of the hospital cradling her son, the press that had been waiting for days. The Guardianreported that she wore a “bespoke cornflower blue crepe de chine Jenny Packham dress.” Pooja, 20 years old, with a ring on her nose and a black bindi on her forehead, wore a tattered black sari printed with colorful flowers.

Pooja lives in Panna, the district with one of the highest rates of infant mortality in India, which loses 93 newborns out of every 1,000 live births. More than two-thirds of those deaths occur in the first month of life, with the biggest cause being pre-term births and low birth weight, directly attributable to the health of the mother.

In Panna, maternal malnutrition is widespread and only one in eight mothers receive a full antenatal checkup, according to the census of India.

“Because these people are so poor, their main concern is earning a livelihood,” Dr. Tiwari said. “Health is not a priority.” The statistics tell a similar story. Nearly half of the households in Panna are in the lowest wealth quintile.

Prince William, who works as a search and rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force, could be by his wife’s side as she delivered. Raju, a driver at a village near Panna, could not be with his wife Pooja because the family couldn’t afford the loss of his daily wages.

The third morning when I went to the hospital, the crib where the twins had been lay empty. Baby Pooja 1 had died overnight, due to an infection and respiratory distress. Pooja 2, still very low weight, had been taken by her parents to their village, an hour away, against the doctor’s advice.

I decided to go to Sundra, the family’s village. On my way, at the health center in Sundra, I picked up a community health worker who knew the family.

The two-bedroom house stood apart in the village, a narrow dirt path with puddles of water through the fields leading to the cow-shed in front of the entrance. A couple of days after the royal baby had been brought to Kensington Palace, Pooja 2 had been brought here, to a tiny mud courtyard.

Pooja's home in the village of Sundra near Panna.

Pooja’s home in the village of Sundra near Panna.

I let the health worker talk to the family first and, with their permission, I entered to see Pooja and the newborn. Walking through a dark room with a single cot and a goat tied in the corner, I saw the newborn bundled up in a blanket, barely visible in the folds. I put my stethoscope to the chest of the baby. The baby’s breath was clear but still fast, and after a quick examination I went on to talk to the father.

He reassured me that they would take care of the child, but refused to go back to the hospital where they had lost their other daughter. I gave them my phone number and all the warning signs at which they should immediately seek medical help, and I told them that I would revisit.

As I drove back to Panna I thought of Pooja 1, and of George. The only difference between them, at least according to me, was as Prince William had put it, “[George] has a good pair of lungs on him.

There had been gun salutes and congratulations from the leaders of the world at George’s birth. Pooja 1, from what the father Ramu had told me, had been buried near the hospital because they could not afford a vehicle to take her back to the village.

But then, she was not a royal baby.


via GlobalPost


“Law and order exists for the purpose of establishing justice, when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress”- Martin Luther King Jr.

 Danielle Bradford was raised in state custody. When she was 18 she moved out, found work at a local waffle store and got her first apartment in Nashville, TN, with her estranged father helping her by co-signing on the lease.

 One evening she was at home with her neighbors when she received a knock on her door and found 3 police officers. They said they had received a report that there was a portable meth lab on her property. “I allowed them to look, and obviously they did not find anything,” she said. What the police did find was some marijuana with her neighbor and a bowl she had prepared for him.

 Two officers cornered her inside her room as they continued the search while three others stayed outside. Bradford was afraid and in tears, and a volley of questions followed, “where’s the drugs?”, “I know you know where the acid and ecstasy are!” and “who makes the meth around here?”

 “At this point I was crying and very scared. I had been working almost 60 hours a week and I was trying to save up money to go to school. I had never done anything, besides smoke pot,” she said.

 The officer found a few grams of marijuana in a box beside her bed. She explained she was using it for pain management, along with Advil. “They both laughed in my face and proceeded to tell me I was under arrest. At this point I was in a full blown panic attack,” she said. When she went to her living room her neighbor was being arrested for simple possession and possession of paraphernalia. “The officers were looking through my pile of High Times magazine, I had a collection ranging from the 1960’s to 2000’s. They were mocking me, my home and my lifestyle. I was very angry,” said Bradford. That night four of her neighbors were arrested for possession. Three days later she received a letter in the mail from her landlord informing her that there was a zero tolerance clause in her lease, and because of the paraphernalia and simple possession charge she was subject to a three-day eviction notice. “So I was thrown out that day with no notice,” said Bradford.

 She later found out it was employees at the apartment office who had called the police, lying about the meth-lab because they objected to marijuana use. Next, her father found out about the reason for her eviction. “We already had an extremely strained relationship, because of the physical and mental abuse I had taken, but I was still willing to try to have some form of a relationship. But he called me a ‘piece of shit druggie!’ So I lost my home, job and father again,” she said.

 Bradford is but one of the millions of Americans who have been arrested for marijuana related offences, a number that stands at 12 million arrests since the year 2000 alone. Nearly half of all drug related arrests in the US (approximately 52 percent) are connected to marijuana. In just 2011, there were more than 750,000 arrests for possession of marijuana, meaning that there was one marijuana arrest in the US every 42 seconds. The overwhelming majority, almost 90 percent, of these arrests were for simple possession and not for trafficking or sale, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report in October 2012.

 By themselves, numbers like these are staggering, but there is a statistic that is more shocking still: more than 30 million Americans, one-tenth of the population, used marijuana in the past year. It is the most commonly used illicit drug, with forty-two percent of American adults reporting that they have used it at some time, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Nearly half of all 12th graders in American schools have used the drug at least once.

 Even less well understood by the general public is that these arrests can have collateral consequences much larger than the time served. Sanctions triggered by marijuana convictions can affect nearly every sphere of the person’s life. Professional licenses can be suspended and one can face major hurdles in getting employment or promotion. Many students lose financial aid and cannot continue their education. There can be bars on adoption, and even on basic citizens’ rights to things such as voting and jury service. For people who depend upon public assistance the consequences can be more detrimental, a marijuana conviction can trigger a block on receiving food stamps and restrict access to public housing. In some states, these sanctions can drag on for life. The contact with the criminal justice system itself can stigmatize a person, change the course of their lives and ruin relationships, a cost that is hard to measure.

 “We are criminalizing a significant section of our society,” said Mason Tvert, who works with the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver, Colorado. “Marijuana use should be addressed by treatment and education, not law enforcement,” he added. The organization works to build public support against punitive marijuana policies and also to change state laws, aiming to liberalize both medical and non-medical use of marijuana. Tvert maintained that marijuana prohibition was carried out a great cost to taxpayers, with billions of dollars being spent on enforcement and campaigns to vilify marijuana use, versus focusing on more serious crimes.

 Current legislation varies widely across states. After California’s legalization of medical marijuana in 1996, a total of 18 states and the District of Columbia allowed prescription use. Now with Colorado and Washington legalizing personal possession and use of small amounts of marijuana even recreationally, the debate to legalize the drug in the country has picked up.

 The impact of current policies starts at a young age and students who have drug convictions are denied loans, grants and even work-study jobs. Currently in 28 states, a student who is convicted of possessing any amount of marijuana will be denied federal financial aid for a year, and may also be denied state educational aid. More than 180,000 college students have been denied or delayed federal financial aid as a result of a drug conviction, according to a report by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) published in 2006.

 “At the student level, nothing happens if you get a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) for alcohol in terms of federal funding, but if you are found with marijuana, you cannot get the grant money to keep going,” said David Holland, Executive and Legal Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in New York State.

 Nathan Foutch of Peru, Indiana, as a high school senior in 1995, was an ardent Lance Armstrong fan and a cyclist. He was set to get a scholarship for college, and this was supposed to be his ticket out of the small town. One night in June of 1995 he was driving and pulled over to take a nap near an old church.  He was woken up by the Sheriff’s Deputy who asked to search his car. Foutch granted permission and after half an hour of searching the officer started going through the empty cigarette packs on his back seat, in one of which he found some marijuana.

 He was arrested for possession, and ended up spending 30 days in jail, sharing a 9 by 12 foot jail cell with three other inmates. His parents eventually bailed him out, but he lost his scholarship and could not get into college. He ended up doing a few small jobs instead and could never get back on the track he had set for himself. “Things would’ve been different if this hadn’t happened when I was younger,” he said.

 Furthermore, a misdemeanor conviction stays on one’s record and available to the public for three years before it can be expunged, which can have repercussions for both current and future employment. In many states, any marijuana conviction, misdemeanor or felony, may be considered by private or public employers as grounds for dismissal or refusal to hire, regardless of how the person actually performs. In Alabama for example, any felony marijuana conviction results in a lifetime bar from any government employment. “Employers look at marijuana use as a character flaw, rather than as youthful indiscretion,” said Holland, adding that the widespread attitude to the substance was such that cannabis users were considered by many to be the scourge of society.

 Allen Roberts of Charlotte, North Carolina, then 17 years old, was at a park with a group of neighborhood friends, for the summer festival. One police officer approached the group and asked if they had been in the playground, where someone had been seen smoking weed. Roberts asserted that they were being antagonized, not realizing that some members of the group had broken off and could have been smoking. “We are not that stupid to do something like that in the park, especially near the kids”, Roberts retorted. Since he was the only one to speak up, the officer singled him out.  He was patted down and searched. The officer found marijuana and Roberts was convicted for possession.

 Despite the conviction, he worked on his dream of getting into the military and got a waiver to enroll. He says he scored 97/100 in the Naval entrance examination and was looking forward to getting into the specialty of his choice, the Navy Electronics Program. However he got another charge for possession, and was thrown out of the program. Ever since that rejection, he worked multiple small jobs and now at 31 years of age, Roberts is unemployed. “I have developed a mindset that I will never be able to do right or I will never be accepted into society. I honestly feel like an outcast,” he said. “I can never get the opportunities I seek because I have a criminal history filled with simple possession of marijuana convictions.”

 In spite of strict enforcement of prohibition, use of marijuana has been growing over the years. Over 15 million Americans admit to having used it in the past month. In fact marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the world. The United Nations estimates that 160 million people use cannabis every year.

 More tolerant policies for marijuana use are common in Europe, from Russia to Italy to Belgium to Portugal, where anyone caught with small amounts of illegal drugs are not charged with a crime, but reported to local commissions to ensure that users seek treatment. Depenalization goes a step further than this decriminalization, particularly the Dutch policy of cannabis normalization, for which there is an official “non-enforcement” policy.

 Marijuana was once widely accepted in the United States, but the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made its use as an intoxicant illegal. At that time its public image was associated with use within the predominantly African-American jazz culture and by Mexican immigrants, and movies like “Reefer Madness” further vilified the drug for the white majority. Even as policies became less friendly to marijuana use, the actual use kept growing. It became a part of the 1950s Beat culture and its use spread more widely on college campuses over the next two decades, when it was embraced by the hippie movement in the 1960s. By 1971, college student use of marijuana had climbed to 51%.

 Under the Nixon presidency the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug, i.e. stating that marijuana had a high abuse potential and no accepted medical use. A commission constituted by Nixon under Pennsylvania governor Raymond Shafer concluded that: “Neither the Marijuana user or the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety. Therefore the commission recommends… possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense.” Despite the commission’s recognition that the drug was relatively harmless, it never gained acceptance by the administration. The Reagan era anti-marijuana rhetoric effectively stopped any chances of a liberalized policy. People across the United States were arrested for possession, growing and trafficking marijuana, pushing the total number of arrests since 1937 to 23 million.

Advocates for decriminalization of marijuana point out that smoking marijuana is substantially less toxic for the body than alcohol. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 37,000 annual U.S. deaths are attributed to alcohol use alone. Health-related costs for alcohol consumers are eight times greater than those for marijuana consumers. In comparison marijuana use is not associated with overdose deaths or with an increased risk of cancer.

In comparison to the 750,000 marijuana possession arrests, in 2010 there were 2.6 million arrests related to alcohol use, including public drunkenness, sales to minors, driving under the influence and other violations of liquor laws. Studies have repeatedly shown that alcohol, unlike marijuana, contributes to the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 25-30% of violent crimes in the United States are linked to the use of alcohol. Nonetheless the collateral sanctions for marijuana possession are much more severe than for violation of alcohol laws. In 38 states, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction, for personal possession of marijuana as an example, can result in a ban on adopting a child. In 7 of these states, this ban can operate for life.

As Melissa Masner of Clinton, NY, got her daughters ready for school on a spring morning in April 2011, she opened the door to see the drug task force with a warrant to search her house, based on a tip that she was growing marijuana in her basement. “They tore everything up, emptied my children’s toy boxes, my garbage cans, my video collections. They then took pictures to make it seem like I lived like a scumbag. They ruined my house and I could do nothing as I was handcuffed,” she said.

Her 14-year old son, who was sick and at home, was also handcuffed and brought out of his bed. They found no plants, but they did find a small amount of marijuana. “They charged me,” she said, arguing in her defense that the marijuana and paraphernalia were always kept away from her children. After going to an outpatient rehabilitation center for over a year and a half, she finally completed her mandated rehab. “I honestly hope that no one ever has to go through what I have gone through. I was a hard working single mom, that did nothing wrong and took care of my family,” she said.

 David Holland of NORML said that parents could lose custody of their kids just because they smoked marijuana. Hundreds of New Yorkers for example, who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana or who have simply admitted to using it, have become entangled in civil child neglect cases in recent years, according to city records. “People are being called into question whether they are good parents or not simply because they smoke marijuana, as opposed to people who openly drink alcohol and get belligerent in front of their children,” he said.

In 21 states, and the District of Columbia, a misdemeanor conviction for personal possession of marijuana can also result in a driver’s license suspension for at least six months, whether or not the person was operating a vehicle at the time of arrest. Stacey Kowalsky, 31, was a passenger in a car in Ohio when they were pulled over in October 2012. She was given a ticket for possession of marijuana and had to go to court. She ended up losing her license for 6 months and paying a fine. “I wasn’t even driving!” she said, “I’ve never had a ticket or accident and now I lose my license. I can drive to work and that is all. No grocery shopping, no bill paying, nothing! I’m also now a drug offender.”

The sharp increase in the number of marijuana arrests over the last decade also brings to light a racial bias in enforcement. Certain communities have been paying a disproportionately high price for drug policies. In New York City, which has been called the marijuana arrest capital of the world, of the 50,000 arrests made in 2011, 82% were black and Hispanic men, according to data released by the NY Governor’s office. The NYPD arrested blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites, and arrested Latinos at nearly four times the rate of whites, even though studies have consistently found that young whites use marijuana at a similar rate or perhaps higher than young blacks and Latinos. The racial skew raises some hard to answer questions, especially about bias in the implementation of the city’s “stop and frisk” policy, under which a police officer can question and frisk any person they suspect.

“That’s the consequence of how you fight the war on drugs,” according to Eduardo Padro, a New York State Supreme Court Justice talking about why African-Americans and Latinos were targeted. In an interview, he said that the drug dealers who were the perceived threat to peace, tended to operate in poorer communities. Generally these communities have many people of color, who ended up getting frisked. “I always tell people that if you want to change the complexion of this court, put the under-cover (police) in Wall Street, in college campuses and prep schools,” he added.

On a March morning in 2013, Judge Padro looked over his thin-rimmed glasses at Everardo, 16, who was brought before his bench. Everardo had been kicked out of his court-assigned program for smoking marijuana, and the options were whether to put him on probation, or worse, give him jail-time.

“Everardo, why did you smoke?” he asked, in a tone hinting at exasperation. “It was because I was stressed,” the 15-year old replied apprehensively. After the young boy told the judge of the family problems that led to his stress and marijuana use, Padro decided not to give him probation but rather to assign him to a drug program instead. “I’m going to stick my neck out here for him and do this,” he said. He went back to the court and set another date to see Everardo again.

“I am torn,” said Justice Padro about his views on legalizing marijuana. “I think marijuana can be addictive. On the other hand do we need to criminalize people because of it? I’ve got a problem with that also.”

For most people who get incarcerated for marijuana possession, it is their first brush with the justice system. Out of the 50,000 people arrested for marijuana in 2011, 71% had never been previously convicted of any crime whatsoever. Another 11% had prior convictions for misdemeanors. “Marijuana is driving our courts, quite literally,” said Michelle Smith, the principal law clerk working with Justice Padro.

 It now costs New York City at least $75 million a year to arrest and jail people simply for possessing marijuana.  A report by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project found that the NYPD spent an astonishing 1,000,000 hours of police officer time making marijuana possession arrests over the last 11 years.

“Every hour they spend arresting people with marijuana the NY police is off the streets, it is a huge waste of police resources,” said David Long, a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization made up of current and former members of law enforcement and criminal justice system who speak out about the failures of existing drug policies. LEAP believes that adult drug abuse is a health problem that should be addressed in de-addiction clinics and not a law-enforcement matter.

 Long, after serving for nearly nine years as a special agent with the Racketeering Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, maintained that keeping marijuana illegal meant that the source of the drug would be from countries like Mexico rather than domestic production. “Once people want something, they will get it by illegal means. All prohibition does it drive it underground,” said Long.

According to LEAP, an enormous number of people have been misguidedly incarcerated for completely non-violent “drug crimes”. In 2006 for example, the last year for which data is available, federal government figures indicated there were more than 41,000 Americans in state or federal prison on marijuana charges, some serving lengthy sentences for marijuana trafficking.

In 1997 when Anthony Davila of San Antonio, Texas, came home from school, he saw the DEA enter the house and arrest his father for trafficking. Then ten years old, it was the last time Anthony saw his father, who serves life without parole. He was sentenced under the state’s three strikes law, which punishes repeat offenders more harshly, after two tractor trailers belonging to him were caught smuggling marijuana across the Mexico-US border. “You need your dad you know, when you are growing up. I used to think it was my fault he got arrested, that I could’ve done something,”  Davila said reflecting on how his childhood had been fraught with being frustrated and getting into trouble at school. He still gets letters from his father every few months, the last being in February of 2013, which read, “Hi amigo, I am proud of you. You’re doing real good at college. Keep up the good work. So you can have the know-how to run a good business.”

Another federal survey found that nearly 10% of former state prison inmates had been sexually victimized the last time they were incarcerated. Many more have to endure the violence and individual assaults that are a serious problem in America’s prisons. Andrew Bastian, 26, has had five marijuana convictions since he was 18 and has served time. “I have been in the same jail cell as someone being charged with capital murder,” he said. The last time he was in jail, a prisoner came up to him and forced him to hand over his food tray. Bastian resisted, but the inmate wrenched the tray from his hand, warning Bastian that he would be “dead on his back” if he reported him. “I go to jail for marijuana and get my life threatened. And now I am a criminal repeat offender because of prohibition,” Bastian said.

 While a Gallup Poll in October 2011 reported an all-time record level of 50% Americans believing the use of marijuana should be made legal, major hurdles remain to liberalize drug policy. Jeffrey A. Miron, the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University, said that one of the major lobbies against legalization is law enforcement: local police and the DEA , for whom marijuana arrests are a major source of revenue and in the latter’s case, a powerful raison d’etre.

Marijuana arrests cost taxpayers nearly $8 billion annually on arrest and incarceration. Miron states that legalizing and taxing marijuana would add a substantial amount of revenue to the government, about $10-15 billion, coming both from savings on government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition, as well as sales tax on the legalized product. Also currently with prohibition, marijuana purchased through criminal markets is not subject to the same quality control standards that legal consumer goods are. “The people who want to use it have to face more hassles, higher prices and poor quality, just as with any commodity, whenever the government reduces the ability of people to buy something in a free market it is reducing the welfare of those people,” Miron said.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and a former Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Humphreys argued legalization of marijuana would cause a public health problem. “Big industry would step in and develop a more potent product, eventually getting more people addicted to it and ending up costing the government more due to the health costs than would be earned by taxation,” he said. Humphreys conceded that marijuana was safer than alcohol or tobacco, but called for less harsh policing rather than legalization.

Marijuana is also used by over a million Americans for medical reasons, for conditions ranging from pain and glaucoma, to supplementing treatment for AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases. In the late 1980s the FDA approved a synthetic form of THC (the active compound of cannabis) to treat severe weight loss associated with AIDS and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, but it does not approve the use of cannabis per se. Despite the federal ban, The American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, and the state medical societies of New York, California, and Rhode Island support legal access to medical marijuana. Presently even with 18 states and the District of Columbia legalizing medical use, federal laws treat all patients using medical marijuana as criminals, and these states cannot prevent the federal government from enforcing its own laws regarding medical marijuana users and providers.

Chris Williams, who opened a marijuana growing operation in Montana after the state legalized medical cannabis, was eventually arrested by federal agents despite Montana’s medical marijuana law. A jury found Williams guilty of drug trafficking. During his trial Williams was not allowed to mention the Montana law, since it was not deemed relevant to his guilt under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which recognizes no legitimate use for cannabis. Kari Boiter, a legislative analyst and legalization advocate from Seattle followed Williams’ trial closely. “Everything we are doing at the state level s completely worthless, until we get the Federal Government to sign a law,” she said.

In California before medical use was legalized, there were dozens of known medical marijuana patients arrested in the 1990s, which in turn is what prompted people to launch the medical marijuana initiative there. Considering a total of nearly 18 million marijuana users arrested since 1970, even if only 1% of those arrestees used marijuana for medical purposes, this would amount to almost 170,000 patients arrested.

Danielle Bradford of Nashville, TN, after her arrest and eviction eventually secured another job and moved to San Diego, California. While there she was seen by a doctor for severe abdominal and back pain, and was prescribed medical marijuana. When she moved back to Nashville, TN, where medical marijuana use remains illegal, she was hospitalized for a panic attack. Asked about the THC in her system, she explained that she was a medical marijuana patient in California. “The doctor actually scoffed at me and called it “hippie medicine,” Bradford said. “I was told that marijuana was an awful drug that would ‘ruin my life’.”. Regardless, she kept using it for relief with the other medication. A couple of years passed without incident but one day the police was called to her house for a domestic quarrel.  Bradford’s house was searched and they found marijuana. “I explained that I was a medical marijuana patient but they just laughed in my face. I was arrested; I spent 8 days in jail. I was so despondent I actually thought about hurting myself. I had a job, a new place and a car I was finally achieving my goals. And now I’m in jail again,” said Bradford. Despite a bill to allow medical marijuana, it remains illegal in Tennessee.

Meanwhile in Nov, 2012 Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize sale and possession of marijuana, even for recreational use. Adults aged 21 and older may now possess one ounce for personal use. Both states regulated it similar to alcohol, with DWI provisions similar to those against drunk driving. Colorado’s law also allows personal cultivation of up to 6 plants. Although both laws allow for commercial distribution, licensing systems for the manufacture and sale of marijuana are yet to be developed, and marijuana “stores” not likely to open before 2014.

Considering these developments, President Obama said that his administration would not go against users in the two states. “It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said under state law that is legal,” he said. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Many states are expected to follow the example of Colorado and Washington, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. These include Oregon, California, Nevada, Rhode Island, Maine, Alaska and Vermont, all of which already allow medical use.

Although New York is not on the list of states likely to change policy soon, Governor Cuomo addressed the issue of marijuana related arrests, stating that New York City arrested more people for marijuana than any other city. He also admitted that the arrests showed a racial bias, targeting mainly young blacks and Latinos. “We are one New York, and as one New York we will not tolerate discrimination,” he said in his State of the State of New York address in Jan, 2013. “These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize, they create a permanent record. It’s not fair, it’s not right, it must end, and it must end now.”

Rome Through the Centuries – On Foot


(Photo Credit/ Harman Boparai)

The Religio team’s arrival in Rome has been somewhat staggered. Professor Goldman arrived on Thursday and most of our group arrived Friday morning (although David, who missed the plane, arrived that afternoon). And Professor Stille arrived on Saturday at around noon. He seemed not to know the meaning of “jet lag” as he led our group on an ambitious five-hour walking tour of Rome that took in everything from the city’s ancient Roman roots to its rich Christian heritage to its historic Jewish ghetto. He punctuated the tour with stories of popes, emperors and artists–and numerous cups of cappuccino intended to keep both the guide and guided alert.

We walked to St. Peter’s square, where Stille started telling us about the magnificent basilica built by Bernini and Michelangelo, with the towering Obelisk at the center of the imposing semi-circles of columns, somehow brought from Egypt by the Romans (until someone toppled it and then they had to make it vertical again, a miracle of engineering).

Rome had gone to ruins in the centuries after the fall of Roman Empire, until the Catholic Church actually organized the city again. The basilica and square look like a key from an aerial view. We walked down Via della Conciliazione passing renaissance buildings (and one failed Fascist attempt by Mussolini) towards Castel Sant’ Angelo, the fortress where the Popes stayed safe from attackers in the middle ages. We crossed the bridge over the river Tevere, where people were publicly executed by the medieval church, now a busy business spot for street performers.

On the other side of the river the Columbia group entered the charming small streets of the city, with beautiful old buildings and little corner shops. Stille elaborated on how the city grew organically over the centuries, different parts being added eras came and went.

The next stop Campo de’ Fiori, with a statue of Giordano Bruno, a Copernican who made the mistake of returning to Italy and was burnt on the stake. Post unification of 1870 a statue was built as an expletive to the church (the Pope left the city for the day of the heretic’s statue being unveiled,). Right next to it was Piazza Farnesse, the Farnesse family’s opulent mansion. The family was apparently like the Montagues from Romeo and Juliet, wealthy and very powerful. Now their house is the French Embassy.


(Photo Credit/ Harman Boparai)

Moving along the cobblestone streets and taking a break for coffee, seven of us saw some journalists near the Senate building waiting for a possible sighting of the talented Silvio Berlusconi. With the journalists we ran to the other side of the building hearing a rumor he was exiting there, but it was only a rumor. It was reminder for us that while the Vatican has a pope, the Italian government still doesn’t have a government.

We moved on to see the works of Caravaggio, the 16th century Baroque era painter who made the paintings of Saint Matthew displayed in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Stille described how his “light and dark” technique brought out the life in his biblical art. “This technique used in the painting makes the theme of martyrdom come to life and makes it magical and extraordinary,” said Stille. He depicted violent realism of his era in art, roamed around with a sword picking up honor fights and was killed in 1610.


(Photo Credit/ Harman Boparai)

Then the Pantheon, the temple of all Gods, since 27 BC, rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD, the marvel of engineering prowess that was lost for a millennium. The bronze doors stand the same that were there two millenia ago. We recollected after coffee next to the elephant statue of Bernini and a very quick stop at Church of St. Ignacio, the group appreciating the beautiful dome of the church, which Stille told us was actually not a dome but an illusionist painting, prompting a very well-worded eloquent “Whoa, what! No way,” from me.

We then rushed to the Jewish Ghetto to reunite with Prof. Goldman and meet Luca Fiorentino, entrusted with redoing the exterior of the ghetto buildings and the former Vice President of the Roman Jewish community. Fiorentino told them the chilling history of the ghetto, the isolation of the community for centuries. They lived within a little more than a block of land, 3,500 people. As they grew in numbers they were allowed to expand vertically, with five gates of the ghetto requiring a special pass to go through. Situated right next to the river, the ghetto would get flooded every few years forcing the residents to move to floors above. There were problems with hygiene and over-crowding, until finally in 1870 with Italian unification the ghetto limits were broken.

After a moving tour of the ghetto, and half of the group sleep-walking from the exhaustion and walking, there was dinner time. We went to Trattoria der Pallaro Ristorante, for dinner and a talk with Fiorentino’s son, Gabriele, about a young Jewish association and the issues they cared about. There was wine and ante-pasta and pasta, chatter, laughter and “I feel like I travelled Rome in a day,” by Stephen Jiwanmall. The group took cabs back to the hotel, trying to sing in Hindi (led by the three Indian members) and reached back home by 11 p.m.

One Gene for Schizophrenia, Depression and Autism? New Study finds shared genetic risk

The general image of Schizophrenia might be that of a person having hallucinations, hearing voices talking, and disorganized speech and behavior  And that for depression might be vastly different, with feelings of sadness, guilt, insomnia, in some cases suicidal thoughts. For decades doctors have been treating these two, and other psychiatric disorders like autism, bipolar disorder and ADHD as very separate entities.

But a new study spanning five years and nearly 60,000 subjects suggests that there are certain common shared genetic aberrations that occur in all of these five very separate major diseases.

The study, published in the Lancet on Wednesday, compiled data regarding genetic association from more than 19 countries for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and autism. For most of these disorders the mechanism by which they are caused are largely unknown, but genetic risk factors are known to be an important factor in the origins. These diseases are classified based on symptoms and the criteria used for diagnosis. However there has been a debate to reclassify them based on their causation, because of studies like these finding several overlapping factors.

“What we identified here is probably just the tip of an iceberg,” Dr. Jordan Smoller, lead author of the paper and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital told the New York Times. “As these studies grow we expect to find additional genes that might overlap.”

Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the study found that “specific SNPs were associated with a range of psychiatric disorders of childhood onset or adult onset”. The SNPs mentioned stand for single-nucleotide polymorphisms. In plain English, they are DNA sequence variations where a single smallest building block is different between two chromosomes. These variations can be associated with diseases. The study found the same specific variations present in common in many people showing symptoms of the five diseases.

The researchers found four DNA regions which were related to risk for these psychiatric diseases. Two of involved genes are part of calcium channels, which are used for nerve signals in the human brain. Still the genetics of these disorders remains very complex, with these being a part of hundreds of genes involved in causation. So even though calcium channel blockers might not start to be used just yet, a fundamental rethinking of these diseases being seen as separate entities might be on the cards.