Marijuana sales viewed as hurting family-friendly suburbs, Naperville edition

Tuesday night the Naperville City Council voted against allowing marijuana dispensaries to locate within the suburb:

Naperville City Council members voted 6-3 Tuesday to opt out of recreational marijuana sales within city limits, and directed staff to come back with information on a potential referendum question for council consideration.

The decision to opt out of recreational pot sales came several hours after hundreds of people began packing the Naperville City Council chambers as residents and non-residents waited their turn to comment on the issue of whether to allow the retail sale of pot. The discussion on marijuana sales brought 238 people to sign up for public comment on the topic — a vast majority speaking in favor of opting out while wearing white and orange “opt out” shirts.

Over the past couple weeks, the group was organized to rally and lobby city council members to keep recreational cannabis dispensaries out of Naperville. At the same time, residents in support of retail marijuana sales have circulated a survey on the issue.

People who asked city council to opt out Tuesday night are concerned recreational pot dispensaries would lead to increased availability to children and would hurt the “family friendly” brand of Naperville.

This is not a surprise. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the likelihood that wealthier suburbs would not want to sully their brand by allowing marijuana sales. A community like Naperville has a reputation to protect: it is large, wealthy, has a vibrant downtown, highly-rated school districts, and acres upon acres of single-family homes. While marijuana sales may do little to affect behavior in a community of over 140,000 residents, this is about an image. Not too long ago, the vibrant downtown presented a similar issue: alcohol-related incidents were getting out of hand and the city responded.

At the same time, Naperville could change its mind later. Perhaps the dispensaries will not cause issue in similar communities. Perhaps the city will want the extra sales tax revenue. Perhaps the group that turned up in large numbers in front of the City Council to opt out will fade away and advocates will win the day. But, at least for now, Naperville wants to – and to be honest, does not need to look for quick money or be on the leading edge of this – protect its brand.

More broadly, how long until marijuana sales and use becomes normal fare in the American suburbs? For decades, some claimed the suburbs makes people conservative: they want to protect their families and homes. However, the political tides of suburbia have turned (including in DuPage County as well as in Naperville) and attitudes toward marijuana and other drugs have changed.

Suburbs do not want to sully their character by allowing marijuana sales

Selling marijuana may soon be legal in Illinois but this does not mean suburbs necessarily want to be places where this happens:

Naperville, Lake Barrington and Bloomingdale plan to officially ban sales, Libertyville leans toward the same and the mayor of Batavia said he will issue a veto if necessary.

Des Plaines officials have expressed concerns and are doing more research before deciding, which also will happen in Lincolnshire and Bartlett.

To date, only South Elgin and Elburn said they are OK with allowing one marijuana retail store…

Municipalities can choose to not allow marijuana stores within their boundaries, or can enact “reasonable” zoning ordinances and regulate how many and where they are located. That can include minimum distances from “sensitive” locations such as colleges and universities, the law states.

Imagine a suburban landscape starting in January where marijuana is primarily sold in communities that are not as wealthy and/or white. Does this lessen their reputation and bolster the status of communities that do not allow sales?

It will be interesting to see if the communities that are now saying no continue to hold out against marijuana retailers in order to preserve a particular character. The carrot being offered is extra sales tax revenue that municipalities can collect. A wealthier suburb might see adjacent communities benefiting from extra funds and decide they want a cut of it. Or, perhaps they do not see that other suburbs are viewed negatively because they allow marijuana sales so they decide to jump in.

In one decade, major suburban areas go from lowest drug overdose rates to highest

A new report details the rise of drug overdose deaths in suburbs:

Released Wednesday, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2017 County Health Rankings and an accompanying report analyze county-level data from all 50 states on more than 30 public health outcomes and behaviors. The report finds there’s been a clear flip in the geography of addiction: One decade ago, large suburban areas experienced the lowest rates of premature deaths due to drug overdoses. In 2015, they had the highest.

The Johnson Foundation’s analysis doesn’t pinpoint which counties experienced the most dramatic gains in drug-induced death. What it does is rank every county in the U.S., by state, using data that reflects local health conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, as well as measures that can predict health outcomes, including teen birth, smoking rates, and grocery store access…

Comparing those numbers to the Johnson Foundation report, I found startling disconnects between deadly drug problems and places that have an otherwise fairly “healthy” facade. For example, Essex County ranks sixth out of the 14 counties in the Bay State by the new report—middle-of-the-road when it comes to the chronic health conditions that normally wave red flags for public health researchers. Yet it’s increasingly afflicted by drug-related deaths.

On the fringes of Cincinnati, Boone County, Kentucky, ranks first out of 120 across its state on all other health rankings. As in Essex County, rates of diabetes, smoking, and teen births are relatively low; poverty is suppressed, and employment is solid. Yet a look at CDC data shows county saw its drug-related death rate leap from 26 in 2010 to nearly 46 in 2015. Ranked smack in the middle of Ohio’s 88 counties and also included in the Cincinnati metro area, Clermont County saw a similar leap. Another example: Clay County, part of the Jacksonville, Florida, metro area, is 11th of the Sunshine State’s 67 counties. But drug-related deaths increased from 14 in 2010 to 23 in 2015.

It has been interesting thus far and it will continue to be interesting to observe how this is treated by the media, government, and public. This would be a good case for studying how a social problem develops: American society is so large that not everything can receive the attention it deserves. For example, how do the reactions to suburban drugs differ to how Americans treat drug use in cities (or rural areas which rarely get any attention)? How is the drug use explained: as part of criminal activity, irresponsibility, broken down homes and/or neighborhoods, wealth, or addiction? Because these deaths are happening to suburbanites – who as this article notes, are supposed to be healthier and often are – the story will be different.

LA suburbs welcome raves for their economic benefits

Suburbs aren’t usually known for wanting to host raucous music events but the economic benefits are hard to resist for some Los Angeles suburbs:

All of the region’s biggest electronic dance music festivals are now held deep in the suburbs and exurbs of Southern California, centered in San Bernardino County. There, the rave scene has been largely welcomed by government officials and local businesses hoping for an economic boost from the large crowds.

But many of the problems that dogged the concert in L.A. — rampant drug use, overdose deaths and overwhelmed emergency rooms — have persisted…

In the Inland Empire, rave organizers have tapped large venues that can hold more concertgoers…

The debate over rave safety has largely focused on whether government agencies should allow the concerts to be held in publicly owned spaces. Some emergency room doctors have called for such a ban, saying hospitals are overwhelmed by drug overdose patients after raves.

Many suburbs are looking for ways to bring in more revenue through the arts events, whether that be art, theater, music, or some other form of creative expression. The primary advantage of such events is that they are temporary: vendors and people descend for a limited amount of time and money is generated. However, suburbs usually don’t take too kindly to noise, damage from a lot of concertgoers, and drug use and drug-related deaths. Suburbs tend to want to promote themselves as safe and family friendly.

Thus, we get a set of trade-offs: communities that need money versus typical suburban propriety. I would imagine the drug-related deaths will scare off more suburbs even as many communities look to bring in more money through similar events.

Studying suburban, middle-class drug dealers

A new book from two sociologists details the lives of suburban drug dealers in Georgia:

But drug users and sellers are busy in city suburbs, too. And many of the sellers are teenagers. That’s according to a newly published sociological study focusing on why middle-class, suburban youth get involved in the drug business.

The study was conducted in a wealthy metro Atlanta suburb.

Authors Scott Jacques and Richard Wright wrote the resulting book called “Code of the Suburb:  Inside the World of Young Middle-Class Drug Dealers.”…

Jacques interviewed some 30 young drug dealers for the book – many of them high school friends of his.

Even with plenty of evidence that drug use is a regular feature of suburban life (illustrated by the heroin outbreak in the Chicago suburbs in the last year or two), such deviance is often associated with cities and lower-class residents. This reminds me of the classic study “The Saints and the Roughnecks.” Two groups of delinquent boys in a town are treated differently by social class: despite similar rates of delinquency, the higher class boys were not arrested and it was expected that they would grow out of the behavior and contribute positively to society as adults. In contrast, the lower class boys were punished more harshly and took on the expectations the community had for them as delinquents.

The difficulty of getting good data on heroin use

Heroin use is getting more public attention but how exactly can researchers go about measuring its use?

For as long as it’s been around, the NSDUH has provided a pretty good picture of marijuana use in the U.S., and is a reliable source for annual stories about teens and pot (a perennial sticking point in the debate over marijuana legalization). But the NSDUH data on hard drug use seldom makes as big a splash. In a new report from the RAND Corporation, researchers suggest that one reason for this disparity may be that the NSDUH survey underestimates heroin use by an eye-boggling amount. “Estimates from the 2010 NSDUH suggest there were only about 60,000 daily and near daily heroin users in the United States,” drug policy researchers Beau Kilmer and Jonathan Caulkins, both of the RAND Corporation, wrote in a recent editorial. “The real number is closer to 1 million.”…

Kilmer and Caulkins came up with their much higher figures for heroin and hard-drug use by combining county-level treatment and mortality data with NSDUH data and a lesser known government survey called the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program. Instead of calling people at home and asking them about their drug use, the ADAM survey questions arrestees when they’re being booked and tests their urine. “ADAM goes where serious substance abuse is concentrated — among those entangled with the criminal justice system, specifically arrestees in booking facilities,” Kilmer and Caulkins write. The survey also asks questions about street prices, as well as how and where drugs are bought. The data collected by the ADAM Program enabled RAND to put together a report looking at what Americans spent on drugs between 2000 and 2010.

In short, ADAM is a crucial tool for crafting hard-drug policy. Which is why researchers are alarmed that after being scaled back several times (including a brief shutdown between 2004 and 2006), funding for ADAM has completely run out. “Folks in the research world have known that this was coming,” Kilmer writes in an email. “I wanted to use the attention around our new market report to highlight the importance of collecting information about hard drug users in non-treatment settings. ADAM was central to our estimates for cocaine, heroin, and meth.”

Despite providing a wealth of information since the early 2000s, the budget for ADAM has slowly been chipped away. The survey was originally conducted in more than 35 counties, then 10, then five. The program disappeared completely between 2004 and 2006, but was revived by the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2006. At its most expensive, ADAM cost $10 million a year.

For a variety of reasons, including public health and the resource-intensive war on drugs, this information is important. But, illegal activities are often difficult to measure. This requires researchers to be more creative in finding reliable and valid data. Even then, two other issues emerge:

1. How much do the researchers feel like they are estimating?  What are their margin of errors?

2. This can become a political football: is the data being collected worth the money it costs? For bean counters, is this the most efficient way to collect the data?

I wonder if this could be part of arguments for legalizing certain activities: it would be much easier for researchers (and governments, the public, etc.) to get good data.

Suburban DuPage County to address record number of heroin deaths

Following a record year for deaths by heroin, DuPage County has plans in motion for 2014:

The call for action in DuPage came months before the county surpassed its year-old record of 38 heroin-related deaths in 2012.Officials say there were 45 confirmed heroin-related deaths in 2013 in DuPage. And depending on the results of toxicology tests, Jorgensen said the final number could climb by one or two.

“If this was gang or gun violence in DuPage County and someone was being killed every eight days, I think the communities would be up in arms,” Wood Dale police Chief Greg Vesta said…

Heroin is more addictive and physically harmful than any other illegal drug, according to Jorgensen, who was a surgeon before becoming coroner.

That’s why, he said, it’s so important for DuPage to have a public education campaign targeted at heroin prevention. One goal of the effort will be to inform families about warning signs and where to find help. The education campaign — called “Be a Hero in DuPage” — will include a website and social media providing timely information, warning signs and resources, officials said.

DuPage County has long been one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. A story like this goes against that image. In a county that prides itself on suburban success, drug use that leads to death is likely viewed as more of an urban problem. Yet, the story for DuPage County and other suburban counties in the decades to come is that they will likely to see more urban concerns including poverty, crime, and more minorities and immigrants moving to the suburbs as they spread within metropolitan regions. It will be interesting to see how DuPage County tackles this issue…