Oregon’s drug decriminalization gets poor marks on audit
By Andrew Selsky in Salem
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s first-in-the-nation drug decriminalization has had a rocky start, but Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said Thursday in releasing an audit of the program that it’s too early to call it a failure.
Decriminalization of personal-use amounts of drugs, approved by voters in 2020 under Ballot Measure 110, was supposed to channel hundreds of millions of dollars of marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment and harm reduction programs. But that hasn’t yet translated into an improved care network for a state with the second-highest rate of substance use disorder in the nation and ranked 50th for access to treatment.
“When Oregonians passed Measure 110, we expected that our loved ones battling addiction would have access to treatment and a chance for a better life,” Fagan told reporters in a Zoom press conference. “We expected there will be fewer of our neighbors struggling on the streets.”
Instead, the funding has been slow getting out of the gate and instances of drug abuse and overdose deaths have increased.
Other states that might consider following Oregon’s path — which a few countries including Portugal have taken — will likely assess how well, or badly, it has gone.
Asked in the news conference what grade he would assign the program thus far, auditor Ian Green said “maybe a C.” Audits Director Kip Memmott gave it a D and Fagan said she’d assign an “incomplete.”
The director of the Oregon Health Authority, which helps establish the measure’s drug treatment aspects, blamed the funding delays on “ambitious implementation timelines and stretched OHA staffing resources due to the pandemic,” along with a shift in decision-making roles that required building new relationships.
“I recognize that Measure 110’s success depends on Oregon’s ability to solve many larger challenges in the behavioral health system, such as the need to expand treatment capacity and better support counselors and other workers,” said OHA Director James Schroeder, who was appointed this month by recently elected Gov. Tina Kotek.
Schroeder said Kotek has made improving Oregon’s behavioral health system and Measure 110 implementation a top priority.
Among the audit’s recommendations: The health authority should publish a plan by September on integrating Measure 110 into the state’s overall behavioral health system; improve data collection so the ballot measure’s effectiveness can be tracked by policymakers and the public; and set clear expectations, roles and responsibilities.
Another setback of the measure is the lack of people with substance abuse disorders who are seeking help after being ticketed for drug possession and given a hotline number.
In the first year after the new approach took effect in February 2021, only 1% of people who received citations for possessing controlled substances sought help via the new hotline.
Keith Humphreys, an addiction researcher and professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, said the audit “is commendably candid in acknowledging the bureaucratic failures that produce insufficient and uncoordinated services, and the reforms proposed to fix that situation are sensible.”
“In contrast, the report does not deal adequately with that fact that the statewide effort to use tickets/fines for drug possession to incentivize people to enter treatment was a complete failure,” Humphreys, a former senior adviser in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in an email.
Oregon officials are wrong to assume that increasing access to treatment alone will lead to most addicted individuals seeking drug treatment, he said.
“Without some external pressure, most people will not attempt to reduce their drug use via treatment or other means,” Humphreys said.
Fagan, whose brother and late mother had drug dependency issues, said the old system of criminalizing drug possession, combined with a lack of available treatment, simply did not work.
“I was one of the strong majority of Oregon voters who voted for Measure 110 because the status quo had failed my family and people who I love,” Fagan said. She described how she and another brother some four years ago tried to find somewhere to take their sibling after he was ready to get treatment.
“My other brother and I called all over, and we couldn’t find an inpatient facility to take him, despite the fact that he had really hit rock bottom,” Fagan said, adding that her brother is now successfully undergoing treatment.
“Make no mistake, this is a matter of life and death,” Fagan said. “Measure 110 must work because real people’s lives hang in the balance.”
Ford says EV unit losing billions, should be seen as startup
Ford’s Chief Executive Engineer Linda Zhang unveils the Ford F-150 Lightning on May 19, 2021, in Dearborn, Mich. Ford Motor Co. announced Thursday, March 23, 2023, that their electric vehicle business has lost $3 billion before taxes during the past two years and will lose a similar amount this year as the company invests heavily in the new technology. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
By Tom Krisher in Detroit
DETROIT (AP) — Ford Motor Co.’s electric vehicle business has lost $3 billion before taxes during the past two years and will lose a similar amount this year as the company invests heavily in the new technology.
The figures were released Thursday as Ford rolled out a new way of reporting financial results. The new business structure separates electric vehicles, the profitable internal combustion and commercial vehicle operations into three operating units.
Company officials said the electric vehicle unit, called “Ford Model e,” will be profitable before taxes by late 2026 with an 8% pretax profit margin. But they wouldn’t say exactly when it’s expected to start making money.
Chief Financial Officer John Lawler said Model e should be viewed as a startup company within Ford.
“As everyone knows, EV startups lose money while they invest in capability, develop knowledge, build (sales) volume and gain (market) share,” he said.
Model e, he said, is working on second- and even third-generation electric vehicles. It currently offers three EVs for sale in the U.S.: the Mustang Mach E SUV, the F-150 Lightning pickupand an electric Transit commercial van.
The new corporate reporting system, Lawler said, is designed to give investors more transparency than the old system of reporting results by geographic regions. The automaker calculated earnings for each of the three units during the past two calendar years.
Model e had pretax losses of $900 million in 2021 and $2.1 billion last year, and it is expected to lose $3 billion this year. In the past two years Ford has announced it would build four new battery factories and a new vehicle assembly plant as well as spending heavily to acquire raw materials to build electric vehicles.
By the end of this year, the company based in Dearborn, Michigan, expects to be building electric vehicles at a rate of 600,000 per year, reaching a rate of 2 million per year by the end of 2026.
Ford Blue, the unit that sells internal combustion and gas-electric hybrid vehicles, made just over $10 billion before taxes during the last two years. Ford Pro, the commercial vehicle unit, made $5.9 billion during those years, the company said.
For this year, Ford expects Ford Blue to post a $7 billion pretax profit, modestly better than last year. Ford Pro is expected to earn $6 billion before taxes, nearly double its earnings last year, Lawler said.
Ford was to present the new structure, announced last March, to analysts and investors on Thursday. Other business units include corporate, Ford Credit and Ford Next, a new business incubator. Shares of Ford rose 1.8% in Thursday morning trading ahead of the presentation.
Lawler said the company is changing the way it does business, not just doing an accounting exercise.
“After 120 years, we’ve essentially re-founded Ford,” he said. “We’re embracing technology and competitive disruption in our industry, fundamentally changing how we’re thinking, how we’re making decisions, and how we’re running the company.”
Utah social media law means kids need approval from parents
Gov. Spencer Cox signs two social media regulation bills during a ceremony at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 23, 2023. Cox signed a pair of measures that aim to limit when and where children can use social media and stop companies from luring kids to the sites. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
By Sam Metz And Barbara Ortutay in Salt Lake City
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Children and teens in Utah would lose access to social media apps such as TikTok if they don’t have parental consent and face other restrictions under a first-in-the-nation law designed to shield young people from the addictive platforms.
Two laws signed by Republican Gov. Spencer Cox Thursday prohibit kids under 18 from using social media between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., require age verification for anyone who wants to use social media in the state and open the door to lawsuits on behalf of children claiming social media harmed them. Collectively, they seek to prevent children from being lured to apps by addictive features and from having ads promoted to them.
The companies are expected to sue before the laws take effect in March 2024.
The crusade against social media in Utah’s Republican-supermajority Legislature is the latest reflection of how politicians’ perceptions of technology companies has changed, including among typically pro-business Republicans.
Tech giants like Facebook and Google have enjoyed unbridled growth for over a decade, but amid concerns over user privacy, hate speech, misinformation and harmful effects on teens’ mental health, lawmakers have made Big Tech attacks a rallying cry on the campaign trail and begun trying to rein them in once in office. Utah’s law was signed on the same day TikTok’s CEO testified before Congress about, among other things, the platform’s effects on teenagers’ mental health.
But legislation has stalled on the federal level, pushing states to step in.
Outside of Utah, lawmakers in red states including Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Louisiana and blue states including New Jersey are advancing similar proposals. California, meanwhile, enacted a law last year requiring tech companies to put kids’ safety first by barring them from profiling children or using personal information in ways that could harm children physically or mentally.
The new Utah laws also require that parents be given access to their child’s accounts. They outline rules for people who want to sue over harms they claim the apps cause. If implemented, lawsuits against social media companies involving kids under 16 will shift the burden of proof and require social media companies show their products weren’t harmful — not the other way around.
Social media companies could have to design new features to comply with parts of the laws that prohibit promoting ads to minors and showing them in search results. Tech companies like TikTok, Snapchat and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, make most of their money by targeting advertising to their users.
The wave of legislation and its focus on age verification has garnered pushback from technology companies as well as digital privacy groups known for blasting their data collection practices.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation earlier this month demanded Cox veto the Utah legislation, saying time limits and age verification would infringe on teens’ rights to free speech and privacy. Moreover, verifying every users’ age would empower social media platforms with more data, like the government-issued identification required, they said.
If the law is implemented, the digital privacy advocacy group said in a statement, “the majority of young Utahns will find themselves effectively locked out of much of the web.”
Tech industry lobbyists decried the laws as unconstitutional, saying they infringe on people’s right to exercise the First Amendment online.
“Utah will soon require online services to collect sensitive information about teens and families, not only to verify ages, but to verify parental relationships, like government-issued IDs and birth certificates, putting their private data at risk of breach,” said Nicole Saad Bembridge, an associate director at NetChoice, a tech lobby group.
What’s not clear in Utah’s new law and those under consideration elsewhere is how states plan to enforce the new regulations. Companies are already prohibited from collecting data on children under 13 without parental consent under the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. To comply, social media companies already ban kids under 13 from signing up to their platforms — but children have been shown to easily get around the bans, both with and without their parents’ consent.
Cox said studies have shown that time spent on social media leads to “poor mental health outcomes” for children.
“We remain very optimistic that we will be able to pass not just here in the state of Utah but across the country legislation that significantly changes the relationship of our children with these very destructive social media apps,” he said.
The set of laws won support from parents groups and child advocates, who generally welcomed them, with some caveats. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on kids and technology, hailed the effort to rein in social media’s addictive features and set rules for litigation, saying with its CEO saying it “adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online.”
However, Jim Steyer, the CEO and founder of Common Sense, said giving parents access to children’s social media posts would “deprive kids of the online privacy protections we advocate for.” Age verification and parental consent may hamper kids who want to create accounts on certain platforms, but does little to stop companies from harvesting their data once they’re on.
The laws are the latest effort from Utah lawmakers focused on the fragility of children in the digital age. Two years ago, Cox signed legislation that called on tech companies to automatically block porn on cellphones and tablets sold in the state, after arguments about the dangers it posed to children found resonance among Utah lawmakers, the majority of whom are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Amid concerns about enforcement, lawmakers ultimately revised that legislation to prevent it from taking effect unless five other states passed similar laws.
The regulations come as parents and lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned about kids and teenagers’ social media use and how platforms like TikTok, Instagram and others are affecting young people’s mental health. The dangers of social media to children is also emerging as a focus for trial lawyers, with addiction lawsuits being filed thorughout the country.
Ortutay reported from Oakland, California.
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