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Recreational Substance Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is version 1.0, last updated July 8, 2003

Q: Does prohibition make our nation a safer place?

A: No. Prohibition does not stop the making, selling, buying or using of recreational substances, as our country's experience with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s showed.

Prohibition is of most benefit to drug dealers and drug lords, as prohibition laws drive prices up, securing greater profits for those in the illegal drug black market.

Prohibition only creates crime and related social harms. This was the case in the 1920s with alcohol, and it is the case now with currently illegal drugs.

Q: Alcohol-related health problems are still a major killer. From a health standpoint, why do you think that regulation is a better solution than prohibition?

A: A RAND corporation study showed that each dollar spent on education and treatment is 7 times more effective than a dollar spent on criminal interdiction, yet we spend more than 45 BILLION DOLLARS per year on criminal interdiction and incarceration costs, and less than 4 billion dollars on education, treatment, and prevention.

Q: Are you familiar with the mortality rates for cirrhosis of the liver? These climbed for 40 years following the repeal of Prohibition, so maybe repeal of prohibition wasn't such a good idea.

A: Cirrhosis morbidity dropped during prohibition - down to about 8 in 100,000. But during prohibition, the MURDER rate skyrocketed up to 10 per 100,000, spurred largely by the kind of gang shootings one hears about in large cities today, all fueled by the money to be made from the prohibition-created black market in drugs.

After prohibition, the murder rates dropped by more than HALF.

Now - in the 1970s the cirrhosis mortality statistics began to turn around, as alcohol addiction began to be treated as the disease it is, and the problem was attacked DIRECTLY through education and treatment. This approach dropped cirrhosis mortality to even lower levels than seen under prohibition.

http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/press/2001/liver.html

Regulation, education, and treatment works, and does NOT bring the problems of crime and injustice associated with prohibition.

And education and treatment are 7 times more cost effective than prohibition.


Q:What is the most dangerous club drug?

A: Alcohol. In fact, alcohol kills more people than all other drugs, both legal and illegal, combined.

Q:If alcohol is so dangerous, why is it legal?

A1: Because the 21st amendment of the US constitution makes it so.
A2: Perhaps more important, because prohibition was a complete failure.

Q:If drugs like marijuana aren't that bad, then why are they still illegal?

A: Because the bureaucracy behind Nixon's War on Drugs is so entrenched it is very resistant to change.

Q:If drugs become available through regulated means, won't that mean that more people will use?

A1: No. In Holland where both Marijuana and Heroin are legally available, they have HALF the percentage of Marijuana users as in the US, and a THIRD the percentage of heroin users.
A2: If heroin were legal tomorrow would you shoot up? No, neither would I. The people that would use heroin already use it, and obtain it through the black market. Available through regulated channels, it would simply end the crime ridden black markets, and promote a healthy environment free of HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis and overdoses.

Q:But I want to keep my children away from drugs so prohibition must be the only way.

A: The reverse is true. Since Nixon started the modern war on drugs, use among teens is up 7 times. This is because the black market created by prohibition makes underage teens a very easy target. The result is that illegal drugs run rampant through every high school in America. But alcohol, as a legal drug, is much harder for a minor to obtain.

Q:If drugs are made available to the general public won't that send the message that drug use is okay or safe?

A: It doesn't have to. The Rand corporation's study showed that every dollar spent on education or treatment programs is 7 times more effective that a dollar spent on criminal interdictions. If recreational substances were made available through a regulated and taxed means, just like alcohol, we could focus far more money on education and treatment and as a result, lower drug use and provide for a healthier society.

Q: Haven't recreational drugs been prohibited in most cultures and religions, throughout history?

A: No. Although some religions prohibit alcohol (e.g. Islam, some Christian sects), and the Mormon sect prohibits all recreational drug use of any kind (including tobacco and caffeine), it is rare for any culture or religion to prohibit all recreational drug use. In fact, the Bible, in its numerous mentions of wine, both as medicine and as something that "maketh glad the heart of man", seems to show matter-of-fact acceptance of the occasional and responsible use of recreational substances.

Q: Didn't the people of the US choose to make marijuana illegal?

A: No. The "people" have never said that growing marijuana is illegal. This issue has never been put to a national vote. Some members of Congress and a corrupt president (Nixon) made marijuana illegal with the signing of the Controlled Substances Act in 1971.

As of July 2003, 73% of the American People, according to national polls, favor marijuana for medical use. Current marijuana laws do not represent the will of the people. In some states (e.g. California), the "will of the people" has been to make medical marijuana legal. In these cases, the "will of the people" has been overridden by the "will of the DEA" and the "will of the Justice Department".

Q: You are looking at a change in laws that may involve all drugs, not just marijuana. What about the terrible health consequences of heroin use, such as fatal overdoses, AIDS, and abscesses from infected needles?

A: Fatal overdoses are a direct result of prohibition, just as blindness from bathtub gin was a direct result of the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s.
In a prohibition situation, there is no guarantee that the user is getting what the drug dealer says he or she is getting, or in the expected concentration. Regulation should remove the risk of accidental overdose.

AIDS and terrible abscesses are also a direct result of prohibition. n Germany, Switzerland and Holland, where addicts are provided with fresh sterile "works" (and in Switzerland and Holland, with purity-regulated heroin) these health problems disappear.

Imagine if a user could get a premeasured dose in a disposable single-use syringe -- use once, dispose -- no AIDS transmission, no abscesses, no unintentional ODs from unknown dosages, no hepatitis. The health consequences from regulated opiate use are, overall, fairly minor, and less severe than those of alcohol addiction.

The health consequences of the War on Drugs, however, are severe.


Q: Why should I care about what happens to a junkie?

A: Should you care about what happens to tobacco smokers? Should you care about what happens to alcoholics? Should you care about what happens to people who become inadvertently addicted to prescription drugs?

Although the War on Drugs has been a tremendous failure in terms of improving life in our country and reducing crime and preventing addictions, it has enjoyed one area of great success: the demonization of users of recreational illegal drugs (whether these users are responsible, irresponsible, or addicted), and the establishment of a completely unthinking double standard about the illegal drugs vs. "accepted" drugs, like alcohol and tobacco.

Many otherwise intelligent people have absorbed these negative (and frequently completely untrue) views of those who use illegal drugs.

Such demonization of "those junkies" or "those damned druggies" is misguided and counterproductive. The reality is that the War on Drugs affects all of us in ways that are not entirely obvious.

Some examples:

GUN CONTROL: We have stricter and stricter gun control because the crime wave that rides on prohibition has caused huge public outcry. Rather than focus on the cause of crime (socioeconomic factors of the drug war are a major component), the public and legislators lash out at gun owners.

CRIME: Crime is higher as a result of the war on drugs. In particular, homicides have skyrocketed (10 per 100,000 - the only other time the homicide rate was so high was during alcohol prohibition).

INCREASED DRUGS IN SCHOOLS: Drug use INCREASED 7 fold among 12-17 year olds after the modern War on Drugs started. The economics of prohibition favors the targeting of youths. Drug dealers don't ask for ID.

GRAFFITI: Gang tagging creates an enormous graffiti problem causing millions of dollars in damage every year. The gangs are a product of drug prohibition.

PAY PHONES: Pay phones no longer accept incoming calls. Perhaps now in these days of cell phones, it's not as much of an issue, but it's an inconvenience we all must bear as a result of the drug war.

STREET BARRICADES: In an effort to reduce street dealing, many residential areas (at least in large cities) have road blocks preventing through traffic on side streets. For local residents of such areas (I am one) it makes traveling to and from one's home very difficult, A product of the drug war.

And, while many people think this only affects "those damned druggies", and do not give ending the failed drug war a high priority, we at DAN are convinced that it is among the most pressing crises facing our nation. Ending this blight of inefficiency, waste, and injustice is the only way to secure our future and protect our children.


Q: Even if it is more cost-effective, why should I pay for someone else's medical treatment for addiction, when they have caused this problem themselves? The drugs do not take themselves!

A: Do you want to pay substantially MORE money to lock users up? What about the severe social and monetary costs attributed to prohibition? Prohibition causes and supports the illegal unregulated black market. The increased crime and health problems associated with it are something we all pay for and not just with money.

It does not matter if you are for or against people using drugs. Prohibition does NOT WORK, and it costs far too much to continue. We must remove the profit incentive in the black market for recreational substances - the only way to do that is to end prohibition and replace it with regulation and taxation.


Q: Aren't all the illegal drugs much more dangerous than alcohol and tobacco?

A: No. And apart from the alcohol and tobacco comparisons, realize that more than twice the number of people die each year from NSAIDS (pain relievers like aspirin, Tylenol, and Aleve) than from ALL illegal drugs combined.

Q: Why should I support a change to the laws? I support drug control.

A: If you do not think we should change the laws, then you support drug UNcontrol. Prohibition means NO regulation, and NO control because drugs are pushed underground into criminality. Prohibition does not stop people from making, selling, buying or using drugs. All it does is make drugs impossible to control. The most optimistic reports show that we only interdict 10-15% of drug traffic. That means that prohibition is 85% to 90% ineffective. That also means that we have NO control over recreational substances.

Instead of effective control that maintains purity and provides significant treatment and education for problem users, we have no control, and drugs run like torrid rivers through our communities and schools.

It does not matter if you are for or against drug use. Prohibition is an abject failure.

Q: I have heard that a pharmaceutical nonintoxicating form of marijuana (Marinol) is available for people who are critically ill and in pain. Why would some people prefer to grow their own "pain medicine"?

A: Marinol is extremely expensive, costing well over $400 for just 30 capsules. It is also intoxicating, and less effective, due to something called "redistribution kinetics". Smoked drugs are absorbed more quickly from the lungs than an ingested drug redistributes to the tissues. The result is momentary very high levels that drop very quickly.

With regard to marijuana, this means that a single puff may result in momentary levels high enough to switch off pain or nausea without the necessity of taking large intoxicating amounts of the drug that may cause impairment for several hours.

Redistribution kinetics is important in deciding the effects f many drugs. For example, it can make relatively benign drugs like valium or cocaine cardiotoxic as well as more reinforcing.


Q: Doesn't illegality help the problem user? Take the example of crack cocaine: most people who have experience with the substance would agree that keeping it illegal is the only alternative to discourage its use.

A: Not true, and there is no evidence to support that conclusion. Remember that cocaine was legally available until the Harrison act:

http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/history/e1910/harrisonact.htm

And then it was only taxed. The issues of cocaine use and abuse were not a serious social problem. The main problem with addiction was accidental as some products contained cocaine but did not reveal that fact (snake oil). See:

http://www.DrugActionNetwork.com/history/

We do not (and no one does) want a legalized "free for all". But we MUST remove the profits from the illegal drug trade, and the only way to do that is to replace prohibition with regulation.
Q: If you believe that the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) is unconstitutional, aren't you opening the floodgates to a total free-for-all -- legalization of everything?

A: No. Notice that we at DAN are in favor of regulation, not of some kind of legalization that places no restrictions on drugs. Even if the CSA is unconstitutional, that doesn't mean that the FDA is unconstitutional.


Q: How is regulation constitutional, in a way you respect, but the CSA is not?

A: Congress is granted the power to "regulate commerce". "Regulate", to the writers of the Constitution, meant to facilitate the proper functioning of, as when someone regulates a clock to keep proper time, or the barrels of a double rifle to hit the same point of aim.

Congress also regulates the coinage, which on the basis of the Coinage Act of 1796 clearly means to fix the weight and amount of precious metals. Same with the 2nd amendments "well-regulated militia", which means a properly trained and functioning militia.

By this meaning, the FDA's role of ensuring the purity, etc. of interstate products is probably constitional because it facilitates interstate commerce. But "regulate" also does not confer criminal jurisdiction. For example, congress is given power to prosecute counterfeiting separately from its power to regulate the coinage. So the CSA is almost certainly an unconstutional extension of the commerce clause. That is why early attempts at prohibition required a constitutional amendment or were done under the taxing power.

For more information on the original meaning of the commerce clause, see:

http://www.law.indiana.edu/ilj/v72/no3/berger.html

and

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/tocs/a1_8_3_commerce.html

Q: Are anti-prohibitionists like yourselves cop-haters? Do you seek to undermine the authority of the police?
A: No. For the record, Drug Action Network supports the police. We seek to remove the profit motive inherent in illegal drugs by replacing the unregulated drug black market (and the crime it produces) with regulation. The resultant reduction in crime will provide safer streets for police and citizens, and allow the police to concentrate on real crimes, such as violent crimes.

This was one of the rationales behind the repeal of Alcohol Prohibition, and it is still a good idea.



Q: In countries where drugs are legal, how (and why) do people become drug addicts?

A: Addiction is significantly a symptom of underlying psychological problems. The majority of people that use recreational substances do so recreationally, and not habitually. Here's a great link regarding addiction:

http://www.peele.net


Q: Are you saying that there is no physiological component of addiction? Aren't some drugs much easier to become addicted to than others?

A: While there can be a physiological component to some addictions, in most cases, there may be a strong psychological component underlying the reasons why people seek out drugs they know to be physically addictive. Strangely enough, in a ranking of drugs in terms of their likelihood to cause physiological addiction, the *most* physiologically addictive drug is nicotine. Marijuana and MDMA (ecstasy) are far down the list, and some researchers do not consider either of these to be physiologically addictive at all.

Nicotine, heroin, cocaine, and alcohol are among the most physiologically addictive drugs (in fact, alcohol is so very addictive that a serious alcohol addict (alcoholic) can have fatal consequences from "cold turkey" rapid withdrawal):

http://www.drugwarfacts.org/addictiv.htm

Q: In countries where drugs are legal, do the addicts have responsible jobs? Can they work as doctors, lawyers, school bus drivers, cops?

A: First, separate "addicts" from "users".

This distinction is important, and represents a direction in which many otherwise fair-minded and intelligent people have been misled.

"Addicts" make up only a small percentage of overall drug users. You probably recognize this distinction already, whether you realize it or not, if you only look at the example of alcohol in the US.

Alcohol is a recreational drug.

It is among the most dangerous of recreational drugs, yet the majority of people that use it drink responsibly and recreationally, and not habitually. Perhaps surprisingly, this is also true of users of marijuana, ecstasy, LSD, and even cocaine.

Most users of currently illegal recreational drugs are responsible casual users, just as are most users of alcohol.

Of course drug users can hold good jobs. If you remember that alcohol is a powerful drug, you'll realize that you know many "drug users" who hold good jobs. You probably know doctors and policemen and lawyers and teachers and bus drivers who occasionally enjoy some beer or wine or a glass of good Scotch.

Of course, you don't want your doctor operating on you after he has consumed a fifth of vodka, but you probably don't mind that he had a glass of wine at dinner with his wife the previous weekend!

"Demonizing" the addict, and especially the casual user, does nothing to help the situation. The "low life addict" represents a very small portion of the recreational substance using population. The best thing to do is to regulate recreational substances, so that the issues of dependency are brought out into the open without the specter of criminality.

To heal society from the crisis of drug abuse and addiction, we must be able to deal with abuse and addiction directly, for what they are, and not be burdened with the failures of prohibition.

Q: If this "responsible, casual" drug use you refer to is so widespread, why don't we hear more about it? Where are the doctors and lawyers and teachers and successful people who use illegal drugs?

A: In this current political climate, where the War on Drugs is so well-funded that the DEA can (illegally) fund a campaign to defeat a pro-marijuana ballot initiative in Nevada, or shut down a Montana anti-prohibition rally before it ever happens, can you imagine the risk a responsible respectable professional faces if he or she admits to illegal drug use?

An estimated 37 to 45 million Americans use recreational substances that are currently prohibited. They hold jobs, pay taxes, have families, and are contributing members of society. Because of the prohibition laws, otherwise law abiding citizens who use illegal recreational drugs responsibly will never reveal to you their use. Further, instilled in them is a fear and distrust of the police authority which only creates resentment toward police in the community.

Millions of responsible tax-paying Americans have used illegal drugs recreationally (including current and former Presidents of the United States, and the current President's niece, and, according to some accounts, his college-aged daughters). Many continue to do so, discreetly. A few, like the current President and his niece, have developed abuse patterns. Countless others have not.

"Only losers use drugs" is War on Drugs propaganda. Nothing more.


Q: Aren't you ignoring the effects of drug-related crimes? What about the stoned people who are mugging grandmas because of their drug habits, to pay for their next fix?

A: Prohibition keeps the street price of drugs very high, creating excellent profits for the drug dealers, and desperation for the addicts, who commit crimes like muggings to find the money to buy their drugs. In Switzerland, where they issue heroin to addicts, the illegal drug trade has all but vanished, as has drug related crime.

Yes, drug addiction (including alcohol addiction and tobacco addiction) is a terrible thing. But if, post-prohibition, an addict can get his or her next dose for the price of a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of wine, it no longer becomes necessary for him to mug a grandma. Yes, he will still be an addict, and his addiction may well take a serious toll on his health or productivity, but he will no longer be a serious danger to the rest of society.

It doesn't matter whether you are for or against people using drugs. What does matter is that we need to lower the costs of drug use to society, not increase them. Spending over 45 billion per year on a policy that has not only failed, but makes matters worse, makes absolutely no sense at all.



Q: I've seen crime increase with alcohol use too, especially violent crimes like wife beatings, sexual assaults, shootings, etc., not to mention thousands of terrible accidents every year. Legalizing alcohol didn't stop the crime related problems it causes. Why do you want to increase those problems? Isn't it bad enough that we have people high on alcohol, causing problems?

A: This is an excellent point, and a "sticking point" for many people who might otherwise oppose prohibition. There is no doubt that a small percentage of the people that use alcohol abuse it. This is true of many drugs, and especially true of an extremely disorienting potentially addictive drug like alcohol.

However, if you study history, you'll see that the thirteen-year era of alcohol prohibition actually made matters much much worse. In fact, prohibition was an unmitigated disaster. Crime skyrocketed, corruption spread through government and police forces, gang violence soared, riddling our streets with bullets. Poorly distilled and unregulated "bathtub gin" blinded and killed people -- both "addicts" and "casual recreational users".

But most importantly, Prohibition did not stop people from drinking alcohol. While there was a drop in usage the first year, by the third year usage was greater than the year before prohibition. See this link for a handy chart:

http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-157.html

Our point? Prohibition policies are based on fiction. They destroy society by creating an environment of crime and corruption, as well as giving government "Big Brother" powers over the lives, recreational habits, and choices of all citizens.

And prohibition policies create vast bureaucracies. And the lies and propaganda which these bureaucracies must create and disseminate, in order to prop up their fiction, can cause aware and thinking people to develop a tragic deep and permanent distrust of the government, of the hardworking people in law enforcement, and of the political process.

Prohibition and the forces that support it are enemies of liberty and domestic tranquility. While there may be issues with the use, and sometimes abuse, of various recreational drugs like alcohol, those issues and those people that abuse should be dealt with directly, instead of creating an unregulated black market that feeds the mouth of crime. That is all prohibition has ever done, and will ever do.

Q: Isn't illegal recreational drug use just flat out immoral?

A: No. If we use a common definition of "immoral" as "harmful to others", definitely not. It is the effects of prohibition that are harmful to others.

Illegal recreational drug use happens to be, for political reasons, illegal. Currently, it is frowned upon and demonized out of all proportion to its actual effects on society.

Most people, if they knew all the facts and thought it through, would not consider drug use to be immoral, no more than the majority of Americans consider smoking cigarettes or social drinking to be immoral.

Once again, though, we distinguish between "use" and "irresponsible use" and "addiction". "Irresponsible use" can be immoral, as in the case of a drunk driver who injures or kills someone in an accident. "Addiction" is, in our opinion, possibly immoral if the addict becomes a burden on others, as in the case of an alcoholic parent who can no longer hold a job or care for his or her children.


Q: I just found out that my young teenager has smoked marijuana. He admits to having smoked it several times. Apart from this, he is a good kid with normal interests, talents, and grades. What should I do?

A: How would you react if you found out that he had consumed a beer on more than one occasion? Beer is also a physically dangerous and disorienting drug, and certainly as dangerous for a young teen as marijuana. The anti-marijuana TV commercials you have seen (such as the one where a young teen, high on marijuana, accidentally shoots a friend) do not point out that most such incidents occur when teens have consumed alcohol.

Yes, we would all prefer that minors use neither, but it's important to keep the issue in perspective.

Treat this the way you would treat a similar concern with alcohol.

That does not mean you should "laugh it off". Sanctions, of the kind you would apply had the drug been alcohol, are probably in order! And, as with alcohol, watch for signs that experimentation and casual use may be turning into abuse, or leading to other forms of deception and misbehavior.

But you do not need to assume that your child is an "addict". Please do not panic or overreact. Although some groups recommend it, we at Drug Action Network do not believe that commitment to a mental health facility or substance abuse therapy is necessary, unless the child shows signs of a serious and debilitating drug abuse problem.

Please check out this helpful booklet on the subject, endorsed by the PTA:
http://www.safety1st.org/home.html


Q: My daughter has admitted to using marijuana. Does this mean that she will progress on to other more serious and dangerous illegal drugs?

A: This is what we call the "gateway theory". The gateway theory has no relevance, nor basis in fact, particularly regarding marijuana. As a matter of fact, underage tobacco and alcohol use (which many parents frequently overlook or condone) show a stronger correlation with later serious drug abuse and other self-destructive behavior than does marijuana use.


Q: If I think my child is using marijuana, should I buy a drug test kit, and randomly screen him?

A: We recommend against this practice. It creates a climate of distrust, far out of proportion to the actual danger posed by experimental or casual use of marijuana. This type of action buys into the "drug hysteria" that is rampant in our culture right now. Since Nixon started the war on drugs, use among teens has increased 7 times - and abuses of personal freedoms have risen by an order of magnitude.

We believe that the resulting negative repressed attitude regarding recreational substances is causing far more harm to our society and children than the substances ever could on their own.

Yes, you are responsible for your child. But Prison Warden tactics are not the way to keep the channels of communication open, or the way to foster a better relationship with your child. We believe that the panic and hysteria surrounding the drug war are the leading social crisis in our nation. This climate of fear and misinformation -- the kind of climate that turns a teen's home into a kind of jail -- is doing immeasurable harm to all of us.



Q: Sure, marijuana may not be all that harmful. But how can you possibly compare drugs like heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy with alcohol? We are talking about junkies, here! No one drinks alcohol to get high!

A: Alcohol is a drug. It is a hard drug. The pleasurable effects of a bit too much alcohol are, absolutely, a "high", much like the feeling the users of these other drugs are seeking.

And for a small percentage of the population, alcohol is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, and hundreds of times more likely to be physically addictive than marijuana or ecstasy. Alcoholics are less likely to be functional than is a junkie (heroin addict) on a maintenance dose. Alcohol is among the most dangerous and deadly of drugs.

Yet we tolerate alcohol fairly well as a society because it is legally regulated and out in the open. We can deal directly with its issues, and with the damage it does to (and via) addicts and irresponsible users.


Q: Doesn't a community or society have a responsibility or right to sanction, control, or even attempt to eliminate self-destructive behaviors?

A: It does, to some extent. But education and treatment are better tools for this purpose than are interdiction and incarceration. Tobacco and alcohol addiction are extremely self-destructive behaviors. We have proven, during the social experiment of Prohibition, that the "hard-liner" approach did not work with alcohol. It is reasonable to assume that it would not work with tobacco. And we see that it is not working with other mood-altering substances.

As we continue to point out, the model of alcohol regulation works fairly well, if not perfectly. We regulate alcohol, and tax it modestly. Alcohol is perhaps our most dangerous recreational drug, yet our system strikes a balance between harm reduction, controlled distribution, and respect for the rights of adults to make recreational choices according to their own preference.



Q: If we do away with prohibition, what forms do you think drug regulation might take?

A: At Drug Action Network, we believe that marijuana should be regulated like beer and wine.

Harder recreational drugs could be regulated like hard liquor. And the very hardest drugs (i.e. the drugs with the highest physiological addiction rates, such as cocaine and heroin), would be regulated and distributed only by the government and directly to users. This distribution would seriously undercut, and virtually end, the black market for these drugs. This would greatly discourage the creation of new drug addicts.


Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens, Drugs, and Drug Education was written to provide parents with the tools needed to evaluate and discuss strategies for protecting their teenagers from drug abuse.

Download your free copy in English or Spanish, from the Drug Policy Alliance


SafetyFirst.PDF (177K)

SeguridadPrimero.PDF (199K)



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