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Drugs are articles that are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in humans or animals, and any articles other than food, water, or oxygen that are intended to affect the mental or body function of humans or animals. Narcotics are any drugs that dull the senses and commonly become addictive after prolonged use.
In the scientific community, drugs are defined as substances that can affect a human's or animal's biological and neurological states. They may be organic, such as the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which occurs naturally in marijuana; or synthetic, such as amphetamines or sedatives, which are manufactured in laboratories. Drugs can be swallowed, inhaled through the nostrils, injected with a needle, applied to the skin, taken as a suppository, or smoked. Scientists categorize drugs according to their effects. Among their categories are analgesics, which kill pain, and psychoactive drugs, which alter the mind or behavior. Some psychoactive substances produce psychological highs or lows according to whether they are stimulants or depressants, respectively. Others, called hallucinogens, produce psychedelic states of consciousness; lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and mescaline are examples of such drugs. Marijuana is placed in its own category.
U.S. law categorizes these substances differently. Commonly, federal and state statutes distinguish drugs from narcotics. Drugs are substances designed for use in and on the body for the diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of disease. These substances are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Drugs have been defined to include such things as herb tonics, cold salves, laxatives, weight-reduction aids, vitamins, and even blood. Narcotics are defined by statute as substances that either stimulate or dull an individual's senses, and that ordinarily become habit-forming (i.e. addictive) when used over time. The regulation of narcotics falls into two areas. Legal narcotics are regulated by the FDA and are generally available only with a physician's prescription. The production, possession, and sale of illegal narcotics commonly called controlled substances are banned by statute.
The U.S. government has expended billions of dollars in a fight to reduce drug use in the United States, citing startling numbers about the number of individuals who use drugs. According to a survey in 2000 by the Justice Department. more than half of the adults in the United States between the ages of 18 and 34 have used illicit drugs during their lifetime. Moreover, 28 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have used illicit drugs. Although much of the attention has focused upon use of such drugs as marijuana and cocaine, new club or designer drugs have become popular among some younger individuals. About six million children and young adults over the age of 12 have reported using the designer drug methylene-nmethylamphetamine (MDMA), also known as ecstasy, which has sparked a national debate about improved drug education in grade schools and high schools in the United States.
Authority to regulate drug use rests foremost with the federal government, derived from its power to regulate interstate commerce. States are free to legislate so long as their laws remain consistent with federal law. Most states have adopted federal models for their own drug legislation.
Current law has two main objectives. First, it regulates the manufacture, sale, and use of legal drugs such as aspirin, sleeping pills, and antidepressants. Second, it prohibits and punishes the manufacture, possession, and sale of illegal drugs from marijuana to heroin, as well as some dangerous legal drugs.
The distinction between legal and illegal drugs is a twentieth-century phenomenon. During the nineteenth century, there was very little governmental control over drugs. The federal government regulated the smallpox vaccine in 1813 (2 Stat. 806) and established some controls through the Imported Drugs Act of 1848 (9 Stat. 237, repealed by Tariff Act of 1922 [42 Stat. 858, 989]). But addictive substances such as opium and cocaine were legal; in fact, the latter remained a minor ingredient in Coca-Cola soft drinks until 1909. Heroin, discovered in 1888, was prescribed for treating other addictions. California began restricting opium in 1875, but widespread criminalization of the substance would not come for decades.
States began a widespread movement toward control of legal and illegal drugs at the turn of the twentieth century. The federal government joined this process with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (34 Stat. 768, 1906, Ch. 3915, 1 13, repealed by Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938), which primarily sought to protect consumers from misbranded or poisonous drugs, medicines, and alcohol. It established federal jurisdiction over the domestic manufacture and sale of drugs and also regulated drug imports.
Nevertheless, when Congress passed the Harrison Act of 1914 (Pub. L. No. 223, 38 Stat. 785), which imposed a tax on opium and cocaine, it stopped short of declaring either drug illegal. Most efforts to restrict drug use focused on alcohol. The temperance movement's Prohibition crusade culminated in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act of 1920 (41 Stat. 305), which made alcohol illegal. Alcohol remained illegal until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.
Despite numerous amendments, flaws in the Pure Food and Drug Act spurred Congress to replace the statute. In 1938, federal lawmakers enacted the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFDC) (21 U.S.C.A. 301 et seq.), which established the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the federal agency charged to enforce the law. The FFDC exerted broad control over the domestic commercial-drug market. Over the next two decades, states and the federal government continued to criminalize nonmedicinal and recreational drugs, and by midcentury, the division between legal and illegal drugs was firmly in place. In 1970, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (21 U.S.C.A. 801 et seq.), which continues to be the primary source of federal law on controlled substances.
Over-the-counter and prescription drugs are tightly regulated under the FFDC. This act and the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments of 1962 (Pub. L. No. 87-781, 76 Stat. 781) give the FDA a broad mandate. The agency protects consumers from the potential hazards of dangerous drugs, misleading labels, and Fraud. The FDA sets standards of safety and quality, and its enforcement duties include the research, inspection, and licensing of drugs for manufacture and sale. Because the law requires that drugs not be adulterated, the FDA ascertains that they conform to legal standards of strength, quality, and purity. It also classifies the drugs that are to be dispensed only by a physician's prescription. Finally, new drugs can be placed on the market only after being approved by the FDA. Traditionally a slow process, FDA approval was speeded up significantly for some drugs in the 1980s and 1990s, largely in response to the AIDS epidemic.
To control the use of dangerous drugs, federal law and most state statutes use a classification system outlined by the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, based on the federal Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. This system includes both illegal and dangerous legal drugs. It uses five groups, called schedules, to organize drugs according to their potential for medical use, harm, or abuse, and it imposes a series of controls and penalties for each schedule.
Heroin, hallucinogens, and marijuana are placed on schedule I, as they are thought to have a high potential for harm and no medical use. Other types of opiates and cocaine are on schedule II. Most depressants and stimulants are on schedule III. Some mild tranquilizers are on schedule IV. Schedule V is for drugs that are considered medically useful and less dangerous but that can cause limited physical and psychological dependence, such as cough-syrup mixtures that contain some codeine. Under the law, drugs may be rescheduled as new evidence of their uses or risks becomes apparent, and the attorney general has the authority to add new drugs to the schedules at any time.
Penalties are established according to the severity of the crime. Possession of a controlled substance is the most simple crime involving drugs. Possession with intent to sell is more serious. Selling or trafficking incurs the greatest penalties. The exact penalty for a particular offense depends on numerous factors, including the type of drug, its amount, and the convicted party's previous criminal record. Penalties range from small monetary fines to life imprisonment and even greater punishments. Under a general expansion of federal offenses that can invoke Capital Punishment. the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796, imposes the death penalty for major drug trafficking. Generally, the highest price paid by drug offenders is prison time for trafficking. In 1999, according to statistics from the department of justice. the average sentence for drug offenders engaged in drug trafficking was 77.1 months, compared to an average of 15.8 months for drug possession.
Between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, lawmakers enacted the harshest drug laws in U.S. history. The impetus for these laws came from the so-called war on drugs, a broad federal and state public-policy push initiated under President ronald reagan that received widespread public support. Among its many initiatives was the creation of the cabinet-level office of the national director of drug control policy, known as the drug czar, to coordinate national and international antidrug efforts.
The war on drugs also created a patchwork of antidrug laws. These included the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (Pub. L. No. 99-570, 100 Stat. 3207), which toughened penalties for drug violations involving cocaine, especially its smokable derivative, crack. The law imposed mandatory minimum sentences, even for first-time offenders. For sentencing purposes, it established a ratio that regards one gram of crack as equivalent to 100 grams of powder cocaine. While greatly increasing the number of drug offenders in prisons, the law has provoked considerable controversy over its effect on minorities. The Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (Pub. L. No. 100-690, 102 Stat. 4181) further increased federal jurisdiction over drug crime. For the first time, it became a federal crime to possess even a minimal amount of a controlled substance. Penalties were added for crimes that involve minors, pregnant women, and the sale of drugs within 100 feet of public and private schools. States toughened their laws, as well. Michigan, for example, imposed life imprisonment without Parole for cocaine trafficking (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. 333.7403[a][i]).
Under the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, Congress exempted certain first-time, non-violent offenders from minimum sentencing. An exempted person must be a first-time offender with a limited criminal history; must not have used violence or possessed a weapon during the offense; could not have organized or supervised activities of others; and must provide truthful information and evidence to the government during the offense.
The fight against illegal drugs has extended to housing. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act mandates that every local public-housing agency insert a clause in its standard lease document that gives the agency the right to evict tenants if they use or tolerate the use of illegal drugs on or near their premises.
The law has been lauded as an effective means of ridding public housing of drug dealers and other criminal activity that comes with it. However, critics have contended that many elderly citizens who live with their children and grandchildren have been unfairly evicted under this zero-tolerance policy. These critics have argued that the eviction of so-called innocent tenants violates the 1988 law, as Congress only meant to penalize those persons who have knowledge of drug use. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker. 535 U.S. 125, 122 S. Ct. 1230, 152 L. Ed. 2d 258 (2002), rejected these arguments, ruling that the law clearly gives the housing agency discretion to evict tenants, whether or not they knew about drug use. The case arose when a 63-year-old grandmother in Oakland, California, was evicted when her adult daughter had been caught using crack cocaine three blocks from her mother's house.
The enforcement of U.S. drug laws involves the use of substantial federal and state resources to educate, interdict, and prosecute. Estimates of the total annual cost of drug enforcement ranged from $20 billion to $30 billion in the 1990s. The federal government directs drug enforcement policy through the national director of drug control policy. Policy implementation involves both federal and state agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the State Department. branches of the Armed Services and the U.S. Coast Guard, and local police departments. Drug enforcement is primarily a national effort, yet because drugs enter the United States from other countries, it also has international considerations.
In the war on drugs in the United States, race is a critical issue. Although statistics indicate that African Americans account for only 12 percent of all illegal drug use, they make up 44 percent of all drug arrests. This racial disparity has drawn the attention of policy makers, politicians, and the courts. Many observers attribute much of it to the severe penalties imposed for offenses involving crack cocaine, which lead to the arrest and conviction of primarily black defendants.
Smokable cocaine, or crack, originated in the 1980s in U.S. inner cities. Because crack costs much less than powder cocaine, it quickly became the choice of poor drug users. In response to the resulting increased use of crack, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (Pub. L. No. 99-570, 100 Stat. 3207 [codified as amended in scattered sections of 21 U.S.C.A. 801 970]).
The 1986 law regards one gram of crack as equivalent to one hundred grams of powder cocaine. The U.S. Sentencing Commission adopted this ratio when it revised the Sentencing Guidelines that same year. In 1988 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was amended to establish new mandatory minimum sentences. The amendment's sponsor, Representative E. Clay Shaw, Jr. (R-FL), said of the tougher sentences: Crack is an extraordinarily dangerous drug so we must take extraordinary steps to combat it.
Under federal law the offense of selling five grams of crack, for example, is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. To receive the same sentence for trafficking in powder cocaine, an offender would have to sell five hundred grams. Thus, small-time crack dealers can receive longer prison terms than cocaine wholesalers. In addition, mandatory minimum sentences for crack offenses mean that Plea Bargaining for a reduced sentence is not available. First-time offenses involving crack or powder cocaine are also differentiated. First-time offenders convicted in powder cocaine cases often receive Parole and drug treatment; most first-time offenders in crack cases receive jail sentences.
By the early 1990s, the effect of these harsher laws on African Americans was evident. In a survey of 1992 sentencing data, the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that 92.6 percent of offenders sentenced for crack offenses were black, whereas 4.7 percent were white. With regard to cocaine offenses in general, 78 percent of offenders were black, and 6 percent were white.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Justice Department concluded in 1993 that blacks are jailed longer than whites for drug offenses. The bureau explained that the main reasons that African Americans' sentences are longer than whites' was that 83 percent of all federal offenders convicted of trafficking in crack cocaine in guideline cases were black, and the average sentence imposed for crack trafficking was twice as long as for trafficking in powdered cocaine.
Some critics believe that the racial disparities in sentencing are a result of intentional discrimination. They argue that race has long been an issue in drug enforcement laws, from concerns about Chinese laborers and opium at the turn of the twentieth century to fears about blacks and cocaine in the early 1900s that produced headlines such as Negro Cocaine 'Fiends' Are a New Southern Menace. Other critics take the suggestion of conspiracy further, arguing that the comparatively heavy drug use (as well as violence) in the black community is a result of deliberate attempts by whites to foster black self-destruction.
Not all critics believe that the racial disparities created by the war on drugs are intentional. As of 2003, at least one state court had struck down enhanced penalties for crack offenses as a violation of Equal Protection under the state constitution (State v. Russell. 477 N.W.2d 886 [Minn. 1991]). In that case the court said that state law treated black crack offenders and white powder cocaine offenders unfairly, although that result may have been unintentional.
On the federal level, several convicted crack offenders have argued that the discrepancy between sentences for crack and powder cocaine violates equal protection or due process. but nearly every appellate court has rejected this argument. In May 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court held that statistics showing that most crack defendants are black do not in themselves support the claim of Selective Prosecution. Instead, the Court ruled, the burden is on defendants to prove that similarly situated defendants of other races could have been prosecuted, but were not (United States v. Armstrong. 517 U.S. 456, 116 S. Ct. 1480, 134 L. Ed. 2d 687).
Lawmakers have also rejected the assertion that racial discrepancies are unjust. In April 1995 the U.S. Sentencing Commission proposed abandoning the guidelines. Determining that the penalties were too harsh, the seven-member commission voted 4 to 3 to equalize penalties for crack and powder cocaine. Although most black members of Congress supported changing the sentencing guidelines, conservatives argued that crack sentencing had nothing to do with race and that revising the guidelines would allow serious offenders to serve little or no time. The penalties remained intact.
Many liberal organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union. have decried the war on drugs due to the disproportionate impact on racial minorities. The Drug Policy Alliance, which claims to be the leading organization promoting alternatives to the war, has held a number of national conferences on this issue. In 2001, a group of politicians, celebrities, religious leaders, and advocates for drug policy reform submitted a letter to the secretary general of the United Nations calling the war on drugs a de facto form of racism.
As long as the war on drugs remains a priority for domestic policy, prosecution and incarceration for drug crimes will continue on a large scale. The challenge facing legislators, attorneys, and the courts is how to make a system that reduces the effects of drug use on U.S. society, while avoiding excessive punishment of particular societal groups.
Chepesiuk, Ronald. 1999. The War on Drugs: An International Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif. ABC-CLIO.
Mahan, Sue. 1996. Crack Cocaine, Crime, and Women: Legal, Social, and Treatment Issues. Thousand Oaks, Calif. Sage Publications.
The war on drugs can be traced back to the 1960s, when illicit drugs became especially popular again. The accompanying increase in drug use led to comprehensive antidrug legislation under President richard m. nixon. whose administration introduced the metaphor of war for the drive to enforce drug laws. In the 1980s, under President Reagan, the campaign took its present form. The Reagan administration's public-relations campaign (which popularized the saying Just say no ) was bolstered by stricter state and federal drug laws. Federal spending to enforce drug laws rose from $37 million in 1969 to $1.06 billion in 1983. Over the next decade, it increased to approximately $30 billion, including the full cost of federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts, along with costs incurred by the judiciary and prison and health care systems. In 2003, President george w. bush set aside about $3.4 billion to the DEA alone in the fight against drugs.
Enforcement efforts are shared between federal and state governments. Joint federal-state task forces investigate illegal drug sales for two key reasons. First, states have declared an interest in eradicating the illegal sale and use of controlled substances through the enactment of severe antidrug laws, but they lack the necessary resources. Second, in return for their participation, state law enforcement agencies are eligible for federal funds that are crucial to their operation. Besides helping the agencies to meet administrative expenses, local undercover police officers use these funds to buy drugs so that they can arrest dealers.
As a result of these shared operations, prosecutors have broad discretion in pursuing drug offenses. They may charge defendants under federal law, state law, or sometimes both. The U.S. Constitution's protection against Double Jeopardy (i.e. being tried twice for the same criminal action) does not apply when separate jurisdictions bring charges, and the dual-sovereignty doctrine allows successive federal and state prosecutions; however, many states prohibit prosecution in their courts if the conduct already has been the subject of a federal prosecution. Prosecutors consider several factors when deciding where to bring charges, including the relative severity of state and federal drug laws; the existence of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines in federal court; and the comparative leniency of federal rules regarding wiretaps and informants. Although federal law generally is tougher because of its mandatory minimum sentences, nearly every state has enacted laws requiring mandatory prison time for certain drug offenses.
Prosecutors also take into account the kind of drug involved. Under federal sentencing guidelines, crack cocaine is treated much more harshly than is powder cocaine. Prosecutors also may seek civil fines and civil Forfeiture of property.
The number of individuals charged with drug offenses by the federal government rose from 11,854 to 29,306 between 1984 and 1999. The percentage of crimes prosecuted by the federal government likewise increased. In 1984, 18 percent of referrals by federal prosecutors involved drug offenses. This number increased to 32 percent in 1999. Between October 1999 and September 2000, the federal government successfully prosecuted 24,206 drug defendants. Ninety-one percent of those convictions resulted in incarceration.
The majority of federal drug offenses involve marijuana, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine. In 1999, federal officials made 38,288 arrests for drug offenses. Thirty-one percent of those cases involved marijuana, while 28 percent involved powder cocaine; 15 percent involved crack cocaine; and 15 percent involved methamphetamine. The remaining 11 percent involved opiates and other types of drugs.
On February 12, 2002, President George W. Bush announced the creation of the National Drug Control Strategy. The core principles include (1) stopping drug use before it starts; (2) healing America's drug users; and (3) disrupting the drug market. The goals of the initiative include the reduction of drug use by ten percent in the first two years, and by 25 percent over the first five years. The DEA is largely responsible for carrying out this strategy.
In addition to domestic efforts to police drug sales, international efforts are part of the war on drugs. These efforts include interdiction by federal law enforcement agents at the U.S. border to prevent drugs from entering the country. The federal government has also posted DEA agents in other countries, such as Bolivia and Colombia, as part of a broader campaign to prevent the flow of drugs into the United States. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the United States applied diplomatic pressure to the governments of Bolivia and Colombia to persuade them to end drug production in their countries. In order to continue receiving U.S. aid and government-backed loans, foreign nations have had to cooperate with the antidrug initiatives of Washington. In March 1996, President bill clinton cut off such aid to Colombia for lack of cooperation.
The funding in Colombia did not end in 1996, despite a strong opposition to the policies against funding the drug war through South American countries. The United States has invested an estimated $30 billion in the war on drugs in Latin America, yet the influx of drugs into the United States continues. An estimated 80 percent of drugs in the United States originate in South America, many in Colombia.
In 2000, President Clinton approved a spending bill that called for $1.3 billion in aid to the Colombian government. Members of Congress expressed concern that financing the Colombian government would spread the ongoing civil war in that country, which claimed more than 35,000 lives in the 1990s. Much of the bill was designed to provide Colombia with military equipment, and it also called for training of Colombian soldiers. Colombian leaders promised that the aid would cut drug production in that country by half.
The courts have played a significant role in the war on drugs. Broadly speaking, under the Fourth Amendment. they have expanded the power of the police to conduct searches and seizures. In a series of decisions during the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers have the power to conduct warrantless searches of bus passengers, car interiors, mobile homes, fenced private property and barns, luggage, and trash cans. In Minnesota v. Dickerson. 508 U.S. 366, 113 S. Ct. 2130, 124 L. Ed. 2d 334 (1993), the Court held that no warrant was needed to seize narcotics that are recognizable by plain feel while an officer is frisking a suspect for concealed weapons.
In contrast, the Court restricted the power of state and federal governments to use civil fines and civil forfeiture of property as penalties in drug cases. In a 1989 case that had a substantial bearing on prosecutorial initiative in drug enforcement, the Court held that the government could not recover both a criminal fine and a civil penalty in separate proceedings (United States v. Halper. 490 U.S. 435, 109 S. Ct. 1892, 104 L. Ed. 2d 487). In 1993, the Court curtailed civil forfeiture laws by ruling that confiscation of property is subject to the Eighth Amendment's protections against excessive fines (Austin v. United States. 509 U.S. 602, 113 S. Ct. 2801, 125 L. Ed. 2d 488).
For many decades, the federal government has classified marijuana as a controlled substance that cannot be used legally except for scientific research projects. Although state governments continue to make the possession, distributions, and use of marijuana a crime, nine states have legalized the use of the drug for medicinal use. Through the use of ballot initiatives, voters approved these so-called medical marijuana laws in eight of these states, including California. Advocates contend that persons who are afflicted with serious illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, and multiple sclerosis are helped by smoking marijuana. The federal government contested the constitutionality of these laws, believing that federal drug laws prevent the states from making exceptions.
The federal government's efforts to end the distribution of medical marijuana in California led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative. 532 U.S. 483, 121 S. Ct. 1711, 149 L. Ed. 2d 722 (2001). The Court agreed with the federal government, concluding that the federal Controlled Substances Act did not recognize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
The case grew out of a 1996 vote in California. Citizens had brought about an initiative called the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. The law sought to provide seriously ill persons with legal clearance to purchase marijuana for medicinal use. It permitted patients and their primary caregivers to possess or to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes if approved by a physician. Following the law's enactment, numerous organizations started medical cannabis dispensaries to distribute marijuana to eligible patients. The Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative was one of those organizations. The nonprofit cooperative employed a doctor and registered nurses to screen prospective members through a personal interview and a review of the treating physician's written statement. If the person met the requirements, the cooperative issued the person an identification card that entitled him or her to purchase marijuana from the organization.
The federal government sued the cooperative in 1998 and asked the federal district court to issue an Injunction banning the cooperative from distributing and manufacturing marijuana. The court agreed that the cooperative had violated the federal controlled-substance law and issued the injunction. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's decision. It ruled that a medical necessity exemption existed and that the district court could apply its equitable discretion and permit the cooperative to assert such an exemption.
Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit in an 8-0 decision. Justice Clarence Thomas. writing for the Court, looked to the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act to determine whether the courts could make medical necessity a defense. Thomas noted that marijuana is classified as a schedule I substance. The only express exception to the unlawfulness of possession, manufacture, or distribution is for government-approved research projects. Taking these provisions into account, Justice Thomas concluded that there was clearly no statutory exemption.
Although certain groups continue to advocate making marijuana use legal, the movement has lost steam since the decision in Oakland Cannabis especially those groups that advocate making marijuana use legal for any purpose, including recreational use. These individuals claim that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol, which is regulated but has not been outlawed since Prohibition was reversed in the 1930s. This movement, generally led by some small liberal and radical groups, has never had backing among politicians and is even less likely to garner support in light of Oakland Cannabis .
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