Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

A Maryland Lawmaker's Paradigm-Shifting Approach to the Heroin and Pain Pill Crisis [FEATURE]

With nearly 47,000 Americans dying of drug overdoses in 2014 -- more than from gunshots or car crashes -- the problem of heroin and prescription opioid (pain pill) addiction is getting well-deserved attention. From community town halls to state capitals, as well as in Congress and on the rival presidential campaigns, the crisis is spawning demands for solutions.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dan-morhaim-180px.jpg
Dan Morhaim
The response, in general, has been more sympathetic than to earlier waves of hard drug use, such as heroin in the 1960s or crack cocaine in the 1980s, which brought down the harsh drug war policies of Nixon and Reagan. Now, there are more calls for drug treatment than for further law enforcement crackdowns, police departments are carrying overdose reversal drugs, and public health agencies are taking on a more prominent role.

But addicts continue to be arrested, with all the deleterious consequences that entails, and, when it comes to policy, the problem of addiction remains largely in the realm of criminal justice. Harm reduction practices proven in other parts of the world improve both the lives of drug users and those of the communities they live in continue to be shunted aside in the US.

That could change in at least one state. Veteran Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) has just introduced a paradigm-shifting package of bills that would begin to move the state's posture toward drug use from prohibition to public health and harm reduction. Morhaim, a practicing physician with three decades of frontline hospital ERs, brings to his approach a vision formed by that experience.

If enacted, Morhaim's package would mark a radical, but commonsensical, humane, and scientifically-supported shift in Maryland's drug policies. Here's what it includes:

  • Emergency Room Treatment on Demand. House Bill 908 provides treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings. The bill requires acute care hospitals to have a counselor available or on-call at all times and specified arrangements for transferring patients to appropriate treatment settings. Addicted patients make up a large percentage of uninsured visits to ERs, making them an ideal place for initial therapeutic contact.
  • Safe Consumption Sites. House Bill 1212 allows individuals to use drugs in approved facilities while supervised by trained staff who also provide sterile equipment, monitor the person for overdose and offer treatment referrals. Similar on-going programs in Australia, Canada, and several European countries have eliminated overdose deaths, reduced the spread of disease, and provided points of accessto the most hard-to-reach drug users.
  • Drug Decriminalization. House Bill 1219 decriminalizes the possession and use of small quantities of drugs: one gram of meth or heroin, two grams of cocaine, 10 hits of MDMA, 150 micrograms of LSD. The object is to keep otherwise non-criminal drug users out of the criminal justice system, saving resources and avoiding saddling more residents with criminal records.
  • Heroin Maintenance. House Bill 1267 allows a four-year pilot study of "poly-morphone assisted treatment" with pharmaceutical grade opioids, including heroin, to treat under medical supervision a small number of hardcore users who have proven resistant to other forms of treatment. Ongoing heroin maintenance programs in several European countries have been shown to reduce illegal drug use, decrease crime, reduce the black market for heroin, and lead to less chaotic lives for their participants.

The package didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Morhaim's experiences in the ER, where he dealt not only with direct consequences of drug use -- overdoses, infections -- but also direct consequences of drug prohibition -- old women injured in muggings for black market drug money, the toll of dead and wounded in black market drug turf battles -- colored his approach.

"I'm a physician, not a prosecuting attorney," Morhaim told the Chronicle. "I come at this from a public health perspective. We talk about 'surges' to fight this and that, but what we haven't had in this country is a surge in the public health approach, real, substantive public health. This is different, and some will see it as controversial, but I'm comfortable with that. This is something that's really corroding the heart and soul of our society."

He wasn't alone.

"I've had a lot of conversations, and my district has generally been very supportive of these kind of innovative things. No negative feedback. There's a broad consensus that the war on drugs is a failure," Morhaim said. "People are really cognizant of that. And I'm an Emergency Room physician at a Level II trauma center, I've also done healthcare for the homeless. I've been on the front lines, seen the carnage, the death, the violence, and the way this affects the families, and I'm speaking from true experience, and people respect that."

Not only did Morhaim have support in his community, he had support from a strong group of advocates and experts.

"As things were coming to a head, Delegate Morhaim reached out to us at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)," said DPA staff attorney Lindsay LaSalle, who was involved in developing the proposals. "He said he felt like he could offer progressive solutions to the crisis and he wanted our subject matter expertise to help develop those proposals."

DPA, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), whose executive director, Neill Franklin, is a former Baltimore police officer, and the Open Society Foundations joined with academics, lawyers, doctors, and harm reductionists to develop and refine the policy proposals that became the bill package. Local institutions of higher learning, including the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University, had academics involved in the effort as well.

Passing the bills won't be easy, and it's not likely to happen this year, but Morhaim and his supporters are playing to win in the not-too-distant future.

"Dan is currently on the second year of a four year term," LaSalle said. "These bills were introduced strategically this term with the understanding that it would be a year of educating colleagues and generating positive media coverage. This is always a long game; we don't expect passage this year, but we hope to gain traction on one or more of these in the next two or three years."

"I've been in the legislature a long time, and I've learned you just have to be persistent, you listen and address concerns, maybe you accept an amendment to a bill," Morhaim said.

He pointed to the successful effort to get medical marijuana through the legislature.

"On that, people had suggestions, and we said let's fix it in the bill," he recalled. "Law enforcement didn't oppose it because I sat down and worked with them."

He also recalled legislative battles he had fought -- and won -- around smoking in restaurants and the use of safety seats for children.

"Banning smoking in restaurants seemed impossible in 1995, but now it's commonplace," he said. "The same with kids safety seats. Both of those were hard-fought on the political level, but when we talk to people, we can convince them. These things take time, but when you recognize what's not working, then you can explore what is. People are looking for answers."

Although Morhaim's package of bills is the most comprehensive, explicit harm reduction interventions are being considered in other places, too. California will see a safe consumption site bill introduced next week, and activists and officials in a number of cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle are laying the groundwork for such facilities at the local level.

"We're getting traction on these issues," said LaSalle. "Nevada was the first state with a heroin-assisted treatment bill, and while it didn't get out of committee, we had robust hearings, with international experts. And that California bill will be moving forward this session. Drug treatment and harm reduction don't always go hand in hand, but in this case the treatment community is cosponsoring or officially supporting safe consumption sites."

Meanwhile, some states are moving in the opposite direction. In Maine, the administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul Le Page (R) is seeking to reverse a law passed last year that defelonized drug possession. (The rambunctious Republican has also called for guillotining drug dealers, blamed black drug dealers for impregnating white Maine girls, and called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers.) And next door in New Hampshire, the attorney general wants to start charging heroin suppliers with murder in the event of fatal overdoses. Prosecutors in other states have also dusted off long-unused statutes to bring murder or manslaughter charges.

"We need to ask those people why they're doubling down on a failed policy," said LaSalle. "Why would this work now when it's just more of the same that's been in place for four decades, and now we have use and overdoses and Hep C increasing."

"I understand the impulse to 'Do Something!' in response, and because criminalization has been our go-to response, it seems logical that increasing penalties or prosecutions is a way to solve the problem, but we know, we have shown, that it is not. It's frustrating."

It can be worse than frustrating, too, LaSalle noted.

"Using murder charges as a whipping stick in the case of overdoses is really counterproductive," she said. "If the goal is to reduce overdoses, this is going to reduce the likelihood of anyone calling 911. Maybe they shared their stash, and if they could face murder charges, they now have a serious disincentive to call."

Clearly, the war on drugs is not over. But after half a century of relying predominantly on the forces of repression to deal with drug use, a new vision, both smarter and more humane, is emerging. Now comes the political fight to enact it.

Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Bill, ND Legalization Init, CA MedMJ Tax Bill, More... (2/11/16)

It's all marijuana news today, with a legalization bill filed in Connecticut, a legalization initiative filed in North Dakota, a medical marijuana tax bill filed in California, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) today introduced House Bill 5209, which would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana. Candelaria introduced a similar bill last year that went nowhere. "I'm going to be pushing very hard," Candelaria said. "I'm going to be engaging my leadership in conversation to at least allow a public hearing." Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said the same day he could only support medical marijuana. "That's as far as I'm comfortable going," the governor said.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Effort Gets Underway. A group of Libertarian-leaning North Dakotans filed a petition with the Secretary of State's office Wednesday seeking to put legalization on the ballot this year. The initiative would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana, and it would bar the state from requiring a license to do so. If approved, the group will have until July 11 to gather 13,452 valid voter signatures.

Vermont Police Dogs No Longer Trained to Sniff Out Pot. With an eye toward looming marijuana legalization, Vermont police are no longer training their dogs to recognize the smell of marijuana. "The class that is going through right now is not being trained to alert on marijuana odor," said Robert Ryan, head of K-9 training at the Vermont Police Academy. "We started talking about it last year and we made the decision for this class not to do marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Elizabeth Warren Calls on CDC to Look at Marijuana as Response to Opioid Use. In a letter sent Monday, the Massachusetts Democratic senator asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research how medical and recreational marijuana might help alleviate the widespread use of opioids. She asked the agency "to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options," including marijuana. She also asked the CDC to collaborate with other federal agencies to research "the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths."

California Bill Would Impose 15% Tax on Medical Marijuana Sales. State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 987, which would impose the tax. "We made a commitment last year as we were working through the huge undertaking of setting statewide regulations for medical marijuana that we would follow up on a statewide excise tax," Senator McGuire said. "This needed revenue will make our communities stronger by focusing on the impacts of cultivation and use of marijuana, including funding local law enforcement and neighborhood improvement programs, state parks, drug and alcohol treatment and environmental rehabilitation." The new tax is expected to bring in more than $100 million a year in new revenues.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's jail and prison guards gone wild this week! Most did their misdeeds for profit, but at least one did hers for love. Let's get to it:

In New York City, a Rikers Island jail guard was arrested Sunday on charges she smuggled marijuana in to an inmate and had sex with him. Guard Nicole Bartley, 30, went down when a drug-sniffing dog stationed at the prison alerted on her. She said the inmate "played me for a fool."

In Fort Bend, Texas, a Fort Bend County sheriff's jail guard was arrested Monday for smuggling illegal drugs into the jail. Naveed Muhammed Islam, 19, went down after an internal investigation into allegations of a crooked guard at the jail. He is charged with bringing prohibited substances into a correctional facility, a third-degree felony.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, two former sheriff's officers and two prison guards pleaded guilty Tuesday to a drug dealing conspiracy in which 14 others have already pleaded guilty. The crew went down after undercover officers posed as members of a drug-dealing operation looking for crooked cops to aid their cause. Former Northampton County sheriff's captain Jason Boone and former lieutenant Jimmy Pair, Jr., both pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy and bribery charges. The two prison guards were not named.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a former Anamosa State Prison guard was sentenced last Wednesday to four years in federal prison for smuggling drugs, cell phones, and other contraband in to prisoners. Garrett Barton, 29, admitted not only to smuggling contraband, but also to being high while armed as a tower guard. He copped to one count of a Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right (accepting bribes).

In Memphis, four Shelby County deputy jailers were sentenced last Friday after being caught up in a sting involving smuggling what they thought was Oxycontin into the jail. Anthony Thomas got one month in prison, and Marcus Green, Brian Grammer, and Torriano Vaughan were sentenced to a year and a day. The four went down after an inmate alerted officials of the guards' willingness to subvert the law, and officials then set up the sting.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana bills are moving in Florida and Utah, and new bills are popping up as state legislatures get down to business.

Alabama

Last Thursday, a bill to expand access to CBD cannabis oil was introduced. Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison County) has introducedHouse Bill 61, which would expand access to CBD beyond a limited study program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The new bill would allow parents with a valid recommendation for CBD cannabis oil to possess it in the state.

Delaware

Last Thursday, a bill to allow CBD cannabinoid oil use by kids in school was introduced. Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) has filed Senate Bill 181, which would allow authorized caregivers to possess and administer CBD cannabis oil to pupils in school as needed.

Florida

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill reemerged. A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana has come out of hibernation in the House. After months on the sidelines, the bill, House Bill 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on a 9-2 vote. It now needs one more committee vote before heading for the House floor.

Iowa

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. State Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) filed a bill that would make it legal to grow medical marijuana, produce CBD cannabis oil, and create dispensaries. The bill is not yet on the legislative website. Republican lawmakers last year killed similar legislation.

South Dakota

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana initiative failed to make the ballot. A proposed initiative from New Approach South Dakota has come up short on signatures and will not qualify for the November ballot. The group needed nearly 14,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, but, based on a sampling of 5% of the 16,000 signatures handed it, state officials said only slightly more than half were valid, leaving the group with only 9,000 valid signatures. New Approach South Dakota has 30 days to challenge the findings.

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. State Sen. Angie Buhl O'Donnell has filed Senate Bill 167, which would legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons. The bill was filed one day after the deadline for filing new bills, but lawmakers agreed to waive the rules after state officials rejected a medical marijuana initiative for lack of valid signatures.

Utah

Last Friday, medical marijuana and CBD cannabis oil bills were on the move. Two medical marijuana-related bills are headed for the Senate floor after winning committee votes. Senate Bill 73, filed by Rep. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), would allow whole plant medical marijuana, while Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would expand on CBD cannabis legislation passed last year.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Historic Federal Drug Budget, 2015 CO MJ Sales Nearly $1 Billion, More... (2/10/16)

A marijuana legalizer wins a presidential election primary, Western states take up marijuana issues, the Obama administration balances demand and supply anti-drug spending in a historic first, and more.

Colorado sold nearly a billion in buds (and edibles) last year. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalizer Wins New Hampshire Democratic Primary. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) swept to victory in neighboring New Hampshire's Democratic election primary, defeating presumed frontrunner Hillary Clinton with 60% of the vote to Clinton's 39%. Sanders becomes the first presidential primary candidate to win a state while supporting marijuana legalization, a sign of the times.

Colorado Marijuana Sales at Almost a Billion Dollars Last Year. Medical and adult marijuana sales in the state totaled $996,184,788 last year, the Department of Revenue reported Tuesday. Those sales generated $135 million in taxes and fees for the state.

New Mexico Bill for Legalization Initiative Advances. If approved by the legislature, the measure would allow voters to vote in November on a constitutional amendment legalizing and regulating marijuana. The bill, SJR 6, sponsored by Sen. Geraldo Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque), was approved by the Senate Rules Committee today.

Oregon Bill to Let Out of State Investors Join Pot Businesses Advances. The bill, House Bill 4014, removes the two-year residency requirement for license applicants included in a law passed last year by the Legislature. The measure won a committee vote today and now heads for a House floor vote.

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have decriminalized small-time pot possession in the Cowboy State died in the House Tuesday. The measure, House Bill 3, filed by Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) died on a 21-37 vote. This is the third straight year decrim bills have been filed and then killed in the legislature.

Drug Policy

White House Drug Budget Makes History By Equalizing Demand and Supply Funding Levels. For the first time since the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), the proposed federal anti-drug budget balances spending on law enforcement and interdiction (supply) with spending on treatment and prevention (demand). The White House budget request released today seeks $15.8 billion for treatment and prevention and $15.3 billion for law enforcement, domestic and overseas. "The President's 2017 Budget calls for our country's largest investment in treating and preventing substance use disorders in history," said Michael Botticelli, Director of ONDCP. "By funding public health and public safety efforts at near-identical levels, this budget demonstrates the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to a balanced approach to drug policy. The Budget recognizes how important it is to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services so we can prevent youth substance use, provide treatment to those in need, and sustain long-term recovery."

International

Macedonia Medical Marijuana Measure Wins Committee Vote. The parliament's Health Committee Tuesday approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that would allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. The change is being proposed by the Ministry of Health, which said: "The need to change this law comes from the requests of patients who want to have the option to use naturally derived cannabis products, under strict supervision. The amendments would allow patients to have access to strictly controlled products, improving on the current situation when some patients use unverified products without any supervision regarding the dosage," the ministry said.

New Cartel Emerges in Mexico's Michoacan. Police in Michoacan have detained a dozen people carrying banners proclaiming the emergence of a new criminal enterprise in the state. The banners announced the appearance of the New Family cartel, whose name suggests it is a successor to the Family Michoacana cartel. That gang was displaced by the Knights Templars in 2010, who were in turn displaced by armed vigilantes backed by the Mexican state in 2013. The banners announced that the New Family would "clean up" people who supported the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has been moving into the state. "All those who contribute to this scum will be punished," the banner reportedly proclaims.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: WVA Welfare Drug Test Bill Advances, ME Voters Want Drug Decrim, More... (2/9/16)

Medical marijuana bills get filed not only in Iowa, but also Australia and Greece, a new poll shows enlightened drug policy attitudes among Maine voters, Republican US senators hold competing events for and against sentencing reform legislation, and more.

Medical marijuana is seeing action at statehouses in the US and in foreign capitals. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Reemerges. A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana has come out of hibernation in the House. After months on the sidelines, the bill, House Bill 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday on a 9-2 vote. It now needs one more committee vote before heading for the House floor.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) Tuesday filed a bill that would make it legal to grow medical marijuana, produce CBD cannabis oil, and create dispensaries. The bill is not yet on the legislative website. Republican lawmakers last year killed similar legislation.

Drug Policy

Maine Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Not Punitive Drug Policies, Poll Finds. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of voters support decriminalizing drug possession, according to a new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. More than seven out of 10 (71%) said substantially reducing incarceration rates was important to them. The poll comes as the state's Tea Party governor, Paul Le Page (R), is pushing legislation that would roll back reforms passed last year that make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

West Virginia Senate Passes Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate overwhelmingly (32-2) approved Senate Bill 6, which would create a three-year pilot program to drug test applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if state employees have "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs. "Reasonable suspicion" can be triggered by applicants demonstrating "qualities indicative of substance abuse" or having been arrested on a drug charge in the past five years. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Bill Would Let Users Turn in Drugs Without Fear of Punishment. Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester) has filed a bill that would allow addicts seeking treatment to turn in unwanted drugs without the threat of prosecution. A person "who, in good faith, enters a police station and seeks assistance or treatment for a drug-related addiction, or is the subject of a good faith request for such assistance or treatment, shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance" if the evidence for such a charge was gained as a result of seeking treatment. The bill is before the Joint Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Republican Senators and Law Enforcement Leaders Rally for Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) joined law enforcement leaders today for a Capitol Hill briefing in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123). The briefing, supported by Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, comes the same day two other Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, hosted an event to oppose the bill.

International

Australian Government Files Medical Marijuana Legislation. The federal government today filed legislation to allow the cultivation of marijuana for medical or scientific purposes. The bill would create a national scheme to regulate cultivation for such purposes.

Greek Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Bill. Twenty members of the governing Syriza Party Monday filed legislation to legalize marijuana for medical and pharmaceutical purposes. "The proven beneficial effect in cases of especially dangerous diseases, such as glaucoma, cancer, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, malignancies make the legalization of cannabis as medicine -- already used in many developed countries -- imperative. The criminalization of cannabis use has resulted in leading many patients and their families to acquire cannabis through illegal channels, something that entails substantial loss of revenue for the State, organized crime activities and pushing patients to resort illegal activities," the lawmakers argued.

Could Kratom Be a Better Choice for Heroin and Pain Pill Users? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The Southeast Asian herb is now available powdered...
A Southeast Asian herb is gaining popularity among addicted heroin and prescription opiate users, pain sufferers, and hipsters looking for a nice buzz, and it's legal -- at least for now. It's usually consumed as a tea, and is now available at non-alcohol kratom bars in several states, as well as in powdered from in specialty shops and on the Internet.

It is regulated as an herbal supplement, not a controlled substance, but it is coming under some scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators. The FDA banned its import in 2014, and the DEA has it listed as a drug of concern, but has not moved to criminalize it. It is illegal in four states, though -- Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming -- and similar laws are now being proposed in Florida and New Jersey.

The stuff is called kratom, and was traditionally used in Thailand and Malaysia to help endure physical labor, relieve pain, and stop diarrhea. It was also good for relieving the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

That's because its active ingredients activate the same opioid receptors heroin and prescription pain pills do. And it behaves like an opiate -- with a couple of exceptions, one interesting and one quite important.

...or it can be brewed into a tea. (wikimedia.org)
Like other opiates, it relieves pain, slows bowel activity, produces euphoric feelings, and creates physical addiction and a whithdrawal syndrome. But unlike other opiates, it causes a pleasant, caffeine-type buzz in small doses. More significantly, it is apparently very difficult -- if not impossible -- to overdose on. The few deaths where kratom is implicated include poly-drug use, or as in a case reported by the New York Times, suicide by a young kratom user who was also being treated for depression.

"Direct kratom overdoses from the life-threatening respiratory depression that usually occurs with opioid overdoses have not been reported," says Oliver Grundmann, clinical associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Florida, told journalist Maia Szalavitz at Vice. Grundmann should know; he just reviewed the research on kratom for the International Journal of Legal Medicine.

"It's a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it, Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a co-author of several scientific articles on kratom, told the Times. "Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware -- potentially you're at just as much risk" as with an opiate.

Well, except for that whole fatal overdose thing. And like the kratom high, the physical dependence appears much milder.

Szalavitz consulted Mark Swogger, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who with his colleagues analyzed 161 "experience reports" posted by kratom users on the drug information site Erowid.org for a recent study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that kratom has at least some addiction potential. The data is fairly strong on that and our study also found that people are reporting addiction," but "overall, we found that it's really mild compared to opioid addiction and it didn't seem to last as long."

About one in six of the users reported nausea or stomach pain and 6% actually vomited. There have been a handful of other handful of reports of liver problems.

All this makes kratom something like opium's mild-mannered little sister. And that is apparently something a lot of people are looking for.

One of them was Susan Ash, 46, who told the Times she began taking kratom while being treated for dependence on prescription pain relievers and now takes a small dose daily to ease chronic pain and depression.

She was so impressed with the results that last year, she founded the American Kratom Association to represent consumers. The group now has more than 2,000 members and lobbies against bills to ban the herb.

"We know from all our experiences that kratom has the potential to be a wonderful medicine," she said. "We're all experiencing that it's changing our lives. We do agree that more science is needed to actually prove this potential that we know it has."

Yes, more science is needed, and kratom does have its disaffected users, as the Times was quick to dig up, but so far, it looks like we have a drug like opium, but with attenuated effects. If people are taking kratom to get off heroin or prescription pills or to treat pain or just to get a nice buzz, and they're not overdosing by the tens of thousands, as they are with the opiates, that would seem like an overall good thing. If we want to reduce harm from heroin and prescription opiates, kratom should be studied and, perhaps, embraced, not proscribed.

Chronicle AM: RI Legalization Bills, More Philly Dope Cases Thrown Out, More... (2/8/16)

New England is turning into a real marijuana legalization hotspot as Rhode Island is set to become the latest state in the region to try to free the weed, the South Dakota legislature will take up medical marijuana after an initiative failed to make the ballot, Philadelphia's "tainted justice" policing scandals undoes more drug convictions, and more.

Rhode Island State House
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legalization Bills to Be Filed This Week. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) says he will file a marijuana legalization bill in the General Assembly this week, and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) will file companion legislation in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Fails to Make Ballot. A proposed initiative from New Approach South Dakota has come up short on signatures and will not qualify for the November ballot. The group needed nearly 14,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, but, based on a sampling of 5% of the 16,000 signatures handed it, state officials said only slightly more than half were valid, leaving the group with only 9,000 valid signatures. New Approach South Dakota has 30 days to challenge the findings.

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Angie Buhl O'Donnell has filed Senate Bill 167, which would legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons. The bill was filed last Friday, one day after the deadline for filing new bills, but lawmakers agreed to waive the rules after state officials rejected a medical marijuana initiative for lack of valid signatures.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Welfare Drug Test Program Finds Very, Very Few Positives. In line with the experience of other states that have embarked on public benefits drug testing schemes, Tennessee's program has had just 65 people test positive out of 39,121 tested. Another 116 people refused to participate in drug screening, disqualifying them from benefits. The state has spent $23,592 on drug testing so far.

Law Enforcement

More Philadelphia Drug Cases Overturned, Thanks to Crooked Cops. A judge last Friday quickly overturned 51 old drug convictions brought by a tainted Philadelphia Police drug unit. The six officers in the dope squad managed to win acquittals on federal corruption charges, but prosecutors and judges still consider their cases tarnished. With Friday's dismissals, the number of convictions overturned or cases dismissed has climbed to 699. Several hundred more convictions could be overturned in the coming months.

Chronicle AM: Fed Bill Would Allow MJ Ad Mailings, Far-Reaching MD Bills Filed, More... (2/5/16)

Oregon's federal representatives fight to protect marijuana advertising, medical marijuana and CBD bills are moving in the states, a Maryland delegates files bills for drug treatment on demand, supervised injection sites, opiate maintenance (including heroin), and drug decriminalization -- quite a package! -- and more.

A Maryland bill could lead to the first supervised injection facility in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Federal Reps File Bill to Allow Published Marijuana Ads. Responding to warnings from the US Postal Service that mailing newspapers or magazines with marijuana advertising is prohibited even in states where it is legal, Oregon's two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have joined with two Democratic House members, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, to file the Marijuana Advertising in Legal States (MAILS) Act (HR 4467). The bill would reverse the USPS policy. "Federal agencies must respect the decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state," Wyden said. "Our bill updates the federal approach to marijuana, ending the threat to news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana businesses in Oregon and other states where voters also have freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Michigan Legalization Campaign Getting Close to Signature Goal. The MILegalize campaign says it has already collected some 240,000 raw signatures and is seeking another 100,000 to ensure a comfortable cushion for invalidated signatures. The state requires 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Bill Would Expand Access to CBD Cannabis Oil. Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison County) has introduced House Bill 61, which would expand access to CBD beyond a limited study program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The new bill would allow parents with a valid recommendation for CBD cannabis oil to possess it in the state.

Delaware Bill Would Allow CBD Cannabis Oil for Kids in Schools. Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) has filed Senate Bill 181, which would allow authorized caregivers to possess and administer CBD cannabis oil to pupils in school as needed.

Utah Medical Marijuana, CBD Cannabis Oil Bills Move. Two medical marijuana-related bills are headed for the Senate floor after winning committee votes. Senate Bill 73, filed by Rep. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), would allow whole plant medical marijuana, while Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would expand on CBD cannabis legislation passed last year.

Kratom

Florida Bill to Ban Kratom Advances. A bill that would ban the increasing popular Southeast Asian herb, which some are using as an alternative to opiates or as a means to withdraw from them, has passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The bill, House Bill 73, would make possession of kratom a misdemeanor. A similar measure seeking to make possession a felony failed last year.

New Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill to Toughen Penalties for New Synthetic Drugs Advances. A bill that would increase penalties for possessing or selling new synthetic drugs has passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill is House Bill 66.

Drug Policy

Maryland Bill Package Attempts Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization, Harm Reduction Approach. A set of four bills being filed today would upend the way the state deals with drug use and related problems. One bill would provide for drug treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings, a second bill would allow for safe injection facilities (there are currently none in the US), a third bill would allow for opiate maintenance therapy, including with heroin, and a fourth bill would decriminalize the use and possession of personal use quantities of illicit drugs. The package is being sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County).

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Repeal Welfare Drug Testing Law. Since Utah approved a welfare drug testing law, only 47 applicants out of nearly 14,000 have tested positive for drugs. That's enough for Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) to call for an end to the program. Her House Bill 172 would do just that. It is currently before the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.

Will the VA Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans? [FEATURE]

On Wednesday, a group of 21 US senators and representatives sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs calling on it to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana as medicine in states where it is legal.

The bipartisan effort was led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). All represent medical marijuana states.

Under current VA policy, embodied in VHA Directive 2011-004, which expires Sunday, VA doctors are prohibited recommending marijuana as a treatment option even in legal states. This discourages patients and doctors from being honest with each other.

"According to the current directive, VA providers are prohibited from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran's participation in a state-sanctioned marijuana program. This policy disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other," the solons wrote. "Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal. However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month. We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

If patients can't get a recommendation from their VA docs and thus can't access dispensaries, they would be tempted to go elsewhere for recommendations, to doctors "likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history," the solons wrote.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (senate.gov)
Noting that there has been a "sea change" in the legal framework around marijuana since the directive was issued in 2011, they asked that "upon the directive's expiration, any new directive remove barriers that would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in states that have chosen to legalize marijuana for medical purposes."

But without a new directive, even though the old one is expiring, it will be the status quo at the VA, said Michael Krawitz, a US Air Force veteran and executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Krawitz participated in the process that led to the production and distribution of the directive.

"VA Directives remain in effect with full force even after expiration unless they are officially replaced or rescinded," he said. "Although I can understand that patients might not know that and might get uneasy about the expiring directive, but in practicality there should be no change in clinical practices caused by the expiration."

While VA patients could be spooked by the expiration, the status quo is unacceptable, said Dr. Sue Sisley, MD, in clinical psychiatry and internal medicine, who has two decades of experience treating veterans and who is set to do a pilot study on medical marijuana and PTSD for veterans.

"I've worked with veterans all over the country who are dealing with severe and chronic, debilitating medical problems," she said. "They just want the treatment that is going to help them the most, with the least side effects. I have seen firsthand the dramatic improvement so many veterans have had while taking cannabis. Not only have they experienced relief from problems such as PTSD, chronic pain, and migraines, but many of them have also been able to break their addiction to more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines."

Vets can't get into dispensaries without recommendations. (wikimedia.org)
VA staff physician Deborah Gilman, MD, said current VA policy forces physicians to ignore the science if it conflicts with policy.

"Unlike private practice physicians, VA physicians are under a gag order regarding discussing marijuana with patients," she said. "In other settings, doctors can be honest about their medical opinions regarding treatment options, based on science. In the VA, an administrator can write policy that you can't disagree with without losing your job. Veterans are fearful of losing either their medical benefits or their access to health care if they acknowledge using marijuana. This causes a VA doctor to give you a medical opinion based on the VA regulation, not on the science. I knew many VA doctors whose professional opinion was that cannabis might help some of their patients, but they could never say so in their office or in public."

"There is nothing more sacred in healthcare than the doctor-patient relationship," said Sisley. "Right now we are seeing interference with that coveted relationship. No government policy should come between a doctor and their patients. The only people who should be making medical decisions for veterans are their physicians, not a bureaucrat and not a law enforcement official. These men and women have sacrificed so much for their country. It's only fair that they get the care that they deserve, and have access to the whole range of treatment options."

For Krawitz, it's about getting health care he and countless other vets deserve.

"I suffer from a combination of internal injuries and broken bones leading me to be a perfect candidate for cannabis as an adjunct pain treatment," he explained. "I need to be able to go in and see my VA doctor and have a honest conversation where my doctor feels free to gain knowledge now available through continuing medical education and relay that information to me in writing even if that is the very documentation is what I need to participate in a state medical marijuana program."

Now it's up to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. He's heard from Congress, he's heard from patients, he's heard from doctors and scientists. We'll see if he's listening.

Washington, DC
United States

January Drug War Deaths: Two in Night-Time Raids, One Unarmed and Fleeing From Police

At least three people were killed by American police enforcing the war on drugs last month, including one young man who died in a late-night drug raid that netted a little more than a quarter pound of marijuana.

Two of the dead were killed in night-time drug raids. Both were allegedly armed, although in neither case is it asserted that they fired on police. In both cases, police have not mentioned -- nor have local media asked -- whether these were kick-the-door-down, SWAT-style no-knock raids.

In a country where firearm ownership is both cherished and widespread, surprise police assaults that could be mistaken for home invasions can well result in homeowners grabbing their weapons to protect themselves and their domiciles. And then getting shot dead for doing so. Was that the case in these two deaths? We will likely never know. (The homeowners sometimes shoot and kill the invading police, too, but, unlike the police, they tend to get charged with murder.)

The third case raises a different kind of issue. Here, the victim was fleeing from police and made the all-too-familiar move "toward his waist band." He also had something in his hand, but it wasn't a weapon. And now he's dead, too. An unarmed man, running away from the police, is killed they were so quick to fear for their own lives.

Here are January's drug war deaths:

  • On January 4, deputies in Louisiana's Beauregard Parish doing a night-time drug raid shot and killed Eric John Senegal, 27. They also shot and killed a dog at the house. The house was under investigation for drug activity and the deputies were serving a narcotics search warrant, according to State Police Troop D spokesman Sgt. James Anderson. Sheriff Ricky Moses later explained that the deputies "encountered an armed suspect who has been identified as Eric J. Senegal and an attacking dog which resulted in the deaths of both Mr. Senegal and the dog." The sheriff didn't say what kind of weapon Senegal had or whether the raid was a no-knock raid. The search warrant for the raid said deputies were looking for marijuana, cocaine, and illegal pills. There hasn't been any word on whether they found anything. State police have opened an investigation a A local television station's Facebook posting of a story about his death generated numerous and heated responses as the national debate over police use of force hit home for commenters.
  • On January 5, police in Ceres, California, shot and killed Albert Thompson, 28, after he fled from them at a small apartment complex. The officers were on patrol "because of prior illegal drug activity there," according a Ceres Police news release. When the police arrived, Thompson took off running, and the officers gave chase. Police said Thompson reached for something at his waist, and the officers fired, striking and killing him. Initial police reports said an "item" was found near Thompson's body. It was later revealed that the item was a hand torch. Thompson was a parolee-at-large wanted by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
  • On January 16, West Virginia state troopers helping Elkins police execute a midnight drug search warrant shot and killed William Keith Waldron, 26, when he met them armed with a shotgun. Waldron "did wield a firearm and as a result officers did defend themselves by firing at the subject," prosecutors explained in the criminal case against one of the two other men in the home at the time of the raid. Police have not said whether the raid, which included at least seven officers, was a no-knock raid. They found a little over a quarter-pound of weed, some plastic baggies, and a scale.

Chronicle AM: MJ Arrests Plummet in NYC & Jamaica, ME May Refelonize Drug Possession, More... (1/4/16)

What a difference a policy change makes! After decrim in Jamaica and actually enforcing decrim in New York City, marijuana arrests plummet in both places, a bill to cut pot penalties advances in Kansas, a bill to refelonize hard drug possession is in play in Maine, and more.

Jamaican ganja decriminalization has seen marijuana arrests plummet. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Senate Approves Cutting Marijuana Penalties. The state Senate Wednesday voted 38-1 to approve House Bill 2049, which lowers marijuana possession penalties. The bill moves first time pot possession from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor and it moves second-time pot possession from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor. The Senate rejected an effort by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) to decriminalize marijuana possession.

New York City Marijuana Possession Arrests Plummet. Marijuana possession arrests in the city hit their lowest level in 20 years last year, according to new data released by the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Some 16,590 people were arrested for pot possession last year, down 42% from the year before and down a whopping 67% from 2011, when more than 50,000 people were arrested. While the arrests are down dramatically, what has not changed is the racial disparity in arrests: 88% of those arrested were black or Latino.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Bill to Kill Medical Marijuana Decision Deadline. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Wednesday signed Assembly Bill 21, which will give cities and counties more time to develop local rules for commercial medical marijuana cultivation. An error in last year's statewide medical marijuana regulation bill had imposed a March 1 deadline for localities to act or they would lose control over regulating the grows to the state. More than a hundred cities and counties banned commercial cultivation in recent months as the deadline loomed.

Sentencing

Maine Officials Argue for Refelonizing Drug Possession. State Attorney General Janet Mills Wednesday asked lawmakers to approve a bill, LD 1554, that would refelonize the possession of hard drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. The legislature last year made first-time drug possession a misdemeanor when the defendant had no previous convictions, but Mills and other administration officials argued that without the threat of a felony conviction and sentence (up to five years)) hanging over their heads, drug users could not be forced into drug treatment. " A felony charge brings with it the possibility of a significant period of probation … along with a long sentence hanging over the person," Mills said. "That kind of potential sentence gives the person an incentive to get into treatment and to demonstrate their commitment to recovery." But Mills is getting pushback from lawmakers. Another working session on the bill is set for next week.

International

Marijuana Legalization Could Cut Mexican Cartel Revenues By One-Quarter, Report Says. Mexico supplies between 30% and 50% of the pot consumed in the US, with the drug cartels raking in between one and two billion dollars a year, but that figure could be cut by up to 26% if legalization proceeds apace in the US, according to a report from the Instituto Belisario Dominguez for the Mexican Senate as it debates marijuana policy this spring. Legalization in Mexico itself "could benefit Mexico because that would increase the financial damage to the cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel."

Jamaica Ganja Arrests Plummet After Decriminalization. National Security Minister Peter Bunning said Tuesday that police have arrested 14,000 fewer people for marijuana possession since the government decriminalized it last year. He pointed out that arrests have serious consequences, including not being able to get a visa to visit the US and problems with finding employment.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's pretty quiet on the corrupt cops front this week. Maybe that's a good thing.

In Boston, a former Boston police detective was sentenced last Friday to a year's probation and a $5,000 fine for conspiring with another officer to obstruct an FBI inquiry into the Academy Homes street gang. Brian Smigielski, 43, sabotaged the FBI investigation out of spite after being ordered to turn control of the Boston Police's investigation into the gang over to the feds. He pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

In Sullivan City, Texas, a former Sullivan City police officer was indicted last Friday on charges he stole marijuana leaves from the departmental evidence room. Angel De La Mora allegedly claimed he needed the leaves for medical reasons for his relatives. It's not clear what the exact charge against him is.

Medical Marijuana Update

No new qualifying conditions for Illinois, Puerto Rico adopts medical marijuana regs, a New York state senator files a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

Illinois

Last Friday, the state refused to expand the list of qualifying medical conditions. The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will not allow patients suffering from eight conditions to use medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health announced last Friday that no new conditions would be added despite pleas from patients, advocates, and medical marijuana business owners. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois issued a statement calling the decision "a gross injustice to patients."

New Hampshire

On Monday, a patient who sued the state over medical marijuana access died. Linda Horan, who sued the state in November to issue her a medical marijuana card so she could get her medicine in Maine because New Hampshire dispensaries hadn't opened, died Monday at age 64. The ailing labor leader won her lawsuit and was able to procure medical marijuana out of state, but succumbed to cancer. The court ruling applied only to Horan, but days after the ruling, the states began sending out ID cards to patients.

New York

Last Friday, a medical marijuana expansion bill was filed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, last Friday filed a bill that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Puerto Rico

Last Thursday, the commonwealth adopted medical marijuana regulations. The island dependency's Health Department has adopted a regulation to allow for the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana. The regulation does not allow smoking it. The department said it will implement a seed-to-sale tracking system and award licenses to doctors and companies that want to grow and manufacture medical marijuana projects. The system should be in place by year's end.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the governor announced a plan to impose hefty plant taxes on patients and caregivers. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has introduced a medical marijuana reform plan that would impose a $150 per plant tax on plants grown by patients and a $350 per plant tax on plants grown by caregivers. The governor says this will help the state raise $8.4 million in new tax revenues. But that tax is based on the administration's position that each plant is worth $17,000, which is nowhere near the case. Patient advocates are not happy.

Wyoming

On Monday, activists said the medical marijuana initiative won't make the ballot. A spokesman for Wyoming NORML, which organized the campaign, said Monday that the group had only managed to gather some 7,000 raw signatures ahead of next week's deadline and will fall far short of the more than 25,000 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. The group will try again in 2018, it said.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: DC Council Backs Away From Pot Club Ban, RI Gov Wants Patient Tax, More... (2/3/16)

The idea of marijuana social clubs in the nation's capital remains alive, Rhode Island patients face the prospect of seeing their plants taxed, there are medical marijuana advances in Australia and Poland, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Backs Away from Pot Social Club Ban. The District of Columbia city council today voted to halt consideration of legislation that would permanently ban adult consumption of marijuana outside the home, and instead moved forward with the creation of a task force to explore the establishment of regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana in the District. Last week, the council passed an emergency ban on social clubs and it was supposed to make that ban permanent today, but backed off in the face of strong public pressure. Instead, it voted to establish a task force to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Governor Wants to Impose Hefty Plant Tax on Patients, Caregivers. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has introduced a medical marijuana reform plan that would impose a $150 per plant tax on plants grown by patients and a $350 per plant tax on plants grown by caregivers. The governor says this will help the state raise $8.4 million in new tax revenues. But that tax is based on the administration's position that each plant is worth $17,000, which is nowhere near the case. Patient advocates are not happy.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Bill Would Make It a Crime to Cheat a Drug Test. State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) has introduced a bill that would criminalize the possession, sale, or advertising of chemicals used to create synthetic urine to defeat drug tests. Under current state law, workers can be fired for cheating on drug tests, but face no criminal penalty. The bill would make using synthetic urine to cheat a drug test a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail for users and up to 90 days in jail for sellers or manufacturers. Fourteen other states have similar laws.

International

Human Rights Watch Condemns Tunisia's Drug Laws. The group issued a report this week singling out Law 52, which is says requires courts to impose "cruel, disproportionate, and counterproductive" sentences on drug offenders. The law requires a mandatory minimum one year jail sentence for any illegal drug possession, including marijuana.

Australian State Run Synthetic CBD Trials on Children With Epilepsy. The Victoria state government has authorized a study on 10 children as part of an effort to understand the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on children with epilepsy. The trial is set to get underway in Melbourne this month. The state government has kicked in $150,000 for the trial.

Polish Rapper Files Medical Marijuana Bill. The pioneering Polish rapper known as Liroy is now Polish Member of Parliament Piotr Liroy-Marzec, and on Monday, he presented a draft bill to legalize medical marijuana in the East European country. "This draft crowns everything I've said over the years, especially during the election campaign," said Liroy-Marzec. "I promised people I met who were ill that I would do everything possible to table this draft," he said.

Chronicle AM: Obama Wants $1 Billion to Fight Opioids, Legal Pot Sales Hit $5.4 Billion, More... (2/2/16)

A new report finds marijuana is a booming market, California doctors get on board with the AUMA legalization initiative, the White House wants nearly a billion bucks to fight opioid addiction -- with most of it going for "medication-assisted treatment" -- and more.

People line up to buy heroin in Chicago. The White House wants nearly $1 billion to fight opioid addiction. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Pot Sales Hit $5.4 Billion Last Year, Report Says. Legal marijuana sales increased 17.4% last year to $5.4 billion, according to data released this week by the ArcView Group. Nearly 80% of the sales were for medical marijuana, but $998 million was for legal adult use, up dramatically from $351 billion in 2014. Overall sales should grow to $6.7 billion this year, the group predicted.

California Medical Association Endorses AUMA Legalization Initiative. The CMA, the largest doctors' group in the state, announced Monday that is will support the Adult Use of Marijuana Act legalization initiative. The initiative, funded by tech billionaire Sean Parker and supported by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), has as one of its proponents Dr. Donald Lyman, who authored the CMA's 2011 policy called for decriminalization. "The California Medical Association believes the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is a comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure that will allow state officials to better protect public health by clarifying the role of physicians, controlling and regulating marijuana use by responsible adults and keeping it out of the hands of children," Dr. Steven Larson, CMA's president, said in prepared remarks.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Patient Who Sued Over Medical Marijuana Access Dies. Linda Horan, who sued the state in November to issue her a medical marijuana card so she could get her medicine in Maine because New Hampshire dispensaries hadn't opened, died Monday at age 64. The ailing labor leader won her lawsuit and was able to procure medical marijuana out of state, but succumbed to cancer. The court ruling applied only to Horan, but days after the ruling, the states began sending out ID cards to patients.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Won't Qualify for Ballot. A spokesman for Wyoming NORML, which organized the campaign, said Monday that the group had only managed to gather some 7,000 raw signatures ahead of next week's deadline and will fall far short of the more than 25,000 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. The group will try again in 2018, it said.

Hemp

Twenty States Have Hemp Bills This Year, Vote Hemp Says. The industry group has issued its annual report and says 20 states are working to legalize or expand hemp production. There's much more in the report, too.

Drug Policy

White House Seeks $1 Billion to Fight Heroin and Prescription Opiate Abuse. The Obama administration Tuesday proposed a billion dollars in new funds over the next two years to combat widespread opioid use. More than $900 million of the newly sought funding would go for medication-assisted treatment (opioid maintenance), which also includes therapy. The administration said that 2.2 million people have been identified as needing treatment for opioid addiction, but only one million are receiving it.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Lawmaker Proposes Drug Testing Legislators. State lawmakers have once again introduced a bill to drug test welfare applicants, and in response, Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Wheeling) has introduced House Bill 2925, which would subject legislators to the same sort of testing. "There's no reason why state legislators should get a pass, simply because we wear suits," he said.

Chronicle AM: Maine Legalization Initiative On Target for Ballot, Narcan in the News, More... (2/1/16)

Maine's legalization initiative looks like it will qualify for the ballot, Tommy Chong endorses Bernie Sanders, a new federal bill would fund needle exchanges, naloxone is in the news, and more.

Naloxone kits save lives. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Says Marijuana Reform Not on His Agenda in Final Year. In a Friday press briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said any progress on further federal marijuana reform would have to come from Congress, not the president. "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.'"

Tommy Chong Endorses Bernie Sanders. This is not exactly a shocker, but every endorsement helps. Iconic stoner comedian Tommy Chong has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the Democratic presidential nomination, citing his support of marijuana legalization. "Bernie does support that… legalization that I care so deeply about, legalization of the super-medicine marijuana. So I know this year, you and I are going to 'Feel the Bern,' go up to the polling booths, and light up, man, for progress and change." Chong also touted Sanders' positions on immigration, equality, and a living wage, and he jokingly referred to Sanders as the "commander-in-Kush."

Maine Legalization Group Submits Nearly Double the Signatures Needed to Qualify for Ballot. It looks like Mainers will be voting on legalization in November. Today, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures for its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Seattle Medical Marijuana Shops Sue State Over Licensing Process. A handful of long-time Seattle dispensaries filed a lawsuit last Friday against the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, saying the agency isn't following its own rules in issuing a new round of licenses for retail pot shops. The agency is supposed to give priority to dispensaries that have played by the rules, but the plaintiffs say it isn't doing that.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Refuses to Expand List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will not allow patients suffering from eight conditions to use medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health announced last Friday that no new conditions would be added despite pleas from patients, advocates, and medical marijuana business owners. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois issued a statement calling the decision "a gross injustice to patients."

New York Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Filed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, last Friday filed a bill that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Federal Bill Would Provide Funding for Needle Exchange Programs. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) last Friday introduced HR 4396 to address heroin and prescription opiate use. The bill has provisions for prevention, treatment, and recovery, as well as grant programs for needle exchanges and to reduce overdose deaths. The bill has been assigned to four different committees.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Bill to Make Police Prove Seized Property Was Involved in Crime Wins Committee Vote. Rep. Brian Greene's (R-Pleasant Grove) House Bill 22, which would require police to prove seized property is involved in a crime, reversing the burden of proof requirement under the state's civil asset forfeiture law, has unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill also includes a provision making the state pay citizens' attorney fees and costs is property is wrongfully seized. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Prevention Drug Has Saved 2,000 Lives in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported last Thursday that the number of people whose opiate overdoses were reversed by naloxone (Narcan) had surpassed 2,000.

CVS to Make Overdose Prevention Drug More Widely Available in Ohio. The pharmacy chain announced today that it will make naloxone (Narcan) more available at stores throughout the state. Law enforcement had been skittish about using the drug, but as Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp noted, "We are in a heroin epidemic and this is just another tool to save lives."

New Orleans to Make Overdose Reversal Drug Available Over the Counter. People seeking naloxone (Narcan) will be able to pick it up without a prescription at the University Medical Center, city officials announced last Friday. City Medical Director Dr. Joseph Kanter has ordered the move in a bid to reduce fatal overdoses."There are no side effects. There is no abuse potential," Kanter said. "The primary effect of this medicine is to save a life."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Maine Now Poised to Vote on Marijuana Legalization This November

Mainers are likely be voting on legalization in November. Monday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures for its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

As a general rule of thumb, initiative and referendum experts counsel petitioners to expect a certain percentage of raw signatures to be deemed invalid, but that figure is usually around 25% to 30%. For this petition drive to fail, more than 40% would have to be found invalid. It's not impossible, but it's unlikely.

"Over the past eight months, we've talked to more than 100,000 voters across the state, from Kittery to Caribou," said campaign manager David Boyer. "Most Mainers agree it is time to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, and they will have the opportunity to do it this November."

According to a poll last spring from the Portland marketing firm Critical Insights, a whopping two-thirds (65%) of Mainers support legalizing the weed, with nearly four out five (79%) saying it should be sold in licensed establishments.

The initiative would let people 21 or over possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and grow a limited number of plants in their homes. It would also set up the framework for a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product-manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities, and it would create rules governing the cultivation, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana. The initiative would enact a 10% tax on marijuana sales.

"This initiative will replace the underground marijuana market with a tightly controlled system of legitimate, taxpaying businesses that create good jobs for Maine residents," Boyer said. "It will also make Maine safer by allowing enforcement officials to spend more time addressing serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws."

Maine is ready to take marijuana "out of the shadows and out of the black market," state Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), a long-time legalization supporter, said at a Monday press conference. She scolded the legislature for refusing to act on legalization, but said the state's medical marijuana program pointed in the right direction. "It tells people we were right all along,"she said. "Maine people really do want a rational policy around drug use. Maine has proven we can regulate marijuana responsibly."

The push for legalization in Maine got off to a bumpy start, with two competing initiative campaigns, but activists were able to overcome acrimony and merge the two campaigns, leading to the united effort that appears to set the state down the path to legalization.

So far, only four states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- all in the West, have voted to legalize it at the ballot box. Washington, DC, legalized possession and cultivation, but not sales and distribution. If the measure actually makes the ballot and passes, Maine could become the first state east of the Mississippi to legalize it.

But Vermont is moving toward legalization through the legislative process. That bill has won a first committee vote, but its prospects for passage this year are uncertain. And Massachusetts could well end voting for a legalization initiative this year, too. Whether it's Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, or some combination of the above, New England is becoming a real hotbed for reefer reform this year.

Portland, ME
United States

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Advances, Puerto Rico Issues MedMJ Regs, More... (1/29/16)

Pot policy is popping! A legalization bill advances in Vermont, a Maine initiative looks set to qualify for the ballot next week, a Virginia poll has a strong majority for legalization (somebody tell the legislature), and more.

Medical marijuana is coming to Puerto Rico, though not in smokable form. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Advocates Turn in Signatures Monday. Organizers of a petition drive for a statewide vote on pot legalization will turn in more than 100,000 signatures Monday. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Vermont Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. A bill that would legalize marijuana and allow for regulated marijuana commerce is advancing. Senate Bill 137 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-1 vote. The bill allows for marijuana to be sold in stores, but bans home cultivation. Only licensed commercial grows in safe, secure locations will be allowed. The Judiciary Committee vote to advance the measure came a day after six state physicians' groups came out against the bill, citing what they called the ill effects of marijuana. The measure now goes to the Senate Finance Committee, Judiciary Committee Chair Richard Sears said. If the bill gets through the Senate, it is expected to face a tough battle to get through the House this year.

Virginia Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization. A poll from Virginia Commonwealth University has support for marijuana decriminalization at 80% and support for legalization at 62%. The poll comes just days after a decriminalization bill was killed in the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Puerto Rico Adopts Regulation to Allow Medical Marijuana. The island dependency's Health Department has adopted a regulation to allow for the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana. The regulation does not allow smoking it. The department said it will implement a seed-to-sale tracking system and award licenses to doctors and companies that want to grow and manufacture medical marijuana projects. The system should be in place by year's end.

Ibogaine

Vermont Bill Would Allow Pilot Study on Ibogaine as Treatment for Opiate Dependency. The measure is H. 741. It would establish a grant within the Health Department's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs to study ibogaine's effects in treating opiate dependency.

International

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Says Marijuana Legalization Could Bring $5 Billion a Year in Tax Revenues. CIBC World Statistics reports that Canada could see a $10 billion a year legal marijuana industry, with the government gaining half of that in tax revenues. The report suggests Canada follow the Colorado legalization model. Canada's recently elected Liberal government has vowed to legalize it and is now taking initial steps down that path.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote

A bill that would legalize marijuana and allow for regulated marijuana commerce is advancing. Senate Bill 137 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-1 vote.

The bill allows for marijuana to be sold in stores, but bans home cultivation. Only licensed commercial grows in safe, secure locations will be allowed.

The Judiciary Committee vote to advance the measure came a day after six state physicians' groups came out against the bill, citing what they called the ill effects of marijuana.

The measure now goes to the Senate Finance Committee, Judiciary Committee Chair Richard Sears said. If the bill gets through the Senate, it is expected to face a tough battle to get through the House this year.

Peter Shumlin (D), who has endorsed the measure, pronounced himself pleased.

"I want to thank Senator Sears for his leadership and the entire Judiciary Committee for their hard work on this bill," he said in a statement.

"This legislation meets the principles I outlined in my State of the State Address and I believe it provides the framework for our state to cautiously, step-by-step and in the Vermont way end the failed war on drugs policy of marijuana prohibition. This debate is about whether we can take a smarter approach towards marijuana, which is already widely available and used by tens of thousands of Vermonters.Promoting prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of kids, getting rid of illegal drug dealers, and doing a better job responding to impaired drivers already on our roads, I believe this legislation is a huge improvement on the failed war on drugs," Shumlin continued. "I look forward to working with the legislature as they continue to debate this issue."

Montpelier, VT
United States

Seven Ways New York's Medical Marijuana Program Falls Short [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

New York's long-delayed medical marijuana program finally rolled out this month, not with a bang, but with a whimper. What looks to be the country's tightest medical marijuana program has an extremely limited number of producers and retailers, a tiny number of eligible patients, a dearth of doctors, and forbids both smoking marijuana and using edibles.

For patients and advocates, the very limited arrival of medical marijuana in the Empire State is not the end point they hoped to achieve. Now, instead of resting on their laurels, they will have to continue to fight to make the program one that actually serves the needs of New Yorkers.

"It's a start," said the Drug Policy Alliance's Julie Netherland, until recently the deputy director of the group's New York Policy Office, where she was deeply involved in massaging the law through the legislature and past a reluctant governor. "It's the first time New Yorkers can legally purchase medical marijuana, and it's the result of the hard work of thousands of patients and family members across New York."

But, she was quick to grant, the program has some serious issues, immediate ones in the way the program has been rolled out and longer-term ones with the statute itself.

Here are seven ways New York's medical marijuana program falls short:

Not Enough Access to Doctors

Under the law, before doctors can recommend medical marijuana to patients, they must complete a $249 four-hour course on the drug and then register with the Health Department. As of Thursday, only 306 physicians had done so. Unlike neighboring New Jersey, the Health Department maintains no public registry of doctors certified to recommend medical marijuana, making it that much more difficult for potential patients to find doctors who might certify them to purchase it. So far, only 465 patients have been certified by the department to buy medical marijuana.

"This is the number one complaint of patients," said Netherland, sketching out an almost Kafkaesque process. "The Health Department is telling me if I'm a patient, I should go see my doctor and see if he participates in the program and if not, to encourage him to register," she said. "If the doctors says he's not going to register, then I'm supposed to ask him for a referral, but the doctor isn't going to know about any list of certified doctors to refer me to, and then it's incumbent on me to tell him. It's just another set of hoops for patients to jump through."

At least the Health Department has now agreed to make the list of certified physicians available to patients.

Not Enough Dispensaries

In a state of 20 million, only eight dispensaries opened January 7, and only another dozen are envisioned under the June 2014 medical marijuana law. Weedmaps lists only three for New York City -- one each in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. By way of comparison, Los Angeles had 135 permitted dispensaries and probably three times as many actually operating.

New York is not only heavily populated, it's big. With only 20 dispensaries, large geographical swathes of the state will remain without access. Long Island, for instance, will have two dispensaries, but right now, it's a two-hour drive into the city.

"I'm disappointed that only eight dispensaries will open by the deadline," said Missy Miller from Atlantic Beach. "There are none opening on Long Island, which leaves my son Oliver, who suffers from life-threatening seizures, out of luck. This only highlights concerns we have had all along that the state has licensed way too few producers and dispensaries to serve a state as populous and geographically large as New York."

No Personal Cultivation

Unlike the majority of medical marijuana states, patients can't just grow their own. That means they are dependent on the dispensary system, with all its limitations.

Access Is Limited to Specified Qualifying Medical Conditions

The state law only allows medical marijuana for a list of specified medical conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. The law allows the Commissioner of Health to add other diseases and conditions, but just last week, he refused to add PTSD, Alzheimer's, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, rheumatoid arthritis.

"We're hearing every day from patients with all kinds of conditions," said Netherland. "The commissioner was directed by law to consider those five additional conditions, but he declined to add any. That was a huge blow to patients across the state hoping he would do the right thing. Half the medical marijuana states include PTSD; we thought there was strong scientific evidence to include it."

Limitations on Forms of Ingestion

The law bans the sale of smokable marijuana. New York joins Minnesota as the only two medical marijuana states that ban smoking; 21 others do not. The state will only allow oils and capsules that can be administered orally, and liquid forms of marijuana may also be vaporized.

"The law prohibits any smoking, but regulations prohibit any access to the whole plant," said Netherland. "That means all the products will be extracts, oils, or tinctures. This is also an issue for a lot of our patients.

Limitations on Strains

The law only provides for five producers, and each producer can only grow five strains.

"We know there are dozens and dozens of therapeutic strains," said Netherland. "We'd like to have the flexibility to match symptoms with strains. One of the issues is that all of the products have to be approved by the Health Department."

Access for Limited Income Patients

Advocates sought unsuccessfully to get provisions to ensure access for low income patients. Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance, and could run between $200 and $1300 a month, depending on the product and the condition. Now it will be up to the charitable instincts of dispensaries.

"We had encouraged the state to create incentive programs for producers to have programs for low income access, and we also encouraged the state to set up a program itself. It chose to do neither," Netherland said. "Now, patients are basically waiting to see if dispensaries will step up."

"There's lots of room for improvement," she said. "We anticipated a lot of these problems when the law was passed, and we're looking at going back to the legislature. We'll be back in Albany in the coming months talking about the need to expand the program and make it work from the patient's standpoint."

It looks like there's plenty of work to be done.

NY
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Minnesota deputy steals dope and Christmas toys, an Indiana deputy coroner peddles pills, and a Texas narcotics officer gets nailed trying to rip off drug cartels. Let's get to it:

In St. Cloud, Minnesota, a Meeker County sheriff's deputy was arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing drugs and from Drug Take Back boxes and toys from Christmas toy boxes. Deputy Travis Sebring went down after he was spotted digging through the Drug Take Back box in the main lobby of the Law Enforcement Center in Litchfield. Sebring has admitted taking medications for personal use, and he said he took the stolen toys and gave them to his family. He's facing nine charges, which weren't specified in local news accounts.

In LaPorte, Indiana, a LaPorte County deputy coroner pleaded guilty last Friday to peddling prescription opiates. Dawn Maxson, 47, copped to dealing in Schedule I and Schedule III controlled substances, and is looking at up to 12 years in prison when sentenced. She was busted in October selling 70 hydrocodone pills for $500 in a K-Mart parking lot and had originally faced seven counts of selling pills. She got the drugs through a legitimate prescription, but only used some of them and sold the rest.

In McAllen, Texas, a former Starr County narcotics officer was sentenced last Friday to seven years in prison for his role in a conspiracy that involved ripping off drugs from drug cartels. Noel Pena, 30, was a Rio Grande City police officer assigned to the Starr County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force when he agreed to provide a faked police report to an undercover agent posing as a drug trafficker who was looking for help in stealing a drug shipment. The fake report would make it appear that cocaine had been seized by the HIDTA, when it was actually to be ripped off. Pena was originally charged with two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, but pleaded guilty to a single count in return for a lighter sentence.

Medical Marijuana Update

Members of Congress urge the VA to get out of the way on medical marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project eyes an Ohio initiative this year, Florida will vote on an initiative this year, California legislature is trying to fix a mess of its own making, and more.

National

On Wednesday, federal lawmakers called on the Veterans Administration to let doctors recommend medical marijuna to vets. Twenty-one members of Congress have written to Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana as a possible treatment in states where it is legal. A VA policy that does not allow doctors to recommend it expires at the end of this month, and the lawmakers are calling on McDonald to not extend it. "You are in a position to make this change when the current directive expires at the end of this month," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT), and others wrote Wednesday to McDonald. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

On Thursday, Americans for Safe Access released a report on state medical marijuana programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded toughhly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

Arizona

On Monday, a GOP politician withdrew a bill that would have crippled the medical marijuana program. State Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Fountain Hills) has withdrawn HCR 2019, which would have barred naturopaths and homeopaths from recommending medical marijuana. Nearly 90% of all recommendations in the state are written by those health care professionals. Lawrence said he withdrew his bill after his office "received so many calls" and he actually learned about how the program works.

California

On Monday, the Senate approved a bill to slow medical marijuana bans. The state Senate Monday approved Assembly Bill 21, designed to fix what lawmakers called a mistake in the state's comprehensive medical marijuana regulation laws. The bill had a paragraph that gave the state authority to license cultivation in localities that didn't have their own laws on the books by March 1, and many localities had responded by passing preemptive cultivation bans. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

On Wednesday, the Assembly approved the bill. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida

On Wednesday,the Florida medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot The group behind the effort, United for Care, said the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Georgia

Last Thursday, a state representative admitted breaking the law to help families obtain CBD cannabis oil. Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon) admitted that he has been going to other states to obtain the medicine and bring it back for patients. Under a law he sponsored last year, CBD cannabis oil is legal for people for certain diseases, but there is no provision for in-state cultivation or sales. "We made sure that families properly registered with the state got access to medical cannabis, including delivering it to them if that's the only way we can make that happen," Peake said. "Maybe at some point there is a need for civil disobedience. It comes down to, 'What would I do if it were my child?'" Peake said.

Hawaii

On Monday, a bill to ban patients from growing their own was filed. Now that dispensaries are set to open up in the state, Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Oahu) has filed a bill that would prohibit patients from growing their own, instead requiring them to use the dispensaries. The bill is House Bill 1680. Patient groups don't like it.

Illinois

This week, a petition is seeking to prod the governor to expand qualifying medical conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board has recommended adding eight new qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana program. The petition is directed at Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and the head of the state Department of Public Health, who will make the final decision. The petition currently has more than 19,000 signatures and has been endorsed by Melissa Etheridge.

Indiana

Last Thursday, medical marijuana bills were pronounced dead. State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said Thursday that medical marijuana bills in the state legislature would not got a hearing this year. "They are all dead," she said. "There just isn't the appetite in the Senate for approving any kind of medical marijuana, not with the current makeup of the (50-member) Senate. You need 26 votes, and they're just not there." Parents of children suffering from epilepsy had pleaded with lawmakers to act, to no avail.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced plans for Ohio. MPP said Wednesday it plans to put a medical marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment, but has not yet been drafted.

Last Friday, the attorney general rejected the wording on a medical marijuana initiative. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has rejected a third petition for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. He said there were five discrepancies between the language of the proposal and its summary language.

Utah

Last Wednesday, a "whole plant" medical marijuana bill was filed. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) has introduced Senate Bill 73, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana system in the state. The bill would only allow marijuana to be consumed in the forms of oils and gummies, not smoked. Another bill already filed would allow only cannabidiol.

Last Thursday, the Republican governor signaled support for medical marijuana. Gov. Bob Herbert (R) said Thursday that he is not familiar with two medical marijuana bills filed this session and that he doesn't want a "Dr. Feelgood" situation, but "if there's a medicine out there that will alleviate pain and conditions and health concerns for people, if there's a medicine out there that can do that, we ought to see if we can embrace it." He added that he would prefer that Congress legalize it federally rather than leaving it up to the states to act.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init Qualifies for Ballot, VT Gov Endorses Pot Legalization Bill, More... (1/28/16)

Busy, busy. State legislatures are in full swing, and the bills just keep coming. Meanwhile, Florida's medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot, Vermont's governor endorses legalization, and more.

Heroin is on the agenda at statehouses this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Colorado's Legalization. A Colorado US District Court judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the legality of marijuana legalization in the state. The lawsuit was filed by a Washington, DC-based anti-marijuana group, the Safe Streets Alliance, and asked the court to find the state and Pueblo County guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The judge in the case rejected the claims, concluding that private parties have no standing to seek recourse for alleged violations of the Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land. Another lawsuit, filed by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, is still being decided.

New Mexico Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization. Three out five (61%) adult New Mexicans support legalizing and regulating marijuana, according to a new poll from Research & Polling. The poll comes as the legislature ponders two bills, one that would amend the state constitution to let voters decide the issue, and one that is a straightforward legalization bill. The bills are Senate Joint Resolution 5 and House Bill 75, respectively.

Vermont Governor Endorses Legalization Bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin has endorsed the Senate Judiciary Committee's legalization bill, Senate Bill 137. "The War on Drugs has failed when it comes to marijuana prohibition," Gov. Shumlin said. "Under the status quo, marijuana use is widespread, Vermonters have little difficulty procuring it for personal use, and the shadows of prohibition make it nearly impossible to address key issues like prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, and dealing with those driving under the influence who are already on Vermont's roads. The system has failed. The question for us is how do we deal with that failure. Vermont can take a smarter approach that regulates marijuana in a thoughtful way, and this bill provides a framework for us to do that."

DC Poll Finds Residents Want District to Move Ahead With Regulation -- Despite Congress. A substantial majority of District residents believe Mayor Bowser should move forward with taxation and regulation of marijuana despite Congressional prohibition, according to a survey conducted over the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Drug Policy Alliance, DC Vote, DC Working Families and the Washington City Paper. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents believe the mayor should pursue a legal method (such as use of reserve funds) to implement taxation and regulation of marijuana in the District. In light of congressional interference attempting to prevent such regulation, 63% of residents view marijuana legalization as a statehood issue for the District.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Releases Report on State Medical Marijuana Programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded harshly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

California Bill to Halt Medical Marijuana Bans Heads to Governor's Desk. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for the November Ballot. The group behind the effort, United for Care, said Wednesday the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Injection Drug Use Driving Appalachian Hepatitis B Infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that acute Hepatitis B was up 114% in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia between 2009 and 2013. The report found that injection drug was tied to 75% of the new cases. Unlike Hep C, Hep B can be prevented with a vaccine, but vaccine coverage is low among adults nationwide.

Maine Governor Wants Gunowners to Shoot Drug Dealers. Just days after saying Maine should revive the guillotine to execute drug dealers, Gov. Paul LePage suggested just shooting them instead. "I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry," LePage said in an on-camera interview in Lewiston. "Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they're killing our kids," the governor said. He then denied that he was encouraging vigilantism.

New York Assembly Minority Task Force Releases Report on Heroin Addiction. The task force has come out with suggestions for combating heroin and opiate addiction. The recommendations include earlier drug education, involuntary "emergency medical" detention of addicts, and a felony "death by dealer" statute. Now, the task force must work with Assembly Democrats to create legislation.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Killed in Committee. The Health and Human Services voted to kill a bill that would have required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Even the Republican governor had opposed the bill.

International

Producers of Prohibited Plants Issue Declaration Ahead of UNGASS. The Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants (coca, opium, marijuana) is demanding that growers be heard at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in April. In a joint declaration from producers in 14 countries, the group urged an end to forced eradication of drug crops, the removal of the three plants from international drug control treaties, and sustainable rural economic development. Click the title link for a full list of participants and recommendations.

Chronicle AM: DC MJ Club Ban Moving, Fed Lawmakers Want MedMJ Allowed for Vets, More... (1/27/16)

State legislators are getting busy, the DC city council resorts to sneakery to try to kill pot clubs, federal representatives ask the VA to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for veterans, and more.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was among those calling on the VA to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for veterans.
Marijuana Policy

Arizonans Rally to Support Legalization Bill. Marijuana reform advocates rallied at the state capitol Wednesday to support a bill that would legalize marijuana. Carrying signs that red "Cannabis Reduces Opiate Overdose" and "Cannabis is a Natural Alternative to Harmful Pharma," the ralliers urged passage of House Bill 2006, introduced by Rep. Mark Cardenas (D).

Vermont Legalization Bill Sees Tussles Ahead of Vote Tomorrow. The powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Burlington) has said he won't vote for his own committee's legalization bill if it allows for home cultivation, and he's also asking the committee to make additional changes, including moving some of the tax proceeds to the general fund and increasing penalties for adults who sell pot to minors. The measure is Senate Bill 137.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. A bill to allow for home cultivation of up to six plants has been introduced with bipartisan support in the legislature. Washington's version of legalization does not allow for home cultivation, but House Bill 2629 would change that, bringing Washington in line with other legalization states.

In Sneak Move, DC Council Moves to Ban Pot Social Clubs. With the public notified only moments before markup, the DC Council's Committee on the Judiciary voted today to permanently ban marijuana consumption in private clubs. A temporary ban was set to expire April 15, and advocates had hoped the Council would let it lapse. The bill approved by the committee bars entities from providing adults with private spaces other than a residence to consume marijuana, and requires the Mayor's office to revoke a business' license after only one instance of a patron consuming marijuana on the premises.

Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers Call on VA to Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana. Twenty-one members of Congress have written to VA Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana as a possible treatment in states where it is legal. A VA policy that does not allow doctors to recommend it expires at the end of this month, and the lawmakers are calling on McDonald to not extend it. "You are in a position to make this change when the current directive expires at the end of this month," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT), and others wrote Wednesday to McDonald. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

Industrial Hemp

Hawaii Industrial Hemp Production Bill Filed. Reps. Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui) and Cynthia Thielen (R-Oahu) have introduced House Bill 2555, which would allow for industrial hemp production for research purposes. The bill is backed by the state Department of Agriculture.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform Tuesday took up Senate Bill 521, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Speaking in support were the Wisconsin ACLU and the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty; speaking against were -- you guessed it -- representatives of law enforcement. No vote was taken.

Drug Testing

Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bills Killed. The Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee #1 narrowly defeated a combined pair of bills, House Bill 468 and House Bill 86, that would have required welfare applicants to undergo drug tests before receiving benefits. "VIEW recipients are no more likely statistically to be drug users than any other group and to target them would be unfair," Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) said. "I am proud to have agreed with my colleagues across the aisle that there was a lack of evidence to warrant this practice. We would be better served, instead of this practice, to continue to invest money into the tangible obstacles to employment. Rightly, partisan politics did not stand in the way of doing what is right for our Commonwealth."

Sentencing

Maine Bill to More Harshly Punish Outsiders Bringing Drugs to State Gets Hearing. The legislature's Criminal Justice Committee heard conflicting testimony Monday on LD 1541, which creates the crime of "aggravated importation of scheduled drugs." The bill doesn't specify, but the measure is clearly aimed at heroin traffickers bringing the drug into the state. Not everyone was gung-ho, though: Tougher sentences are "just not the most effective tool against this scourge," said John Pelletier, a member of the Maine Criminal Advisory Commission. The measure would double prison sentences for importing heroin into the state from five to 10 years, and up to 30 years in some cases.

International

Mexico's National Marijuana Legalization Debate is Underway. Lawmakers met in Cancun Tuesday to open the first batch of debates on marijuana legalization. President Enrique Pena Nieto is opposed, but called for national debate after court rulings appeared to open cracks in the country's prohibition.

Drug War Issues

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