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Chronicle AM: Americans Want Trump to Leave MJ States Alone, MA Legal MJ Battle, More... (6/22/17)

The Massachusetts House and Senate have different ideas about how to implement marijuana legalization, a new poll finds a strong majority of Americans want Trump to butt out of legal marijuana states, Wisconsin Gov. Rick Walker's Medicaid drug testing plan has virtually no public support, and more.

They're battling in Boston over the shape of legal marijuana in Massachusetts. (MPP)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Strong Majority of Americans Want Trump to Respect State Marijuana Laws. A new Survey USA poll commissioned by Marijuana Majority finds that a whopping 76% of Americans want the Trump administration to respect state medical marijuana and marijuana legalization lies. There was majority support for the position about Democrats, Republicans, independents, and every age group. The 76% figure is three points higher than in a Quinnipiac poll asking a similar question in April.

Auto Insurance Study Links Increased Car Crash Claims to Legalized Marijuana. The Highway Loss Data Institute, an insurance research group, released a study Thursday saying collision claims increased 2.7% in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington after legalization when compared to neighboring non-legal states. "We believe that the data is saying that crash risk has increased in these states and those crash risks are associated with the legalization of marijuana," said Matt Moore, senior vice president with the institute, which analyzes insurance data to observe emerging auto-safety trends. But legalization advocates pointed out that comparing claims in largely rural states such as Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to rates in more urbanized Colorado, Oregon, and Washington may be problematic.

Massachusetts House Passes Bill to Repeal and Replace Voter-Approved Legalization Law. The House on Wednesday approved a bill that would raise the retail tax on marijuana from 12% to 28%, impose stringent background checks and fingerprinting for all people who own or work in licensed marijuana-related businesses, and allow localities to ban marijuana businesses without first getting voter approval. The Senate is poised to take up its own version of the bill with more modest revisions to the voter-approved law, setting the stage for a compromise in the coming week. Legalization advocates attacked the House bill as setting taxes too high and ignoring the will of the voters.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor's Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients Has Virtually No Public Support. Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to drug test Medicaid recipients and increase premiums has garnered a grand total of five fully positive comments out of more than a thousand submitted by the public -- and one of them is from his own lieutenant governor. That's a support rate of one half of one percent. "Drug testing has been determined to be expensive, ineffective, and illegal," wrote Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit Madison law firm that helps people get health care. "You have espoused Jesus and are embracing the devil and demons that have gained control of the political process," said another email, the name of the sender redacted. "May God have mercy on you in this time of reckoning for surely you are cursed." Walker needed to give the public 30 days to comment before seeking approval from the Trump administration to move forward with its plan.

Customs Seizes Childproof Marijuana Lock Boxes, Calls Them "Drug Paraphernalia" [FEATURE]

In a prime illustration of the perversities of the war on drugs, US Customs has seized a shipment of a thousand lock boxes aimed at allowing marijuana, tobacco, and pharmaceutical users to keep their stashes safe from kids. Customs has officially designated the boxes as drug paraphernalia, even though everyone involved concedes the boxes are aimed at preventing drug use by kids.

The stash cases were designed by and destined for Stashlogix, a Boulder, Colorado, firm established in the wake of marijuana legalization in the state in 2012 to address a mini-panic over news reports about the dangers of marijuana for kids. Those reports were generally overstated, but the need for secure stashes for pot and other potentially dangerous goodies remained.

"People didn't have ways to safely store these items out of reach of kids, other than up on shelves or in sock drawers," Stashlogix cofounder Skip Stone told the Washington Post. So he and a partner founded the company to market cases and containers "for the storage and transport of medicine, tobacco, and other stuff."

The company's small, lockable cases, with tiny jars and odor-neutralizing inserts included, were a hit with customers. "People love the product," Stone said. "They use it for all sorts of things, but cannabis is definitely one of them. They keep it locked, they feel safer, they feel more responsible."

So the company geared up production, placing orders with a Chinese factory, but things came to a crashing halt on April 28, when Customs seized 1,000 of the storage cases.

"This is to officially notify you that Customs and Border Protection seized the property described below at Los Angeles International Airport on April 28, 2017," read a letter received by Stashlogix. The agency had seized the bags, valued at $12,000, because "it is unlawful for any person to import drug paraphernalia."

Stashlogix's childproof pot lock box
When challenged by Stashlogix, Customs conceded that "standing alone, the Stashlogix storage case can be viewed as a multi-purpose storage case with no association with or to controlled substances," but it pointed out that the odor-absorbing carbon inset could be used to hide the smell of weed, and it cited favorable reviews of the product in the marijuana press, concluding "that there exists one consistent and primary use for the Stashlogix storage cases; namely, the storage and concealment of marijuana."

The federal government doesn't officially recognize the legality of medical or recreational marijuana, and Customs is following decades-old drug war paraphernalia laws to achieve a perverse result: Making marijuana potentially riskier in places where it is legal. After all, half of current pot smokers are parents, and this application of federal policy is making it more difficult for them to keep their kids out of their stashes.

Stone is appealing the ruling, but in the meantime, he's had to write off an additional $18,000 worth of goods still outside the country and lay off his three employees. He's looking for a domestic manufacturer for his cases, since Customs can't mess with domestic goods and the DEA hasn't made paraphernalia a high priority, but the ultimate solution lies in Washington.

"It's going to take an act of Congress to clear up some of these contradictions between state and federal law," he told the Post. "These paraphernalia laws are outdated. Keeping kids safe should be more important than outdated regulations."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a New York-New Jersey special edition! The Troy Police drug unit is under investigation, an NYPD officer gets popped for transporting drugs for money, a New Jersey cop gets caught with his hand in the pill jar, and more. Let's get to it:

In Troy, New York, the entire Troy Police drug unit was under investigation as of last Friday for trying to cover up a raid where members entered a home without a search warrant. Members of the unit filed a false burglary report to try to justify their warrantless entry resulting in a "fractious argument" among them. Now, all six officers in Firearms Interdiction and Narcotics Suppression (FINS) unit have been suspended pending the results of an internal investigation.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a Vineland police officer was arrested last Wednesday after allegedly pilfering drugs from a prescription drug drop-off box while on duty at police headquarters. Officer Richard Janasiak, 30, went down after an internal audit uncovered possible criminal activity. He is charged with unlawful possession of prescription legend drugs.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Thursday for transporting marijuana and cocaine in exchange for money. Officer Nysia Stroud, 29, agreed to transport drugs after meeting with an undercover police officer in March and became transporting large quantities of supposed marijuana and cocaine for payments ranging from $250 to $1,000. Stroud was under investigation after Internal Affairs received allegations she was involved in drug activity. She was charged with possession of a controlled substance and official misconduct.

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, a former Middlesex County probation officer was sentenced last Friday to three years in prison for taking bribes from a man so he could avoid court-ordered drug tests. Rhonda Battle, 48, repeatedly accepted bribes from the probationer to allow him to skip drug testing while in the drug court program. After being caught on surveillance video taking money from the man, Battle pleaded guilty in April to a single count of official misconduct.

Chronicle AM: NV MJ Sales Could Be Delayed, Forfeiture Reform Goes to PA Gov, More... (6/21/17)

MPP loses bank accounts as the financial sector gets worried about a Trump crackdown on legal marijuana, Nevada's July 1 goal for legal pot sales hits a bump, a New York bill that would allow medical marijuana for PTSD goes to the governor, and more.

Las Vegas may have to wait a while longer for legal marijuana stores. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project Loses Bank Accounts. PNC Bank has notified the Marijuana Policy Project that it will close the group's bank accounts on July 7 in what is seen as "a sign of growing concerns in the financial industry that the Trump administration will crack down on the marijuana industry in states that have legalized it." Many financial institutions refuse to do business with marijuana companies while marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but policy groups like MPP have up until now been spared. In this case, PNC Bank said because MPP received money from marijuana businesses, it is cutting the cord.

Nevada July 1 Legal Marijuana Sales Date in Jeopardy After Court Ruling. A district judge in Carson City on Tuesday extended a temporary order barring the state from moving ahead with plans to issue marijuana distribution licenses to existing dispensaries so they can begin recreational sales on July 1. The order comes in a case brought by licensed liquor wholesalers, who say they should have exclusive rights to those licenses for the first 18 months. State officials said they remain committed to the July 1 date, but it's not clear how that's going to happen.

Medical Marijuana

New York Senate Approves Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The state Senate voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 6092, which allows medical marijuana to be used to treat PTSD. The Assembly passed an identical measure earlier this year, so the bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Pennsylvania Issues First Medical Marijuana Permits. The Department of Health on Tuesday announced 12 medical marijuana grower permits, with the permits going to two companies in each of the six permitting regions the department established as part of the implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. The department will announce the allocation of 27 dispensary permits before the month ends, it said.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Legislator Passes Timid Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. With a unanimous vote in the House on Tuesday, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 8, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does require county governments to audit all asset forfeitures by local law enforcement agencies and send reports to the state attorney general and the General Assembly each year. The bill also establishes a higher legal threshold before police can seize high-value assets such as cars and houses and bars the seizure of real estate without a hearing. The bill originally would have ended civil forfeiture, but it was amended under pressure from district attorneys to be less strict.

Chronicle AM: MJ Policy Keeps Northeast Busy, Major Louisiana Sentencing Reforms, More.... (6/16/17)

Marijuana policy continues to roil statehouses across the Northeast, a US senator and a congressman file identical medical marijuana protection bills, Louisiana -- the lock 'em up state -- enacts comprehensive sentencing reforms, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts to Get New Legalization Rewrite Bill on Monday. After criticism and errors in the text force the House leadership to pull its marijuana legalization rewrite bill this week, House committee chair Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) said a redrafted version of the bill would be released on Monday, with debate expected in the House on Wednesday. At issue are tax rates and a governance model for the industry.

New Jersey Arresting More People Than Ever for Marijuana, ACLU Report Finds. Marijuana arrests have climbed steadily in the state in recent years, with black residents three times more likely than whites to be targeted. The report, which analyzed FBI Uniform Crime Report and U.S. Census data from 2000 to 2013, comes as lawmakers are making a push to legalize marijuana in the state. The report found a steady increase in marijuana arrests over that period, from 19,607 in 2001 to 24,067 in 2013.

Rhode Island Legalization Advocates Offer Compromise Bill. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), along with Regulate Rhode Island, have outlined a compromise bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana starting July 1, 2018, with an advisory board to study the effects of legalization and report to the General Assembly next year on setting up a taxed and regulated system of marijuana commerce. Assembly leaders are pushing a bill that would defer legalization until a legislative commission studies the issue.

Vermont Governor Says Legalization Deal Still Possible. Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday an agreement with legislators on marijuana legalization is still possible this year. Scott vetoed the legalization bill last month, citing concerns about drugged driving and children. "We are still negotiating," Scott said. "They understand... what my reservations are in terms of what they're planning, but I still think it's workable." If an agreement is reached, House Republicans would have to agree to suspend the rules of the veto session to allow a vote on the pot bill. They do not sound very interested in that, but Scott has said that if he can reach agreement on a bill, he will try to persuade his GOP colleagues to allow a vote.

Medical Marijuana

Corey Booker, Steve Cohen File Identical Medical Marijuana Protection Bills. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen has filed House Resolution 2920, "to extend the principle of federalism to drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana." New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 1374, in the upper chamber.

Michigan Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Billboard Ad Ban Bills. State Sen. Rick Jones (R) and Rep. Andy Schor (D) have filed identical bills that would effectively ban billboard for medical marijuana businesses. The bills are Senate Bill 463 and House Bill 4767. They are not yet available on the state legislative web site.

Pennsylvania Governor Warns Session Against Interfering with Medical Marijuana. In a sharply worded letter, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) warned Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana in the state. "For a lot of patients, this is the only medicine that works. So for him to go after medical cannabis is kind of flying in the face of science and the facts," said a spokesman for the governor.

Criminal Justice

Louisiana Enacts Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reforms. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Thursday signed a package of 10 bills that shrink sentences, mostly for nonviolent offenders, and expand parole and probation and reentry opportunities for offenders. The state has the highest proportion of its population behind bars of any state, but Edwards predicts that the new laws will see the state's prison population falling by as much as 10% in the next decade. The bills are House Bills 116, 249, 489, 519, 680 681 and Senate Bills 16, 139, 220, 221. They can be viewed at the state legislative website.

International

British Columbia Court Throws Out Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana Producers. The BC Court of Appeals last week threw out the mandatory minimum sentence for people caught producing more than six marijuana plants, saying the law mandating it was unconstitutional. "I note that a six-month sentence is typical for a first-time trafficker involved in a relatively sophisticated commercial dial-a-dope operation. Imposing that sentence on a 19-year-old student or a migraine sufferer who is growing six plants intending to share them with friends would, in my view, be abhorrent to most Canadians," the trial court judge held, instead giving the man a suspended sentence. The government appealed, and lost last week.

Chronicle AM: Federal CARERS Act Refiled, RI Legalization Commission Bill Advances, More... (6/15/17)

A bipartisan group of senators reintroduce the CARERS Act to protect medical marijuana in the states, marijuana legalization is keeping legislators busy in the Northeast, New York GOP senators want more drug war to fight opioids, and more.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is among a bipartisan group of senators who reintroduced the CARERS Act today. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legal MJ Rewrite Bill Delayed By Errors, Concern at High Tax Rates. House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) has postponed a vote on the legislature's rewrite of the marijuana legalization law approved by voters last fall after errors in the drafting of the bill and the high tax rate proposed -- 28% -- drew protests from Democratic lawmakers. "I think there are certain things that we have to clear up, so because of that, I think it's important that with a bill of this mag that we try to get it right or close to right this first time, so I'd rather do that than try to rush it through," DeLeo said, adding that there was a consensus among Democrats on the basics of the bill.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Monday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Monday morning on Senate Bill 3195, which legalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and sets up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The Drug Policy Alliance has expressed "concern" that the bill "does not include essential components to create a fair and equitable marijuana market in New Jersey." Such legislation must include polices to repair past harms to minority communities, DPA said.

Rhode Island Legalization Study Commission Bill Passes House. A bill that creates a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization -- instead of just legalizing it -- passed the House Wednesday night. House Bill 551A now heads to the Senate. Regulate Rhode Island, the main advocacy group for legalization, has said it will not participate in the commission, which it describes as a delaying tactic.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to End Federal Prohibition of Medical Marijuana Reintroduced in US Senate. US Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Corey Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced a bill Thursday that would end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also signed on to the legislation as original cosponsors. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (or CARERS) Act of 2017 would allow individuals and entities to possess, produce, and distribute medical marijuana if they are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It would also open up avenues to medical marijuana research and allow physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal. The bill also proposes excluding cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, from the federal government's definition of "marijuana."

Kentucky Lawsuit Challenges State's Medical Marijuana Ban. Three Kentuckians who say they have used marijuana to ease health problems have filed a lawsuit in state court charging that banning medical marijuana violates their constitutional privacy rights. The suit names as defendants Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Steve Beshear (D).

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Medical Marijuana Expansion. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has proposed a budget amendment that calls for "no less than six licensed compassion centers" and increased licensing fees that would generate $1.5 in revenues for the state's general fund. There are three existing dispensaries, which would each be allowed to open one more store front, plus the three additional ones proposed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Republicans Want More Drug War to Fight Opioids. A Republican Senate task force says that adding funding for addiction treatment is good, but that it's time to increase heroin penalties "to get dealers off the street." The senators are proposing charging dealers with murder if one of their customers dies and increasing penalties based on the weight of the drugs sold. Assembly Democrats rejected the idea, calling the approach one that's been "tried and failed." The Assembly killed a similar approach last year.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's pretty quiet on the corrupt cop front week, except for one drug-gobbling Tennessee cop and Burritogate in Tulsa. Let's get to it:

In Ripley, Tennessee, a former Ripley police officer was sentenced last Friday to four years' probation after turning up as a suspect in an undercover drug investigation. Stephen Michael Kirkpatrick wasn't the intended target, but information developed in the investigation led to him being charged on numerous counts. He pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct, 13 counts of cocaine possession, one count of marijuana possession, one count of meth possession, and one count of misuse of official information.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Tulsa County jail guard was arrested last Friday after deputies found drugs hidden inside a burrito he brought into the jail. Guard Kevin Mayo, 20, went down after the burrito turned out to be filled with marijuana, methamphetamine, and prescription pain pill. He is charged with possession of contraband in a jail, conspiracy to commit a felony, possession of both marijuana and methamphetamine, possession of a schedule II drug, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is now on unpaid leave and in jail.

Medical Marijuana Update

Despite everything, Attorney General Sessions has medical marijuana on his mind, Florida lawmakers approve a no-smoking medical marijuana implementation bill, Vermont's governor signs a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

National

On Monday, it was reported that Attorney General Sessions asked Congress to let him go after medical marijuana. Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Congress last month asking leading members to reject a federal law letting medical marijuana states set their own policies. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Justice Department budget bars the use of federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." In a letter urging congress members to walk back the amendment, Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Hat tip to Tom Angell at MassRoots, who first obtained the letter.

Arizona

Last Thursday, the state attorney general asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate a ban on campus medical marijuana. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) has asked the state Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that struck down a ban on medical marijuana on college campuses. The state is arguing that the legislature had the right to alter the voter-approved medical marijuana law so that college students with medical marijuana cards could face felony arrests for possession of any amount of marijuana.

Connecticut

Last Friday, the state took another step toward adding more qualifying conditions. Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull announced that she would follow a recommendation from the Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians to include three new conditions among the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are hydrocephalus with intractable headaches, intractable migraines, and trigeminal neuralgia. Seagull will now draft a new regulation by the end of the month, and after that, there will be a 30-day public comment period, then a review by the office of the attorney general, and then the approval of the Regulation Review Committee of the General Assembly. The whole process could take another year.

Florida

Last Friday, the medical marijuana implementation bill passed the legislature. Lawmakers used a special session to come to an agreement on how to handle medical marijuana. Under the proposal approved by the legislature, which Gov. Rick Scott (R) says he will sign, the state will gain an additional ten medical marijuana operators within four months. Each operator can operate up to 25 dispensaries across the state. But the bill also bans the smoking of medical marijuana even though the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November expressly included a provision that allows smoking. That has led Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the amendment, to vow to sue the state over the no-smoking provision.

Vermont

Last Thursday, the governor signed a medical marijuana expansion bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The new conditions added are Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, and PTSD. The new law also increases the number of dispensaries in the state from four to five.

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

Chronicle AM: Sessions Sought Free Rein on MedMJ, VT Legalization Still Alive, More... (6/14/17)

Lots of marijuana policy news today, plus GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner files a bill to reauthorize the Second Chance Act.

Marijuana Policy

California Pot Shops Could Sell Both Recreational and Medical Marijuana Under New Proposal. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state legislators proposed Monday to allow medical and recreational marijuana to be sold by the same shops. The move was one of dozens of new regulations aimed at merging the medical and recreational marijuana industries contained in budget bills released Monday.

Nevada Lawsuit That Threatens July 1 Sales Date Still Alive. A Carson City district court judge on Tuesday denied the state's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by liquor distributors seeking a cut of the action in the state's emerging legal marijuana industry. The liquor distributors have won a temporary restraining order holding up the implementation of the state's marijuana sales law until their lawsuit is settled. The distributors claim the state's regulations for licensing marijuana distributors are arbitrary and unfair. This means the state's early July 1 legal sales goal is in jeopardy.

Nevada Governor Signs Three Pot Bills, Vetoes One. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has signed a bill setting a 15% wholesale tax on both medical and recreational marijuana (Senate Bill 478), and bills adjusting medical marijuana regulations (Senate Bill 344 and Assembly Bill 422), but vetoed a bill that would have allowed those convicted of past marijuana-related crimes involving an equal or lesser amount of what's now legal to have that crime vacated from their criminal records (Assembly Bill 259).

Rhode Island Legislature to Vote on Study Bill, But Advocates Say No Thanks. Marijuana legalization supporters said Wednesday they will not participate in a legalization study commission if it is approved by the General Assembly, calling it "a flawed delay tactic." Instead, Regulate Rhode Island is calling on legislative leaders to vote on a bill that would legalize personal possession and cultivation, but include no immediate plans for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Vermont Governor, Legislative Leaders Move Toward Compromise on Legalization. After Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed the legalization bill, Senate Bill 16, he said he didn't oppose legalization in principle, but had concerns about youth use and impaired driving. He also said he wanted a study commission in the bill to have more time to examine how the state could implement legal marijuana commerce. Now, legislative leaders say they have come up with compromise language that addresses his concerns, including tougher penalties for selling to children and longer sentences for smoking in a car when a child is present. A spokesman for the governor said "We're making good progress toward an agreement." Legislators will need Republicans to waive a rule to bring the issue up for consideration during a looming special session, but Scott said if an agreement on the bill could be reached, he would seek to persuade Republican legislators to allow it to be taken up.

Medical Marijuana

Attorney General Session Asked Congress to Let Him Go After Medical Marijuana. Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Congress last month asking leading members to reject a federal law letting medical marijuana states set their own policies. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Justice Department budget bars the use of federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." In a letter urging congresspeople to walk back the amendment, Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Hat tip to Tom Angell at MassRoots, who first obtained the letter.

Reentry/Rehabilitation

Rep. Sensenbrenner Files Second Chance Act Reauthorization Bill. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner( R-WI) has filed House Resolution 2899 to reauthorize the Second Chance Act of 2007. That law provides funding to state, local, and tribal governments that are working to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for people getting out of jail or prison.

America, We Can Fix This: 24 Ways to Reduce Opioid Overdoses and Addiction [FEATURE]

Drugs, mainly opioids, are killing Americans at a record rate. The number of drug overdose deaths in the country quadrupled between 1999 and 2010 -- and compared to the numbers we're seeing now, those were the good old days.

Some 30,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2010. According to a new estimate from the New York Times, double that number died last year. And the rate of increase in overdose deaths was growing, up a stunning 19% over 2015.

The Times' estimate of between 59,000 and 65,000 drug overdose deaths last year is greater than the number of American soldiers killed during the entire Vietnam War, greater than that number of people killed in the peak year for car crash deaths, greater than the number of people who died in the year the AIDS epidemic peaked, and higher than the peak year for gun deaths.

In the first decade of the century, overdoses and addiction rose in conjunction with a dramatic increase in prescription opioid prescribing; since then, as government agents and medical professionals alike sought to tamp down prescribing of opioids, the overdose wave has continued, now with most opioid OD fatalities linked to illicit heroin and powerful black market synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we are in the midst of "the worst drug overdose epidemic in history," and it's hard to argue with that.

So, what do we do about it? Despite decades of failure and unintended consequences, the prohibitionist reflex is still strong. Calls for more punitive laws, tougher prosecutorial stances, and harsher sentences ring out from state houses across the land to the White House. But tough drug war policies haven't worked. The fact that the overdose and addiction epidemic is taking place under a prohibition regime should make that self-evident.

More enlightened -- and effective -- approaches are now being tried, in part, no doubt, because today's opioid epidemic is disproportionately affecting white, middle class people and not the inner city black people identified with heroin epidemics of the past. But they are also being tried because for the past quarter-century an ever-growing drug reform movement has articulated the failures of prohibition and illuminated more effective alternatives.

The drug reform movement's most powerful organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, this spring published A Public Health and Safety Approach to Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose, which lays out more than two dozen specific policy prescriptions in the realms of addiction treatment, harm reduction, prevention, and criminal justice that have been proven to save lives and reduce dependency on opioids. These policy prescriptions are doable now -- and some are being implemented in some fashion in some places -- but require that political decisions be made, or that forces be mobilized to get those decisions made. Some would require a radical divergence from the orthodoxies of drug prohibition, but that's a small price to pay given the mounting death toll.

Here are 24 concrete policy proposals that can save lives and reduce addiction right now. All the facts and figures are fully documented in the heavily-annotated original. Consult it if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty. In the meantime:

Addiction Treatment

1. Create Expert Panel on Treatment Needs: States should establish an expert panel to address effective treatment needs and opportunities. The expert panel should evaluate barriers to existing treatment options and make recommendations to the state legislature on removing unnecessary impediments to accessing effective treatment on demand. Moreover, the panel should determine where gaps in treatment exist and make recommendations to provide additional types of effective treatment and increased access points to treatment (such as hospital-based on demand addiction treatment). The expert panel must also set evidence-based standards of care and identify the essential components of effective treatment and recovery services to be included in licensed facilities, especially with regards to medication-assisted treatment, admission requirements, discharge, continuity of care and/or after-care, pain management, treatment programming, integration of medical and mental health services, and provision of or referrals to harm reduction services. The expert panel should identify how to improve or create referral mechanisms and treatment linkages across various healthcare and other providers. The panel should establish clear outcome measures and a system for evaluating how well providers meet the scientific requirements the panel sets. And, finally, the expert panel should evaluate opportunities under the ACA to expand coverage for treatment.

2. Increase Insurance Coverage for Medication-Assited Treatment (MAT): Seventeen state medical plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) do not provide coverage for methadone or buprenorphine for opioid dependence. Moreover, the Veterans Administration's (VA's) insurance system has explicitly prohibited coverage of methadone and buprenorphine treatment for active duty personnel or for veterans in the process of transitioning from Department of Defense care. As a result, veterans obtaining care through the VA are denied effective treatment for opioid dependence. Insurance coverage for these critical medications should be standard practice.

3. Establish and Implement Office-Based Opioid Treatment for Methadone: Currently, with a few exceptions, methadone for the treatment of opioid dependence is only available through a highly regulated and widely stigmatized system of Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs). Moreover, several states have imposed moratoriums on establishing new OTPs that facilitate methadone treatment despite large, unmet treatment needs for a growing opioid-dependent population. Patients enrolled in methadone treatment in many communities are often limited to visiting a single OTP and face other inconveniences that make adherence to treatment more difficult. Initial trials have suggested that methadone can be effectively delivered in office-based settings and that, with training, physicians would be willing to prescribe methadone to their patients to treat their opioid dependence. Office-based methadone may help reduce the stigma associated with methadone delivered in OTPs as well as provide a critical window of intervention to address medical and psychiatric conditions. Office-based opioid treatment programs offering methadone have been implemented in California, Connecticut, and Vermont.

4. Provide MAT in Criminal Justice Settings, Including Jails/Prisons and Drug Courts: Individuals recently released from correctional settings are up to 130 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population, particularly in the immediate two weeks after release. Given that approximately one quarter of people incarcerated in jails and prisons are opioid-dependent, initiating MAT behind bars should be a widespread, standard practice as a part of a comprehensive plan to reduce risk of opioid fatality. Jails should be mandated to continue MAT for those who received it in the community and to assess and initiate new patients in treatment. Prisons should initiate methadone or buprenorphine prior to release, with a referral to a community-based clinic or provider upon release. In addition, drug courts should be mandated to offer participants the option to participate in MAT if they are not already enrolled, make arrangements for their treatment, and should not be permitted to make discontinuation of MAT a criterion for successful completion of drug court programs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will no longer provide federal funding to drug courts that deny the use of MAT when made available to the client under the care of a physician and pursuant to a valid prescription. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals agrees: "No drug court should prohibit the use of MAT for participants deemed appropriate and in need of an addiction medication."

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can help.
5. Offer Hospital-Based MAT: Emergency departments should be mandated to inform patients about MAT and offer buprenorphine to those patients that visit emergency rooms and have an underlying opioid use disorder, with an appointment for continued treatment with physicians in the community. Hospitals should also offer MAT within the inpatient setting, and start MAT prior to discharge with community referrals for ongoing MAT.

6. Assess Barriers to Accessing MAT to Increase Access to Methadone and Buprenorphine: A number of known barriers prevent MAT from being as widely accessible as it should be. The federal government needs to reevaluate the need for and effectiveness of the OTP model and make necessary modifications to ensure improved and increased access to methadone. And, while federal law allows physicians to become eligible to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid dependence, it arbitrarily caps the number of opioid patients a physician can treat with buprenorphine at any one time to 30 through the first year following certification, expandable to up to potentially 200 patients thereafter. Moreover, states need to evaluate additional barriers created by state law, including, among others, training and continuing education requirements, restrictions on nurse practitioners, insurance enrollment and reimbursement, and lack of provider incentives.

7. Establish and Implement a Heroin-Assisted Treatment Pilot Program: Heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) refers to the administering or dispensing of pharmaceutical-grade heroin to a small and previously unresponsive group of chronic heroin users under the supervision of a doctor in a specialized clinic. The heroin is required to be consumed on-site, under the watchful eye of trained professionals. This enables providers to ensure that the drug is not diverted, and allows staff to intervene in the event of overdose or other adverse reaction. Permanent HAT programs have been established in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with additional trial programs having been completed or currently taking place in Spain, Belgium and Canada. Findings from randomized controlled studies in these countries have yielded unanimously positive results, including: 1) HAT reduces drug use; 2) retention rates in HAT surpass those of conventional treatment; 3) HAT can be a stepping stone to other treatments and even abstinence; 4) HAT improves health, social functioning, and quality of life; 5) HAT does not pose nuisance or other neighborhood concerns; 6) HAT reduces crime; 7) HAT can reduce the black market for heroin; and, 8) HAT is cost-effective (cost-savings from the benefits attributable to the program far outweigh the cost of program operation over the long-run). States should consider permitting the establishment and implementation of a HAT pilot program. Nevada and Maryland have introduced legislation of this nature and the New Mexico Legislature recently convened a joint committee hearing to query experts about this strategy.

8. Evaluate the Use of Cannabis to Decrease Reliance on Prescription Opioids and Reduce Opioid Overdose Deaths: Medical use of marijuana can be an effective adjunct to or substitute for opioids in the treatment of chronic pain. Research published last year found 80 percent of medical cannabis users reported substituting cannabis for prescribed medications, particularly among patients with pain-related conditions. Another important recent study reported that cannabis treatment "may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects." The result of substituting marijuana, a drug with less side effects and potential for abuse, has had profound harm reduction impacts. The Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, documents a relationship between medical marijuana laws and a significant reduction in opioid overdose fatalities: "[s]tates with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws."Another working paper from the RAND BING Center for Health Economics notes that "states permitting medical cannabis dispensaries experienced a 15 to 35 percent decrease in substance abuse admissions and opiate overdose deaths." There is also some emerging evidence that marijuana has the potential to treat opioid addiction, but additional research is needed.

Harm Reduction

9. Establish and Implement Safe Drug Consumption Services: States and/or municipalities should permit the establishment and implementation of safe drug consumption services through local health departments and/or community-based organizations. California and Maryland have introduced legislation to establish safe drug consumption services, and the City of Ithaca, New York has included a proposal for a supervised injection site in their widely-publicized municipal drug strategy. In Washington State, the King County Heroin an Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force has recommended the establishment of at least two pilot supervised consumption sites as part of a community health engagement program designed to reduce stigma and "decrease risks associated with substance use disorder and promote improved health outcomes" in the region that includes the cities of Seattle, Renton and Auburn.

10. Maximize Naloxone Access Points, Including Lay Distribution and Pharmacy Access, As Well As Immunities for Prescription, Distribution and Administration:Naloxone should be available directly from a physician to either a patient or to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist in an overdose, from community-based organizations through lay distribution or standing order laws, and from pharmacies behind-the-counter without a prescription through standing order, collaborative agreement, or standardized protocol laws or regulations. Though some states, including California, New York, Colorado and Vermont, among others, have access to naloxone at each of these critical intervention points, many others only provide naloxone through a standard prescription. Civil and criminal immunities should be provided to prescribers, dispensers and lay administrators at every access point. In addition, all first responders, firefighters and law enforcement should be trained on how to recognize an overdose and be permitted to carry and use naloxone. Naloxone should also be reclassified as an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Having naloxone available over-the-counter would greatly increase the ability of parents, caregivers, and other bystanders to intervene and provide first aid to a person experiencing an opioid overdose. FDA approval of OTC naloxone is predicated on research that satisfies efficacy and safety data requirements. Pharmaceutical companies, however, have not sought to develop an over-the-counter product.88 Federal funding may be needed to meet FDA approval requirements.

11. Provide Dedicated Funding for Community-Based Naloxone Distribution and Overdose Prevention and Response Education: Few states provide dedicated budget lines to support the cost of naloxone or staffing for community-based opioid overdose prevention programs. The CDC, however, reports that, between 1996 and 2014, these programs trained and equipped more than 152,280 laypeople with naloxone, who have successfully reversed 26,463 opioid overdoses.89 Without additional and dedicated funding, community-based opioid overdose prevention programs will not be able to continue to provide naloxone to all those who need it, and the likelihood of new programs being implemented is slim. A major barrier to naloxone access is its affordability and chronic shortages in market supply, 90 which overdose prevention programs, operating on shoestring budgets, can have a difficult time navigating.

12. Improve Insurance Coverage for Naloxone: Individuals who use heroin and other opioids are often both uninsured and marginalized by the healthcare system.91 States should insure optimal reimbursement rates for naloxone to increase access to those who need it most – users themselves.

Overdose reversal drugs need to be made much more widely available -- and affordable. (health.pa.gov)
13. Provide Naloxone to Additional At-Risk Communities: People exiting detox and other treatment programs as well as periods of incarceration are at particularly high risk for overdose because their tolerance has been substantially decreased. After their period of abstinence, if they relapse and use the same amount, the result is often a deadly overdose. States should require overdose education and offer naloxone to people upon discharge from detox and other drug treatment programs and jails/prisons. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has declared that prescribing or dispensing naloxone is an essential complement to both detoxification services as well as medically supervised withdrawal. Vermont passed legislation making naloxone available to eligible pilot project participants who are transitioning from incarceration back to the community. In addition, there are other programs/studies that provide naloxone to recently released individuals on a limited basis, including in San Francisco, California, King County, Washington and Rhode Island.

14. Encourage Distribution of Naloxone to Patients Receiving Opioids: Physicians should be encouraged to prescribe naloxone to their patients and opioid treatment programs should inform their clients about naloxone, if prescribing or dispensing an opioid to them. Pharmacists should similarly be encouraged to offer naloxone along with all Schedule II opioid prescriptions being filled, for syringe purchases (without concurrent injectable medication), and for all co-prescriptions (within 30 days) of a benzodiazepine (such as Valium™, Xanax™ or Klonopin™) and any opioid medication. The Rhode Island Governor's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force found that offering naloxone to those prescribed a Schedule II opioid or when co-prescribed a benzodiazepine and any opioid would have reached 86% of overdose victims who received a prescription from a pharmacy prior to their death, and could have prevented 58% of all overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015.

15. Expand Good Samaritan Protections: "Good Samaritan" laws provide limited immunity from prosecution for specified drug law violations for people who summon help at the scene of an overdose. But, protection from prosecution is not enough to ensure that people are not too frightened to seek medical help. Other consequences, like arrest, parole or probation violations, and immigration consequences, can be equal barriers to calling 911. States with Good Samaritan laws already on the books should evaluate the protections provided and determine whether expansion of those protections would increase the likelihood that people seek medical assistance.

16. End the Criminalization of Syringe Possession: Syringes should be exempt from state paraphernalia laws in order to provide optimal access to people who inject drugs. Twenty-two states criminalize syringe possession. Thus, even if there is a legal access point, such as pharmacy sales, paraphernalia laws still permit law enforcement to arrest and prosecute individuals in possession of a syringe. Public health and law enforcement authorities should not be working at cross-purposes.

17. Reduce Barriers to Over-The-Counter Syringe Sales and Permit Direct Prescriptions of Syringes: While the non-prescription, over-the-counter sale of syringes is now permitted in all but one U.S. state, access is still unduly restricted.States should evaluate the potential barriers to accessing syringes over-thecounter and implement measures to improve access. Moreover, doctors should be permitted to prescribe syringes directly to their patients, a practice few states currently permit.

18. Authorize and Fund Sterile Syringe Access and Exchange Programs; Increase Programs: States should explicitly authorize and fund sterile syringe access and exchange programs, and states that have already authorized them should evaluate how to increase the number or capacity of programs to ensure all state residents – whether in urban centers or rural communities -- have access to clean syringes, as well as evaluate any possible barriers to access such as unnecessary age restrictions.

19. Provide Free Public, Community-Level Access to Drug Checking Services: Technology exists to test heroin and opioid products for adulterants via GC/MS analysis, but it has so far been unavailable at a public level in the US (aside from a mail-in service run by Ecstasydata.org). Making these services available in the context of a community outreach service or academic study would lower the number of deaths and hospitalizations and also allow for real-time tracking of local drug trends.

Prevention

20. Establish Expert Panel on Opioid Prescribing: Though the CDC has issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, the guidelines are voluntary and are likely to exacerbate disparities in treatment that already exist. Research has shown, for example, that African Americans are less likely than whites to receive opioids for pain even when being treated for the same conditions. Moreover, the CDC guidelines only address prescribing practices for chronic pain, not prescribing practices more broadly. States should accordingly establish an expert panel to undertake an assessment as to whether prescribing practices, such as co-prescriptions for benzodiazepines and opioids or overprescribing of opioids, have contributed to increased rates of opioid dependence, and, if so, the expert panel should develop a plan to address any such linkages as well as any treatment disparities. The plan must account for the potential negative effects of curtailing prescribing practices or swiftly reducing prescription opioid prescribing volume. A task force in Rhode Island found that while changes in opioid supply can have the intended effect of reducing availability of abuse-able medications, they have also been linked to an increase in transition to illicit drug use and in more risky drug use behaviors (e.g., snorting and injecting pain medications). The plan must also account for chronic pain patients, particularly those already underserviced, and not unduly limit their access to necessary medications. Finally, to the extent prescribing guidelines are issued as part of the plan, they should be mandatory and applied across the board.

21. Mandate Medical Provider Education: States should mandate that all health professional degree-granting institutions include curricula on opioid dependence, overdose prevention, medication-assisted treatment, and harm reduction interventions, and that continuing education on these topics be readily available.

22. Develop Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Health, Wellness, and Harm Reduction Curriculum for Youth: State education departments, in conjunction with an expert panel consisting of various stakeholders that ascribe to scientific principles of treatment for youth, should develop a comprehensive, evidence-based health, wellness, and harm reduction curriculum for use in schools that incorporates scientific education on drugs, continuum of use, and contributors to problematic drug use (e.g., coping and resiliency, mental health issues, adverse childhood experiences, traumatic events and crisis), as well as how reduce harm (e.g., not mixing opioids with benzodiazepines). Education departments should also establish protocols and resources for early intervention, counseling, linkage to care, harm reduction resources, and other supports for students.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

23. Establish Diversion Programs, Including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD): LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program that establishes protocols by which police divert people away from the typical criminal justice route of arrest, charge and conviction into a health-based, harm-reduction focused intensive case management process wherein the individual receives support services ranging from housing and healthcare to drug treatment and mental health services. Municipalities should create and implement LEAD programs and states and the federal government should provide dedicated funding for such programs. Various other forms of diversion programs exist and can be implemented should LEAD prove unsuitable to a particular population or municipality.

24. Decriminalize Drug Possession: Decriminalization is commonly defined as the elimination of criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use. In other words, it means that people who merely use or possess small amounts of drugs are no longer arrested, jailed, prosecuted, imprisoned, put on probation or parole, or saddled with a criminal record. Nearly two dozen countries have taken steps toward decriminalization. Empirical evidence from the international experiences demonstrate that decriminalization does not result in increased use or crime, reduces incidences of HIV/AIDs and overdose, increases the number of people in treatment, and reduces social costs of drug misuse. All criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of controlled substances for personal use should be removed.

Drug War Issues

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