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Chronicle AM: House Blocks Pot Banking Measure, No Hookers for DEA Agents, Thai Meth Policy Moves, More... (6/23/16)

House Republicans blocked an effort to open up banking for pot businesses, an Oregon worker fired for medical marijuana use wins his job back, DEA agents get new marching orders on hookers, the Thai government grapples with methamphetamine policy, and more.

Patronize a prostitute, lose your DEA badge.
Marijuana Policy 

House Turns Back Effort to Give Pot Businesses Access to Banks. The Republican-led House Wednesday voted down an amendment to the FY 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would have blocked federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for working with state-legal marijuana businesses. A similar amendment had passed the Senate last week.

Nevada Legalization Effort Has Raised Nearly $300,000 This Year. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $285,000 so far this year, with more than half coming in a two-day period earlier this month when local marijuana companies made significant donations. The campaign's legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot. Opposition groups made no reports of donations this reporting period.

Oregon Takes in Nearly $15 Million in Pot Taxes So Far This Year. As of May 30, the state Department of Revenue had processed $14.9 million in marijuana tax payments this year, the agency said Wednesday. Medical marijuana dispensaries authorized to sell to any adult 21 or over began collecting the tax in January.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Auditor Bemoans Delays in Processing ID Cards. The state auditor and the attorney general are investigating a backlog of medical marijuana ID card applications as requests for the cards surge. The state has 30 days to issue the issue the cards, but the Department of Health said it is taking 45-50 days, and the auditor's office said it had complaints of wait times of up to 90 days.

Oregon Worker Fired for Medical Marijuana Wins Jobs Back. An arbitrator has ordered Lane County to reinstate a worker it fired because he used medical marijuana to deal with the side effects of cancer treatment and it has ordered the county to give him nearly $22,000 in back pay. Michael Hirsh had been employed as a senior programmer for the county before he was fired in December after two employees reported smelling pot smoke on his clothing.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Heroin Bill Package. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Wednesday signed into law a package of bills aimed at the state's heroin and prescription opioid problems. The bills, which address prevention, treatment, and insurance coverage, should produce an additional 270 treatment beds and more than 2,000 slots for drug treatment programs. The bills also require insurance companies to wait 14 days before denying coverage to drug users deemed in need of drug treatment, and it limits initial prescriptions for opioids for severe pain to seven days. 

Law Enforcement

No Hookers for DEA Agents. In the wake of scandalous behavior by DEA agents in Colombia during the 2012 Summit of the Americas, the DEA has instituted a one-strike policy for agents caught patronizing prostitutes. "Solicitation of prostitution on duty or off duty, whether you’re in a jurisdiction where it is legal or illegal, first time offense — removal," DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg told a Senate panel Wednesday.

International

UN Releases Annual Global Drug Report—250 Million Adults Used a Drug Last Year. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime has released the World Drug Report 2016, and notes that 5% of the adult population has used at least one drug in the past year.  The UN also reported that the number of people classified as suffering from a dependency disorder climbed to more than 29 million, up from 27 million the previous year.

Thailand Won't Legalize Meth, But Will Remove it From List of Dangerous Drugs. Thai Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has walked back talk about legalizing the amphetamine, but now says the country will work to reform its drug laws by removing meth from its list of hard drugs like heroin and recognizing a distinction between traffickers and users, workers, and addicts. 

Chronicle AM: CA ACLU Endorses AUMA, Nadelmann Testifies at Senate Hearing, More... (6/15/16)

Summer is here, and the initiative campaigns are heating up, DPA head Ethan Nadelmann slams drug prohibition at the Capitol, New York legislators announce agreement on a heroin and prescription opioids package, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Anti-Legalization Group Gets Big Donation From Electric Utility. A group organized to defeat the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol's legalization initiative has received a $10,000 donation from the state's largest electric utility. Arizona Public Services made the donation to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy because the company is concerned about employment law language in the measure, "especially considering the public safety aspects involved in providing reliable electric service to APS customers. But the initiative's language says "[it] does not affect the ability of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana and marijuana products by employees."

California ACLU Formally Endorses AUMA Legalization Initiative.The ACLU of California Tuesday endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). "The disastrous war on marijuana in California continues to ensnare thousands of people -- particularly young people of color -- in the criminal justice system every year," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, criminal justice and drug policy director with the ACLU of California. "It is time to move from prohibition to regulation. AUMA will establish a controlled and regulated market for adults, significantly reduce the harm done to young people under current marijuana laws, and generate substantial revenue for drug education and for the communities most devastated by the war on drugs."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Initiative Campaigns Face Ticking Clock. Two separate medical marijuana initiative campaigns have until July 8 to get enoughvoter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act of 2016 campaign says it has gathered some 70,000 signatures so far. It needs 67,000 valid ones to qualify. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016 says it has 40,000 signatures; because it is a constitutional amendment, it needs 85,000 valid signatures to qualify.

Washington Lawsuit Challenges New State Medical Marijuana Law. Seattle attorney and marijuana activist Douglas Hiatt has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the July1 implementation of the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, arguing that the law's folding of medical marijuana into the recreational marijuana market will cause harm to patients.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Leaders Reach Agreement on Heroin, Opioids Bill Package. Legislative leaders announced Tuesday they had agreed on a package of bills aimed at growing heroin and prescription opioid use in the state. The bills would mandate insurance coverage for overdose reversal drugs, ease getting insurance coverage for drug treatment, and reduce prescription limits for opioids from 30 days to seven days, among other provisions.

Drug Policy

Ethan Nadelmann Testifies at US Senate Committee Hearing. The Drug Policy Alliance head testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as part of a round table on drug policy. "The war on drugs in this country and around the world has been a monumental disaster," Nadelmann said. "We developed an addiction. It was an addiction to drug war thinking, drug war ideology, and drug war policies." Nadelmann wasn't alone in criticizing drug prohibition; Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) also criticized it, saying prohibition now fuels drug cartels, just as alcohol prohibiton fueled gangsters.

International

Dutch Justice Minister Rejects Study Calling for Legal Marijuana Production. Justice Minister Ard van der Steur told members of parliament that last week's study finding legalizing pot production would have public health and human rights benefits would have no impact on his government's policies regarding cannabis cafes. The conservative government has moved to restrict them and refused to countenance creating a legal supply system for them.

Chronicle AM: States Failing on Drug Treatment Insurance, MI Initiative Soldiers On, More... (6/7/16)

Michigan legalizers suffered a double blow today but vow to fight on, a California medical marijuana initiative from anti-marijuana activists dies on the vine, a new report says the states need to step up on addiction treatment coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and more.

A new report says the states need to step up on drug treatment insurance under the ACA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rick Steves Is Matching Donations to Maine Legalization Initiative. Travel show host and marijuana legalization advocate Rick Steves has announced he will match any donations to the Maine Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The initiative has already qualified for the November ballot, and Steves has $50,000 set aside for matching donations.

Michigan Pot Legalization Initiative Takes Double Blow, But Vows to Fight On. Efforts to let Michiganders vote on legalizing marijuana this year suffered a one-two punch from the state's political establishment today, but organizers are unbowed and are vowing to keep up the fight to get their initiative on the ballot. First, the state election board ruled Tuesday that the initiative was at least 106,000 signatures short of qualifying after throwing out 137,000 signatures that were gathered more than 180 days before the signatures were handed in. Then, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law Senate Bill 776, which limits signature gathering to a strict 180-day window. But Mi Legalize says it is fighting on. "We're alive and well," said MI Legalize spokesman Jeffrey Hank. "We expected this, and in the next few days, we'll be filing a lawsuit. We will continue to run our campaign as we go through litigation." The campaign says it needs financial help, too.

Medical Marijuana

California Initiative to Create State Medical Marijuana Monopoly Fails to Qualify. An initiative filed by a leading state anti-medical marijuana activist that would have banned all private cultivation sites and dispensaries has failed to qualify for the ballot. The California Safe and Drug-Free Community Act was filed by Roger Morgan, with the Take Back American campaign, which brandishes a #stoppot hashtag.

Drug Treatment

Report: States Are Failing to Provide Sufficient Insurance Coverage for Addiction Treatment. A new report from the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse reviewed Essential Health Benefits (EHB) benchmark plans under the Affordable Care Act and called its findings "disheartening." None of the plans provided comprehensive coverage for addiction treatment without harmful treatment limitations, two-thirds of the plans had ACA violations, and nearly one in five didn't comply with parity requirements.

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Taxes Could Generate $1 Billion/Year, CVS Expands Narcan Program, More... (5/25/16)

There's a pot of gold waiting in California, a Republican congressman comes out of the closet on his medical marijuana use, CVS is expanding expanded access to naloxone to seven more states, and more.

CVS is moving to get the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone into the hands of more drug users. (gov.pa.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Legislative Analyst's Office Says Legalization Could Generate $1 Billion a Year in Taxes and Fees. In a report presented to state lawmakers, the Legislative Analyst's Office said the figure was a mid-range estimate. "Our best estimate is that the state and local governments could eventually collect net additional revenues that could range from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually," analyst Aaron Edwards told lawmakers. The analysts cautioned that legalization could also incur some costs, with likely increased marijuana use requiring additional money to be spent on drug treatment.

New Hampshire Legislature Balks at Decriminalization. The Granite State will remain the only one in New England that has not embraced decriminalization. House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a version of Senate Bill 498 that would lower the penalty for possessing small amounts of pot, but still leave it a criminal offense. The bill does lower the fine from $500 to $350, but possession remains a misdemeanor criminal offense. The House had voted twice in favor of decriminalization this year, but the Senate wouldn't go for it.

Medical Marijuana

GOP Congressman Steps Out of the Closet on Medical Marijuana Use. Long-time medical marijuana supporter Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has told marijuana reformers lobbying on Capitol Hill that he uses medical marijuana for arthritis pain. "I went to one of those hemp fests in San Bernardino," he explained, adding that a vendor showed him a topical preparation he could rub on his sore shoulder. "And you know what? I tried it about two weeks ago, and it's the first time in a year-and-a-half that I've had a decent night's sleep, because the arthritis pain was gone."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Bill Would Tax Prescription Opioids to Fund Drug Treatment Facilities. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Tuesday introduced the Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment (BOAT) Act, which would impose a one-penny fee for each milligram of opioid prescription drugs. That fee would generate $1.5-2 billion annually, Manchin said. The bill has not yet been assigned a number.

Harm Reduction

CVS Health to Expand Naloxone Access to Seven More States. CVS Health, the massive pharmacy chain, announced Wednesday that it will increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in the states of Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington this summer. CVS has already increased access to naloxone in 23 other states. The CVS program establishes a standing order with a physician in the state, allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone to patients without an individual prescription.

911 "Bad" Samaritan Law Goes to Ohio Governor's Desk. The state Senate Tuesday approved House Bill 110, which was originally designed to save lives, but has been amended to the point where advocates say it will actually make people less likely to seek emergency help for overdoses. The amended bill limits the number of times people can seek overdose help to the first two times they call and it requires medical providers to give patient information to law enforcement. The bill also requires people to get mandatory treatment screening within 30 days or face arrest. Harm reduction advocates are calling on Gov. John Kasich (R) to veto the bill.

Chronicle AM: Shocking Forfeiture Poll, Oakland Racial Balance in MJ Industry Bill, More... (5/18/16)

Organized opposition is trying to emerge in California, legalization in Oregon is creating jobs and payrolls, Oakland attempts to redress racial imbalance in the legal marijuana business but catches some flak, and more.

The New York Senate is focused on addressing heroin and prescription pain pill use. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Dems Tied to Law Enforcement Oppose Legalization Initiative. A pair of state Democratic lawmakers with "deep law enforcement ties" have come out in opposition to the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative. Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), a former Sacramento County sheriff's official who regularly warns against drug liberalization, and Sen. Cathleen Gagliani (D-Stockton), "the Democratic senator most aligned with law enforcement," have joined with Republican colleagues to oppose the measure. The initiative is favored by many Democratic elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Oregon Legalization Creates Jobs, Payrolls. Retail cannabis employees will be paid nearly $46 million this year, and that number is set to increase in the future, according to a new report from local marijuana industry consulting firms. Legalization has also created at least 2,165 jobs, with more to come, the report said.

Medical Marijuana

Oakland Passes Marijuana Ordinance Designed to Encourage Minority Participation. The city council Tuesday unanimously approved a medical marijuana ordinance with an "equity program" that would reserve half of the city's new cannabis permits for people who live in a designated high-crime police beat in East Oakland or were imprisoned for marijuana-related crimes in Oakland in the past 10 years. But the plan is coming under fire from industry leaders who say it may actually be counterproductive to encouraging minority participation and could undercut a pot economy expected to boom if and when the state legalizes marijuana.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York State Senate Releases Heroin Report. The GOP-dominated body has released a report on heroin and prescription pain pill use that recommends 48 changes to state law and policy, including increased penalties for the sale and possession of opioids. The report also calls for increased prevention, treatment, and harm reduction measures. The report includes a package of bills that were expected to be passed Tuesday night. Stay tuned.

Asset Forfeiture

Southern California Poll Finds 10% Report Having Cash or Property Seized Without a Conviction. The survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling, looked at Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, and also found that 19%o of respondents said they knew someone who had experienced the same. The poll, sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, comes as a push is underway to get a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, Senate Bill 443, through the Assembly. The bill passed the Senate last year, but was blocked in the Assembly by law enforcement lobbying. It is still alive, though, and hopes are that it can get through the Assembly this year.

Chronicle AM: MJ Taxes Could Generate Billions, Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin, More... (5/16/16)

A Tax Foundation study finds that legal pot could generate $28 billion a year in tax revenues, CBD cannabis oil isn't enough for Oklahoma medical marijuana activists, Canada will allow prescription heroin, and more.

DC activists and veterans head for the White House next week to press for end to marijuana prohibition. (Adam Eidinger/Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Study Finds Legal Marijuana Could Generate Billions a Year in Tax Revenues. A new report from the Tax Foundation estimates that a nationwide "mature marijuana industry" could generate up to $28 billion a year in federal, state, and local tax revenues. That would include $7 billion for the feds, $5.5 billion in business taxes, and $1.5 billion from income and payroll taxes. The report also estimated that a 10% federal surtax could generate $5.3 billion a year.

Veterans, DC Activists to Rally at White House on May 20. Organizers with the Weed For Warriors Project and the DC Cannabis Campaign are planning to rally in front of the White House to call on the Obama administration to end federal marijuana prohibition. The date, May 20, marks the 124th anniversary of the birth of arch-prohibitionist and proto-drug warrior Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for three decades in the mid-20th Century.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Medical Marijuana Supporters Appeal to US Supreme Court. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association last Thursday filed a petition with the US Supreme Court seeking to reverse a state Supreme Court decision that guts the state's once-thriving medical marijuana industry. Petitioners argue that the state Supreme Court mistakenly held that marijuana is universally illegal under federal law and point to the Obama administration's decisions to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws.

Oklahoma Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has signed into law a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill. Last year, the state approved the use of the oil, but only for people under 18. This bill removes that age restriction.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Advocates Begin Initiative Signature Gathering Campaign. CBD cannabis oil isn't enough for Oklahomans for Health, which began gathering signatures over the weekend for a full-blown medical marijuana initiative. The group has 90 days to gather 66,000 valid voter signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congress Passes Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Both houses of Congress have approved the measure, Senate Bill 524 and HR 953, which now goes to President Obama. The bill would expand the availability of naloxone, increase prescription drug monitoring programs, increase jail- and prison-based drug treatment, and bar the Education Department from asking about drug convictions on federal student loan application forms, among other provisions. The bill does not include extra funding to pay for its measures.

Obama Administration Calls on Congress to Fund $1.1 Billion for Opioid Effort. Last Thursday, as Congress was passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the Obama administration noted that Congress didn't allocate money to pay for it and called on Congress to come up with $1.1 billion in additional spending to do so.

International

Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin. Health Canada announced Friday that it is proposing new regulations to allow access to prescription heroin under its Special Access Program (SAP). That program allows for emergency access to drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional treatments have failed or are unsuitable. "A significant body of scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for the treatment of chronic, relapsing opioid dependence. Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine," the statement said.

Macedonia Will Have Medical Marijuana by Month's End. Health Minister Nikola Todorov said Saturday that medical marijuana products will be in pharmacies across the country by the end of the month. The country had earlier amended its Law on the Control of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances to allow the move.

In Cutting Edge Move, Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin

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

Health Canada announced Friday that it is proposing new regulations to allow access to prescription heroin under its Special Access Program (SAP). That program allows for emergency access to drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional treatments have failed or are unsuitable.

Health Canada clears the way for prescription heroin. (Wikmedia/Creative Commons)
"A significant body of scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for the treatment of chronic, relapsing opioid dependence. Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine," the statement said.

The move is yet another reversal of hardline Conservative drug policies by the Liberal government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which was elected last fall. The Trudeau government has pivoted sharply away from Conservative positions in favor of mandatory minimum drug sentences and against marijuana legalization, and now is moving to undo Conservative efforts to block the limited use of prescription heroin.

Canadian scientists had laid the groundwork for prescription with the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI), which first tested "heroin-assisted maintenance" in Vancouver a dozen years ago, and which was followed by the Study to Assess Long-Term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness (SALOME) between 2005 and 2008. SALOME examined whether giving hard-core heroin users heroin was more effective than giving them methadone.

SALOME showed that the users in the study were more likely to stay in treatment, reduce other illegal drug use, engage in fewer other illegal activities and have better physical and mental health outcomes if given heroin than if given methadone. But when that study ended in 2008, researchers were faced with the ethical dilemma of cutting off the patients whose lives were being improved by prescription heroin.

The doctors began applying for, and receiving, permission under the Special Access Program, and Health Canada approved those applications in 2013. But that infuriated the Conservatives, and then-Health Minister Rona Ambrose introduced new regulations to bar doctors from prescribing "dangerous drugs" such as heroin, cocaine, and LSD.

Former SALOME participants launched a constitutional challenge to the ban and in 2014 won a temporary injunction giving them the right to continue to receive prescription heroin while the case was being decided. Now, with Health Canada's move, the federal government will no longer attempt to block prescription heroin.

That was good news for the Pivot Legal Society, which argued the case for continuing the prescriptions, and for Providence Health Care, in whose Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Lower East Side the heroin was administered.

"Allowing access to diacetylmorphine, or medical heroin, to patients who need it, ensures that life-saving treatments get delivered to vulnerable people suffering from chronic opioid use," the two groups said in a joint statement.

Canada is leading the way on cutting edge responses to heroin addiction in North America. In addition to the groundbreaking NAOMI and SALOME studies, which cannot be replicated in the US under current law and regulations, Canada has also had safe injection sites operating in Vancouver for more than a decade. We still don't have any of those in the US.

Ottawa
Canada

Chronicle AM: ME to Vote on Legalization, AK "Pot Cafes," AL Passes CBD MedMJ, More... (5/2/16)

Lots of Maine news today, Alaska could see "pot cafes," a New Hampshire asset forfeiture bill gets gutted under police pressure, and more.

Coming to Maine?
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Draft Regulations Include Pot Cafes. Alaska could become the first legalization state to actually allow social marijuana smoking in designated businesses. The state's Marijuana Control Board has crafted draft regs that would allow users to toke up inside retail stores. The draft regs are now awaiting public comment. While "public" marijuana use is banned, the regs create an exemption for retail stores to seek an "onsite consumption endorsement" to their licenses. Stores with that endorsement could then set aside an area for people to consume marijuana.

California GOP Opposes AUMA Legalization Initiative. The state Republican Party voted at its convention over the weekend to oppose the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) marijuana legalization initiative. "We must not turn this plague loose on our children and the people of California," said Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber, who also called marijuana an "entry-level" drug that leads to addiction. California Democrats have endorsed the initiative.

It's Official: Maine Will Vote on Legalization in November The final obstacle to a popular vote was removed last Friday, when state legislators punted on their chance to act on the citizen legalization initiative, opting instead to send the question to the voters instead. Earlier, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which organized the state's legalization initiative had to go to the courts to force recalcitrant state officials to properly count all the signatures, and they did so.

Vermont House Takes Up Marijuana Legalization Today. The House is considering legalization today, albeit in a roundabout fashion. One House committee rejected the legalization measure, Senate Bill 241, while another amended it to legalize possession and personal cultivation, but not regulated, legal marijuana commerce. The Senate responded by pasting SB 241 into another bill, House Bill 858, which the House is considering today. Stay tuned!

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Both houses of the legislature have now approved "Leni's Law," which would allow people with seizure disorders or other debilitating medical conditions to use CBD cannabis oil to treat their ailments. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) is expected to sign the bill into law.

Connecticut Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Passes Legislature. A bill that would allow children with certain debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana has passed out of the legislature after a final Senate vote last Friday. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) is expected to sign House Bill 5450 into law.

New Hampshire's First Dispensary Opens. The Sanctuary Alternative Treatment Center opened in Plymouth last Saturday. It's the first dispensary in the state to open for business. It only took nearly three years after the state's medical marijuana law was approved for this to happen.

Asset Forfeiture

New Hampshire Asset Forfeiture Bill Scaled Back Under Police Pressure. The state Senate last Thursday stripped a provision from an asset forfeiture reform bill that would have directed funds seized by police to the state's general fund rather than to the agency that seized them. The move came after police chiefs said not letting them keep the goodies would "handcuff" them.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) last Thursday signed into law a bill that will allow people whose property is subject to asset forfeiture to recover attorney fees when they challenge the seizures. The new law goes into effect November 1.

Drug Policy

Maine Decriminalizes Drug Possession, Moves to Adopt Pre-Arrest Diversion Program. Last Thursday, a bill that would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony passed into law without the signature of Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage. The bill, LD 1554, decriminalizes the possession of up to 200 milligrams of heroin. Earlier this month, the legislature also approved a bill that would fund Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, which have proven successful in Seattle and other cities.

Harm Reduction

Maine Legislature Overrides Governor's Veto of Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. The legislature voted last Friday to override gubernatorial vetoes of LD 1457 and LD 1552, which would allow access to naloxone without a prescription and provide public funding for needle exchange, respectively. Gov. Paul Le Page had claimed "naloxone does not save lives, it merely extends them until the next overdose" and complained that the $70 cost would not be repaid.

International

Canada Supreme Court Throws Out Mandatory Minimums for Drug Traffickers. In a decision last Friday, the high court ruled mandatory minimums for repeat drug offenders are unconstitutional. The case is R. v. Lloyd.

Beyond UNGASS: Looking Toward 2019 [FEATURE]

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for UN Headquarters in Manhattan next week, and civil society and some European and Latin American countries are hoping to make limited progress in moving toward more evidence- and public health-based drug policies. But, knowing the glacial pace of change at the UN and well aware of how little of substance is likely to emerge from the UNGASS, some eyes are already turning to the post-UNGASS international arena.

UNGASS is coming... and then what? (Creative Commons)
Hopes for more forward movement at the UNGASS, always tentative and facing opposition from global drug war hardliners such as Russia, China, and Singapore, were effectively dashed at the run-up meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting last month in Vienna, whose outcome document was described as "quite awful" by leading Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson.

The outcomes document includes some minor progressive movement, but does not challenge the trio of treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, while its embrace of "flexibility" emboldens regressive, repressive measures (the death penalty for drug offenses, forced "treatment," criminalization of drug users) in hard line countries, despite being helpful for progressive reforms around the edges of the treaties' prohibition.

MacPherson was one of a handful of international drug policy experts and elected officials who took part in a teleconference last week organized by StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter), a US-based group that has been deeply involved in civil society organizing around the UNGASS. He wasn't the only one looking beyond 2016.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernández, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Organizations, called this year's UNGASS poses "a step" toward examining the objectives of the 2009 Political Declaration and Action Plan on drugs, which will be reviewed in 2019. While the CND outcomes document had good language around the need for embracing multiple approaches, such as public health, human rights, gender, and prevention, it also includes serious shortcomings, she said.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernandez (pan.senado.gob.mx)
"There is a lack of recognition of the relative efficacy of demand reduction and harm reduction policies and the absence of an acknowledgement of the high costs that the prohibitionist and punitive approaches have generated," the senator said.

Mexican senators know all too well the high costs of drug prohibition. For the past decade, the country has been battered by brutal prohibition-related violence that has left at least 100,000 dead, tens of thousands more "disappeared," a legacy of human rights abuses by soldiers and police fighting the cartels, and the legitimacy of the state severely weakened.

"The international community should continue to work toward the establishment of indicators that could help measure the impact of drug policies on people's lives and their rights," Rojas said, suggesting this could still happen at the UNGASS.

But she was also looking down the road.

"Something that should be placed on the table in 2019 is a thorough review of the three conventions on drug control that acknowledges the highly detrimental effects of the current approaches," she said. "And we should be more honest about the so-called flexibility of implementation offered by these treaties and acknowledge that there should be a wider range of action for countries to define their own drug policies, taking into consideration their national and cultural context."

Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson (cssdp.org)
Both Rojas and Canada's MacPherson called for some sort of expert mechanism to guide policymakers eyeing the 2019 meeting.

"Organizations and even some governments are beginning to call for a mechanism post-UNGASS to get real with the modernizing of the treaties," MacPherson said, reflecting frustration with the UNGASS process and prospects. "It's really important that UN member states speak strongly for the need for that mechanism, whether it's an expert committee or some other sort of group. And it needs to happen now -- the next three years are critical coming up to 2019. We really do need to have that process in place to [counter] the kind of intransigence of other countries that use the consensus-based model to hold progress ransom."

"The international community should examine the possibility of establishing an analysis mechanism as a working group of experts, for example, with a mandate to formulate recommendations aimed at the modernization of the international system of drugs for the 2019 review process," Rojas added. "And from a longer-term perspective, we need to see the creation of a special office within the UN Human Rights Council, to follow up and monitor the respect of human rights in the context of the enforcement of the drug policies."

The UNGASS hasn't even gotten here yet, and interested observers are already looking past it. Welcome to politics at the United Nations where most things happen at a snail's pace. The global drug prohibition consensus may be crumbling, but it is crumbling very slowly at the level of international conventions and institutions. The work continues.

[A follow-up story on prospects for marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico will highlight remarks during the teleconference by Canadian Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Aram Barra of Mexico United Against Crime, and StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden.]

Chronicle AM: New Obama Opioid Initiative, DOJ Backtracks on Forfeiture Reform, More... (3/29/16)

The drug czar uses a recycled and updated version of the gateway theory to oppose marijuana legalization, the Justice Department restarts its Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, the president announces a new package of initiatives to fight heroin and opioid death and addiction, and more.

Obama has plans for fighting heroin and prescription opioid death and addiction. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Leans On Gateway Theory Variant to Explain Opposition to Legalization. In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week, Office of National Drug Control Policy head Michael Botticelli reaffirmed the Obama administration's opposition to marijuana legalization, using a familiar, if discredited, argument to do so: "I think the evidence is pretty clear that early use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana -- often used together -- significantly increases the probability that someone will develop a more significant addictive disorder later in their life," he said. "Early substance use actually effects brain development and predisposes people for more significant vulnerabilities later in their life." That sounds a whole lot like an updated version of the roundly criticized gateway theory.

Hawaii Resolution Seeks Study on Marijuana and Driving. Rep. Cindy Evans (D-North Kona) and 15 other lawmakers have introduced a resolution asking the state health department to study the effect of marijuana on driving. State law bans people from driving under the influence of impairing drugs, but there is no threshold set for marijuana because there is no widespread consensus on what an acceptable level might be.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Obama Announces New Moves to Fight Heroin and Opioid Abuse. In a speech in Atlanta today, President Obama unveiled a package of new initiatives to help stem the tide of death and addiction from prescription and non-prescription opioids. These initiatives are above and beyond the $1.1 billion in new spending he proposed last month. The package includes expanded access to medication-assisted treatment (methadone, buprenorphine) for addicted users, doubling the cap on the number of patients to whom a doctor may prescribe buprenorphine, increasing the number of doctors who can prescribe it, funding an increase in access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), ensuring that substance abuse and mental health benefits are offered for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, and $7 million for the Justice Department to conduct law enforcement operations aimed at heroin distribution.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Resumes Equitable Sharing Program -- More Money for Cops. The Justice Department has announced it is resuming its program that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to do an end run around state asset forfeiture laws by handing investigations over to the feds. State laws may mandate that seized funds go in the general fund or other specified funds, but under the federal program, 80% of the seized funds go to the seizing law enforcement agency, not the state's general or other specified funds. Law enforcement lobbying groups had been loudly protesting the program's shutdown last fall, claiming they needed the windfalls to do their jobs. Now, the program is back on line.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Has Saved 2,500 Lives in North Carolina. In less than three years, some 2,500 North Carolinians have had their heroin or prescription opioid overdoses reversed by people using naloxone (Narcan), the North Carolina Harm Reduction Center reported today. As of today, the number stands at 2,503. "Through distributing naloxone with NCHRC, I have been able to save the lives of many of my friends, loved ones and peers," says Kendra, a volunteer distributor in Wilmington. "Without this amazing group of people and this life-saving drug, many people who are very close to me may not have had a second chance at life. In the last few months alone I have had close to 100 reversals reported to me personally and many of those people are now in recovery because they were ready to make a change in their lives after overdosing."

International

Mexican Popular Support for Marijuana Legalization Rising, But Still Low. This year's officially-supported debate on marijuana legalization appears to be having an impact. Mexico has never been a legalization-friendly country, and in October, daily polls had support for legalization at only 7%, with 92% opposed. But six months later, after the issue has been publicly debated, pro-legalization sentiment has increased four-fold, to 29%, with opposition dropping to 66%. The trend is in the right direction, but there's still a long way to go.

Drug War Issues

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