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As Peace Negotiations Advance, Colombia Revamps Drug Policy [FEATURE]

Marking the end of an era, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Tuesday unveiled a new policy for dealing with coca cultivation and cocaine production, one that will rely on crop substitution and alternative development, with manual crop eradication only to be used as a last resort.

harvesting the coca crop in Colombia (
Santos then flew to Havana, where he met with leaders of the leftist FARC guerrillas and Wednesday announced an agreement on a transitional justice deal that should lead to the end of the world's longest-running insurgency by March 2016. The agreement on how to deal with combatants in the nearly half-century long civil war is the latest in peace talks that have been going on in Havana since November 2012. Negotiators had already forged agreements on the thorny issues of land reform, the FARC's political participation after peace is achieved, and how to deal with illicit drug production.

Colombia's years-long policy of attempting to eradicate coca crops by spraying fields with herbicides will be history at the end of this month. That policy was backed and financed by the United States as part of its multi-billion dollar effort to defeat drug trafficking and, later, to defeat the FARC.

Despite the billions spent, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, according to the US government. While production is down from record levels early this century, it rose 39% last year to about 276,000 acres. Figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime show a lower extent of cultivation (170,000 acres), but echo that it is on the increase. According to UNODC, the increase was 44% last year.

The plan announced Tuesday, the Integrated Plan for Crop Substitution, has as its goals reducing the crime associated with the drug trade by reorienting policing efforts toward processing, trafficking, and money laundering -- not harassing peasants -- improving state capacity through the improvement of social, economic, and political conditions in the countryside, and dealing with drug consumption with a focus on human rights, public health, and human development.

It sets out six foci:

  1. Social Investment. That will include state and private spending on roads, energy supply, water supply, and investment in public health and education.
  2. Crop Substitution. A phased-in plan with community involvement that will create socio-economic stabilization and create new income opportunities. Agreements will be made with whole communities, not individual growers. Once a community has agreed to crop substitution, voluntary coca eradication will begin. If there is no agreement to eradicate, the government will do it manually, by force.
  3. Interdiction. Interdiction will continue, but in concert with the priorities of local communities and farmers. The plan also envisions "strengthening the legal tools available to fight the illegal drug business."
  4. Investigations and Prosecutions. The government will give top priority to going after "intermediate and top links of the drug trafficking chain," not peasant farmers.
  5. Prevention and Treatment. The new plan will emphasize youth prevention, as well as drug treatment using "programs founded on evidence." The plan calls for an increase in the quantity and quality of drug treatment offered.
  6. Institutional Reforms. The plan will create a new agency for alternative development in illicit cultivation zones. The agency will establish metrics for success, which will be made public on a regular basis.

The government's plan is in line with the recommendations of its Advisory Commission on Drug Policy in Colombia, which in a May report, called for drug policy to be based on evidence and the principles of public health, harm reduction and human rights, with effective state institutions to coordinate policy implementation. Combating the drug trade should focus on trafficking organizations and money laundering, and peasant coca growers should be offered alternative development, not criminal prosecution, the report also recommended. (The report and the issues it addressed were recently discussed at this " target="_blank">Brookings Institution event.)

Aerial eradication ends at the end of this month. (
"With this program we hope to have a twofold result: reducing the illicit cultivation and improving the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of peasants," Santos said in a speech from the presidential palace.

The plan will focus on the southern provinces of Narino and Putumayo, "where there are some 26,000 families that produce coca," Santos said. "Work will be done to construct roads, schools, health clinics, aqueducts and service networks," he added, noting that coca cultivation is most extensive in areas where the state is weakest.

While the government will seek agreements with communities to voluntarily eradicate their coca crops, "if an agreement is not reached, forced eradication will be resorted to," Santos warned. Forced eradication has led to conflict between farmers and eradicators in the past, with nearly 200 eradicators killed in attacks from unhappy peasants or guerrillas of the FARC, which has taxed and protected coca cultivation in areas under its control.

When Santos arrived in Havana Wednesday he was sounding optimistic, both about the new approach to coca cultivation and about the prospects for peace.

"We've already started. And if we can move forward now, imagine how much we could move forward if we do away with the conflict," said Santos. "We've already talked with the FARC about joint plans for the substitution of crops. Imagine what this means. That the FARC, instead of defending illicit crops and the entire drug trafficking chain, will help the state in their eradication. As the slogan says, with peace we will do more," Santos said.

Chronicle AM: Needle Exchanges Spread in WVA, Obama Admin Eases Buprenorphine Restrictions, More (9/18/15)

It's looking like Arizona will vote on marijuana legalization next year, the Obama administration eases restrictions on the opiate maintenance drug buprenorphine, needle exchanges expand in West Virginia, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative on Track With Signature Gathering. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said Thursday that it has already gathered 75,000 signatures, putting the group about one-third of the way to its goal of gathering 230,000 by July 2016. The group needs more than 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A second group, Arizonans for Mindful Regulation wants to put its own initiative on the ballot, but has gathered only about 6,000 signatures so far.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Obama Administration Makes Big Announcement Addressing Heroin Epidemic. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burrell said Thursday that her agency would rewrite regulations to make it easier for doctors to treat opiate addiction with buprenorphine in a bid to get a handle on opiate abuse and addiction. "We need to lift people out of opioid-use disorder through medication-assisted treatment," Burwell said. "This epidemic is multifaceted, and we need to respond with the best solutions that medicine and behavioral therapy can provide together, so we need to increase the use of buprenorphine, which can help us treat opioid use disorder when combined with psycho-social support."

Ohio Bill Would Require Insurers to Cover Tamper-Resistant Drugs. A bipartisan pair of legislators have introduced a bill that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for tamper-resistant drugs that are more difficult to abuse. Reps. Robert Schrager (R-Findlay) and Nickie Antonion (D-Cleveland) said the measure is necessary because the long-term cost of opiate abuse in the state will cost the state millions of dollars. The bill has not yet appeared on the state legislative website.

Harm Reduction

West Virginia County to Begin Needle Exchange Program. Harrison County plans to move forward with a needle exchange/harm reduction program after hearing of the success of a similar program in Morgantown. The Morgantown exchange began in 2013, when 34 local residents tested positive for Hepatitis C. There have been 118 Hep C infections in Harrison County this year. It is a regional problem -- West Virginia and Kentucky have the highest Hep C infection rates in the country, many of them tied to intravenous drug use.

Chronicle AM: Republicans on Drugs, O'Malley on Marijuana, NC Needle Bill Advances, More (9/17/15)

Republican presidential contenders spar over drug policy, Martin O'Malley talks marijuana, Ohio's Supreme Court slaps down biased ballot language for ResponsibleOhio's initiative, pot people will march in Vienna on Saturday, and more.

logo of the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, one of two groups trying to put legalization on the 2016 ballot
Marijuana Policy

Martin O'Malley Meets With Colorado Marijuana People, Calls for Reclassification. Former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential contender Martin O'Malley met Thursday with state marijuana regulators, activists, and industry representatives and said he would immediately change federal marijuana policy if elected. He reiterated his pledge to reclassify marijuana as Schedule II, but stopped short of calling for legalization.

Michigan Initiatives in Midst of Signature Gathering. Two competing legalization initiatives are now deep in the signature-gathering phase. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition says it has collected nearly 170,000 signatures, which its petitioners are trying to verify as valid on the spot. Initiatives need some 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A second initiative campaign, MI Legalize didn't provide precise figures but said it is "on pace" to qualify for the ballot. MCC would let the legislature set taxes for marijuana sales and establish licensing requirements for stores. It would limit personal grows to two plants. MI Legalize would peg the retail pot sales tax at 10%, put licensing in the hands of local communities, and allow up to 12 plants for personal grows.

Ohio Supreme Court Orders New Ballot Language for ResponsibleOhio Initiative. Handing a rebuff to state officials, the high court agreed with ResponsibleOhio that the state's description of the initiative "inaccurately states pertinent information and omits essential information. The cumulative effect of these defects in the ballot language is fatal because the ballot language fails to properly identify the substance of the amendment, a failure that misleads voters." Now, the state Ballot Board must submit new, more accurate language. It could meet again as early as Friday. The state did win on one issue, though: Its language referring to the initiative as a "monopoly" will stay.

Drug Policy

GOP Candidates on Drugs At Last Night's Debate. Republican presidential contenders tangled over drug policy, with Sen. Rand Paul describing the damage of the war on drugs, recommending treatment and drug courts, and articulating a states' rights position on marijuana legalization, while Jeb Bush 'fessed up to smoking pot as a teenager, also endorsed treatment and drug courts, and hit back at Paul over heroin use. The anti-legalization Gov. Chris Christie touted his state's drug sentencing reforms, and Carly Fiorina claimed special consideration because her stepdaughter died of a drug overdose. Click on the link for a full review.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Bill Would Ban Oxycontin for Children. Responding to the FDA's approval of the use of Oxycontin for pain relief for children, a state representative has filed a bill to prohibit doctors in the state from prescribing the drug to kids. Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) filed House Docket 4154, which has yet to be assigned a bill number.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Senate Passes Pilot Project/Needle Disposal Bill. The Senate today unanimously passed House Bill 712, which does two things. First, it states that anyone who declares a syringe or sharp object to a law enforcement officer prior to search cannot be charged for possession of the object or for any drug residue inside the object. This bill improves H 850, the needlestick prevention bill passed in 2013, which protected people from the paraphernalia charge, but not from the residue charge. Second, the bill authorizes two to four North Carolina counties to establish pilot programs to collect and safely dispose of used syringes in their communities. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Center will start these pilot programs on December 1, 2015 in Cumberland and Haywood counties. The bill has already passed the House and awaits the governor's signature.


Marijuana Activists to March in Vienna This Weekend. Organizers expect up to 10,000 people to march through Vienna on Saturday to protest drug law "reforms" that will still criminalize medical marijuana patients. The march is being led by Legalize! Osterreich, which has begun a parliamentary initiative to legalize marijuana. That initiative has 15,000 signatures so far.

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

Chronicle AM: Psychedelics Could Treat Anxiety, PTSD; British MPs to Debate Marijuana Legalization, More (9/9/15)

Another Indian tribe will grow marijuana, Arkansas voters want medical marijuana, British MPs will debate marijuana legalization, psychedelic drugs may have value in treating some mental conditions, and more.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) moves forward on welfare drug testing. (
Marijuana Policy

Maine Indian Tribe to Grow Marijuana. The Passamaquoddy tribe has signed a letter of intent with Denver-based Monarch America, Inc. to design, construct, and manage a marijuana cultivation facility on tribal land, Monarch said Tuesday. The company has also contracted with the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe in South Dakota to run a similar operation there. The Justice Department has taken a hands-off approach to marijuana cultivation by Indian tribes.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 84%. A new Talk Business & Politics poll shows very strong support for medical marijuana in the state. More than half (56%) strongly agreed that adults should be able to use marijuana with a doctor's prescription, with another 28% somewhat agreeing. Only 14% disagreed. A medical marijuana initiative barely failed there in 2012, winning 48.5% of the vote. That initiative included a provision for home grows, but this poll found a slight majority opposing home grows. Support for outright legalization was much lower, at 42%.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Wisconsin Lawmaker Prepares Anti-Heroin Legislative Package. Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who introduced seven bills last year to address opiate addiction, said at a Tuesday news conference he's preparing four more. He said the new bills would be designed to go after addiction to opioid pain medications, which he said was at the root of rising levels of heroin use. Nygren offered up few details, though.


Study Says Psychedelics Could Be Useful in Treating Some Mental Disorders. A meta-study reviewing small-scale and preliminary studies finds that psychedelic drugs may be beneficial for people suffering from anxiety, addiction, or PTSD. "In the right context, these drugs can help people a lot, especially people who have disorders that we generally treat poorly, such as end-of-life distress, PTSD, and addiction issues involving tobacco or alcohol," said study coauthor Matthew Johnson, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The study is available behind a pay wall here.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Takes First Steps Toward Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Scott Walker, a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Tuesday approved "scope statements," the first step in implementing drug testing of some welfare recipients. The state will test "certain applicants for unemployment benefits as well as for able-bodied adults seeking benefits and/or training through FoodShare, Transform Milwaukee, Transitional Jobs, noncustodial parents on the W-2 program, and Children First." Those "certain applicants" are ones the state deems likely to have been using controlled substances without a prescription.


British MPs Will Debate Marijuana Legalization. After a citizens' petition drew more than 200,000 signatures from Britons, Parliament has agreed to hear debate on the issue. The debate will be October 12 and will be led by long-time drug reformer MP Paul Flynn (Labor-Newport West). The Conservative government has already insisted it will not legalize marijuana, but the debate will go on nonetheless.

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

Chronicle AM: MA Legalization Inits Get Go-Ahead, DC Needle Exchanges Cut HIV Infections, More (9/8/15)

Two sets of Massachusetts legalizers get the go-ahead for signature gathering, Denver activists will negotiate with the city over social marijuana use, Hillary Clinton unveils drug policy proposals, DC HIV infections drop thanks to needle exchanges, and more.

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton rolls out drug policy proposals. (
Marijuana Policy

Two Competing Massachusetts Legalization Initiatives Okayed for Signature Gathering. State Attorney General Maura Healey last week approved the competing initiatives, one from Bay State Repeal and one from the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Click on the group links to read the initiatives. The groups must collect 64,750 valid voter signatures by November to qualify for next year's ballot.

ResponsibleOhio Supporter Sues Secretary of State Over Sweeping Election Fraud Investigation. An unnamed individual has filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) over his investigation of alleged electoral fraud in the ResponsibleOhio signature-gathering campaign. The suit argues that the probe will have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights of Ohioans who support the legalization effort and seeks an injunction to halt the investigation. Husted subpoenaed various ResponsibleOhio records, including "documents or electronically stored information related to or reflecting names of persons who created usernames and passwords to download petitions" from the group's website.

Albuquerque Decriminalization Effort is Back. Two city councilors, including council president Rey Garduno, filed a municipal decriminalization ordinance last Friday. They also filed a measure to make possession violations the lowest law enforcement priority. The council voted 5-4 last year for a decriminalization ordinance, only to see it vetoed by Mayor Richard Berry, who is still there. A vote is expected on September 21.

Denver Social Use Initiative Withdrawn; Organizers Seek Negotiated Deal With City. The Campaign for Limited Social Use, which submitted more than 10,000 signatures for a measure that would allow marijuana use in businesses only open to adults, has pulled the initiative before it could be certified for the ballot, saying it instead prefers to negotiate an agreement with city officials. The successful signature-gathering campaign should help the group in the negotiations.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma ACLU Releases Seizure Data Report. The state affiliate of the ACLU has released a report showing that nearly two-thirds of all cash seized under state asset forfeiture laws was seized from people never charged with -- let alone convicted of -- a crime. The report comes as the legislature ponders a bill that would reform or eliminate civil asset forfeiture.

Drug Policy

Hillary Clinton Releases Drug and Alcohol Policy Proposals. The Democratic front-runner is calling for $10 billion in new federal grants to fight drug and alcohol addiction, which she called "a quiet epidemic" in the country. She identified five goals: better drug education for teens, increasing the availability of drug treatment, increasing naloxone (Narcan) access, broadening drug and prescription monitoring programs, and emphasizing treatment over prison for low-level drug offenders. Click on the link for more details.

Illinois House Overrides Governor's Veto of Heroin Treatment Funding. The House has successfully voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) veto of parts of the Heroin Crisis Act. The override attempt now moves to the state Senate. Rauner vetoed sections of the bill that would offer Medicaid services to some heroin users, saying the state couldn't afford it.

Harm Reduction

DC HIV Infections Drop Dramatically With Needle Exchange Programs. The average monthly rate of new HIV infections in the nation's capital dropped by 70% after the District implemented a needle exchange program in 2008, according to a study released last week by George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. The program prevented 120 new cases of HIV/AIDS, saving the city some $44 million over just two years, the study found.


Mexican Opium Production on the Increase. Officials in both the US and Mexico are saying that Mexico's opium production jumped by 50% in 2014 alone. The increase is being tied to rising levels of heroin and opiate addiction in the US, but also to marijuana legalization in some US states -- legalization is pushing down the price of marijuana in Mexico, making opium poppies a more attractive alternative. Much more at the link.

Mexican Judge Okays Use of CBD Cannabis Oil for Epileptic Girl. A Mexico City administrative law judge has approved the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat Graciela Elizalde Benavides, an eight-year-old girl suffering from epilepsy. The judge ordered federal authorities to allow the girl's parents to import the drug. It's not clear when that will actually happen.

Bulgarian Member of Parliament Will File Medical Marijuana Bill. Independent lawmaker Velizar Enchev has announced he will introduce a medical marijuana bill this month. "Thousands of people are suffering in Bulgaria," he said. Last month, he launched a petition drive to gage support for medical marijuana. That petition now has some 3,730 signatures. Earlier this year, a judge acquitted a multiple sclerosis patient accused of growing his medicine, saying "numerous international studies" had proven the efficacy of medical marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: FL Legalization Init to Roll Out, Dark Web's Largest Drug Market Shuts Down, More (8/27/2015)

The controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative continues to make news, a Florida legalization initiative kicks-off tomorrow, the Dark Web's biggest drug marketplace is shutting down -- at least temporarily -- and more.

"Buddie," the Ohio legalization initiative mascot (
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Rolls Out Tomorrow. An initiative campaign to legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State will begin with a news conference in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow morning. The Sensible Florida PAC will announce a signature-gathering drive for a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Some 683,000 valid voter signatures will be needed, and since this is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% of the vote to pass.

Ohio Legalizers Roll Out "Buddie" Mascot, Get Flak From Child Advocates. The folks behind the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative have introduced their mascot, "Buddie," a cape-wearing superhero with a green marijuana bud for a head and a "B" logo over a picture of a pot leaf. Some child advocates grumbled that the mascot would lead kids to believe that pot is OK.  ResponsibleOhio said Buddie will only visit college campuses filled with voting age college students.

Ohio Legalizers Go to State Supreme Court Over Ballot Language. ResponsibleOhio asked the Supreme Court today to reject the state Ballot Board's wording of its initiative. In a 40-page complaint, the group claimed the board used prejudicial language, deliberate omissions, and outright falsehoods by Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) and his staff, and that the resulting language is "fatal to the validity of the ballot."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor to Call Out National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday the state would ramp up police efforts to fight drugs in the state, including deploying the National Guard to support the struggle against drug trafficking. He also renewed his pleas for more funding for more cops and prosecutors, a stance that leaves him at odds with the state legislature. LePage's remarks come a day after drug czar Michael Botticelli told a Maine roundtable the state needs more drug treatment facilities.


Dark Web's Largest Drug Marketplace Closing Its Doors -- For Now. Agora, the reigning champion among Dark Web drug sellers, is shutting down at least temporarily to heighten its defenses against intruders who may be seeking to identify and bust the site's operators and servers. The site's anonymous administrators said they had detected "suspicious activity" they thought was aimed at breaking the anonymity software Tor browser, which could reveal not only administrators, but customers. "At this point, while we don't have a solution ready it would be unsafe to keep our users using the service, since they would be in jeopardy," Agora said. "Thus, and to our great sadness we have to take the market offline for a while, until we can develop a better solution. This is the best course of action for everyone involved."

Illinois Governor Vetoes Heroin Bill Over Medicaid Treatment Funding [FEATURE]

Faced with a public health crisis related to heroin and prescription opioid use, the Illinois state government created a bipartisan Heroin Task Force in a comprehensive effort to address the problem from all angles. The task force created a set of policy recommendations that were embodied in House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Act.

Heroin is taking a toll not only in Chicago, but in its suburbs. (
The bill passed the House and Senate in May, and was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in June, where it sat on his desk until this week. On Monday, Rauner finally acted -- not by signing the bill, but by vetoing critical sections of it that he says the state cannot afford. He has now sent the bill back to the legislature and asked it to remove the offending sections.

But saying, "People are dying," the measure's House sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), has vowed an effort to override the veto. An override could be within reach -- the bill passed by veto-proof majorities in both houses -- but for members of a governor's own party, a veto override is a hard vote to take.

Here's what the bill does:

  • It increases the availability of opiate overdose reversal drugs and requires private insurance to cover at least one of them, as well as acute treatment and stabilization services. It allows licensed pharmacists to dispense overdose reversal drugs, allows school nurses to administer them to students suffering from overdoses, and provides protection from civil liability for people who administer them in good faith.
  • It requires the Department of Human Services and the State Board of Education to develop a three-year pilot heroin prevention program for all schools in the state, requires the Department of Human Services to develop materials to educate prescription opiate users on the dangers of those drugs, and it requires the Department of Insurance to convene working groups on drug treatment and mental illness and on parity between state and federal mental health laws.
  • It intensifies the state's prescription monitoring program by tightening reporting requirements and it requires doctors to now document the medical necessity of any three sequential 30-day prescriptions for Schedule II opioids.
  • On the criminal justice front, it permits multiple chances at drug court and prevents prosecutors from unilaterally blocking entry to drug court, and it requires prosecutors and public defenders to undergo mandatory education on addiction and addiction treatment. It also increases criminal penalties for "doctor shopping" if fraud is involved.
  • It requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment, including methadone and other opiate maintenance treatment, as well as all anti-overdose medications.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
It's the latter provision to which Rauner objects.

"I support all of the above measures and applaud the multifaceted approach to combating this epidemic in Illinois. Unfortunately, the bill also includes provisions that will impose a very costly mandate on the State's Medicaid providers. I am returning the bill with a recommendation to address that concern," he said in a veto statement.

"House Bill 1 mandates that fee-for-service and medical assistance Medicaid programs cover all forms of medication assisted treatment of alcohol or opioid dependence, and it removes utilization controls and prior authorization requirements," Rauner continued. "These changes would limit our ability to contain rising costs at a time when the State is facing unprecedented fiscal difficulties. Importantly, the State's Medicaid programs already cover multiple forms of medication necessary to treat alcohol and opioid dependence. But without adequate funding to support mandated coverage for all forms of treatment, regardless of cost, this change would add to the State's deficit."

His recommendation is simply to delete the language requiring Medicaid coverage.

Rep. Lang and other bill supporters aren't going for that.

"There's a human cost to not doing it," Lang said. "People are addicted, people are sick, people are dying. You want to talk about the costs of providing methadone and Narcan to addicts, but you forget totally that if you cure them or they get off the stuff, there's a savings to the Medicaid system on a different line item, because they're no longer in emergency rooms, they're no longer a burden to law enforcement."

Heroin and opiate addiction is a serious problem in Illinois. The rate of drug overdose deaths has nearly doubled since 1999, and in the Chicago suburbs, people have been dying of drug overdoses at a rate of three per day since 2012. In the state as a whole, 633 people died of heroin overdoses last year, with nearly half (283) in Chicago.

At the same time as the problem with heroin and prescription opioids has been deepening, the state's ability to provide treatment has been decreasing. According to a report this month from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, the state's ranking for drug treatment capacity has fallen from 28th in the nation in 2009 to 47th this year. This as demand for heroin and opiate treatment statewide is increasing dramatically. In Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, 35% of drug treatment admissions are for heroin, more than twice the national average.

The consortium's director and the study's lead author, Kathleen Kane-Willis, noted that Illinois is one of only a few states nationwide that doesn't allow Medicaid coverage of opiate maintenance treatment.

"We're going to pay for not paying," she said.

But bill supporters could also find the votes to override the veto. Rep. Lang says that is what's he going to try to do, and with a 114-0 vote in the House and a 46-6 vote in the Senate the first time around, he has plenty of supporters to ask. If that happens, Illinois will get the drug treatment it needs, and Rauner will still be able to maintain his fiscally conservative credentials.

Springfield, IL
United States

Chronicle AM: DC AG Talks Decrim, IL Gov Vetoes Medicare Heroin Treatment Funding, More (8/25/2015)

Another South Florida community moves toward marijuana decrim, GOP primary state voters want the feds to stay out of state marijuana policies, DC's top prosecutor hints at drug decrim, Illinois's governor vetoes Medicaid heroin treatment funding, and more.

Heroin users lining up to score in Chicago. The governor has vetoed heroin treatment funding. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: GOP Voters in Early Primary States Want Feds to Butt Out on Marijuana. Roughly two-thirds of Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire says states should be able to design their own marijuana laws without federal interference. The figure was 64% in Iowa and 67% in New Hampshire. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling and was commissioned by Marijuana Majority. "We put these polls into the field because we want presidential candidates to understand that the voters in these key states -- who they need support from to win -- overwhelmingly want the next occupant of the Oval Office to scale back federal marijuana prohibition," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

Key West Latest South Florida City to Move Toward Decriminalization. Officials in Key West have given preliminary approval to municipal marijuana decriminalization; a final vote will come next month. The change comes on the heels of similar moves this summer in Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, and Hallandale Beach. Lawmakers in Palm Beach County are now considering a similar proposal, as are lawmakers up the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Group Drops Legalization Initiative Plans; Will Instead Focus on Medical Marijuana Reforms. The Michigan Responsibility Council, which had been considering running a third legalization initiative campaign in the state, has decided to instead focus on an initiative aimed at improving the state's medical marijuana law. Two other groups are continuing with legalization efforts.

Reno's First Dispensary Opens Wednesday. Sierra Wellness Connections opens near downtown Reno tomorrow. It is the first one in the city and the third one in the state. One in nearby Sparks opened earlier this month, and one in Las Vegas opened Monday.

Drug Policy

DC's Attorney General Hints He Could Support Drug Decriminalization. DC Attorney General Karl Racine responded to a caller who argued that drug prohibition created the recent wave of new psychoactive substance use during a C-Span interview last Friday by largely agreeing with him. "Law enforcement and over-criminalization of drug laws can cause more harm to society than benefit… With respect to the legalization of other substances, including marijuana, I think the caller makes an excellent point… I think that the 21st Century policing is such that smart prosecution means less of an emphasis on criminalizing conduct, more of an emphasis on mental health and substance abuse. With respect to marijuana, you know, my position is very clear. I think it should be legal and I think that the District of Columbia, like the State of Colorado should be able to regulate it."

Heroin and Opiates

Illinois Governor Cuts Drug Treatment Funding From Heroin Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has partially vetoed a bill aimed at fighting heroin addiction and overdoses, cutting out a section that requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment programs, as well as anti-overdose and heroin-treatment medications (methadone). Rauner said that he supports the efforts, but the state can't afford to pay for them. Bill supporters say the move is short-sighted, pennywise but pound-foolish, and that there is a real human cost to it. They also said they would fight to see the funding restored. The bill is House Bill 1.


Russian Censor Lifts Ban On Wikipedia for Marijuana Page. Russia's Internet censor, Roskomnadzor, said Tuesday it had lifted a ban on Russian-language Wikipedia after Wikipedia complied with a court order and edited an entry dealing with charas, a substance made from marijuana resins. Under Russian law, if a web site is banned via court order, as was the case here, the entire website is banned even if the offending material is only on one page. Russian Wikipedia was shut down for about 24 hours.

Chronicle AM: White House Focuses on Heroin, Peru Coca Tensions Rise, CO Pot Sales Hit Record, More (8/17/2015)

It's big bucks for the Colorado marijuana industry (and the state's tax revenues), there's more initiative news, the White House takes on heroin, Peruvian coca farmers are feeling the pinch of eradication, and more.

Heroin is on the White House agenda today. (
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Sold a Record $50 Million Worth of Recreational Marijuana in June. Recreational pot sales totaled $50.1 million in June, a record high, and up 7.6% over the previous month, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Medical marijuana sales also hit a record, with $35.2 million taken in. The state took in $10.9 million in combined marijuana taxes in June, putting the year's total tax haul to date at nearly $42 million. For all of last year, the total was $44 million.

Idaho Initiative Would Decriminalize, Allow Medical Marijuana and Hemp. Activists with New Approach Idaho have crafted a three-pronged initiative that would decriminalize up to three ounces, allow for medical marijuana, and allow for hemp. The group needs more than 47,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Illinois Governor Wants Changes in Marijuana Bills. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday used his veto authority to alter two marijuana bills on his desk. A decriminalization bill would make possession of up to 15 grams punishable by a fine of between $55 and $125; Rauner wants to decrease the amount to 10 grams and increase the fines to between $100 and $200. A medical marijuana bill would extend the state's medical marijuana program; Rauner wants an extension of only four months. The bills now go back to the legislature.

With ResponsibleOhio on the Ballot, Organized Opposition Emerges. A coalition of business groups are organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The Greater Cleveland Partnership is one member, so are the Ohio Manufacturers Association and the Ohio Farm Bureau. The Cuyahoga County drug and alcohol abuse board is also opposing, as are all Republican state higher officeholders.

Wyoming Moves to Criminalize Marijuana Edibles. After rulings by state court judges that state felony marijuana laws only criminalize its possession in plant form, the legislature's Joint Justice Committee is pondering how to deal with edibles. One proposal is to make possession of more than three ounces of an edible a felony. The committee will hold further discussions on the issue in November.

Medical Marijuana

New Version of Michigan Dispensary Bill Could Throttle Medical Marijuana. The House Judiciary Committee will be presented with new versions of the Provisioning Centers Act and the Smoking Alternative Bills that failed to get through the legislature in the 2013-14 session. But advocates say the new versions are less patient-friendly than business-friendly. Click on the link to get the lowdown on the legislature's medical marijuana shenanigans.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Could Be Coming. Families who don't trust the legislature to act are preparing to push for action through the initiative process. Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis says it won't make a final decision until next month, but is exploring its options. Another, NORML-affiliated state group is already working on a medical marijuana initiative signature-gathering campaign, but said it could merge efforts.


White House Focuses On Heroin. The White House announced today an initiative aimed at reducing heroin use by pairing public health and law enforcement in an effort to shift the focus from punishing addicts to treating them. The plan will pair drug intelligence officers with public health officials to increase epidemiological knowledge about heroin use. The plan is being criticized by some reform advocates. Look for a Chronicle feature story later this week about the initiative and the critique.


Peruvian Coca Farmers Take Financial Beating from Eradication, Start to Fight Back. Peru has eradicated more than 210 square miles of coca crops this year, winning kudos from the US, but impoverishing thousands of coca farmers and their families who have lost their livelihoods. Government eradicators are manually destroying the crops in the field. "This is what we live off," said one farmer, surveying what's left of her family plot after eradication. The Peruvian government says some 42,000 families received financial help or support with alternative crops last year, but another 53,000 affected families did not. Grower anger is rising, with a July protest by 5,000 people in Ciudad Constitution ending with one farmer killed by police and 23 wounded. It was the first violent cocalero protest since 2012.

South Australia Bans Synthetic Cannabinoids. State Attorney-General John Rau has added two new psychoactive substances, a pair of synthetic cannabinoids, sold as Full Moon and Sinsence, to the state's list of banned substances. The move comes after reports of deaths and other adverse effects.

Chronicle AM: OH Init Claims to Make Ballot, Clinton Talks Drug Abuse in NH, More (8/12/2015)

Legal marijuana states still have issues, an Ohio group says it has qualified a legalization initiative for the November ballot, a video game league institutes drug testing, Hillary Clinton talks drugs on the campaign trail, and more.

Hillary Clinton. The Democratic contender said people are telling her drug abuse is a big issue. (
Marijuana Policy

Under Proposed Rules, Colorado Edibles Would Be Marked With Stop Sign. A working group tasked with finalizing labeling requirements for marijuana edibles is calling for such products to be marked with the letters "THC" inside a stop sign -- not only on the package, but on the product itself. Some people in the industry think that could be problematic. The working group has until the end of the month to finalize the rules. Click on the link for more details.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Says It Has Qualified for Ballot. Ohio officials haven't confirmed it yet, but ResponsibleOhio, the group behind this year's controversial legalization initiative, says it has handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group needed 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify. It handed in nearly 700,000 last month, but came up some 30,000 short. Under state law, it had another 10 days to make up the shortfall, and it handed in 95,000 raw signatures last week. The group has been tracking the counting in each county in the state and now says: "It is with the greatest sense of humility that we let each of you know that we have crossed the signature threshold based on what the boards have reported so far!"

No Adult Pot Lounge at Hempfest This Year -- It Would Be a Felony. Last year, in keeping with the spirit of marijuana legalization, Seattle's Hempfest set up "adult lounges" where the over-21 set could toke up. Not this year. That's because the omnibus legislation to regulate legal marijuana that went into effect last month makes providing a place for public pot use a Class-C felony.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Girl Can't Be Give Her Edibles at School, Judge Rules. An administrative law judge has ruled that allowing a junior high student to be provided medical marijuana edibles at school would violate the Drug Free School Zone Act. The girls' parents had sued for the right and are vowing to appeal, but they said they also plan to test a portion of the ruling that said that, as her caregivers, they have the right to possess medical marijuana even on school grounds. "We are going to try to go to school to give Genny her medicine," Roger Barbour said. "If they say no, Lora will come bearing the judge's decision and will insist on it."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Panel Ponders Reforms Today. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee is meeting today to consider tightening the state's asset forfeiture laws. One proposed bill would limit asset forfeiture by first requiring a felony conviction; another would raise the legal standard from "probable cause" to "clear and convincing evidence" that a crime had been committed. Earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have eliminated civil forfeiture by first requiring a conviction.

Drug Policy

At New Hampshire Forum, Hillary Clinton Pledges to Elevate Issue of Drug Abuse. After hearing from a variety of stakeholders, the Democratic presidential contender said drug abuse has emerged as a consistent issue as she travels the country. "I have to confess -- I was surprised," she said. "I did not expect that I would hear about drug abuse and substance abuse and other such challenges everywhere I went." She said advisers are speaking with medical professionals as the campaign develops policy proposal later this year, and that substance abuse should be treated as a health issue.

Drug Testing

Video Game League Announces Drug Testing Specifics. The Electronic Sports League (ESL), the premier professional video gaming organization, has announced that it will subject players to the possibility of saliva tests to detect the presence of banned substances, including opioid pain relievers, stimulants, and marijuana. ESL says marijuana use will only be banned during tournaments. Drug testing for the league has come about after a scandal this spring over the use of the stimulant Adderall by some gamers.


Canada's Harper Campaigns on Hard Line on Drugs. Facing an October election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to reject marijuana legalization, saying that most Canadians agree with him even though a government opinion poll released a year ago had more than two-thirds supporting either legalization or decriminalization. Where marijuana is easily available and legal, "more people get addicted," he warned. "We just think that's the wrong direction for society and I don't think that's the way most Canadians want to deal with this particular problem." He also reiterated Tory opposition to safe injection sites.

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

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