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The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 feature story too.)

The year that just ended has seen a serious outbreak of bloody violence against drug users and sellers in one country, it has seen drug offenders hung by the hundreds in another, it has seen efforts to fight the spread of drug-related HIV/AIDS falter for lack of funding, and it has seen the tenacity of the prohibitionist apparatus in the halls of the United Nations.

But there was also good news emanating from various corners of the world, including advances in marijuana legalization in Canada, the US, and Europe and the flouting of the proscription against the coca trade in the UN anti-drug treaties. And speaking of treaties, alhough we didn't include it this year because the drug policy implications remain unclear, the fruition of years'-long peace negotiations between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC, which brings an end to the Western hemisphere's longest-running guerrilla war, is certainly worth noting.

Here are the ten most notable international drug policy events of 2016, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs saw progress, but achingly little. (Wikimedia.org)
1. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs

The global prohibitionist consenus was under growing strain at the UNGASS on Drugs, as civil society pressed the UN bureaucracy and member states for reforms as never before. But changes come at a glacial pace at the level of global diplomacy, and the vision of the UNGASS as a platform for discussing fundamental issues and plotting a new course ran up against the resistance of drug war hard-liners like Russia and China, and the studied indifference of European governments, who preferred that the UN drug policy center of gravity remain at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. And while the US delegation advocated for some good stances, it, too, opposed any meddling with the trio of UN conventions that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition.

Still, there were some incremental victories. UN agencies submitted their own position papers, many highly progressive, as were the submissions from some countries and international organizations. EU states and others fought hard for language opposing the death penalty for drug offenses, though unsuccessfully. And while the UNGASS Outcome Document avoids most big issues, it puts strong emphasis on treatment and alternatives to incarceration. It acknowledges the importance of human rights and proportionate sentencing. It has support for naloxone (the overdose antidote), medication-assisted treatment (e.g. methadone and buprenorphine), and safe injecting equipment, though avoiding the term "harm reduction" itself. And it calls for addressing obstacles to opioid availability. (Read a detailed report on UNGASS by some of our colleagues here, and read about some of our own work for the UNGASS here.)

2. Global Harm Reduction for AIDS Remains Tragically Underfunded, and Facing Worse. Despite the repeatedly-proven positive impact of harm reduction measures in reducing the spread and prevalence of HIV/AIDS, donors continue to refuse to pony up to pay for such measures. The UNAIDS program estimates that $2.3 billion was needed to fund AIDS-related harm reduction programs last year, but only $160 million was actually invested by donors as most member states cut their aid levels. That's only 7% of the requested funding level. That's after 2015 saw the first drop in support in five years (see pages 21-22) in funding for AIDS efforts in low- and middle-income countries. The world spends an estimated $100 billion a year on fighting drugs, but it can't come up with 2.3% of that figure to fight drug-related AIDS harms. Harm Reduction International has proposed a "10x20" shift of 10% of law enforcement funding toward harm reduction services by 2020 to address the gap.

Harm reduction's global funding challenges are further impacted by the global AIDS-fighting budget, which has taken a hit as the rise in the dollar has reduced the spending power of contributions from donor countries that use other currencies. Even worse, many of the countries currently benefiting from UN harm reduction funding have progressed economically to a point at which they are supposed to begin funding their own programs according to the UN development framework. But that may not be a realistic expectation, especially for the sometimes politically fraught programs needed to address disease transmission related to drug use.

3. America's Most Populous State Legalizes Marijuana, and So Do Several More. You know the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling when the rot sets in at home, and that's what happened in November's US elections. California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts all voted to legalize marijuana, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which had led the way in 2012 and 2014. Now, some 50 million Americans live in pot-legal states, and that's going to mean increasing pressure on the government in Washington to end federal pot prohibition. It's also an example to the rest of the world.

4. Europe's Prohibitionist Consensus Begins Crumbling Around the Edges. No European nation has legalized marijuana, but signs are increasing that somebody is going to do it soon. If 2016 was any indication, the best candidates may be Italy, where a broadly supported legalization bill got a parliamentary hearing this year before surprise election results upset the country's political apple cart; Germany, where "legalization is in the air" as Berlin moves toward allowing cannabis coffee shops and Dusseldorf moves toward total marijuana legalization; and Denmark, where Copenhagen is trying yet again to legalize weed. In both Denmark and Germany, legalization isn't currently favored by the central governments, while in Italy, everything is in limbo after Europe's populist uprising swept the prime minister out of office. Still, the pressure is mounting in Europe.

Amsterdam's famed cannabis coffee houses look set to final get a legal source of supply. (Wikimedia.org)
5. The Dutch Are Finally Going to Do Something About the "Back Door Problem." The Dutch have allowed for the sale of marijuana at "coffee shops" since the 1980s, but never made any provision for a legal pot supply for retailers. Now, after 20 years of blocking any effort to decriminalize marijuana production, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party has had a change of heart. At a party conference in November, the VVD voted to support "smart regulation" of marijuana and "to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs." The full text of the resolution, supported by 81% of party members, reads: "While the sale of cannabis is tolerated at the front door, stock acquisition is now illegal. The VVD wants to end this strange situation and regulate the policy on soft drugs in a smarter way. It's time to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs. This redevelopment can only take place on a national level. Municipalities should stop experiments with cannabis cultivation as soon as possible." The opposition political parties are already in support of solving the long-lived "back door problem."

6. Canada's Move Toward Marijuana Legalization Continues Apace. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals swept the Tories out of power in October 2015 with a platform that included a clear-cut call for marijuana legalization. Movement toward that goal has been slow but steady, with the task force charged with clearing the way calling for wide-ranging legalization in a report report issued in December. The Liberals say they expect to file legalization bills in the parliament this spring, and Canada remains on track to free the weed.

7. Bolivia Ignores UN Drug Treaty, Agrees to Export Coca to Ecuador. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader himself, opened the year campaigning to decriminalize the coca trade and closed it without waiting for the UN to act by inking an agreement with Ecuador to export coca there. The agreement would appear to violate the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which bans the export of coca leaf because it contains the cocaine alkaloid, but neither Bolivia nor Ecuador seem to care.

Mexico's latest drug war marked its 10th anniversary last month. (Wikimedia.org)
8. Mexico Marks a Decade of Brutal Drug Wars. In December, 2006, then-President Felipe Calderon sent the Mexican army into the state of Michoacan in what he said was a bid to get serious about fighting the drug trade. It didn't work, and in fact, led to the worst prohibition-related violence in the country's history, with an estimated 100,000 + killed and tens of thousands more gone missing. Attention to the cartel wars peaked in 2012, which was a presidential election year in both the US and Mexico, and the level of killing declined after that, but has now risen back to those levels. Calderon's replacement, Enrique Pena Nieto, has publicly deemphasized the drug war, but has not substantially shifted the policy. The arrest of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has weakened his cartel, but that has only led to more violence as new competitors vie for supremacy.

There are signs of hope on the policy front though, if early ones, with medical marijuana being implemented, attitudes toward legalization softening, and the government playing a role in forwarding the international debate on drug policy reform.

9. Iran Has Second Thoughts About the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Islamic Republic is perhaps the world's leading drug executioner, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed in 2015 (2016 numbers aren't in yet), but there are increasing signs the regime could change course. In November, the parliament agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drugs. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors."

10. The Philippines Wages a Bloody War on Drug Users and Sellers. With the election of former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as president, the country descended into a veritable blood-bath, as police and "vigilantes" seemingly competed to see who could kill more people faster. Duterte has brushed off criticism from the US, the UN, and human rights groups, and even insulted his critics, although he did have kind words to say about Donald Trump, who had kind words to say about him. As of year's end, the death toll was around 6,000, with the vigilantes claiming a slight lead over the cops.

Chronicle AM: World AIDS Day, Psilocybin Could Help Terminal Patients, More... (12/1/16)

New studies suggest psychedelics could help terminal patients deal with their fears, the Ohio legislature prepares to pass asset forfeiture reform, and more.

Psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, can help terminal patients cope, a pair of new studies suggests.
Psychedelics

Studies Suggest Magic Mushrooms Could Help Cancer Patients Deal With Fear. A pair of studies published Thursday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggest that psilocybin, the psychedelic drug in magic mushrooms, could help terminal cancer patients cope with fear and anxiety around impending death. "The findings are impressive, with good safety data and large effect sizes," says Robin Carharrt-Harris, who studies psychedelic drugs at Imperial College London. "My feeling is that these studies will play a significant role in waking up the scientific and medical mainstream to the therapeutic potential of psychedelics."

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Legislature Poised to Pass Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform, Despite Police and Prosecutors' Opposition. Legislative leaders say they expect to pass a civil asset forfeiture reform bill in the state Senate next week. The measure, House Bill 347, passed the House in the spring, but was delayed in the Senate when a committee approved an amendment to address concerns raised by prosecutors. The bill originally would have eliminated civil asset forfeiture, but now has been softened to allow it if the property owner is dead, the suspect cannot be located, or the owner does not claim the property. It also allows for civil forfeiture post-conviction.

Harm Reduction

It's World AIDS Day. We Can't End AIDS Until We End the War on Drugs. "Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day," writes the Drug Policy Alliance's Laura Thomas. "In 1989, I was arrested in front of the White House on World AIDS Day, demanding that then-President Bush take action on HIV/AIDS. Among the issues we were demanding action on then, so many years ago, was the availability of sterile syringes for people who inject drugs, so they could stop the transmission of HIV. In the decades since, we have celebrated amazing victories against HIV/AIDS. We now have treatments we could only dream of then. We have pills that will prevent HIV. We have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. We even have an effective cure for hepatitis C. And we are keeping many, many more people with HIV alive now. And yet, it is syringe access -- needle exchange -- that we have been the slowest to win…" Click on the link for the whole post.

Trump VP Pick Mike Pence is Bad News on Marijuana, Drug Policy

The Republican nominee's choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate means Trump has selected a man who is the very embodiment of last century's "tough on drugs" prohibitionist attitudes.

Trump VP pick Mike Pence doesn't have a great record on drug policy. (flickr.com/gage skidmore)
Pence's anti-drug reform stances are part and parcel of his overall social conservative, Tea Party positions. He has also been a strong opponent of gay marriage and abortion rights and a strong supporter of "religious freedom."

Indiana has tough marijuana laws, with possession of even the smallest amount of pot worth up to six months in county jail and possession of more than 30 grams (slightly more than an ounce) a felony punishable by up to 2 ½ years in prison. Selling any amount more than 30 grams is also a felony, again punishable by up to 2 ½ years in prison.

Mike Pence is just fine with that. In fact, three years ago he successfully blocked a move in the legislature to reduce some of those penalties, saying that while he wanted to cut prison populations, he didn't want to cut penalties to achieve that end.

"I think we need to focus on reducing crime, not reducing penalties," he said. "I think this legislation, as it moves forward, should still seek to continue to send a way strong message to the people of Indiana and particularly to those who would come into our state to deal drugs, that we are tough and we're going to stay tough on narcotics in this state."

Pence did sign emergency legislation allowing for needle exchange programs in some Indiana counties last year, but only after initial resistance, during which more than 150 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in one county alone. His hesitance was in line with his anti-drug values, as evidenced by his 2009 vote as a US representative to keep intact a federal ban on funding for needle exchanges.

Pence is also a gung-ho drug warrior when it comes to the Mexican border, having voted to support billions in funding for Mexico to fight drug cartels and for using the US military to conduct anti-drug and counter-terror patrols along the border.

Bizarrely enough, there is one drug Pence has no problems with, but it's a legal one: nicotine. That's right, the drug warrior is an apologist and denier for Big Tobacco.

"Time for a quick reality check," he said in 2000. "Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill."

Pence has been handsomely compensated by tobacco companies for his advocacy against anti-smoking public health campaigns, even though they have proven wildly successful in driving down smoking rates. Pence can be viewed as a man who rejects proven public health interventions for one dangerous substance while insisting on failed punitive, prohibitionist policies for another, less dangerous, substance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wasn't alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM: House Leaders Offer Sentencing Reforms, FL & OH Pot Polls, MI MedMJ Bills Move, More (10/8/15)

The House leadership rolls out a sentencing reform package, new polls show marijuana legalization majorities in Florida and Ohio, the Duke City still can't have decriminalization, and more.

Dispensaries could be coming soon in Michigan. Legislation is moving. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization, Overwhelming One For Medical Marijuana. A New Quinnipiac University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 51% and support for medical marijuana at 87%. The state has a CBD medical marijuana law, legislators are proposing expanding it, and there is a medical marijuana initiative campaign underway, too. Click on the link for more poll details and methodology.

Massachusetts Legalization Campaign Halfway There on Signature Gathering. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts says it has already collected some 47,000 signatures, half of its goal of 100,000. The initiative needs just under 65,000 valid voter signatures by November 18. No word yet on how the rival Bay State Repeal, which has its own legalization initiative, is doing.

As Initiative Vote Looms, Ohio Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has generic support for legalization at 53%, just about where it was a year ago. The poll comes as voters there will decide next month on the fate of a controversial legalization initiative from ResponsibleOhio -- Issue 3 on the November ballot. The poll did not specifically ask voters about support for that measure. Click on the title link for more poll results and methodology.

Albuquerque Mayor's Decriminalization Veto Upheld (Again). For the second time in as many years, the Albuquerque city council has passed a decriminalization ordinance, the mayor has vetoed it, and the council has been unable to override the veto. An attempt to override Mayor Richard Berry's (R) latest veto failed Wednesday night on a 5-4 vote along party lines.

Medical Marijuana

As Clock Ticks, Calls on California Governor to Sign Medical Marijuana Bills. Law enforcement and the cannabis industry, as well as cities and counties and state lawmakers, are all calling on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign a package of comprehensive, statewide medical marijuana regulation bills without delay. The bills are Assembly Bill 266, Senate Bill 653, and Assembly Bill 243. Brown has until Sunday to act. If he doesn't the bills will become law without his signature.

Florida Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) has filed House Bill 307, which would allow patients to use medical marijuana under the state's "investigational drug" law. Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) said he would file a companion measure in the Senate.

Michigan House Approves Dispensaries, Edibles Bills. The House Wednesday voted 95-11 to approve House Bill 4209, which would create a state board to regulate dispensaries, as well as approving bills to allow for the use of edibles and to set up a tax structure. The measures now head to the state Senate.

Harm Reduction

Expert Panel Calls for Injection Drug Users to Have Access to Hep C Treatment. An international expert panel convened by the International Network for Hepatitis in Substance Users is recommending that injection drug users be offered drugs to cure the disease, as well offered comprehensive social support and harm reduction services. The recommendations were published this month in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Sentencing

House Leaders Announce Sentencing Reform Deal. House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) Wednesday announced a deal on sentencing reform with his counterpart Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). The bill -- The Sentencing Reform Act -- takes a similar approach to the Senate's Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, announced last week, although this bill contains new problematic provisions. "This is not the legislation we would have drafted, but we are encouraged that we now have bills in the House and Senate that tackle similar issues and that move the ball down the field for sentencing reform," said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are more optimistic than ever that a bill will land on the President's desk."

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: 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. (state.gov)
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.

International

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

Chronicle AM: Truckers Oppose Hair Drug Tests, TX Drug Felon Food Stamp Ban Ending, More (8/20/2015)

Asset forfeiture reform is moving in Michigan, Texas is about to end its ban on food stamps for drug felons, Brazil's high court takes up a case that could lead to drug decriminalization, the Teamsters and other labor groups pan hair drug testing, and more.

Truckers and other labor groups are urging the House to reject hair drug testing. (wikimedia/Veronica538)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Chamber of Commerce Joins Opposition to Legalization Initiative. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it would "strongly oppose" the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative and will donate $100,000 to defeat it at the polls. The chamber cited worries over workplace safety. The initiative campaign said it was not surprised, given that chambers of commerce in other states where legalization has been an issue have always opposed it.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Asset Forfeiture Reform Package Wins Senate Panel Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a package of bills reforming civil asset forfeiture. House Bills 4499 and 4503-4506 all passed unanimously. Five of the bills increase reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies, while two bills would raise standards in drug and public nuisance forfeiture cases from "a preponderance of evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The committee did not vote on House Bill 4508, which would have barred the seizure of vehicles used to purchase less than an ounce of marijuana, after committee lawyers said it would legalize marijuana.

Drug Policy

Texas to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. Beginning September 1, Texas becomes the latest state to opt out of a federal ban on food stamps for drug felons that was enacted as part of the 1996 federal welfare reform bill. Many states opted out immediately, and now only a handful maintain the ban. They are Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Drug Testing

Teamsters, Other Unions Urge House to Reject Hair Testing. A coalition of labor groups has sent a letter to House lawmakers dealing with transportation issues asking them to reject a recent Senate proposal to let trucking companies use hair testing for drugs instead of urine testing. The Senate proposal is part of a six-year highway bill. "We urge the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to reject efforts to allow hair to be used for federal drug tests before the validity and reliability of this testing method can be determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, the groups, including the Teamsters and a branch of the AFL-CIO, wrote. Urine testing, which detects recent drug use, has "proven effective," the groups said. Hair drug testing detects drug use going back months.

Harm Reduction

Third Indiana County Gets Emergency Needle Exchanges. The state health commissioner has declared a public health emergency in Fayette County because of high levels of Hepatitis C infections. That will allow the county to institute needle exchange programs. Similar emergencies were declared earlier this year in Scott and Madison counties.

International

Brazil Supreme Court Considering Case That Could Lead to Drug Decriminalization. On Wednesday, the country's high court began arguing the case of a prison inmate caught with three grams of marijuana and charged with drug possession. Sao Paulo state public defenders are pushing for the conviction to be overturned on the grounds that the charge is unconstitutional because it violated citizens' privacy rights. The judges are continuing to consider the case today, with a ruling expected shortly.

New Canada Poll Has Two-Thirds for Marijuana Decriminalization. A new Ipsos poll has 65% of Canadians favoring decriminalization, with 35% opposed. "Doesn't matter where you live in the country, a majority of every demographic group supports decriminalization," said pollster Sean Simpson. Support was at 39% in 1987 and increased steadily since then.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Roadside Waits for Drug Dogs, DEA Head to Resign, More (4/21/15)

The DEA head is on her way out, the Supreme Court rules on making motorists wait for drug dogs to arrive, Indiana's governor extends an emergency needle exchange, a new report on asset forfeiture abuses in California is out, and more.

The US Supreme Court rules that detaining motorists on the side of the road to wait for drug dogs is illegal. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Legal Pot Price Declines to $12 a Gram. Pot prices averaged nearly $30 a gram—well above black market prices—when the state's first marijuana retail outlets opened, but that has changed dramatically, according to the State Liquor Control Board. Now, the average retail price of a gram is about $12, as supply expands to meet demand. That's still $336 an ounce, though.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Getting Underway. Activists with Wyoming NORML submitted their initiative application with the secretary of state's office Monday. If and when the application is approved, organizers will have until next February to gather 25,673 valid voter signatures to place it on the 2016 general election ballot. A recent poll had support for marijuana at 72% in the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

New Report Details California Asset Forfeiture Abuses. The Drug Policy Alliance today released a new report, Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California, a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in the state that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. The report finds that a handful of LA County cities lead the state in per capita seizures, that some departments rely on asset forfeiture for funding themselves, and that some departments were providing false or incomplete reports to the Justice Department.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Dead. The legislator who unexpectedly proposed adding a welfare drug testing proposal to a social services spending bill has withdrawn it after learning how few people would be tested and how little support there is for it. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crawfordsville) said today he would instead seek a study committee to examine how best to fight drug abuse.

Florida Governor Settles on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has formally given up on his effort to subject state employees to random, suspicionless drug testing. He reached an agreement Monday with the employees' union that will only allow drug testing in a relative handful of safety-sensitive positions. Of the 1,400 job classifications Scott originally wanted covered, only 267 will be covered.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Extends Emergency Needle Exchange Program. Gov. Mike Pence (R) Monday extended an emergency needle exchange program in Scott County for another 30 days in a bid to get a handle on an injection drug-related HIV outbreak there. The move comes as the legislature heard testimony supporting a bill that would allow similar exchanges elsewhere in the state.

Law Enforcement

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Set to Resign. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, a unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate. Click on the link to read our feature story on this.

Supreme Court Says Detaining Motorists to Wait for Drug Dogs to Arrive is Not OK. In a 6-3 decision today, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unlawful searches and seizures. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely—the ostensible reason for the stops. "A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said. Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said. Click on the link to read our newsbrief and view the ruling itself.

International

Mexicans Capture Gulf Cartel Leader. Mexican authorities confirmed over the weekend that they had captured Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, who they described as a Gulf Cartel leader responsible for much of the recent violence in the border city of Reynosa. He was caught despite a shootout between Mexican soldiers and police and around 60 cartel gunmen who tried to rescue him. The Mexicans caught a key Juarez Cartel leader just a day earlier. 

Chronicle AM: CA Poll Has 55% for Legalization, GA MedMJ CBD Bill Passes, DEA Sex Parties, More (3/26/15)

Marijuana and medical marijuana remain hot items at the statehouse, a new report says DEA agents partied with prostitutes paid for by drug traffickers, Indiana's governor okays emergency needle exchanges, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Bill Would Still Treat Pot as Controlled Substance. The state Senate is preparing to vote Friday on the bill to deal with marijuana post-legalization, but it will vote on a version of Senate Bill 30 that keeps marijuana listed as a controlled substance. A Judiciary Committee draft removed marijuana from the list, but the Senate voted as a whole to adopt instead language from the Finance committee that keeps it on the list.

New California Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. A new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll has 55% of Californians supporting marijuana legalization. "Support for legalization is at its highest point since PPIC began asking the question in May 2010," the group noted.

California Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy Releases Policy Road Map Today. A group of experts led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is today unveiling a "progress report" that outlines issues that should be addressed in any legalization initiative going before voters next year. The commission also includes the ACLU, leading academics, law enforcement officials, and activists.

Massachusetts Prosecutors Reject Legalization. State DAs showed little interest in legalizing marijuana at a statehouse hearing Wednesday. "We ought to turn ourselves into Denver, Colorado, where gummy bears are littering the streets that are made of marijuana?" asked Cape and Islands DA Michael O'Keefe in a typical comment from prosecutors. If the legislature doesn't legalize pot this year or next, the state is extremely likely to see one or more initiatives to do so next year.

New Jersey Governor Says Marijuana Tax Revenue is "Blood Money." Gov. Chris Christie (R) used the occasion of the ribbon-cutting event at a drug treatment facility to reiterate his opposition to marijuana legalization. Christie said marijuana is a "gateway drug" and that tax revenues from its sale would amount to "blood money."

ResponsibleOhio Begins Signature Gathering. Signature gathering started Wednesday for the group's marijuana legalization initiative, which is unique and controversial because of its scheme to essentially create a commercial marijuana monopoly with only 10 registered commercial growers. The group needs some 300,000 signatures by July to qualify for this year's ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Federal CBD Bill Filed. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) has filed HR 1635, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CDB) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the definition of marijuana under the act.

Georgia CBD Passes Legislature, Governor Will Sign. The House Wednesday gave final approval to House Bill 1, which would allow patients with eight specified diseases to use CBD cannabis oil. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said today he will sign the bill.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Public Health and Public Safety committees have approved House Bill 321, which would create dispensaries and production centers in each county in the state. They also amended the bill to speed up the opening of dispensaries, which would now be set for next year.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday approved Senate Study Bill 1243, which would allow patients with a number of specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana -- but not to smoke it.

North Carolina House Committee Kills Medical Marijuana Bill. After an intense hour-long hearing, the House Judiciary Committee voted to kill a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 78. Some supporters of the bill vowed to move to other states, while one Republican foe of the bill, Rep. Dan Arp, complained he was struck in the back by an angry supporter. The man was detained by police, but later released without charges.

Heroin and Opiates

Kentucky Legislature Passes Compromise Heroin Bill. After more than three years of negotiations, the legislature has passed a bill that will allow for needle exchange programs, but also increase sentences for some heroin dealing offenses. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is expected to sign the bill.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Authorizes Limited Needle Exchange Program to Fight HIV Outbreak. Gov. Mike Pence (R) has declared a public health emergency in Scott County, which has seen 79 new HIV cases since December, all tied to needle sharing among drug users. The move allows him to institute a short-term needle exchange program to attempt to slow the outbreak.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor has approved House Bill 1924, which would establish a pilot program to require welfare applicants to undergo screening for drug use and submit to drug tests if deemed "suspicious." The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agents in Colombia Enjoyed "Sex Parties" Paid for By Drug Traffickers. A new report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that foreign drug trafficking organizations paid for "sex parties" attended by DEA agents, including at least one DEA Supervisory Agent. At least seven overseas agents admitting attending parties with prostitutes, and they were hit with penalties of suspensions ranging from two to10 days. The DEA wasn't especially helpful in preparing the report, the OIG noted.

International

New Zealand Prime Minister Rejects Marijuana Decriminalization. Prime Minister John Key said while campaigning Thursday that he did not support marijuana decriminalization. When accused by a listener of wanting to lock people up, he said, "It's not so much that, I just don't agree with drugs." That prompted Northland candidate Maki Herbert to retort that Key was sending mixed messages. "On the one hand he wants cannabis to remain a crime but he denies wanting to lock people in jail for that crime," she said. "Mr. Key should remember that alcohol is also a drug, one which he admits to using regularly."

Drug War Issues

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