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Chronicle AM: Dem Senators Push DEA on Rescheduling, More Toronto Pot Shop Raids, More... (6/24/16)

Sanders supporters eye a pot plank in the Democratic Party platform, Democratic senators push the DEA on rescheduling, the UN says US heroin use is at a 20-year high, Toronto pot shops get raided, and more.

Cannabis Culture storefront bust in Toronto Thursday (Twitter/@EbonyReneeBaker)
Marijuana Policy

Sanders Pushes Marijuana Reform in the Democratic Platform. Bernie Sanders' campaign is not quiet. The Vermont senator has lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, but he and his delegates are pushing for reformist planks in the Democratic Party platform, including removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. At least 12 state Democratic Party platforms have embraced marijuana law reform; perhaps this year, the national party will, too.

Democratic Senators Urge DEA to Reschedule Marijuana. The DEA has said it's thinking about it -- in fact, it's in the "final stages" of deliberation -- but the Democratic lawmakers want to renew the pressure on the agency to act. Signers of the letters are Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkle of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Delaware Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Legalization. State Sen.Colin Bonini (R-Dover) said Thursday that the legislature's passage of a bill allowing deferred judgment for small-time pot possessors has removed the last vestige of criminal accountability for pot possession and that the state might as well just legalize it. The Dover conservative is seeking his party's gubernatorial nomination.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Heroin Use in US at 20-Year High, UN Says. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the US now has a million heroin users, up three-fold from 2003, a situation the office described as "alarming." The finding came in the World Drug Report 2016, released yesterday.


Toronto Police Raid Four More Dispensaries, Including Jody and Marc Emery's. Police in Toronto raided four more dispensaries yesterday, including the Cannabis Culture storefront owned by Vancouver's leading cannabis couple, Marc and Jody Emery. Police Chief Mark Saunders said the dispensaries are operating illegally and police will continue to bust them. An earlier round of dispensary raids last month was widely criticized, with proponents noting that the Liberal government is moving to legalize 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: CA ACLU Endorses AUMA, Nadelmann Testifies at Senate Hearing, More... (6/15/16)

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Drug Policy

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


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

Chronicle AM: Bratton Blames MJ for Prohibition Violence, Opioid Prescriptions Decline, More... (5/23/16)

Bill Bratton misses the point on prohibition and violence, Nebraskans will have to wait for medical marijuana, Fentanyl is displacing heroin in Vancouver, and more.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York City's Top Cop Blames Marijuana Legalization -- Not Prohibition -- for Black Market Violence. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton Sunday criticized states that have legalized weed because there is violence around the black market in his city, which hasn't legalized weed. "Here in New York, the violence we see associated with drugs, the vast majority of it, is around the issue of marijuana, which is ironic considering the explosion in use of heroin now in the city," Bratton said. "Interestingly enough, here in New York City most of the violence we see -- violence around drug trafficking -- is involving marijuana and I have to scratch my head as we are seeing many states wanting to legalize marijuana, and more liberalization of policies."

Medical Marijuana

No Medical Marijuana Initiative for Nebraska This Year. Cornhusker medical marijuana advocates have decided to delay a petition drive to get the issue on the ballot until 2018. They cited the late start this year and the expense involved.

Rhode Island Senate Approves Adding PTSD to List of Qualifying Conditions. The Senate last Friday unanimously approved a bill that will add PTSD to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the House.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Opioid Prescriptions are Falling for the First Time in 20 Years. Two reports from health information providers show that opioid prescriptions have declined in recent years. IMS Health reported a 12% decline in opioid prescriptions nationally since 2012, while Symphony Health Solutions reported an 18% drop during those years. IMS said prescriptions have fallen in 49 states, with only South Dakota showing an increase. The figures could have implications not only for overdose and addiction rates, but also for pain patients. "The climate has definitely shifted," said Dr. Daniel B. Carr, the director of Tufts Medical School's program on pain research education and policy. "It is now one of reluctance, fear of consequences and encumbrance with administrative hurdles. A lot of patients who are appropriate candidates for opioids have been caught up in that response."


In Vancouver, Heroin Has Been Displaced by Fentanyl. The synthetic opioid has been identified in half of all drug overdoses in the city this year, which is on track to exceed last year's drug overdose toll. Advocates for drug users in the city's Downtown East Side say there's no more heroin on the street after it has been pushed out by the cheaper and more potent Fentanyl. "Traditionally, heroin comes in about four different colors,"said the longtime drug advocate Hugh Lampkin of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, describing a bland palette of beiges, browns and blacks. "Well now you're seeing multiple colors, like colors of the rainbow: green and pink and orange and white... Right away, when you see these colors that's a pretty good indicator that it's fentanyl that you're doing. The people who are controlling the supply, they're passing off what should be heroin as fentanyl because of the close proximity of the high."

Afghans Celebrate Bumper Opium Harvest. Hundreds of laborers from across the Pashtun heartland gathered in Naqil, Uruzgan province, to harvest a bumper crop of opium poppies and celebrate with after-work games in a festival-like atmosphere. "This is the only time of the year to make money," said Afzal Mohammad, who came all the way from Kandahar, standing amid chest-high poppy stalks nearby. "People work here for about 15 days and then are jobless for the rest of the year."

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

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


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

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

In Cutting Edge Move, Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chronicle AM: Michiganders Say Legalize, Kansas MedMj Mom Sues Over Son's Removal, More... (3/28/16)

Popular sentiment favors marijuana legalization in Michigan, Denver activists plan an initiative to approve cannabis social clubs, Florida's CBD cannabis oil law gets expanded, and more.

Shona Banda is suing the state of Kansas, local police, and a local school district over her son's removal from her home.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll commissioned by Michigan marijuana activists finds support for legalization at 54%. The poll comes as activists there struggle to get legalization initiatives on the ballot.

Denver Activists Renew Push for Cannabis Clubs. Activists with Responsible Use Denver submitted ballot language last Friday for an initiative to allow for private marijuana social clubs and to allow for public pot use at special events with a permit. The move comes a year after backers of a similar measure dropped it in favor of working with city officials to craft a policy. The initiative will need 5,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot; the group says it is aiming at 10,000 raw signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor Signs CBD Expansion Bills Into Law. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has signed into law House Bill 307 and House Bill 1313, which expands the state's CBC cannabis oil law and fixing some problems related to that law which resulted in patients not getting their medicine because of challenges setting up the industry.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Mom Sues Over Son's Removal. Activist Shona Bana last Thursday filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last Thursday over the state's questioning and removal of her 11-year-old son after he spoke up in school about her using and possessing marijuana. She is claiming the state deprived her of her civil rights by not allowing her to use medical marijuana to treat her Crohn's Disease and that local police and school officials improperly questioned her son.

MPP-Backed Ohio Initiative Cleared for Circulation. The initiative from Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, which is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, has been cleared for circulation. Attorney General Mike DeWine last Friday approved the summary language. At least two other proposed medical marijuana initiative have been rejected by DeWine, as was an earlier version of this one.


Pennsylvania Coroner Now Classifying Heroin Overdoses as "Homicides." Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling has started listing accidental fatal heroin overdoses as homicides. "If you are selling heroin to someone and they die, isn't that homicide?" he asked. "If you are dealing drugs, you are a murderer." Most coroners in the state list heroin overdose deaths as "accidental," not "homicide."

Drug Testing

West Virginia Imposes Drug Testing on High School Students in Tech Ed Courses. All high school students in third and fourth year career technical education courses will be required to submit to drug tests beginning next school year. It's part of the Department of Education's Simulated Workplace program. It's unclear whether the drug testing complies with Supreme Court rulings that limit mandatory, suspicionless drug testing to select groups of students, but would appear to be ripe for a legal challenge.

Chronicle AM: TN Pregnant Women Drug Law Fails, AR Welfare Drug Testing Starting, More... (3/24/16)

An asset forfeiture reform bill moves in New Hampshire, Arkansas and West Virginia advance welfare drug testing, a global commission on public health calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Committee Approves Bill to Set Up Medical Marijuana Shops. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday approved House Bill 446, sponsored by Rep. H. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte). The bill would create a licensing scheme for the distribution of medical marijuana products. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. It must still be approved by the Senate.

More Michigan Protests Over Dispensary Raids. Dozens of patients, advocates, and supporters took to the steps of the state capitol in Lansing Tuesday to protest a new wave of raids by the Michigan State Police and local narcotics teams. Both state Sen. Coleman Young (D-Detroit) and Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) addressed the crowd.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Senate Restores Funding for Heroin Fight. The Senate Wednesday agreed to restore $12 million in funding for anti-heroin efforts that had been proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin (R), but cut by the House last week. House Democrats had slashed the $32 million over two years proposed by the governor to $20 million. Now, the House and Senate will have to thrash out the difference in conference committee.

Asset Forfeiture

New Hampshire House Approves Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House Wednesday approved House Bill 636, which would require a criminal conviction before assets could be seized and which would move seized goods from the drug forfeiture fund to the state's general fund. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is threatening to veto the bill, saying that because of the state's opioid crisis, this isn't the time to eliminate law enforcement resources.

Drug Policy

Hawaii Lawmakers Take Up Resolution Urging Study on Drug Decriminalization. The House Judiciary Committee today is hearing a resolution, HCR 127, that calls on the state's Legislative Research Bureau to "conduct a study on the feasibility and advisability of decriminalizing the illegal possession of drugs for personal use in Hawaii" so that it "would constitute an administrative or civil violation rather than a criminal offense." If the resolution passes both chambers, the study would be due before year's end to be ready for next year's legislative session. The study would examine Portugal's experience with decriminalization as a possible model for the state.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing to Begin Within Days. The head of the Department of Workforce Services, Daryl Bassett, said Wednesday that the state's welfare drug testing program would get underway within "seven to 10 days." Under the program, all applicants for government aid would be screened for possible drug use and those deemed likely to have been using drugs would have to undergo drug testing. Refusal to take the drug test will result in being denied benefits for six months. Someone who tests positive can continue to receive aid if he follows treatment and recovery plans set by state officials.

West Virginia Governor Signs Welfare Drug Test Bill. Gov. Early Ray Tomblin (D) today signed into law a bill that mandates screening of all welfare applicants for drug use and drug testing those for whom case workers have "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. Applicants who fail drug tests can continue to receive benefits as long as they enroll in drug treatment and job training programs, but a second failed test could mean loss of benefits for up to a year, and a third would earn a lifetime ban.

Harm Reduction

King County Sheriff Says He Would Not Arrest Drug Users Going to Seattle Safe Injection Site. King County Sheriff John Urquhart edged ever closer Tuesday to outright support of a safe injection site in Seattle. "I guarantee you," said Urquhart, "that if you're going into a safe injection site, you will not be arrested by any of my deputies, period." But he was careful to add that while he was "intrigued" by the success of Vancouver's InSite supervised injection facility, he is not yet ready to endorse them for Seattle.


Tennessee Law That Allows Assault Charges for Pregnant Drug Users Not Renewed. The state's two-year experiment with arresting pregnant drug users is about to come to an end after the legislature failed to re-authorize the law this week. At least a hundred women have been prosecuted under the program, which has been condemned by human rights, civil rights, and pregnant women's rights advocates.


Leading Global Health Commission Calls for Reform of Drug Policies Worldwide. A leading global public health commission is calling for new policies that would transform our approach to drug use, addiction and control worldwide, including the decriminalization of minor and non-violent drug offenses. According to a report released this morning by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Lancet, the war on drugs and zero-tolerance policies have undercut public health across the globe and have directly contributed to many of today's most urgent public health crises, while doing little to affect drug markets or drug use. The Johns Hopkins University -- Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy calls for worldwide reform of drug policies, including: the decriminalization of minor and non-violent drug use, possession and petty sale; enactment of policies that reduce violence and discrimination in drug policing; increased access to controlled medicines that could reduce the risk of overdose deaths; and greater investments in health and social services for drug users. The report is based on an extensive review by the Commissioners of the published evidence, and on original analyses and modeling on violence, incarceration and infectious diseases associated with drug policies.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

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

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

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

Drug Testing

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


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

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