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Chronicle AM -- July 11, 2014

A St. Paul drug raid is raising questions about police tactics, the hemp industry wants to clarify something, Tennessee gets its first bust under a law criminalizing drug-using pregnant women (and its first threat of a legal challenge), Pennsylvania issues opiate prescribing guidelines, and more. Let's get to it:

One of the two dogs killed in a St. Paul SWAT team raid that scored a bong and a grinder. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Municipal Decriminalization Initiatives Halfway There on Signatures. Decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are at the halfway point in terms of signatures gathered. Two groups, Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, are leading the effort. The campaigns reported having half the 5,673 signatures needed in Santa Fe. They also need 11,203 signatures in Albuquerque; organizers say they are more than halfway there in the Duke City as well.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Names 16 to Medical Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has named the members of a state task force charged with monitoring the effectiveness of the state's new limited medical marijuana law. Included are four patients or their parents, four law enforcement entities, four substance abuse treatment providers and four health care providers. It also includes two lawmakers each from the House and Senate, as well as the commissioners of Health, Human Services and Public Safety. Click on the link for a list of members.

Hemp

Hemp Industries Association Clarifies That CBD Extracts Are Not "Hemp Oil." The trade group the Hemp Industries Association has released a statement emphasizing that cannabidiol (CBD) extracts are not "hemp oil" and warning against misbranding them as such. The CBD extracts are made from marijuana flowers for medicinal purposes, while hemp oil, produced by pressing hemp seeds, is a food item containing only tiny amounts of CBD. Click on the link to read the full statement.

Pregnancy

First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee's New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. A 26-year-old Monroe County woman has been charged with assault on her fetus for using methamphetamine shortly before she gave birth under a new law that allows prosecutors to press assault and child endangerment charges against women who use drugs. Under that law, "a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug." But neither doctors nor prosecutors have shown any harm to the woman's newborn baby.

Tennessee ACLU Seeking to Challenge New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The ACLU of Tennessee is currently seeking plaintiffs to challenge the new law criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs. The law is the first of its kind in the country. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges," said Thomas Castelli, Tennessee ACLU legal director. "By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need. ACLU-TN stands ready to challenge this law and encourages any woman concerned about the impact this law will have on her to contact us." Click on the link for more information.

Prescription Opiates

Pennsylvania Releases Guidelines for Prescribing Opiates. State officials and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have released new voluntary opiate prescribing guidelines as part of an effort to reduce overdose deaths. The guidelines are aimed at family practice doctors who are not pain treatment specialists. A University of Wisconsin pain policy specialist, James Cleary, said the guidelines were "very responsible," but raised concerns that opiates remain available for those who truly need them. Task force members responded that finding the proper balance was critical.

Law Enforcement

St. Paul SWAT Drug Raid Scores Bong, Grinder; Leaves Two Dogs Dead. A St. Paul, Minnesota, police SWAT team executing a no-knock search warrant at a family home burst through the front door without notice at 7:00am and promptly shot and killed the family's two pet pit bulls. "The first thing I heard was 'boom,'" said homeowner Larry Lee Arman. "Bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Right in front of us. I was laying right there and I really thought I was being murdered," he said "I don't want to say by who. I thought it was, like, the government." Police said they thought they were entering a dangerous environment and had a right to eliminate potential threats with lethal force, but Arman said he wasn't a dangerous drug dealer, only a pot smoker. The SWAT team's haul seems to bear him out. They seized only "clothing, a glass bong, and suspected marijuana remnants in a metal grinder."

International

New York Times Takes a Look at Barcelona's Cannabis Clubs. The New York Times has a lengthy profile of Barcelona's burgeoning cannabis social club scene. It reports that the clubs, where members may buy and consume marijuana, now have 165,000 members, and that they are creating marijuana tourism. Officials are concerned.

Barcelona Police Arrest Cannabis Club Leaders. Police in Barcelona Friday arrested the president and at least three other members of the city's cannabis club federation FEDCAC. The group said it was not told why they were arrested, but other Spanish press reports said it was on money laundering charges. The bust comes as the city tries to crack down on the burgeoning clubs, which are legal under Spanish law, but have been testing the limits.

Transnational Institute Analyzes Colombia/FARC Accord on Drugs, Finds It Lacking. In a policy briefing on the Colombian peace accords, the Transnational Institute finds that FARC guerrillas are only "part of the problem" in the "complex scenario" of Colombian drug trafficking; that it effectively excludes rural settlers, indigenous and African-descent communities; that the agreement ratifies existing prohibition-based approaches to drugs; and that it ignores the ongoing progress in adopting other drug control models. Other than that…

Tennessee's Scary New Law Criminalizing Drug-Using Pregnant Women [FEATURE]

When -- despite the objections of medical groups, reproductive health advocates, and even the drug czar's office -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1391 late last month, the Volunteer State became the first in the nation to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes. Other states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, have used fetal harm laws to charge drug-using pregnant women, but Tennessee is the first to explicitly criminalize drug use during pregnancy.

Passed in the midst of rising concern over prescription drug and heroin abuse and aimed, its proponents said, at protecting babies, the law allows women to be criminally charged with an "assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug or for criminal homicide if her child dies as a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant."

Felony assault can earn you up to 15 years in prison in Tennessee. And while some prosecutors have said they will only file misdemeanor charges, that's not written into the law.

Proponents cited recent reports that the number of babies being born addicted to drugs is on the rise. Such infants are diagnosed as having Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to opiates in the womb.

"Over the past decade, we have seen a nearly ten-fold rise in the incidence of babies born with NAS in Tennessee," the state Department of Health reported. Infants with NAS stay in the hospital longer than other babies and they may have serious medical and social problems."

But the state Health Department notwithstanding, experts in the field say that NAS doesn't actually have long-term effects, it's not accurate to call newborn infants "addicted," and that misrepresenting matters by vilifying pregnant women isn't helpful. In fact, more than 40 of them said so in an open letter last month.

More generally, leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association reject the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women who use drugs. The groups mentioned above and many others said so in this 2011 document.

A coalition of medical, public health, women's rights, and social justice groups worked to oppose the bill as it made its way through the legislature, and then to convince Gov. Haslam to kill it. A petition with over 11,000 signatures urging him to veto the bill went to his office late last month. More than two dozen organizations devoted to ensuring families have access to health care likewise urged a veto, as did the American Association of Pediatrics, the National Perinatal Association, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policy.

Even acting drug czar Michael Botticelli raised a warning flag.

"Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said during a visit to Nashville as the governor pondered. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease. What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders."

But none of that mattered. On April 29, Haslam signed the bill into law.

"In reviewing this bill, I have had extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials," Haslam said in a statement. "The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs."

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement in response to the signing. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

The statewide coalition Healthy and Free Tennessee also lambasted the new law.

"We are very sorry to see that Governor Haslam let an opportunity to do the right thing slip through his fingers," said Rebecca Terrell, the group's chairwoman."The experts could not have been clearer: this law is bad for babies and bad for Tennessee."

"This law says that women are to be held criminally accountable for the outcomes of their pregnancies," said Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which was part of the coalition fighting the new law. "It essentially creates a system of separate and unequal rights. Drug ingestion is not a crime in Tennessee, just possession, and now, only pregnant women are criminalized for ingesting. They can be surveilled and punished by the state in ways different from other people. The law also treats fertilized eggs or fetuses as if they were people independent of the pregnant woman," she told the Chronicle.

Gov. Bill Haslam (tn.gov)
"It's the wrong response to the problem of addiction," said Diaz-Tello. "It's a health problem that is not responsive to threats and punishment. What kind of society do we want to be? Do we want to punish the people most in need of help and support? These are women largely living in poverty, women of color, who are already made vulnerable by our social policies, and now we hold them solely responsible without looking at society and what else is going on leading to pregnancy among addicted people and this horrible punitive response."

Even framing the issue as "pregnant women taking drugs" is somewhat misleading, said Diaz-Tello.

"We often make the mistake of thinking of people using drugs during pregnancy as pregnant women who became addicted to drugs when it should be the other way around," she said. "The reasons for addiction are complex and often gender-based. Women who have experienced violence and trauma are often self-medicating, and there is a lot of unresolved pain and trauma out there. And half the pregnancies in our country are unintended, which disproportionately affects women on the margins. It's not like someone wakes up pregnant one day and decides they want to do drugs."

The law will not operate in a vacuum. Tennessee is one of those states that has refused to expand Medicaid and has rejected the Affordable Care Act. It is more difficult for poor women there to get access to health care services, including drug treatment, but now it will be easier to prosecute them.

"This is definitely for the most part going to affect poor, marginalized, predominantly rural women," said Cherisse Scott, founder of SisterReach, a Memphis-based group working for reproductive justice for women and girls in the city and the Mid-South area. "That's because of the many barriers they face. Many rural areas just don't have the facilities to offer help to these women."

Scott also bemoaned the criminalization of pregnant women who use drugs under the law, a process of stigmatization and punishment only made more severe for women lacking resources.

"Low income women, women of color, already have issues navigating the court system, and many don't have any kind of support system," she said. "When their children are taken, they don't have the resources to get them back. And the other piece of this is that jails aren't hospitals or treatment centers. They don't offer women an opportunity to be properly rehabilitated from drug use."

And then there's the aftermath of a criminal conviction.

"If you look at this through the lens of racial and reproductive justice, how does a woman with this on her record bounce back, how does she get a job? With a criminal background, she will be further locked out," said Scott. "These are the kinds of barriers and issues that will ultimately hurt the mothers of Tennessee. We can't support legislation that uses criminalization as a means of rehabilitating people," she told the Chronicle.

"Our lawmakers had good intentions, but they didn't think it through," said Scott. "They seem to be very ready to separate mothers and children as a way of helping, and we don't see it like that, especially when there are rehab programs that keep mother and children together."

The new law is also generating alarm with advocates for people who use opioid maintenance therapy to deal with opiate addictions. Methadone and buprenorphine maintenance are the gold standard for treating pregnant women addicted to narcotics. While state health officials have said they interpret the law to mean that a pregnant woman on methadone maintenance would not be in violation of it, there is no language in it that explicitly says that.

"I asked the governor to veto the bill because that exclusion wasn't made," said Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence. "The real question is whether some representative for the attorney general's office or a DA or child protection services interprets it that way. This is a potential problem. When you're talking about child protection, it's not unusual for a judge or child protection worker to say to a pregnant mom 'You can't be on methadone.' I hope this law will not be used as a method of forcing maintained patients out of care."

While babies born to opiate-addicted women can suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawals, they can be treated for that, mainly by slowly tapering the dose of opiates. But, Parrino said, not all pregnant mothers on methadone maintenance have babies with the syndrome, and consequences for fetuses can be serious if mothers are forced off opiates during their pregnancies.

"What happens to a fetus if you force mom to end her medication?" he asked. "In the first trimester, a sudden decrease can be harmful to the fetus. There could be spontaneous abortion. It's in the literature. That's why laws like this raise concerns in people who have some knowledge about how pregnant women are treated."

Parrino, too, saw race a playing a role, but in an unexpected way.

"What I am seeing for the first time in 30 years is a real interest by elected officials, many US senators and governors and legislators, who can't wrap their heads around why white teens and 20-somethings from middle class families in the suburbs and rural areas are shooting heroin," Parrino observed. "Those elected officials are right to be worried. This legislation in Tennessee is a result of those dynamics."

While the law may have been passed with the best motives, "the problem is the criminalization aspect," said Parrino. "Even if it can be explained as having a reasonably good intention of getting pregnant women not to use drugs and go to treatment, you are unwittingly subverting that goal by saying that being in methadone maintenance might be seen as not complete treatment. That uncertainty is creating anxiety."

The new law is set to go into effect on July 1, but efforts are already underway to block it and, barring that, to mitigate its effects.

"We're still trying to figure out the best plan of action," Scott said. "We want to figure out the best way to support women who are going to be victims of this policy. At the grass roots level, that means education, awareness, getting the word out through rehab centers to let the women know this is coming. Then we have to figure out what is the legal strategy to try to change this law. We're working on it."

"We're thinking about a legal challenge, especially on constitutional grounds," said Diaz-Tello. "We have worked with public defenders in Tennessee and other states on challenging similar laws on constitutional grounds. There's also the possibility of an affirmative suit to get the law enjoined. It would be ideal to stop this law before anyone gets arrested under it."

Barring the successful blocking of the law, drug-addicted pregnant women in Tennessee will face the tender mercies of the criminal justice system. But not all of them, of course.

"Race and class plays a role as always," said Scott. "Poor mothers go to jail; mothers with access to more resources may not be penalized at all. Women who have access to health care and can afford private prenatal care and treatment will get treatment; women who have no alternative but public aid or a public health clinic will be disproportionately impacted as always. Nothing's changed as far as race and class."

TN
United States

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) today signed into law a bill that will allow the state to file criminal charges against pregnant women who use drugs on the grounds that they are potentially harming their fetuses, even though there is little scientific evidence that being exposed to illicit drugs in the womb causes long-term harm to children.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) (tn.gov)
In his signing statement, Haslam said he signed the bill after "extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials" and will "be monitoring the impact of the law through regular updates with the court system and health professionals."

The bill foresees prison sentences of up to 15 years for women who used drugs and whose babies were stillborn or born addicted or otherwise harmed.

Haslam's move comes just one day after acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) slammed the notion in a visit to the state.

"Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," said acting drug czar Michael Botticelli. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease."

Haslam's approval of the measure, Senate Bill 1391, also comes in the face of a massive outcry from reproductive rights and criminal justice groups across the country, who say that criminalizing pregnant women is the wrong policy approach. Those advocates argue that criminalizing pregnant women who are using drugs works against getting them to come forward to seek medical treatment and that the law will disproportionately impact poor, non-white women.

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

It isn't just activists who are upset. According to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, most medical expert groups oppose such laws. And specialists in obstetric medicine and drug addiction called on Haslam to veto the measure.

"Tennessee has become the first state to ignore the warnings of medical and public health experts to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes," the pregnancy advocacy group said this afternoon.

Nashville, TN
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 29, 2014

Pressure builds for marijuana legalization in Illinois, a California medical marijuana patient is bumped off the liver transplant list, the drug czar's office slams the idea of criminalizing drug use by pregnant women, and the founder of the Pirate Party has some choice words on drug policy. And more. Let's get to it:

The founder of Sweden's Pirate Party has some choice words about Swedish drug policies.
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Lawmakers Call for Legalization. Three Chicago-area Democratic state legislators and a Cook County commissioner held a press conference Monday to call for the decriminalization of marijuana possession, to be followed by complete legalization. The three reps are Mike Zalewski, Kelly Cassidy, and Christian Mitchell, ahd the commissioner is John Fritchey. They have not filed any legislation, but want fellow Democrats in the General Assembly to green-light a task force to study the issue.

Coloradans Still Favor Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that Colorado voters support their legalization law, with 54% in favor. Only two demographic groups -- Republicans and voters over 65 -- thought it was a bad idea; in all other demographic groups, there was majority support. A majority of respondents also agreed that driving has not become more dangerous and that legalization would save money in the criminal justice system. Only 15% of respondents said they had bought pot since it has been legalized.

Hawaii THC Ministry's Roger Christie Gets Five Years in Prison; Already Served Four Awaiting Trial. A Big Island man who openly used his ministry to promote marijuana use was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison for having 300 pot plants as part of a distribution ring. Roger Christie, founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, also known as the THC Ministry, has served nearly four years in federal detention. Based on how credit for time served is calculated, he could be released in a month or two. A federal grand jury indicted the Christies and 12 others on marijuana trafficking counts after a 2010 raid of the ministry. Christie has been in federal detention since, while his wife has been free on bail. Christie and his wife had tried to fight the charges on religious freedom grounds, but lost in the courts. They then pleaded guilty.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Passes Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday approved a bill that allows low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to be used by patients suffering seizure disorders. Senate Bill 1030, also known as the Charlotte's Web bill after a certain high-CBD strain, now heads to the House, where its fate remains uncertain as leaders there raise questions about whether an extract could be made safe enough to distribute.

Minnesota Senate Committee Approves Compromise Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. Senate File 1641 now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Wednesday hearing. Companion legislation has also moved in the House.

Colorado Bill to Make PTSD as Qualifying Medical Condition Killed in House Committee Vote. A bill that would have added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of 'debilitating medical conditions' that qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation was killed in committee Monday. House Bill 14-1364 failed to pass the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a move decried by the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's insane that in a state with legal marijuana veterans don't have the same right as anyone else over 21 -- especially considering how many lives are at stake," said Art Way, senior Colorado policy manager for the group. "No veteran should have to risk benefits or feel stigmatized when they use medical marijuana."

California Patient Denied Liver Transplant Over Marijuana; Sign the Petition Here. Stanford University Medical Center has removed Hep C and cirrhosis sufferer Richard Hawthorne from its list of people in line to get liver transplants because he uses medical marijuana to alleviate his symptoms. Stanford removed Richard from the list based on "national standards." It said: "The national protocols include factors that may lead to disqualification, which include both use of drugs and alcohol." Hawthorne uses medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. There were only 333 signatures on the petition to get him reinstated at press time. Click on the link to add yours.

Prescription Opiates

New York Lawmakers Introduce Package of Bills Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates. New York lawmakers have introduced a set of bills to help fight heroin with tougher penalties for dealers, more funding for overdose-reversal drugs and increased better coverage for treatment. The six bills would increase penalties for selling opioids -- a class of drugs including heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone -- that result in death; equip first responders with overdose-reversal drugs; require health insurance providers to cover rehab programs and anti-addiction medication; create a public service announcement targeted at teenagers; and provide rehabilitation in communities.

Reproductive Rights

Drug Czar's Office Slams Tennessee Bill Criminalizing Drug Use by Pregnant Women. As Gov. Bill Haslam (R) ponders whether to sign a recently passed bill criminalizing drug use by pregnant women, acting Office of National Drug Control Policy head Michael Botticelli visited the state to say it was a bad idea. "Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease." The proposal has garnered national attention and vocal state and nationwide opposition from constitutional and reproductive rights groups. More than 10,500 people signed a petition asking for the governor's veto. Today is Haslam's deadline to act.

International

Tory Think Tank Urges British Conservatives to Decriminalize Drugs, Embrace Marijuana Reform. The Conservative Party think tank Bright Blue has issued a series of policy proposals to reinvigorate Conservative electoral support, including abandoning the war on drugs and embracing at least partial marijuana legalization. While the proposal is unlikely to find favor with Home Secretary Theresa May and others on the Tory right it does reflect a growing international trend following the legalization of marijuana in some US states. The Liberal Democrats have already said they will set up a Royal Commission to overhaul Britain's drugs rules and some within Labor would back a similar approach.

Pirate Party Head Admits Drug Use, Tells Sweden to "Get Real" About Drug Policy. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party, has been identified as one of eight European Parliament candidates who have tried drugs. He is unapologetic: "No, I haven't 'tried' drugs. I have 'used' drugs, and enjoyed it. That's the whole damn point," he wrote. "The Swedish elitist debate is seriously deranged on these issues -- to start getting realistic, we must first acknowledge that people are using drugs because they enjoy doing so. It's really no difference from enjoying a glass of wine or a fine cognac. Or for that matter, a cup of coffee, which is a very common drug that was once banned in Sweden as -- wait for it -- a 'gateway drug to heavier abuse'. Yes, you read that right." The Pirate Party aims to decriminalize the personal use of controlled substances as well as the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. "This is a very firm anchor in our civil liberties platform," he said. The Pirate Party earned 7.1% of the vote in the 2009 European elections. It was founded amid the debate about illegal downloading of film and music. It initially focused on promoting looser copyright laws and restrictions on the authorities' powers to snoop on computer users. The party now campaigns on a wide range of issues.

Uruguayans Still Oppose Marijuana Legalization Law, But Want to Give It a Chance. A new poll from CIFRA finds that 64% still oppose the country's legalization law, basically unchanged from 65% against it before the law was passed last year. But a narrow majority, 51%, said "it is better to wait until the bill is in effect to see if it truly works before rejecting it." Meanwhile, 46% of respondents want the bill "abrogated immediately."

Chronicle AM -- March 18, 2014

Federal drug prosecutions are declining, marijuana legalization moves forward in the Northeast, Pennsylvania counties pay for taking babies away from mothers over false positive drug tests, and more. Let's get to it:

Declining federal drug prosecutions could have an impact here. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Moves Forward. A bill to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol has passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee after the committee adopted an amendment to simplify the tax structure and improve regulations. House Bill 492 then got a "no pass" from the committee, but now goes to the House floor for a second vote. The House already approved the bill in January, after overturning a similarly negative recommendation from the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. If it passes the House again, it then goes to the Senate.

New Jersey Legalization Initiative Bill Introduced. Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Plains) have introduced Assembly Bill 2842, a bill that, if approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, would put the decision on whether to legalize marijuana in the hands of the voters. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and related paraphernalia. It does not address taxation or allow for commercial sales.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland House Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state. House Bill 1321 now moves to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania County Pays for Taking Baby from Birth Mother Over False Positive Drug Test. Lawrence County Children and Youth Services has settled, for $160,000, a lawsuit filed by a woman whose child was taken away following a false positive opiate test apparently caused by pasta salad. It's not the first time, either. Last July, Jameson Hospital and Lawrence County Children and Youth Services agreed to pay $143,500 to settle a similar lawsuit filed by a woman whose infant was taken by a false positive drug test apparently caused by consumption of a poppy seed bagel. A third local case is also pending. Last week, another woman Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, saying a false positive drug test apparently spurred by poppy seeds in farmer's market bread resulted in an Allegheny County Children Youth and Families investigation of her family.

Drug Policy

Maine Hearing Sees Criticism of Governor's Law Enforcement-Heavy Drug Policy. The legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Monday heard strong criticism of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) recently announced plan to address drug problems in the state by ratcheting up law enforcement. Throughout the hearing on Legislative Document 1811, speakers also highlighted the need to balance new enforcement with drug treatment programs and additional funding for the state's corrections system.

Law Enforcement

Federal Drug Prosecutions Declining. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports that the monthly count of federal prosecutions for narcotics/drugs offenses has reached its lowest level since May 2000. The latest available data from the Justice Department show there were 1,487 new prosecutions in this category in January 2014, down 7.8% from the previous month and down 11.5% from the year before. The number observed during the most recent six month period appears to be the lowest seen since the end of the Reagan Administration.

New Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bills Moving. Bills that would grant the Board of Pharmacy the cease and desist authority to prevent the sale of synthetic drugs are moving forward in the Minnesota Legislature. House File 2446 has passed two committees and is now being heard in the Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee In the Senate, a companion bill was heard in the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee and passed on a voice vote. It now moves on to the Judiciary Committee.

International

Mexican Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Now Complain Government is Persecuting Them. Vigilante groups in the western state of Michoacan who rose up against the Knights Templar cartel with the tacit approval of the Mexican government now say they are being persecuted not only by criminals, but also by the government. The vigilantes complained publicly Sunday, a day after the Mexican government said it was going to "put a stop" to them. The government had bruited plans to fold them into a rural security force, but now no longer seems to need them.

Chronicle AM -- November 29, 2013

Uruguay's marijuana legalization bill passes another hurdle, a Berlin borough wants cannabis cafes, Chicago proposes tough medical marijuana regulations, Kentucky officials hound the DEA about hemp, and more. Let's get to it:

Is this the face of marijuana legalization? Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Chicago Proposes Strict Medical Marijuana Regulations. Chicago officials have proposed regulations that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries and grows only in manufacturing districts, would limit the number of grows to 22, and would require that dispensaries and grows be at least 2,500 feet from a school, day care center, or residential area. Medical marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on January 1.

Michigan Appeals Court to Hear Cases on Unemployment Benefits. The Michigan Appeals Court has agreed to hear two cases to determine whether someone fired for using medical marijuana can collect unemployment benefits. Lower court judges have overturned state agency rulings denying the benefits, but medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette argues that the law only protects people from criminal prosecutions, not civil penalties.

Hemp

Kentucky Officials Send Letter to DEA Requesting Clarification on Hemp. Kentucky officials have sent a letter to the DEA asking for clarification of its position on industrial hemp. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, US Sen. Rand Paul (R), and US Reps. John Yarmouth and Thomas Massie want the agency to tell them whether growing hemp in states that have enacted a regulatory framework remains illegal. They point to the federal government's response to marijuana legalization and argue that hemp should be treated the same way.

Drug Testing

Idaho Supreme Court Upholds Drug Possession Conviction Based Solely on Drug Test. Idaho's high court Tuesday upheld the conviction of a woman charged with drug possession after blood from her newborn child's umbilical cord tested positive for methadone. The court held unanimously that the drug test result was probable cause to support a possession conviction.

International

Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. Uruguay is one step closer to becoming the first country to legalize the marijuana trade after the Senate Health Commission voted Thursday to approve the bill. The government-supported legislation has already passed the lower house and is expected to win final approval in the Senate next month.

Cannabis Cafes Coming to Berlin? Legislators in the hip Berlin borough of Friedrichschain-Kruezberg voted Thursday to approve cannabis coffee shops there. The move is the brainchild of Green Party Mayor Monika Hermann, who proposed it in September. Now, the borough must get the German federal government to agree. Under Article 3 of the German Narcotics Act, sufficient public interest could lead to law changes, provided there is public support and backing scientific evidence.

European Cancer Docs Say Restrictive Laws Aimed at Drug Abuse Block Millions from Pain Relief. The European Society for Medical Oncology warned that half the world's population lacks effective access to pain relievers because of restrictive laws aimed at reducing drug abuse. The group's Global Opioid Policy Initiative survey estimated that millions of cancer patients don't have access to seven cheap medicines essential for pain relief, including morphine and codeine. Access to such drugs "is catastrophically difficult" in many countries, the report's lead author said.

British Tories, Lib Dems At Odds Over Drug Policy. Britain's governing coalition is at odds with itself over drug policy after the new Liberal Democrat drugs minister, Norman Baker, said earlier this week that marijuana legalization "should be considered." That caused Conservative front-bencher and Justice Minister Chris Grayling to clarify that he and the Home Office "won't be considering it."

Northern Nigeria Alcohol Crackdown Sees 240,000 Bottles of Beer Destroyed. In attempt to deepen a sharia law ban on alcohol imposed in 2001, but largely ignored in hotels and the city's Christian quarter, Islamic police in the northern city of Kano destroyed 240,000 bottles of beer. They chanted "God is great" as they did so, and the head of the religious police warned that they will put an end to alcohol consumption. Multiple bombings of bars in the Christian quarter in late July carried out by suspected Islamic militants who complained the government wasn't enforcing sharia law adequately left 29 dead.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peru, once again the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, announced Thursday that it had eradicated a record 55,000 acres of coca, about one-fifth of the total estimated 250,000-acre crop. That's a 60% increase in eradication over last year. The government said the increase was due to tougher anti-drug efforts and a weakening of the Shining Path in coca growing areas.

Israel Medical Marijuana Use up 30% This Year. Medical marijuana use is up sharply this year in Israel, according to the Health Ministry, which released figures showing 13,000 patients were approved to us it this year, up from 10,000 last year. The increase comes as the government is working on a new proposal to regulate medical marijuana. The Health, Agriculture, and Public Security ministries are expected to present it within the next couple of weeks.

Chronicle AM -- November 25, 2013

Drug reform funder Peter Lewis dies, the Oregon legislature will consider a legalization initiative bill, medical marijuana patients are suing Health Canada, and more. Let's get to it:

"Warning! Your Family is in Danger!" anti-legalization poster courtesy of the Mexican government (cij.gob.mx)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legislature to Consider Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, unveiled a draft bill Friday that would ask voters in the November 2014 election to approve marijuana legalization. If they did, the legislature would be charging with coming up with regulations in 2015. If the draft bill fails to move in the legislature, activists are already working on a separate 2014 legalization initiative.

Outdoor Anniversary Pot Party Approved for Seattle Center.The city of Seattle has approved a permit for a multi-hundred person pot party to mark the first anniversary of legal weed in the state. The event will take place at Seattle Center on December 6 and will include a permitted outdoor marijuana-smoking area.

Denver City Council Debating Marijuana Smoking Restrictions. The Denver city council is today holding a public hearing on an ordinance regulating marijuana smoking on private property. The council is about evenly divided between members who want to ban pot-smoking visible from the street or sidewalks and those who don't. Marijuana Policy Project spokesman and Amendment 64 proponent Mason Tvert held a protest on his balcony this morning where he publicly -- and legally -- consumed "a more dangerous substance."

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana States are Complying with Federal Enforcement Guidelines, Report Says. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access Monday released a report finding that medical marijuana states have enacted regulations that address federal enforcement concerns and calling on legislators and state rulemakers to keep the August 2013 Justice Department memo on enforcement guidelines in mind as they craft new laws and regulations. But DOJ memos aren't a solution, just a stop-gap until appropriate federal legislation is passed, the report said.

Public Hearings on Medical Marijuana Coming in New York State. Democratic lawmakers trying to push a medical marijuana bill through the legislature plan to hold public hearings next month in Buffalo and Mineola. For the past several years, bills have passed the Assembly, only to die in the more conservative Senate. Another bill is moving this year. Click on the link for hearing details.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Philanthropist, Drug Reform Funder Peter Lewis Dies. Peter Lewis, the man who took Progressive Insurance into the auto insurance big leagues, died Saturday in Florida. Over the past 30 years, Lewis gave millions of dollars to efforts to legalize marijuana, as well as other drug reform efforts, including a recent contribution to a proposed 2014 initiative in Oregon. He was 80 years old.

Pregnancy

Feticide Charge Dismissed Against Drug-Using Louisiana Woman. A Louisiana judge has ruled that a woman who allegedly snorted cocaine days before giving birth to a stillborn fetus cannot be charged under the state's feticide law. That law only applies to people other than the expectant mother, District Judge Trudy White ruled. The woman was charged after a parish coroner ruled the stillbirth a homicide, saying the mother's drug use "led to a normally healthy baby ending up dying." Prosecutors could still bring other charges against the woman, they said.

International

Medical Marijuana Patients to Sue Health Canada over Being Outed. Medical marijuana patients furious and frightened after Health Canada outed them by sending each one of them documents in a white envelope with "Medical Marijuana Access Program" written across the top, followed by the patients' names and addresses are planning a class-action lawsuit. Health Canada said last week the mailing was the result of administrative error, but that is not assuaging unhappy patients.

Government Sponsored Anti-Marijuana Legalization Marchers take to the Streets in Mexico. Organized by the National Social Leaders of Mexico (CONAL), and with the support of a federal government children's development program, anti-marijuana legalization marchers in small numbers took to the streets of at least 15 Mexican cities over the weekend. They oppose growing talk of legalization, which has occurred in the Mexico City city council and the national congress, among other places.

New Jersey Supreme Court Protects Rights in Pregnancy Case

The New Jersey Supreme Court Wednesday ruled unanimously that the state's child protection laws do not give child protective services jurisdiction over pregnant women and that drug use during pregnancy does not by itself establish abuse or neglect. In the ruling, the court also acknowledged concerns articulated by leading medical and public health organizations that applying child protection laws to pregnant women can be detrimental to the health of the mother and the fetus.

The ruling came in New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. A.L. In that case, the mother -- "A.L." -- gave birth to a healthy baby in September 2007, but a drug screening of A.L. and her baby came back positive for cocaine. The state Division of Child Protection and Permanency argued that those positive drug screens were sufficient evidence of harm or potential harm to declare that A.L. had neglected her fetus.

A.L. challenged that finding, but lost in district court. She also lost in appellate court, where the judges not only found neglect, but also declared that the state's child neglect law could be applied to fetuses in utero. In its ruling Wednesday, the state's highest court disagreed.

"On its own, the one entry [a medical notation of a positive drug test] does not tell us whether the mother is an addict or used an illegal substance on a single occasion," the court held. "The notation does not reveal the severity or extent of the mother’s substance abuse or, most important in light of the statute, the degree of future harm posed to the child. In other words, a [positive drug test], without more, does not establish proof of imminent danger or substantial risk of harm."

The Supreme Court also chided the lower courts for reaching conclusions not based on facts. Noting "the fact-sensitive nature of abuse and neglect cases," it said the Division -- not a judge -- must prove its case using qualified scientific and medical evidence. "Judges at the trial and appellate level cannot fill in missing information on their own or take judicial notice of harm," it said.

The maternal rights group National Advocates for Pregnant Women and attorney Lawrence Lustberg took up the case during the appeal to the Supreme Court, representing a group of 50 national and international medical, public health, and child welfare organizations, experts, and advocates including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Addiction Science Research and Education Center, and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

In briefs to the court in the case, those groups argued that the lower courts relied on popular misconceptions about drugs, pregnant women, and child welfare that lack any foundation in evidence-based, peer-reviewed research.

"We are so pleased that the New Jersey Supreme Court, consistent with its long tradition, carefully considered the expert amicus brief and rejected the State's reliance on scientifically discredited, factually incorrect statements about drug use in pregnancy," said Lustberg. "The court recognized, in effect, that drug tests cannot predict parenting ability and acknowledged amici's concerns that expansion of the state's child welfare law to the context of pregnancy would be likely to disproportionately harm low income and minority communities."

"It is extremely important that the New Jersey Supreme court today recognized that pregnant women, children and families should not be deprived of their fundamental rights -- including the right to family relationships -- based on presumptions that are medically baseless," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "The court’s decision protects the rights of all pregnant women and in so doing actually protects maternal, fetal, and child health."

State officials have declined to comment on the ruling.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Use Science in Cases Alleging Pregnancy and Drug Use, Orgs and Experts Argue in Court Brief

National Advocates for Pregnant Women

www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Lynn Paltrow

January 10, 2012        

 

50 Leading Medical, Public Health and Child Welfare Organizations and Experts File Brief Insisting on Science not Stigma in Child Welfare Decisions Involving Pregnant Women and Allegations of Drug Use

 

Drug War Propaganda and Junk Science No Basis for Child Neglect and Abuse Finding

 

TRENTON, NJ (Jan. 10, 2012): On January 10, a group of fifty medical, public health and child welfare experts and advocates filed a motion to submit an amicus (friend of the court) brief before the state’s highest judicial authority challenging a finding of neglect against a mother identified in court records as “A.L.,” and an Appellate Division decision that radically expands the scope of the state’s civil child neglect and abuse laws to apply to a pregnant woman in relation to the fetus she carries and sustains. 

In this case, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) v. A.L., A.L. gave birth to a healthy baby in September of 2007. DYFS argued that positive drug screens for cocaine on A.L. and her newborn were sufficient evidence of harm or imminent harm to find that A.L. had neglected her child.  A lower court and the Appellate Division agreed, not only finding neglect in this case but also declaring that a New Jersey’s neglect law could be applied to the context of pregnancy. On October 26, 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

In their brief, amici focus on the New Jersey Supreme Court’s commitment to the use of reliable scientific evidence in judicial decisionmaking. Amici argued that the lower courts relied on popular assumptions about drugs, pregnant women, and child welfare that lack any foundation in evidence-based, peer-reviewed research.

Lawrence S. Lustberg, Esq. of Gibbons P.C., co-counsel representing amici, explains that “the New Jersey Supreme Court has been a national leader in recognizing that when cases raise scientific, medical, or other technical issues, the evaluation of these issues must be informed by existing scientific knowledge, including expert testimony. This case should be no exception.”

Amici also note that DYFS presented no evidence that the child had suffered any actual injury at birth or at any time after birth, and presented no witnesses with expertise regarding the effects of prenatal exposure to cocaine, what drug test results mean, or the association between a pregnant woman’s drug use and a likelihood of abuse or neglect of a child once born.  Nor did DYFS present, or the lower courts consider, the vast body of medical and social science research on these questions.

“Pregnant women and children who are caught up in the child welfare system and who are disproportionately low-income and of color, no less than other people, deserve decisions that are grounded in evidence-based research,” said Emma S. Ketteringham, co-counsel in the case and Director of Legal Advocacy for amici National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Ms. Ketteringham added, “Pregnant women and families should not be deprived of their fundamental rights -- including the right to family relationships -- based on junk science, or no science at all.”

Expert amici explained to the court that medical research makes clear that numerous substances, conditions, and circumstances raise similar or greater risks to fetuses as prenatal exposure to cocaine.  While amici were careful to note that they were not suggesting that prenatal exposure to criminalized drugs is benign, they emphasized that current scientific evidence simply does not support judicially re-writing state law to allow for a per se finding of abuse or neglect based solely on evidence of a woman’s use of cocaine or other criminalized drugs during pregnancy.

Amici also noted that there is no research to support the idea that a positive drug test demonstrates harm, risk of harm, or a likelihood of neglect or abuse. They emphasized, however, that there is research finding that threats of punishment, including of loss of child custody, deter pregnant women from care, undermining rather than advancing maternal, fetal and child health.

Wendy Chavkin, MD, MPH, a physician and researcher who has written extensively about the issue of drug use and pregnancy, observed: “These issues have become caught up in other political battles.  It is critical that state agencies, like DYFS, and the court base their decision on scientific evidence, not on misinformation and stereotype.”

Ms. A. L. is represented by Clara Licata of the New Jersey Office of Parental Representation.

The amici organizations include: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Addiction Science Research and Education Center, American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American Society of Addiction Medicine, International Centre on Science in Drug Policy, International Doctors for Healthy Drug Policies, National Perinatal Association, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, Child Welfare Organizing Project, Health Right International (Former Doctors of the World-USA), National Women’s Health Network.

A copy of amicus brief accompanying the motion to submit, including and a complete list of organizations and experts is available at:

http://advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/briefs/NJ%20DYFS%20v.%20AL%20Brief%20of%20Amici%20Curiae.pdf

Additional Resources:

Am. Coll. of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Comm. on Health Care for Underserved Women, Committee Opinion 473, Substance Abuse Reporting and Pregnancy: The Role of the Obstetrician-Gynecologist

Don't Judge Pregnant Women Based on Junk Science

Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States

Eating Poppy Seed Bagel Leads to Drug-Related Baby Seizure

Location: 
PA
United States
The American Civil Liberties Union is representing a western Pennsylvania woman who says her newborn baby was seized by county welfare workers after she failed a drug test because she ate a poppy seed bagel.
Publication/Source: 
The Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hnmXylMUhxzpYh7j6z-yfLVF7GSQD9IRGCT00?docId=D9IRGCT00

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