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Chronicle AM: MT MMJ Comeback Bill, NJ Edibles A Step Closer, Dark Web Drug Site Goes Dark, More (3/18/15)

There will be a bill to restore the medical marijuana status quo ante in Montana, a Nevada bill would allow it for pets, New Jersey releases guidelines for edibles producers, a North Carolina bill targets pregnant women who use drugs, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Medical Marijuana Bill Coming. State Sen. Robyn Driscoll (D) says she will file a bill this week to allow the sale for profit of medical marijuana, remove limits on the number of patients a caregiver can grow for, allow for advertising, allow for the trade in plants and seedlings, and remove a requirement that doctors who recommend for more than 25 people in a year be reviewed by the Board of Medical Examiners. The provisions would enact parts of a district judge's decision permanently enjoining portions of a harsh 2011 medical marijuana law that undid much of the state's 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana initiative.

Nevada Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana for Pets. State Sen. Tick Segerholm (D-Las Vegas) Wednesday introduced Senate Bill 372, which would allow pet owners to obtain marijuana for their animals upon a veteranarian's certification that it could help. He said he worries that some animals might have adverse reactions, but "you don't know until you try."

New Jersey Releases Standards for Edibles Producers. The Health Department has released regulations for growers who will produce medical marijuana edibles. The guidelines are a first step in a process that is likely to last months before the first edibles are available for sale. Click on the link for more details.

Tennessee CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday approved House Bill 197, which would allow for the use of low-THC cannabis oils by specified patients. The bill now goes to the House Health Committee, the last stop before a House floor vote. Companion legislation is moving through the Senate.

Pregnancy

North Carolina Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use During Pregnancy. State Sens. Brent Jackson (R-Autryville) and Louis Pate (R-Mount Olive) Tuesday filed a bill that would allow officials to charge a woman with assault if she uses drugs while pregnant. The measure is Senate Bill 297. Similar legislation passed in Tennessee in 2013.

International

UN Development Program Highlights Drug War's Costs to the World's Poor. UNDP, the agency charged with coming up with strategies to reduce world poverty, has slammed drug prohibition's disastrous impact on poor countries and their residents. The critique came in UNDP's formal submission to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, whose preliminaries got underway last week as the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs met in Vienna.

Major Dark Web Drug Sales Web Site Goes Dark. The Evolution web site has vanished from the Dark Web. It halted withdrawals of vendors' bitcoin funds over the weekend, citing technical difficulties, then vanished Tuesday night. Some $12 million in bitcoins may have disappeared in what some are now calling a scam. The pseudonymous operators of the site are now facing threats from people who lost money.

Chronicle AM: UN Drug Session in Vienna, Bernard Noble Rally in New Orleans, AZ Welfare Drug Test Flop, More (3/9/15)

The global drug prohibition bureaucracy meets in Vienna, researchers say banning psychedelics offends human rights, new synthetics increase in Europe, an Arizona welfare drug testing bill comes up short in results, and more. Let's get to it;

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs gets down to business in Vienna. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington House Approves Marijuana Deals With Tribes. The House last Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow the state's Indian tribes to participate in the state's legal marijuana industry. The bill is House Bill 2000, and it now goes to the state Senate.

First Government-Run Pot Shop Opens in Washington Town. The city of North Bonneville, Washington, has become the first government entity to open a marijuana retail store. The Cannabis Corner opened over the weekend after the city won approval from the state.

Psychedelics

Prohibition on Psychedelics An Offense Against Human Rights, Researchers Say. A pair of Norwegian researchers who, after studying population data from more than 135,000 people, including 19,000 users of psychedelics, reported no link between using psychedelics and mental health problems, have said that continuing to ban them has no justifiable public health basis and is "against human rights." Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Arizona Welfare Drug Testing Law Didn't Produce Predicted Savings. When the state passed its welfare drug testing law in 2009, lawmakers said it would save about $1.7 million a year by removing drug users from welfare rolls. Not quite. In the more than five years since the law went into effect, only 42 people were flagged for drug tests. Of those, 23 didn't take the drug test and were denied benefits for one year. Nineteen other took the drug test; only three failed. The total savings are now estimated at $3,500 over the entire period, not $1.7 million a year.

Harm Reduction

Mississippi 911 Good Samaritan Bill Moving. A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution for people who report active drug overdoses in a bid to get medical assistance has passed the state Senate and a key House committee. Senate Bill 2780 now awaits a House floor vote.

Pregnancy

Oklahoma Bill Would Charge Pregnant Drug Users With Assaulting Fetus. A bill that would change the definition of assault to include illegal drug use by a pregnant woman has won a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote. Senate Bill 559 would still have to get through the House.

Sentencing

New Orleans Rally for Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Supporters of Bernard Noble, who is doing 13 years in state prison for possessing two marijuana joints, rallied Saturday to support a campaign to gain clemency or a commutation for him. All appeals to state courts have failed, and now it's up to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) to act.

International

Morocco's Main Opposition Party Calls for Amnesty for Hash Growers. The Istiqlal Party, the largest opposition party, has called on the parliament to adopt a bill that would grant amnesty to hashish farmers. The party says that more than 300,000 people make a living in the hash fields.  The party's proposed bill would limit hash cultivation to specified regions of the country. The Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) has also called for the legalization of marijuana cultivation. Morocco is one of the world's leading cannabis producers.

More than A Hundred New Synthetic Drugs Appeared in Europe Last Year. The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reported today that 101 new substances were reported last year by the European Union's Early Warning System, up from 81 in 2013. That means more than 450 new synthetic drugs have been identified by the agency, more than half in the last three years alone. Click on the link for more details.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Session Underway in Vienna.The 58th annual session got underway in Vienna today. It comes as the international drug prohibition consensus crumbles in the face of drug war failures and moves to liberalize drug laws, especially marijuana laws. This is also part of the lead-up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs. 

Chronicle AM: Boehner Not Eager to Mess With DC, NE AG Explains Lawsuit, Forfeiture Pressure, More (1/28/15)

The House Speaker doesn't appear too interested in undoing legalization in DC, Nebraska's AG explains his lawsuit against Colorado legalization, good poll results from Virginia, more pressure for federal asset forfeiture reform, and more. Let's get to it:

House Speaker Boehner Not Eager to Mess With DC's Pot Legalization. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser met Tuesday with the speaker and reported that he seemed little interested in trying to undo the will of District voters who approved limited legalization in November. "Well, I think that the speaker wants to be able to concentrate on national issues, and recognizes that the District of Columbia is moving in the right direction, and would prefer to have his interest on national issues," Bowser said in her recap of the meeting.

Nebraska's Attorney General Explains Why He Is Suing Colorado. State Attorney General Doug Peterson has penned a column explaining his reasoning for asking the Supreme Court to undo marijuana legalization in Colorado. Click on the link to read it in full.

Vermont Will See a Legalization Bill This Year. The Green Mountain State is almost universally included in those lists of "the next states to legalize marijuana," and now Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Crittenden County) says he will introduce a bill to do just that. He said there's no reason to delay. "I think there is a wait-and-see attitude on the part of many," Zuckerman said. "There's also a let's-get-there-and-get-it-done attitude."

Poll Finds Virginians Strongly Support Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Christopher Newport University survey released Tuesday found 71% of registered voters support decriminalization and 69% favor medical marijuana. The poll comes just days after state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) introduced a decriminalization bill. Click on the poll link for methodological and other details.

Anchorage Bans Public Consumption, But Allows Use in Licensed Premises. Alaska's largest city has opened the door to "cannabis cafes." The Anchorage Assembly voted to prohibit public pot smoking, but approved an amendment allowing allows for consumption in places "authorized by a state permit or license or authorized by a municipal permit or lease."

Wichita Will Vote on Decriminalization in April. The city council okayed putting a decriminalization initiative on the April 7 ballot after backers presented petitions with thousands of signatures supporting it. The vote was 6-1. Those 21 and over caught with 32 grams or less would face a citation and a $50 fine.

Medical Marijuana

In Pennsylvania, A Change of Tune From the Governor's Mansion. Last year, then Gov. Tom Corbett (R) was a staunch foe of medical marijuana. But now, there's a new year, a new legislative session, and a new governor. This one, Democrat Tom Wolf, met with families of children suffering from diseases treatable by medical marijuana Tuesday and said he would support broad medical marijuana legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

ACLU, NACDL Speak Out for Asset Forfeiture Reform.The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sent a letter to every congressional office, expressing support for proposals to stop police from seizing cash, cars and other property from people without convicting them of a crime. And he American Civil Liberties Union also issued a strong statement on Tuesday, saying reforms are needed to protect innocent Americans from a seizure system that has a disproportionate effect on low-income people. The letter and statement are in support of Senate Bill 255, introduced yesterday by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), or similar legislation.

Pregnancy

ACLU of Virginia Object to Bill Targeting Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The civil liberties group is challenging HB 1456, filed by Del. Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania County). The bill would authorize child welfare authorities to investigate or make a family assessment any "report or complaint that a pregnant woman is using a controlled substance" in an illegal manner. The state ACLU affiliate says the bill is dangerous for pregnant women and their fetuses because it would prevent them from seeking the health care they need.

Chronicle AM: WY Decrim Bill Killed, More MedMJ Bills, CDC Warns on Women and Pain Relievers, More (1/23/15)

Marijuana-related activity is ratcheting up at statehouses across the land, Massachusetts' governor rejects legalization, and the CDC issues a warning on opiate pain reliever use among women of childbearing age. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor Rejects Legalization. New Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said Thursday that while he supported Democratic Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's decision to create a special Senate committee to examine issues around marijuana legalization, he is "always going to be opposed to legalizing" the drug for recreational use. His stance and his veto power make a 2016 effort to legalize through the initiative process more likely.

Push for Virginia Decriminalization Bill. Supporters of a bill that would decriminalize pot possession in the Old Dominion held a press conference Thursday to rally support. The bill is SB 686, prefiled back in October by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria). Decrim bills have been a perennial feature of the legislature in recent years, but have never gone anywhere. But those bills were all in the House of Delegates, while this one is in the Senate.

Wyoming House Kills Decriminalization Bill. The House voted 38-22 to kill HB 29, which would have replaced criminal penalties for small-time pot possession with a civil fine. The measure had passed the House Judiciary Committee 7-2 last week.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Medical Marijuana Opponents Testify. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee heard from opponents of pending medical marijuana legislation Thursday. Eric Voth, chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, said marijuana is harmful and legalization measures would threaten public health, while a spokesman for the Kansas Association of Police Chiefs said marijuana has caused problems wherever states have reformed marijuana laws. Supporters of the bill testified earlier this week.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) last week formally introduced a full-blown medical marijuana bill, H3140, that he had prefiled back in October. It would allow registered patients to use medical marijuana for "a debilitating medical condition," and patients or caregivers could possess up to six plants and two ounces of usable marijuana. It is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Texas CBD Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Ft. Worth) and Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) today introduced identical bills that would allow children with epilepsy to be treated with low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils. The House version is HB 892.

Opposition to Messing With Washington Medical Marijuana System. Some patients and patient advocates, including Sensible Washington are not happy with efforts to fold the state's existing medical marijuana system into its new recreational marijuana system. Some spoke out against pending legislation at a hearing yesterday, while Sensible Washington said in a release that it believes the proposed changes "will increase prices, decrease access and ultimately put a heavy, unnecessary burden on patients." Click on the link for more.

Opiates

CDC Warns of High Number of Women of Childbearing Age Taking Opioid Pain Relievers. Too many women of childbearing age are using narcotic pain relievers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Thursday. The CDC reported that 39% of women age 15-44 who were enrolled in Medicaid filled a prescription for opioids each year between 2008 and 2012, while 28% of privately insured women did so. "Taking opioid medications early in pregnancy can cause birth defects and serious problems for the infant and the mother," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "Many women of reproductive age are taking these medicines and may not know they are pregnant and therefore may be unknowingly exposing their unborn child. That's why it's critical for health care professionals to take a thorough health assessment before prescribing these medicines to women of reproductive age." Taking opioid pain medications during pregnancy can also expose mothers in some states to criminal liability if they have bad pregnancy outcomes.

Chronicle AM: USVI Decriminalizes, NJ Methadone Pregnancy Ruling, A Good Year for Hemp, More (12/23/14)

Decrim comes to the US Virgin Islands, Anchorage starts planning for pot, California starts looking toward 2016, it was a good year for hemp, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejects criminalizing a pregnant woman for using prescribed methadone, and more. Let's get to it:

California prepares for 2016. (CCPR)
Marijuana Policy

US Virgin Islands Lawmakers Override Veto to Enact Decriminalization. Lawmakers voted Friday to override a line-item veto of a decriminalization provision in the territory's FY 2015 budget. That means the territory has now decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

Anchorage Forms Committee to Handle Legalization. Last week, the city council shot down a plan to ban pot sales in the state's largest city. This week, it has formed a committee to handle local implementation of legalization. The first meeting is today. Click on the link for more details.

Oakland Meeting Next Month to Look at Lessons of Successful Legalization Campaigns. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform and its grassroots organizing arm, ReformCA, will be hosting a "debriefing" with leaders of the successful initiative campaigns in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, next month. The meeting is set for January 9 in Oakland. Click on the link for more details and to RSVP. Seating is limited.

Hemp

A Good Year for Hemp. The industry lobbying group Vote Hemp reports that, largely inspired by passage of American Agricultural Act's provision allowing for hemp research, 10 states legalized hemp production this year. They are Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, and Utah. Two other states, Connecticut and New Hampshire, passed hemp study bills.

Harm Reduction

Drug Policy Alliance Issues New Guide for Tackling Drug Use at Music Events. The guide, Managing Drug Use at Your Event, is aimed at event producers and focused on improving the health and safety of festival attendees. It is designed to give event producers a harm reduction-based alternative to a police and enforcement-heavy approach. The guide is part of DPA's Music Fan campaign aimed at stimulating discussion about drug use in club and festival setting and promoting policy reforms to improve clubber health and safety.

Pregnancy

New Jersey Supreme Court Rejects Child Abuse Charge Against Pregnant Mom Over Prescribed Methadone Use. The court ruled unanimously Monday that a woman dependent on opioid pain relievers could not be charged with child abuse and neglect for using prescribed methadone during her pregnancy. Her healthy infant was treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome after birth, and the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency used that diagnosis as the basis for charging her with child abuse. The case is Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. Y.N.

International

Uruguay Has Registered 1,200 Marijuana Growers. The head of the National Drugs Board, Julio Calzada, said Monday that there are 1,200 registered marijuana growers. "It is encouraging to have 1,200 growers after three or four months since the law came into effect," Calzada told reporters. He added that about 500 cannabis clubs have registered. Each club can have up to 45 members and grow up to 99 plants.

Chronicle AM: Obama on DC Pot Laws, WI "Cocaine Moms" Law Challenged, No More 'Shrooms in Bali, More (12/12/14)

The president weighs in on congressional moves to block DC marijuana legalization, Oklahoma could be joining the cannabis oil medical marijuana club, a Wisconsin woman sues over the "cocaine moms" law, the ACLU is looking to sue a Connecticut housing agency over mandatory drug tests, and more. Let's get to it:

Indonesian police will begin enforcing the ban on magic mushrooms next month. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Thinks Congress Should Not Interfere With DC Pot Laws. As the battle continues over whether Congress has managed or not to block the District of Columbia's Measure 71 legalization initiative, President Obama has weighed in. In a Thursday press conference, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president did "not believe Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the citizens of District of Columbia." Asked specifically about Measure 71, Earnest noted that the measure had been approved by the voters and that, "on principle," that Congress shouldn't interfere with home rule. But Earnest also noted that Obama supports passing the omnibus spending bill that would, some say, overturn the measure.

Medical Marijuana

Cannabis Oil Bill Should Be Filed Today in Oklahoma. Rep. John Echols (R-Oklahoma City) has said he plans to file a low-THC cannabis oil bill today. The bill would only allow for use my children suffering from epilepsy. The news comes as the director of the state's drug agency says he now backs a study that would make the medicine available to sick children.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Public Housing Agency Under Fire for Suspicionless Drug Testing of Applicants. The Norwalk Housing Authority (NHA) requires mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of people applying to live there, and the ACLU of Connecticut is looking for people who want to sue the agency over the issue. "We urge you to repeal this policy because this suspicionless drug testing violates guarantees in the United States and Connecticut constitutions against unreasonable searches and seizures," wrote ACLU staff attorney David McGuire in a December 2013 letter to the Authority. "We would like to hear from any potential tenant who objects to the suspicionless drug test so that we can consider legal action," McGuire said Wednesday. To make matters worse, the NHA is the only housing authority in the country to drug test using hair follicles, which unlike urine or blood samples, can reveal drug use going back weeks or even months.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Judge Convicted of Planting Drugs on Woman. A woman accused a judge of propositioning her when she appeared before him to seek warrants against people who had assaulted her, so he conspired with some local cops to plant methamphetamine in her vehicle and have her arrested. Now, former Magistrate Court Judge Bryant Cochran has been found guilty of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, violating the civil rights of a court employee by sexually assaulting her, and witness tampering. He's looking at almost certain federal prison time when he is sentenced in February.

Pregnancy

Lawsuit Will Challenge Wisconsin's "Cocaine Mom" Law. A woman who was jailed after admitting past drug use while seeking a pregnancy test and medical help for depression is filing suit to have the state's "cocaine mom" law thrown out. That law allows authorities to detain and force treatment on pregnant women suspected of drug or alcohol use. Tammy Loertscher of Medford is filing the suit with the assistance of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which says the Wisconsin "fetal protection" law is one of the most sweeping in the nation.

International

Hungary's Prime Minister Wants Drug Tests for Journalists and Politicians. Hungary's rightist prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make the country a "non-liberal" state, called today for mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians. "The government decided that it will rid Hungary of the drug mafia in this term," Orban said. "Politicians, journalists and those filling positions of public trust have to be included (in the drug tests) because it is clear that those who consume drugs cannot be relied on in the fight against drugs." Orban's statement isn't sitting well with journalists and civil libertarians, with the Association of Independent Journalists calling his proposal "legally and morally deeply outrageous." Earlier this week, the mayor Budapest calling for drug testing teens as well, but that proposal appears have been dropped.

Just a Reminder: Magic Mushrooms Are Now Illegal in Indonesia.Magic mushrooms had long been excluded from Indonesian drug laws, and were openly sold and used, especially in the popular tourist destination of Bali, but that's no longer the case. They are now considered a Type 1 narcotic since the law was revised earlier this year, and police are on a campaign to let people know. "All people who consume and trade in magic mushrooms are violating the Narcotics Law," Denpasar Police drug section head Comr. I Gede Ganefo said recently. "Many people do not yet know that magic mushrooms are illegal and they could face a prison term if they sell or consume them. They think it is all right as they grow naturally in manure," Ganefo said. Police said the informational campaign will become an enforcement campaign starting January 1. "Next month [Jan. 2015], there will be no more tolerance. If we find any people selling or consuming magic mushrooms, we will arrest them. They could face the same charges as those using marijuana and other drugs, a minimum four-year and maximum 12-year prison term," Ganefo said.

Chronicle AM: MO MJ Actions, CT Patients Want Buds, AL Goes After Pregnant Drug Users, More (10/13/14)

Missouri marijuana activists are keeping things hopping, Connecticut patients want actual buds, the Washington Post continues its asset forfeiture series, the Labor Department issues proposed rules for unemployment compensation drug testing, and more.

The opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone is coming to Michigan. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Show-Me Cannabis Activist Sues Missouri Narcs for Violating Sunshine Law. Aaron Malin, a member of the Missouri marijuana reform group Show-Me Cannabis, has filed suit against the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association for failing to hand over documents and information about budgets and training the group provides to narcotics officers. The lawsuit could clarify the question of whether the association is subject to the state's Sunshine Law. Malin argues that because much of the group's funding comes from dues and training paid for by members of taxpayer-funded drug task forces, it is a quasi-governmental entity and therefore subject to the law.

Columbia, Maryland, Cultivation Decriminalization Advances. The city's Disabilities Commission voted unanimously last week to endorse an ordinance that would decriminalize the cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. People caught growing two plants would face only a $250 fine; seriously ill people would face no fine. The city council had asked various commissions to weigh in; the Board of Health and the Substance Abuse Advisory Commission came down against the proposal. The council will take it up at a meeting next Monday.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Patients Want Whole Buds, Not Ground-Up Whole Plant. State medical marijuana regulations require that the plant be ground up, and that's not sitting well with some patients and activists. Homogenizing the plant results in "the degradation of the cannabinoids, the actual essential oils that are in the flower," explained Peter Mould, executive director of Connecticut NORML, who has posted a petition at change.org (search for "medical marijuana CT") asking state regulators to allow the sale of whole buds.

Asset Forfeiture

Seized Cash Fuels Law Enforcement Spending. The Washington Post continues to hammer away at asset forfeiture. This latest in an ongoing series of articles examines what law enforcement agencies are buying with the hundreds of millions of dollars they have seized under federal asset forfeiture laws. The Post examined 43,000 annual reports from police agencies under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing program. While some of the spending is justifiable, the Post also found seized funds paying for luxury vehicles, travel expenses, and even a clown named Sparkles. It's a long, but worthwhile read.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Issues Proposed Rule for Unemployment Compensation Drug Testing; Limits It to Job Categories Where Drug Testing is Required. The department is responding to the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which has a provision allowing states to drug test people seeking unemployment compensation. "We propose that an applicant may be drug tested by the State in order to be eligible to receive State UC if the applicant's only suitable work, as defined under the State UC law, is in a position or class of positions, i.e., an 'occupation,' for which Federal law or that State's law requires employee drug testing in that occupation," the department proposed.

Harm Reduction

Michigan Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) today signed into law a bill that requires emergency medical responders to be trained to administer the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). The legislation, House Bill 5407, is part of a package of bills dealing with the issue. Snyder signed them all.

Pregnancy

Two More Alabama Counties Start Charging Pregnant Women Who Test Positive for Illegal Drugs. Calhoun and Cleburne counties now join Etowah County in seeking to prosecute pregnant women who use drugs, saying the move is designed to deter them from using drugs. That's even though there is a strong consensus among the medical community that criminalizing pregnant women hooked on drugs is not good for either mother or child, because the threat of arrest may deter pregnant women from seeking adequate prenatal health care.

International

Medical Marijuana Momentum in Australia. The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) announced today that it will join in a national clinical trial on medical marijuana. It will join in trials being conducted by the New South Wales government. Nearly two-thirds of Australians support medical marijuana, according to a July poll, and both the national and various state governments are becoming more receptive.

Chronicle AM: VT Pot Poll, OH College Student Athlete Drug Test Bill, Drugs and Pregnancy, More (10/10/14)

The legalization initiatives in DC and Oregon pick up endorsements, Colorado legal marijuana sales keep on increasing, a Vermont poll has a plurality for legalization, drug use among pregnant women is in the news, Mexico busts another cartel leader, and more. Let's get to it:

Gary Johnson's Our America Initiative endorses the DC legalization initiative. (ouramericainitiative.com)
Marijuana Policy

Gary Johnson Group Endorses DC Legalization Initiative. The Our America Initiative, a non-partisan group headed by former Republican New Mexico and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, has endorsed the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative. The Our America Initiative includes ending marijuana prohibition in its list of national projects, along with ending warrantless NSA spying, abolishing the IRS, and requiring presidential debates to include all viable candidates.

Oregon Social Workers Endorse Legalization Initiative. The Oregon chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has endorsed the Measure 91 legalization initiative. "We conclude that the measure's approach to marijuana use as a public health issue is more consistent with the social work profession's mandate, than Oregon's current treatment of non-medical marijuana use," the group said in a statement. Click on the title link for more.

Vermont Poll Finds Narrow Plurality of Voters Favoring Legalization. A WCAX TV poll found that 49% of respondents support marijuana legalization, with 43% opposed. The issue has polled better in previous polls, but those were polls of the general population -- not voters. Support is strongest among youthful respondents at 59%, but that is the age group least likely to vote.

Colorado Legal Marijuana Sales Up 10% in August. The state Department of Revenue reported Thursday that marijuana retailers sold $33 million in recreational weed last month, up 10% over the previous month. So far this year, marijuana sales (recreational and medical) have generated $45.2 in tax revenues.

Drug Testing

Ohio Bill Would Make College Athletes Take Mandatory Drug Tests. A bill filed Wednesday, House Bill 633, would make Ohio the first state in the nation to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of student athletes at public colleges and universities. The bill would require all athletes to be drug tested during an annual physical and before any championship games. Colleges and universities would also have to adopt policies to punish athletes caught using substances banned by the NCAA, including marijuana, but not alcohol. Rep. Peter Beck (R-Macon) said he doesn't believe there is a drug problem among college athletes, but he wants any using drugs to be found and placed in drug treatment. The state legislative session ends in December.

Pregnancy

Call for Justice Department to Renounce the Criminalization of Pregnancy. Some 48 reproductive justice, drug reform, women's rights, and civil liberties groups led by National Advocates for Pregnant Women have sent a letter to the Justice Department calling on Attorney General Holder to move away from policies that enhance criminal sentences for crimes committed while pregnant. The letter was inspired by the case of Tennessee woman Lucy Weld, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture meth and was hit with an additional six years in prison because she was pregnant when she committed the offense. The federal prosecutor in the case, US Attorney William Killian, used the case to "send a message" that he would seek sentencing enhancements in similar cases.

Growing Calls for Drug Testing of Pregnant Women. Faced with a growing number of infants born exposed to drugs while still in the womb, medical and other groups are increasingly calling for universal drug screening and/or drug testing of pregnant women. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials are calling for verbal drug screening followed by a drug test if necessary and agreed upon. The American Medical Association also endorses universal screening. But pregnant rights advocates argue that screening for drug use is more likely to lead to punishment or loss of custody rather than drug treatment. "Instead, what we see over and over again is that screening is used as a tool for reporting mothers to child welfare services and police enforcement," said Kylee Sunderlin of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "So even if the screening is universal, the reporting is not, which means that low-income women and women of color will continue to be vastly over-represented in punitive child welfare interventions and, in some states, arrests." Click the link for more details.

International

Mexico Nabs Another Cartel Capo. Mexican federal police Thursday arrested Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, reputed head of the Juarez cartel, in a "routine traffic stop" in Torreon. Carillo Fuentes is the brother of Amado Carillo Fuentes, who picked up the sobriquet "Lord of the Skies" for using jet liners to fly drug loads from South America to Mexico before his death in a botched cosmetic surgery operation in 1997. Vicente Carillo Fuentes is just the latest cartel leader busted or killed during the Pena Nieto presidency. Hector Beltran Leyva was captured just last week; Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was captured in February, Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino was captured in July 2013, and Gulf cartel head Jorge Eduardo Costilla was caught in September 2012.

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."

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