Breaking News:Against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

Safe Injection Sites

RSS Feed for this category

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

As 2016 comes to a tumultuous end, we look back on the year in drugs and drug policy. It's definitely a mixed bag, with some major victories for drug reform, especially marijuana legalization, but also some major challenges, especially around heroin and prescription opioids, and the threat of things taking a turn for the worse next year. Here are the ten biggest domestic drug policy stories of the year. (Check back for a top ten international drug policy stories soon.)

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins Big

Legalization initiatives won in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, losing only in Arizona. These weren't the first states to do so -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following in 2014 -- but in one fell swoop, states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people just freed the weed. Add in the earlier states, and we're now talking about around 67 million people, or more than one-fifth of the national population.

The question is where does marijuana win next? We won't see state legalization initiatives until 2018, (and conventional wisdom may suggest waiting for the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election year), and most of the low-hanging fruit in terms of initiative states has been harvested, but activists in Michigan came this close to qualifying for the ballot this year and are raring to go again. In the meantime, there are the state legislatures. When AlterNet looked into the crystal ball a few weeks ago, the best bets looked like Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

2. Medical Marijuana Wins Big

Medical marijuana is even more popular than legal marijuana, and it went four-for-four at the ballot box in November, adding Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota to the list of full-blown medical marijuana states. That makes 28 states -- more than half the country -- that allow for medical marijuana, along with another dozen or so red states that have passed limited CBD-only medical marijuana laws as a sop to public opinion.

It's worth noting that Montana is a special case. Voters there approved medical marijuana in 2004, only to see a Republican-dominated state legislature gut the program in 2011. The initiative approved by voters this year reinstates that program, and shuttered dispensaries are now set to reopen.

The increasing acceptance of medical marijuana is going to make it that much harder for the DEA or the Trump administration to balk at reclassifying marijuana away from Schedule I, which is supposedly reserved for dangerous substances with no medical uses. It may also, along with the growing number of legal pot states, provide the necessary impetus to changing federal banking laws to allow pot businesses to behave like normal businesses.

Drug reformers are nervous about the future. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
3. The Republicans Take Control in Washington

The Trump victory and Republican control of both houses of Congress has profound drug policy implications, for everything from legal marijuana to funding for needle exchange programs to sentencing policy to the border and foreign policy and beyond. Early Trump cabinet picks, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) to lead the Justice Department, are ominous for progressive drug reform, but as with many other policy spheres, what Trump will actually do is a big unknown. It's probably safe to say that any harm reduction programs requiring federal funding or approval are in danger, that any further sentencing reforms are going to be in for a tough slog, and that any federal spending for mental health and substance abuse treatment will face an uphill battle. But the cops will probably get more money.

The really big question mark is around marijuana policy. Trump has signaled he's okay with letting the states experiment, but Sen. Sessions is one of the most retrograde of drug warriors in Washington. Time will tell, but in the meantime, the marijuana industry is on tenterhooks and respect for the will of voters in pot legal states and even medical marijuana states is an open question.

4. The Opioid Epidemic Continues

Just as this year comes to an end, the CDC announced that opioid overdose deaths last year had topped 33,000, and with 12,000 heroin overdoses, junk had overtaken gunplay as a cause of death. There's little sign that things have gotten any better this year.

The crisis has provoked numerous responses, at both the state and the federal levels, some good, but some not. Just this month, Congress approved a billion dollars in opioid treatment and prevention programs, and the overdose epidemic has prompted the loosening of access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and prodded ongoing efforts to embrace more harm reduction approaches, such as supervised injection sites.

On the other hand, prosecutors in states across the country have taken to charging the people who sell opioids (prescription or otherwise) to people who overdose and die with murder, more intrusive and privacy-invading prescription monitoring programs have been established, and the tightening of the screws on opioid prescriptions is leaving some chronic pain sufferers in the lurch and leading others to seek out opioids on the black market.

5. Obama Commutes More Than a Thousand Drug War Sentences

In a bid to undo some of the most egregious excesses of the drug war, President Obama has now cut the sentences of and freed more than a thousand people sentenced under the harsh laws of the 1980s, particularly the racially-biased crack cocaine laws, who have already served more time than they would have if sentenced under current laws passed during the Obama administration. He has commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history, and he has commuted more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined.

The commutations come under a program announced by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who encouraged drug war prisoners to apply for them. The bad news is that the clock is likely to run out before Obama has a chance to deal with thousands of pending applications backlogged in the Office of the Pardons Attorney. The good news is that he still has six weeks to issue more commutations and free more drug war prisoners.

6. The DEA Gets a Wake-Up Call When It Tries to Ban Kratom

Derived from a Southeast Asian tree, kratom has become popular as an unregulated alternative to opioids for relaxation and pain relief, not to mention withdrawing from opioids. It has very low overdose potential compared to other opioids and has become a go-to drug for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people.

Perturbed by its rising popularity, the DEA moved in late summer to use its emergency scheduling powers to ban kratom, but was hit with an unprecedented buzz saw of opposition from kratom users, scientists, researchers, and even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who authored and encouraged his colleagues to sign a letter to the DEA asking the agency to postpone its planned scheduling.

The DEA backed off -- but didn't back down -- in October, announcing that it was shelving its ban plan for now and instead opening a period of public comment. That period ended on December 1, but before it did, the agency was inundated with submissions from people opposing the ban. Now, the DEA will factor in that input, as well as formal input from the Food and Drug Administration before making its decision.

The battle around kratom isn't over, and the DEA could still ban it in the end, but the whole episode demonstrates how much the ground has shifted under the agency. DEA doesn't just get its way anymore.

7. Federal Funds for Needle Exchanges Flow Again

It actually happened late in 2015, but the impact was felt this year. In December 2015, Congress approved an omnibus budget bill that removed the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges. The ban had been in place for 20 years, except for a two-year stretch between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled the House.

Federal funding for needle exchanges is another drug policy response that could be endangered by Republican control of both the Congress and the presidency.

Vancouver's safe injection site. Is one coming to a city near you? (vch.ca)
8. The Slow Turn Towards Safe Injection Sites Accelerates

When will the US join the ranks of nations that embrace the harm reduction tactic of supervised drug consumption sites? Maybe sooner than you think. Moves are underway in at least three major US cities to get such facilities open, a need made all the more urgent by the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, as the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a December report calling for a number of interventions, including safe injection sites, to address it.

In New York City, the city council has approved a $100,000 study into the feasibility of safe injection sites, while in San Francisco, city public health officials have endorsed a call for them there and have even suggested they need as many as a half dozen. But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee opposes them, so battle lines are being drawn.

The best bet may be Seattle, where city and surrounding King County officials are on board with a plan to open safe injection sites to fight heroin and prescription opioid abuse. That plan, conceived by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, was released in September.

9. Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances

Nearly 20 years after Congress passed limited federal civil asset forfeiture reform, the practice is now under sustained assault in the states. More than a half-dozen states had passed civil asset forfeiture reforms before the year began, and this year the following states came on board (although some of the new laws did not end, but only modified or restricted civil asset forfeiture): California, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

And next year looks to be more of the same. Bills have already been filed in Missouri and Texas, and renewed efforts are likely in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where they were thwarted this year.

10. The DEA is Busting Fewer People

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reported in December that convictions for drug cases referred by the DEA continued a 10-year decline. During Fiscal Year 2016, federal prosecutors won 9,553 criminal convictions on cases referred by the DEA. That's down 7.1% from the previous year, down 25% from five years ago, and down 35% from 10 years ago. TRAC notes that the decline in convictions is the result of fewer referrals by the DEA, not a lowered conviction rate, which has held steady.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Legal in MA Thursday, Canada Moving Forward, More... (12/13/16)

There's a lot of international news today, plus Colorado pot sales pass the $1 billion mark this year, Massachusetts politicians get out of the way of legalization, and more.

Philippines President Duterte isn't satisfied with mass killing of drug suspects. He wants the death penalty, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Sales Hit $1 Billion Mark This Year. The state Department of Revenue reports that marijuana sales through October exceeded the billion dollar mark, coming in at $1.09 billion. That figure could hit $1.3 billion by year's end, according to marijuana industry attorney Christian Sederberg.

Massachusetts Officials Won't Delay Marijuana Legalization. Possession of small amounts of marijuana will become legal Thursday. There had been fears of a delay after loose talk in the legislature, but legislative leaders made it clear Monday they will not seek to delay the start of the new law.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commissioners Sworn In. In the first meeting of a commission established to create a state medical marijuana system after voters approved a constitutional amendment last month, five commissioners were sworn in. The members of the state Medical Marijuana Commission are Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman of Little Rock, lobbyist James Miller of Bryant, Dr. Carlos Roman of Little Rock, pharmacy executive Stephen Carroll of Benton and attorney Travis Story of Fayetteville. Henry-Tillman was unanimously elected Monday afternoon as the commission's chairman.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) has filed the Cannabis Compassion Act of 2017 (BR 409), which would allow patients with a specified list of diseases and medical conditions access to their medicine. The bill would allow patients to possess up to three ounces and grow up to 12 plants and envisions a system of regulated cultivators and "compassion centers."

Michigan Medical Marijuana Fees Fund State's War on Drugs.Medical marijuana fees have fattened the Michigan Medical Marijuana Fund, and state law enforcement has been tapping into that fund to aggressively go after marijuana. Local sheriffs in the Detroit area have spent more than $600,000 raiding dispensaries in the past year, and there's more where that came from since the fund has raised $30 million. "I really don't think it's appropriate to fund law enforcement on the backs of medical marijuana patients," medical marijuana attorney Matt Abel told the Detroit News. "… It's really a hidden tax on patients."

International

Canada Marijuana Task Force Advises Wide-Ranging Legalization. The task force charged with shaping the country's looming marijuana legalization has recommended that pot be sold in retail stores and by mail order, that possession of 30 grams and cultivation of four plants be legalized, that the minimum age be set at 18, and that pot not be sold along with alcohol. The commission is also recommending that high-potency products be more heavily taxed to discourage their use. The Liberals are expected to file their legalization bill this coming spring.

Canada Releases New Comprehensive Drug Strategy. Health Minister Jane Philpott Monday unveiled the Canadian Drug and Substances Strategy, which will replace the existing National Anti-Drug Strategy of the Conservatives. The new strategy restores harm reduction as a core pillar of Canadian drug policy, along with prevention, treatment, and law enforcement, and insists on a "strong evidence base."

British Drug Advisers Call for Prescription Heroin, Safe Injection Sites. The official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has recommending allowing hard-core heroin users to get the drug via prescription and called for the opening of supervised injection facilities. Both moves come as a response to a soaring number of drug overdose deaths. "The ACMD is of the view that death is the most serious harm related to drug use," commission head Les Iversen said in a letter to the Home Secretary. "The most important recommendation in this report is that government ensures that investment in OST [opioid substitution therapy] of optimal dosage and duration is, at least, maintained," he added.

Philippines Drug War Death Toll Nearing 6,000. According to statistics released Monday by the Philippines National Police, some 5,927 deaths have been linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs since he took office at the beginning of July. Nearly 2,100 were killed in police operations, while more than 3,800 deaths were blamed on vigilantes or death squads.

Effort to Block Philippines Death Penalty Bill. In addition to widespread extra-judicial executions of drug suspects, President Duterte wants to reinstate the death penalty, including for drug offenses. ASEAN Parliamentarians on Human Rights is leading the campaign against the bill and wants people to contact Philippines lawmakers. Click on the link for more info.

Chronicle AM: Opioid ODs Keep Rising, More Vancouver SIJs, More DC "Smoke Sessions", More... (12/9/16)

Trump's anti-marijuana attorney general pick gets a surprise visit from DC activists, the CDC announces that opioid OD deaths went up again last year, British Columbia expands its safe injection site program, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists Visit Sessions' Office, Offer Free Weed. As part of their #SmokeSessions campaign to defeat the nomination of Trump's attorney general pick, activists from the DC Cannabis Campaign, the same group that led the DC legalization campaign, visited the offices of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) Thursday, carrying marijuana with them as they went. Sessions staffers listened to arguments against prohibition and stories about medical benefits and did not call Capitol Police to arrest the federal lawbreakers, leading organizer Adam Eidinger to ask: "If you're not going to arrest people in your own office who bring marijuana… why would you break down people's doors as a federal policy?"

Hemp

Missouri Hemp Bill Filed. State Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) has pre-filed a bill that would authorize commercial hemp farming, production, and sale, and does not require growers to get federal permission to grow their crop. The measure is SB120. The legislative session starts next month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Opioid Deaths Surpassed 30,000 Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data Thursday showing the opioid overdose deaths had surpassed 30,000 for the first time in recent history last year. That's up nearly 5,000 deaths over 2014. And for the first time since the 1990s, more people died from heroin overdoses than prescription opioid overdoses. "The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen," said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement. "Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems."

Asset Forfeiture

Institute of Justice Sues Border Patrol, IRS Over Asset Forfeiture FOIA Records. The libertarian-leaning Institute of Justice filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Border Patrol and the IRS, saying the two agencies are violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The IRS demanded $750,000 to turn over asset forfeiture records, while the Border Patrol denied the FOIA request, first claiming it was "overbroad" and then saying to do so would reveal law enforcement techniques. "The lack of transparency surrounding forfeiture is deeply troubling, especially considering the vast power law enforcement has to take property from people without so much as charging them with a crime," The Institute for Justice's research director Lisa Knepper said in a press release announcing the suit. "The public ought to know how forfeiture is being used."

Ohio Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would require the filing of criminal charges before the state could institute civil asset forfeiture proceedings won final approval in the House Friday and now head to the desk of Gov. John Kasich (R). The measure, House Bill 347, was earlier approved unanimously by the state Senate.

International

New Safe Injection Sites Open in Vancouver, with More Yet to Come. Two new safe injection sites for drug users opened in the city's Downtown Eastside Thursday, and similar facilities will open in Surrey and Victoria next week. And later this month, additional sites will open in all three locations. The move was announced by the British Columbia Ministry of Health, which did not seek permission from the federal government to do so. But they did let Health Canada and the Ministry of Public Safety know it was coming. BC Health Minister Terry Lake said the actions were necessary to combat a rising toll of opioid overdose deaths. "We can't wait for federal changes in order to save people's lives," he said. "We know people are using in alleys, they are using in their rooms, and they are not where the people who can help them are. And so in the face of this crisis, we really just wanted to do more."

Germany's Dusseldorf Wants to Legalize Weed. Following the lead of Berlin, which is moving to allow cannabis coffee shops, the city of Dusseldorf is moving to enact total marijuana legalization. The city council met Wednesday with experts in crime, economics, and psychology to discuss how best to move forward.

Chronicle AM: Organic Foods Group Disses Kratom, DPA Releases Opioids Plan, More... (12/7/16)

An organic foods group says allowing kratom would be "dangerous," the Drug Policy Alliance comes out with a plan for heroin and prescription opioids, Iowa shuts down its asset forfeiture unit, and more.

The Natural Products Association says allowing kratom would be "dangerous." (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Marijuana Arrests Plummet. Marijuana arrests have dropped 14% in the state over the past two years, the largest decline this century, and they appear headed for further declines this year. Changes in prosecutorial priorities appear to be behind the fall, with some prosecutors saying they need to husband their resources for felony prosecutions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Policy Alliance Releases Public Health and Safety Plan to Address Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose. The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading proponent of drug policy reform, is releasing a plan to address increasing rates of opioid use and overdose (now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States). The plan marks a radical departure from the punitive responses that characterize much of US drug policy and instead focuses on scientifically proven harm reduction and public health interventions that can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the negative consequences of opioid misuse, such as transmission of infectious diseases and overdose. The plan has 20 specific recommendations, including establishing safe injection sites, moving ahead with prescription heroin (heroin-assisted treatment), and embracing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to keep people out of the criminal justice system and bring them in contact with social services.

Kratom

Natural Products Association Says Allowing Kratom Would Be "Dangerous." The largest trade group representing the organic and natural foods industry and dietary supplements makers has commented on the DEA's proposed ban on kratom, saying that "adding kratom to the US food supply could likely be dangerous and lead to serious unintended consequences." Kratom products have not met the strict standards for new items to be marketed to the public or undergone FDA approval, the group said. "Adding an untested and unregulated substance such as kratom to our food supply without the application of longstanding federal rules and guidelines would not only be illegal," said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, NPA's CEO and executive director. "It could likely be dangerous, leading to serious unintended consequences as our nation struggles with the crisis of opioid addiction."

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Disbands State Asset Forfeiture Team, Returns $60,000 Taken From Travelers. Under increasing fire over asset forfeiture practices that saw a thousand seizures a year, the state Attorney General's Office announced Monday that the Department of Public Safety had disbanded its Interstate 80 drug interdiction and forfeiture team. The move came because of increased personnel demands and the need to focus on reducing traffic deaths, the office said, and had nothing to do with the recently announced settlement of a lawsuit brought by a pair of California gamblers who had $100,000 seized after they were stopped and a small amount of marijuana was found. That settlement resulted in the men getting most of their money back.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Probing Possible Criminal Charges Over Atlanta DEA Informants. A DEA official told a congressional committee last week that the agency has referred "potential criminal charges" to the Justice Department over an Atlanta DEA supervisor who allegedly was in sexual relationships with two informants, one of whom was paid $212,000 for helping to bust four St. Louis drug traffickers. There are allegations of false documentation of payments to the snitch, who got $2,500 a month for two years, along with two "bonuses" of $55,000 and $80,750. The monthly payments apparently covered the rent for apartment near the DEA supervisor's home in the Atlanta metro area.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Safe Injection Site "Die-In," ME MJ Init Vote Recount, More... (12/5/16)

Foes challenging the narrow legalization victory in Maine got their recount going today, patients take to the courts in Arizona and to the streets in Michigan, Seattle health care professionals do a die-in for safe injection sites, Ireland takes another step toward medical marijuana, and more.

Vancouver's safe injection site. Doctors and nurses in Seattle are agitating for something similar there. (vcha.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Initiative Recount Begins. The Question 1 initiative legalizing marijuana won by less than 1% of the popular vote, garnering 381,692 votes to the opposition's 377,619 votes, a difference of 4,073 votes. Citing the narrow margin of victory, foes called a recount, and it began Monday. The recount could take up to a month, delaying putting legalization into effect until it is completed.

Medical Marijuana

Pair of Arizona Patients Sue Over Fees. Attorneys for patients Yolanda Daniels and Lisa Becker filed suit last Friday to force a reduction in the annual fee for registration cards that patients are legally required to obtain. The state health department is charging $150 a year, even though it has nearly $11.5 million in its medical marijuana account. "In a time when medication is more expensive than ever, the state should be helping to make it cheaper for Arizonans," the patients' attorney argued. "The state is deliberately squatting on the excess fund instead of refunding it to patients or using it in furtherance of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, such as to help patients."

Michigan Protestors Denounce Kent County Dispensary Raids. A couple of dozen people gathered outside the Plainfield Township Hall last Friday to protest a series of raids last Monday that shuttered three dispensaries in Plainfield. Demonstrators said they have nowhere to go to get their medicine, but Plainfield officials countered that dispensaries had been banned there since 2011.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Nurses, Doctors Do Die-In at City Hall in Protest Calling for Safe Injection Sites. As Seattle officials ponder whether to move toward allowing a safe injection site, doctors and nurses are turning up the heat. Last Friday, more than 30 members of Health Care Workers for Supervised Consumption Spaces held a die-in at City Hall to imitate the corpses that will be created if safe injection sites aren't allowed. City officials have been generally sympathetic to the idea, and a Seattle/King County opioid task force recommended the move in September.

International

British Town to Allow Drug Testing at Clubs. In a harm reduction first for the United Kingdom, a town in Lancashire will be the first in the country to offer testing of drug samples provided by club-goers at night clubs. The tests will examine samples of cocaine and MDMA to test the strength and purity of the drugs in a bid to reduce deaths related to "adulterated or highly potent" drugs. The National Police Chief's Council reportedly said the scheme could be useful but was still not yet endorsed on a national basis.

Ireland Takes Another Step Toward Medical Marijuana. The Dáil Éireann, the lower house of parliament, last Thursday approved an amendment allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana. But the measure still has to undergo another round of approval before it becomes law.

Poll: More Irish Support Marijuana Legalization Than Not. As the parliament ponders medical marijuana, a new poll finds that more Irish than not support full-blown legalization. A poll asking "Should cannabis be legalized for recreational use?" had 48% saying yes, 41% saying no, and 11% undecided.

Chronicle AM: CA Eyeing Billion in MJ Taxes, SF Safe Injection Site Support, More... (12/2/16)

A battle over safe injection sites looms in San Francisco, California could score a billion bucks a year in marijuana taxes, kratom gets massive support during the DEA's public comment period on its proposed ban, and more.

San Francisco's top health official is down with safe injection sites, but the mayor isn't. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana Could Generate a Billion Dollars a Year in California Marijuana Taxes. State analysts estimate legal marijuana tax revenues could provide a $1 billion a year boost in state and local tax revenues. In anticipation of dollars to come, the state Board of Equalization Tuesday approved a proposal to fund staffing to administer the state's legalization bureaucracy, saying it needs $20 million by 2021 to support a staff of 114.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Release Draft Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Department of Health Wednesday released proposed draft rules for the voter-approved medical marijuana program. The rules include provisions about labeling, obtaining medical marijuana registry cards, lab testing requirements, and the process for adding new qualifying conditions. The department said it hopes to present the draft rules to the Board of Health next month and then open them to public comment. The department has not completed draft rules for regulation of and applications for dispensary and cultivation licenses. The state is supposed to be ready to license growers and sellers by June 1.

Minnesota Will Allow Medical Marijuana For PTSD. The state Department of Health has decided to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying conditions for marijuana. It had been weighing requests to add PTSD, autism, arthritis, depression, and other conditions. "While the process of reviewing these potential additions was difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence, PTSD presented the strongest case for potential benefits," Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. "PTSD also has few effective treatment alternatives available for some patients with the condition," he added. The decision means that patients certified with PTSD will be eligible for medical cannabis starting August 2017.

Kratom

Kratom Comment Period is Over; Massive Response to DEA Ban Move. The time to comment on the DEA's proposed move to ban kratom has ended, but more than 22,000 comments came in before the deadline, overwhelmingly against restrictive scheduling of the Southeast Asian tree and the psychoactive chemicals it contains. Commenters noted its lack of lethality, its use as a pain reliever, and its utility in substituting for more dangerous opioids. Addiction specialist Dr. Jack Henningfield wrote a 127-page analysis that concluded that scheduling kratom "is not warranted from a public health perspective and is more likely to cause public health problems that do not presently exist." It should be regulated like a health supplement, Henningfield recommended.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Health Chief Supports Safe Injection Sites. Barbara Garcia, director of the city's Department of Public Health, strongly endorsed safe injection sites, she told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday. "I think if we were going to open one, it would be very successful," she told the supes, but added that the city needed a half-dozen to make a real difference. That puts her at odds with Mayor Ed Lee, who has come out strongly against the harm reduction measure.

Chronicle AM: Former LA Mayor Endorses Prop 64, Glasgow Moves Toward UK's First Safe Injection Site, More... (11/1/16)

California's Prop 64 picks up another high-profile endorsement, the city of Glasgow is moving to establish the United Kingdom's first safe injection site, and more.

The Vancouver InSite supervised injection site. Something similar could soon be coming to Scotland. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy 

Colorado Lawmakers Call on Arizona "No" Campaign to Quit Using Inaccurate Ads. Three Colorado state legislators Monday sent letters to the campaign opposing the Prop 205 legalization initiative calling on it to quit misstating facts about what has happened since legalization in Colorado. The "no" campaign has claimed that Colorado schools have not seen any money from marijuana revenues, but the legislators point out that the state Department of Education has received more than $138 million in pot tax revenues. "They are saying these things that area really far field from the truth," state Sen. Pat Steadman. "We've been building schools and repairing schools with the excess tax revenue that was dedicated to school construction. Those dollars are flowing."

Former Los Angeles Mayor Endorses California Legalization Initiative. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) Monday became the latest well-known California politician to endorse the Prop 64 legalization initiative. "I took my time on this measure because I wanted to make sure it included protections for children and public safety," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "In evaluating the measure in its entirety, I am convinced there are enough safeguards to make it a workable proposition."

Medical Marijuana

Disqualified Arkansas Initiative Asks State Supreme Court to Reinstate It. Backers of the Issue 7 medical marijuana initiative are seeking recourse from the state's highest court after that same court last week disqualified it days after early voting began in the state. In a ruling last week, the high court said the campaign had violating state laws regarding reporting and registration of paid canvassers and threw out 12,000 signatures that had been approved by state election officials. But the Issue 7 campaign argues that a 2013 law imposing restrictions on paid canvassers is unfair to smaller groups. The state Supreme Court rarely grants petitions for a rehearing. A competing initiative, Issue 6, remains on the ballot. 

International

Glasgow Moves Toward Opening Forced Supervised Injection Facility in the UK.The Glasgow City Alcohol and Drug Partnership is pushing plans for the first safe injection sites in the United Kingdom. The notion is to be considered by the city council, the health board, and the police, all of whom are expected to agree in principle to the idea. Stay tuned. 

Chronicle AM: DEA Kratom Ban Retreat, France's First Supervised Injection Site, More... (10/12/16)

A new Pew poll has support for marijuana legalization at 57% nationwide, the DEA is forced to back away from its kratom ban, France opens its first supervised injection site, and more.

In a historic move, the DEA was forced to back away from enacting an emergency ban on kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New National Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Legalization. A new Pew Research Center poll released today has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 57%, with 37% opposed. A recent Gallup poll had it at 58%. Pew says the numbers show that public opinion on the issue has flipped in the past decade. In 2006, only 32% supported legalization, with 60% opposed.

Delaware Legislator Vows to File Legalization Bill Next Year. State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D), the Senate majority whip, said she will introduce a pot legalization bill in January. "It's certainly being considered. It's going to be an uphill battle," Henry said Tuesday during a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee. "But it's time, quite frankly. It's time to certainly look at it."

Nevada's Largest Labor Union Endorses Legalization Initiative. Culinary Union Local 226, the largest labor union in the state, is getting behind the Question 2 legalization initiative. The union represents some 60,000 workers in the Silver State.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Poll Has Initiative With Strong Lead. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida has more than three-out-four likely voters supporting the Question 2 medical marijuana initiative. The poll had support at 77%. The initiative needs 60% to win because it is a constitutional amendment.

Kratom

In Unprecedented Move, DEA Backs Away from Kratom Ban -- At Least for Now. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has posted a notice in the Federal Register stating that it is withdrawing its plans to ban kratom using emergency scheduling powers. The DEA instead is opening a public comment period ending December 1st. The official notice indicates that comments received by the DEA will be considered -- along with formal input from the Food and Drug Administration -- before a determination is made about scheduling kratom. The DEA's proposed ban on kratom, a medicinal plant used for millennia in Southeast Asia and currently by millions in the US, was anticipated to go in effect as early as September 30. The DEA retreat came amidst enormous pressure on the agency from the public and lawmakers to halt the ban.

International

France's First Supervised Injection Site is Open for Business. France has now joined a growing list of European countries that operate supervised injection facilities for drug users. After the Socialist government pushed through legislation allowing them last year, the first one in France opened Tuesday near Paris's Gare du Nord train station.

Peru Renews Military Operations in Key Coca Growing Area. The Peruvian government announced last week that it is declaring a 60-day state of emergency in parts of the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), a key coca producing region. The area had been under a state of emergency for 30 years until last year, when the government ended it after capturing several Shining Path operatives. But now, the military is back with twin briefs to fight drug trafficking and "narcoterrorism."

Cayman Island Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill.Lawmakers in the Caribbean island nation voted Monday to legalize the use of CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. The measure still faces one final vote, and could require some tweaking before such medicines become available. No one in the Cayman Islands produces CBD cannabis oil, and it could be problematic to try to import it from the US because of federal marijuana prohibition.

Chronicle AM: Chelsea Clinton "Misspoke" on MJ Dangers, NYC Safe Injection Sites?, More... (9/29/16)

No, medical marijuana doesn't kill patients, Chelsea Clinton's spokeswoman admits, New York City is about to embark on a study of supervised injection facilities, and more.

The InSite supervised injection facility in Vancouver. New York City will study whether to have them, too. (vch.ca)
Medical Marijuana

Chelsea Clinton "Misspoke" About Risk of Marijuana Fatalities. Chelsea Clinton "misspoke" when she suggested that using medical marijuana along with other medications could be fatal, a spokeswoman has conceded. "While discussing her and her mother's support for rescheduling marijuana to allow for further study of both its medical benefits and possible interactions with other medications, Chelsea misspoke about marijuana's interaction with other drugs contributing to specific deaths," the spokeswoman said. While campaigning for her mother, the former first daughter told students at Youngstown State University in Ohio over the weekend that "some of the people who were taking marijuana for those [medicinal] purposes, the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking."

Harm Reduction

New York City to Study Supervised Injection Facilities. The city council has agreed to fund a $100,000 study into the pros and cons of supervised injection facilities. "The Council's new supervised injection impact study will assess the feasibility and impact of New York City having a program that provides a safe, clean haven to high-risk, vulnerable New Yorkers and will help prevent drug overdoses and disease transmissions, "Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said after passage of the proposal.

Law Enforcement

GOP Congressman's Bill Would Subject Heroin Spiked with Fentanyl Dealers to the Death Penalty. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) has filed a bill that would allow federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for dealers linked to an overdose death caused by heroin laced with fentanyl. The measure is HR 6158, the Help Ensure Lives are Protected (HELP) Act. The move was quickly criticized by drug reform advocates. "This bill is a doubling down on the very ineffective, harsh and punitive policies that characterized the early war on drugs and which have widely been proven ineffective at reducing drug use," said Lindsay LaSalle, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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

Seattle Aims to Open the First Safe Injection Sites in the US [FEATURE]

Seattle and surrounding King County are on a path to establish the country's first supervised drug consumption sites as part of a broader campaign to address heroin and prescription opioid misuse. A 99-page report released last week by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force calls for setting up at least two of the sites, one in the city and one in the suburbs, as part of a pilot project.

The facilities, modeled on the Canadian government-funded InSite supervised injection site in Vancouver, just 140 miles to the north, would be places where users could legally inject their drugs while under medical supervision and be put in contact with treatment and other social services. There have been no fatal overdoses in the 13-year history of InSite.

Although such facilities, which also operate in various European countries and Australia, have been proven to reduce overdose deaths and drug use-related disease, improve local quality of life, and improve the lives of drug users, they remain controversial, with foes accusing them of "enabling" drug use. Thus, the report refers to them not as "safe injection sites," or even "supervised consumption sites," but as the anodyne "Community Health Engagement Locations" (CHELs).

"If it's a strategy that saves lives then regardless of the political discomfort, I think it is something we have to move forward," said County Executive Dow Constantine, discussing the plan at a news conference last week.

The safe sites will address the region's high levels of opioid and heroin use, or what the task force called "the region's growing and increasingly lethal heroin and opioid epidemic." As the task force noted, the number of fatal overdoses in the county has tripled in recent years, with the rate of death rising from roughly one a week (49) in 2009 to one very other day (156) in 2014. The current wave of opioid use appears centered on young people, with the number of people under 30 seeking treatment doubling between 2006 and 2014, and now, more young people are entering detox for heroin than for alcohol.

Outside Vancouver's InSite (vch.ca)
Overdose deaths actually dropped last year to 132, thanks to Good Samaritan laws that shield people who aid overdose victims from prosecution and to the wider use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. But that's still 132 King County residents who needn't have died. Task force members said the CHELs would help reduce that number even further.

"The heroin epidemic has had a profound effect not just on our region, but across our country as a whole," said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. "It is critical that we not only move forward with meaningful solutions that support prevention and treatment, but that we remove the stigma surrounding addiction that often creates barriers to those seeking help.

Not only are key local elected officials on board, so is King County Sheriff John Urquhart. He said the safe site plan was workable.

"As long as there was strong, very strong, emphasis on education, services, and recovery, I would say that yes, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks," he said. "We will never make any headway in the war on drugs until we turn the war into a health issue."

The region may willing to embrace this ground-breaking harm reduction measure, but it is going to require some sort of federal dispensation to get around the Controlled Substances Act and the DEA. How that is going to happen remains to be seen, but Seattle is ready.

The task force wasn't just about CHELs. In fact, the safe sites are just a small, if key, component of a broad-based, far-ranging strategy to attack the problem. The task force report's recommendations come in three categories:

Inside Vancouver's InSite (vch.ca)
Primary Prevention

  • Increase public awareness of effects of opioid use, including overdose and opioid-use disorder.
  • Promote safe storage and disposal of medications.
  • Work with schools and health-care providers to improve the screening practices and better identify opioid use.

Treatment Expansion and Enhancement

  • Make buprenorphine more accessible for people who have opiate-use disorders.
  • Develop treatment on demand for all types of substance-use disorders.Increase treatment capacity so that it’s accessible when and where someone is ready to receive help.

Health and Harm Reduction

  • Continue to distribute more naloxone kits and making training available to homeless service providers, emergency responders and law enforcement officers.
  • Create a three-year pilot project that will include at least two locations where adults with substance-use disorders will have access to on-site services while safely consuming opioids or other substances under the supervision of trained healthcare providers.

Will Seattle and King County be able to actual implement the CHELs? Will the federal government act as obstacle or facilitator? That remains to be seen, but harm reductionists, policymakers, and drug users in cities such as Portland, San Francisco, and New York will be watching closely. There have been murmurs about getting such sites up and running there, too.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School