Safe Injection Sites

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM: ACLU Drug Reformer to Big DOJ Post, OR Init Leading, FL MMJ Init Trailing, More (10/16/14)

Polls have the Oregon initiative up, but the Florida initiative down; a marijuana march in New Jersey takes place on Saturday, Obama nominates a drug reformer to a key Justice Dept. position, a Dutch court sticks a thumb in the government's eye, and more. Let's get to it:

ACLU drug and sentencing reformer and racial justice fighter Vanita Gupta is nominated to lead the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
Marijuana Policy

Latest Poll Has Oregon Legalization Initiative Up By Nine Points. An Oct. 8-11 survey taken for Oregon Public Broadcasting has the Measure 91 legalization initiative at 52% of the vote with 41% opposed. If these numbers are true, even if all undecided ended up voting "no," the initiative would still pass.

NJ Weedman to Lead Legalization March Saturday in Trenton. New Jersey marijuana activist Ed Forchion, also known as the NJ Weedman, is leading a legalization march this Saturday in Trenton. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Launches "Vote Medical Marijuana" Campaign. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group aims to educate voters ahead of next month's elections with a new 30-second online TV advertisement that will air on Sunday cable news programs in Detroit, Philadelphia, South Florida, and Washington state. The campaign also includes an interactive online voters' guide at VoteMedicalMarijuana.org. Check it out at the links.

Another Poll Has Florida Initiative Coming Up Short. A new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll has the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative at 48% of the vote with 44% opposed and 7% undecided. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to win. This is just the latest in a series of polls showing the initiative failing to reach that mark. Click on the link for more poll details.

Drug Policy

Obama Nominates ACLU Attorney with Strong Drug Reform Record to Head Justice Department Civil Rights Division. The Obama administration has nominated ACLU attorney Vanita Gupta to head the Justice Department's civil rights division. Gupta has been a stalwart drug reformer, working to obtain justice for the victims of racially biased drug enforcement in Tulia, Texas, currently leading the ACLU's National Campaign to End Mass Incarceration, and speaking out frequently about drug war injustices and against mandatory minimum sentencing. "The war on drugs has been a war on communities of color," she wrote in 2011. She is also a strong supporter of marijuana law reform, including legalization.

International

Unprecedented Swarm of Overdoses at Vancouver Safe Injection Site -- But No One Died. Vancouver's InSite safe injection site has seen 31 overdoses in two days, a record for the facility. The ODs came on Sunday and Monday, and speculation is that a particularly strong batch of heroin, perhaps laced with fentanyl, is responsible. It's worth noting that no one died in the InSite overdoses, where medical attention is at hand. In fact, no one has ever died of an overdose at InSite. The batch of heroin has claimed at least one life, though -- a 20-something woman who died in a hostel on the Downtown East Side. There was no medical attention on hand for her. "Heroin overdoses don't need to be fatal," said Gavin Wilson of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which runs InSite. "They're reversible if caught in time."

Guatemala Weighing Softer Drug Punishments. President Otto Perez Molina has told Reuters that the country is considering reducing drug sentences for small-time offenses as part of its push to liberalize its drug policy. "We have 17,000 prisoners in our jails. Many of them are linked to drug trafficking. Some of them are indeed criminals. And there are some who are in for minimal amounts of consumption or possession," Perez said. "So I think there are steps we could take time to analyze," he added, when asked about the possibility of easing sentences to lighten the strain on Guatemala's overstretched penal system. The government received an interim report from a commission studying possible drug policy changes last month, and Perez said final recommendations would be ready sometime in the first half of next year. He also said that his government is considering regulating medical marijuana and opium poppy production for medical purposes.

Dutch Court Refuses to Punish Marijuana Growers. A court in Groningen has found two people guilty of growing marijuana, but refused to punish them, instead criticizing the government's policy that criminalizes pot growing but allows its sale in the country's famous cannabis coffee shops. "The court finds the suspects guilty, but no punishment will be applied," the court said in its ruling. "Given that the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is tolerated, this means that these coffee shops must supply themselves and so cultivation must be done to satisfy these demands. The law does not state how this supply should be done," the court said. The Groningen growers had been open about their activities, and the court found they had acted within the spirit of the marijuana laws, acting "in the interests of public health and so as to not disturb the public order."

Chronicle AM -- August 4, 2014

Sentencing reform bills look to be picking up steam in Congress, Massachusetts is expanding drug courts, Tennessee's welfare drug test law generates unimpressive results, drug reform conferences are coming in Latin America, and more. Let's get to it:

Oregon drug court (co.washington.oregon.us)
Marijuana Policy

Toledo, Ohio, Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Backers of a Toledo municipal decriminalization initiative handed in some 13,000 signatures Monday. They need 6,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign is being led by Northwest Ohio NORML.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up Cosponsors. The bill, House Resolution 5226, would exclude low-THC therapeutic cannabis oil from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. It was filed with three cosponsors, and picked up seven more late last week. There are five Democrats and five Republicans now sponsoring it.

Sentencing

Senate Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, Senate Bill 1410, would allow federal judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases, apply adjusted crack cocaine sentences to people after the passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, as well as other sentencing reform provisions. The latest cosponsor is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The bill now has 31 cosponsors -- 23 Democrats, two independents, and six Republicans.

House Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 3382, is identical to the Senate version above. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). The bill now has 49 cosponsors -- 35 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

House Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 3465, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), amends the Second Chance Act of 2007 to allow for funding for grants for family-based drug treatment and for drug treatment and criminal justice collaboration for people leaving prison. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX). The bill now has 40 cosponsors -- 33 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Law Screens 800 Applicants; One Fails Drug Test. In the first month that the new welfare drug screening and testing law went into effect, 812 applicants were asked to submit to screening for evidence of possible drug use. Four refused the initial screening, a series of questions about drug use. After initial screening, only six people were asked to submit to drug tests in order to receive benefits. Five out of the six passed. One failed the drug test.

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 5212, was introduced late last week by. Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI). It would raise the standard of proof necessary for the government to seize property and reinstate due process so the government is required to prove a property owner's involvement in criminal activity. It now has a cosponsor, Rep. Renee Elmers (R-NC).

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts to Expand Drug Courts. Faced with an increase in heroin overdoses and opiate addiction, the state will add five drug courts to the 21 it currently has. Drug reformers criticize drug courts as not the answer for dealing with people whose only "crime" is their drug habit.

International

Mexican State Moves to Limit Coverage of Violent Crime. The state of Sinaloa, home to -- you guessed it -- the Sinaloa Cartel, has barred reporters from covering the violence there. The state congress last Thursday approved a law that restricts journalists to official government press releases for crime information and bans them from inspecting the scene, taking any photos or videos, or recording audio on-site.

Uruguay Solicits Bids for Marijuana Growers. Would-be marijuana growers in Uruguay have until August 18 to submit bids for licenses to grow pot at government-run fields and then sell it to consumers. The government there will license up to five growers.

Colombia Drug Reform Conference Later This Month. A drug reform conference will be held in Bogota on August 14 and 15. The conference is "Drug Policy 25 Years After the Death of Luis Carlos Galan: How Much Have We Advanced?" The Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann and Dr. Carl Hart will be there, as will numerous Colombian and other Latin American presenters and participants. Click the title link for more details.

Fifth Annual Latin American Drug Reform Conference in Costa Rica Next Month. The hemispheric conference will be held in San Jose on September 3 and 4. The conference will also include the First Annual Central American Drug Reform Conference. Click on the title link for lots more information.

Denmark's Liberal Alliance Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The opposition Liberal Alliance called at its summer meeting Sunday for the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs, increasing the use of medical marijuana in the national health sector, and continuing the safe injection site initiative. "We know that it doesn't help to punish people for being in possession of drugs," said party leader Anders Samuelson. "We are not talking about a total liberalization of drug dealing. It should still be illegal to sell drugs, but not to be in possession of them." The proposal is not winning support from other political parties.

Chronicle AM -- July 7, 2014

This fall's drug policy initiative picture is beginning to clear up, with DC and Oregon seemingly on the way to voting on marijuana legalization in November, the first retailer sales licenses for marijuana in Washington state were issued today, with the signature of Gov. Cuomo, New York becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, and more. Let's get to it:

Handing in signatures to DC election officials this morning. (DrugPolicy.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Backers Turn in More Than Twice the Signatures Needed. Supporters of the DC Cannabis Campaign initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana turned in more than 58,000 signatures this morning. They only need 25,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative does not seek to tax and regulate marijuana commerce because DC law precludes that, leaving it up to elected officials. A tax and regulate bill is before the DC city council.

Oregon Legalization Initiative Backers Turn in Close to Twice the Signatures Needed. The New Approach Oregon legalization initiative campaign turned in 145,000 signatures Thursday to put their measure on the November ballot. They only need 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, so this is looking very much, but not quite, like a done deal. Stay tuned.

Arkansas Marijuana Initiatives Come Up Short. Neither marijuana legalization nor medical marijuana will be on the ballot this fall. Campaigners for two separate marijuana reform initiatives came up short on signatures for both. Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the folks behind the medical marijuana initiative, say they will be back in 2016.

Washington State Liquor Control Board Issues First Marijuana Retailer Licenses. The first marijuana retail licenses were issued today, with the first retailers expected to be open for business tomorrow as Washington joins Colorado among the legal marijuana commerce states. Click on the link above for a list of the 24 approved licensees.

Massachusetts Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Support for Legalization. A new Boston Globe poll has support for legalizing marijuana at 48%, with 47% opposed, and 5% undecided. Click on the poll link for more demographic info and top lines.

Denver Cops Raid Marijuana Social Club. Denver Police last week raided Maryjane's Social Club, a private pot-smoking club operating in a grey area under state law. Police handcuffed smokers and charged them with smoking in public, seized drug paraphernalia, and ticketed the club owner for violating the state's no-smoking-inside laws. Club owners argue that since neither marijuana nor food and beverages are sold at the clubs -- patrons bring their own -- they should be permissible.

Medical Marijuana

Governor Signs Compassionate Use Act, Making New York 23rd Medical Marijuana State. In an official signing ceremony today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law the Compassionate Use Act. New York thus becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, even though its law is among the most restrictive and includes a ban on smoking (but not vaping or eating) it.

New Synthetic Drugs

Louisiana Bans Two More New Synthetics. The state Department of Health and Hospitals has banned two synthetic drugs, FUB-AMB AMB (methyl (1-(4-fluorobenzyl)-1 H-indazole-3-carbonyl) valinate) and 5-flouro-AMB ((S)- methyl 2- (1- (5- fluoropentyl)- 1H- indazole- 3- carboxamido)- 3- methylbutanoate). The two drugs are marketed as fake marijuana under the names Train Wreck 2 and Kali Berry 2. The ban came last Thursday via an emergency rule.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Welfare Drug Test Law Goes into Effect. As of July 1, people applying for welfare will have to answer three questions on a form about potential drug use. Those who answer any of the questions positively will have to submit to drug testing. Positive test results will result in a postponement of benefits until the applicant has completed a treatment or recovery program and been re-tested. The ACLU of Tennessee says it is considering a legal challenge to the law.

Harm Reduction

Missouri Governor Signs Bill Allowing First Responders to Carry Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Jay Nixon (R) last Thursday signed into law House Bill 2040, which will allow first responders to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The new law goes into effect August 28.

North Carolina Drug Users Have Prevented 100 Fatal Overdoses with Naloxone. Last week, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported that the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone distributed to drug users, their friends, and families has prevented its 100th fatal drug overdose. The distribution is the result of the passage of 911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access law in April 2013.

Law Enforcement

Maryland Cops No Longer Have to Report Racial Profiling, SWAT Statistics. Laws requiring state law enforcement agencies to collect and report racial data on traffic stops and to provide the state with information about SWAT deployments have expired. The legislature failed to act to renew them, but some legislators are vowing to make it their first order of business next session. Both laws were passed because of perceived abuses by law enforcement.

International

Colombia's First Needle Exchange Programs are Open. Needle exchange programs in five Colombian cities got underway last week, with health professionals handing out clean syringes to drug users in Armenia, Bogota, Cali, Cucuta, and Medellin. The Health Ministry has allocated 100,000 clean syringes for the program, which will also collect and destroy dirty needles.

Austrian Justice Minister Says No to Marijuana Legalization. Responding to a proposal from the Tyrolean Social Democratic Party (SPO) to legalize marijuana, Austrian Justice Minister Wolgang Brandstetter just says no. "Legalization is not an issue, even in the summer," Brandstetter said. "It's all about prevention, too, in my view, we must reduce the consumption of addictive substances - including soft drugs such as cannabis," he added. Recent polls show only about one-third of Austrians favor legalization.

Caricom Commission to Study Marijuana Reform. The Community of Caribbean Nations (Caricom) last week created a commission to study how the region should respond to demands for medical marijuana, decriminalization, and other marijuana reforms. The commission will report before Caricom's next summit, set for February 2016. An earlier Caricom report found that allowing medical marijuana could boost the regional economy.

Ireland to Allow Medical Marijuana. The CEO of Ireland's Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said today the Department of Health was drafting legislation to allow medical marijuana to be made available to patients. Pat O'Mahony said that medical marijuana would be available by prescription and sold at pharmacies.

Chronicle AM -- May 22, 2014

A new poll suggests Vermont is ready to legalize it, and so is the mayor of Rome, a San Francisco crack pipe exchange is set to expand, a West Virginia county's latest grand jury indictments shine a light on drug war in the Appalachians, Bermuda marijuana growers want an emergency exemption for medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Bermuda-grown cannabis indica await patients there. (Alan Gordon)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Poll Has 57% Support for Legalization, Taxation, and Regulation. A new poll from the Castleton Polling Institute has 57% of respondents saying they would support legalizing marijuana for adults, taxing it, and regulating it like alcohol. Only 34% were opposed. The poll has +/- 4% margin of error. The Vermont legislature approved a bill in April that includes an amendment initiating a study to evaluate the potential impact of making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is expected to sign it into law.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Legislator Files Bill for Medical Marijuana Referendum. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) has filed a measure, House Bill 1161, that, if approved, would put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana to treat specified medical conditions. Alexander had filed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it went nowhere in the legislature. The new bill would have to get super-majorities in both chambers of the legislature before it could go to the voters.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco's Crack Pipe Exchange Program to Expand. A crack pipe exchange program operated by volunteers from the Urban Survivors Union, a drug users' rights group, is set to expand even though the city won't condone or fund the program. Volunteers have been distributing about 50 clean crack pipes a week in the Tenderloin, SOMA, and Polk Gulch neighborhoods, even though city officials say there is no evidence it is an effective harm reduction measure. Seattle is the only other city in the country with a similar program.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. Rep. David Price (D-NC) has become the latest representative to endorse the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 (House Resolution 3382). The bill would reduce some drug mandatory minimums, allow judges greater leeway to sentence beneath the mandatory minimum, and allow for reduced sentences for crack offenders whose offense took place before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Price is the 32nd cosponsor and the second this week.

Law Enforcement

In One West Virginia County, Drugs Dominate Grand Jury Indictments. Holy hydrocodone, Batman! The Fayette County grand jury in West Virginia has just released its May batch of bills of indictment, and 71 out 101 of them were for drugs and related charges. There are a whole lot of "conspiracy" and "possession with intent to distribute" charges, too. The indictments don't specify which drugs were at play, but there are a bunch of "obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, or forgery" charges as well, and a handful of meth lab charges. Click on the link for the whole list.

International

Mayor of Rome Says Legalize It. Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said Wednesday he supports legalizing marijuana in Italy. "I am in favor of the possibility of deregulating cannabis for medical or personal use," he told the 8th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy. "In 2011, more than one million plants were confiscated in our country compared to 73,000 in France," Marino continued. "Organized crime still manages large portions of international traffic and there are enough reasons to reopen the debate today in Italy. We live in a time in which reform for drug laws is necessary on an international and national level. For Italy I personally have a very clear idea of what needs to be done: the decriminalization of marijuana should be considered a starting point because the years of prohibition have not brought any results to prevent the dramatic increase in the use of drugs. In addition, new forms of legalization could be experimented with in medicine for people's health but also to target organized crime." Marino's comments come just weeks after the Italian parliament approved a new law amending the country's drug laws and treating marijuana as a "soft drug" with reduced penalties.

Portugal Soon to Get First Safe Injection Site. The Lisbon city council has approved the location for what would be Portugal's first "assisted consumption room" for drug users. Portugal approved safe injection sites several years ago, but left implementation up to local councils. None had moved to do so until now.

Bermuda Marijuana Growers Seek Emergency Amnesty for Medical Grows, Offer Up Over 50 Locally Available Varieties. Bermuda attorney and marijuana reform activist Alan Gordon, speaking on behalf of a collective of nearly two dozen Bermuda marijuana growers, called today for the government to act immediately to allow for the use of medical marijuana, as called for in last month's Cannabis Reform Collaboration report. "There is only one way to allow the immediate medical cannabis called for by the CRC Report," Gordon said. "We need to just do it instead of just shuffling paperwork. Eighty small medical grade cannabis trees are available to start, and over 50 medical cannabis strains currently on-island." Click on the title link to read more.

NORML Canada Conference This Weekend in Toronto. NORML Canada is holding its annual conference this weekend in Toronto. Click on the link for the details.

Indonesia's New Drug Treatment Over Prison Scheme Faces Challenges. In another excellent analysis from Asiancorrespondent.com, Patrick Tibke looks at Indonesia's progressive new guidelines for the "Processing of Drug Addicts and Drug Abusers into Rehabilitation Centers" and warns of the obstacles ahead in actually implementing such reforms. As he notes, the move was not new legislation, but simply gives a push to the country's 2009 Narcotics Law, which first allowed for the rehabilitation of drug users instead of their incarceration. Whether and how this will actually be implemented remains to be seen. It's a good, thorough read; click on the link for the whole thing.

Chronicle AM -- April 11, 2014

A DC marijuana legalization initiative is about to start signature-gathering, we have a trio of state pot polls, the US Sentencing Commission moves to cut drug sentences, German criminal law professors call for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering to Get Underway. Signature gathering for the District of Columbia marijuana legalization initiative will begin April 23, the DC Cannabis Campaign said this week. The campaign needs 25,000 valid signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified for the ballot there; DC and Oregon now look like the best chances for more legalization initiatives qualifying for the ballot this year.

Louisiana Poll Has Support for Legalization at 44%. The 2014 Louisiana Survey has support for marijuana legalization at 44%, with 54% opposed. Support for medical marijuana was much higher, at 79%. The survey is conducted annually by the Public Policy Research Lab, or PPRL, and sponsored by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication.

New Hampshire Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. There is solid majority support for legalization in the Granite State. A new WMUR Granite State Poll found found 55% of adults in the state support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use. Only 38% oppose legalization. Support for legalization is up seven points in the last 14 months.

Rhode Island Poll Has Support for Legalization at 48%. More Rhode Islanders support legalization than oppose, but it doesn't quite have majority support just yet, according to a new Brown University poll. The survey has 47.6% supporting legalization, with 39.3% opposed.

Rhode Island Report Says State Could Generate Tens of Millions in Legal Marijuana Tax Revenue. Maybe this will get those poll numbers up. A new report from Open Doors, a local criminal justice reform group, estimates that if the state were to pass a tax and regulate legalization bill, it could gain between $21.5 and $82 million in annual tax revenues. A legal marijuana industry would also create hundreds of new jobs in the state, the report found.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Senate Committee Hearing, No Action Taken. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would allow qualified patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and buy it from a dispensary. But the committee took no action on Senate File 1641, tabling it until legislators return from the Easter/Passover break.

Tennessee Senate Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a CBD medical marijuana study bill. The measure would authorize a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures. A vote is pending in the House.

Drug Policy

Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Convention To Address Drug War. The largest civil rights convention of the year has the war on drugs on its agenda. A panel called "Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana & Criminalization of African Americans" will address racial justice and the war on drugs Saturday. The convention started Wednesday and continues through Monday. Click on the link for all the details.

Salvia Divinorum

Rhode Island Bill to Ban Salvia Divinorum, Jimson Weed Advances. A bill that would ban the hallucinogenic drugs salvia divinorum and jimson weed has passed the House. House Bill 7191, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-Providence) seeks to target unregulated substances by prohibiting them. It now goes to the state Senate.

Law Enforcement

Maine Drug War Enhancement Bill Passes House. The House approved an amended version of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bill to respond to drug problems in the state by increasing drug law enforcement. Legislative Document 1811 was amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to add funding for drug treatment and reduce the number of new drug agents, prosecutors and judges to be hired, but is still opposed by groups like the ACLU of Maine. The bill now moves to the Senate.

NYPD's Most Sued Narc Is Off the Streets. Detective Peter Valentin of Bronx Narcotics is off the streets. Valentin, who has been sued at least 28 times since 2006, and three of his colleagues have been placed on modified duty after an Internal Affair Bureau investigation for taking part in drug raids "of dubious merit." The city has already paid out at least $884,000 to settle lawsuits sparked by Valentin's misbehavior, including a case where a nursing mother spent a week on Rikers Island after Valentin arrested her for drug possession even though she truthfully stated that the powder he found in her home was powdered eggshells, not drugs. Dozens of cases in which Valentin and his crew were involved are now in jeopardy.

Collateral Sanctions

Missouri Could End Lifetime Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. Missouri is one of only 10 states that have not opted out of a lifetime federal ban on food stamps for people with drug felonies, but that could change this year. A bill to end the ban, Senate Bill 680, passed the Senate last week and appears to have bipartisan support in the House. Bill sponsor Sen. Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City) said she accepted amendments imposing some restrictions -- retaining the ban for three-time drug felons, requiring a one-year wait for eligibility -- as necessary to move the bill forward.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Reduce Guidelines for Drug Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. The amendment would reduce the average sentence for drug traffickers by 11 months, by lowering the drug sentencing guidelines two levels. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the change during testimony before the commission last month. The amendment will go to Congress for its approval on May 1. Congress has six months to introduce and pass legislation to stop the proposed changes before they become law on November 1.

International

German Criminal Law Professors Call for Marijuana Legalization. Over 120 German professors of criminal law are supporting an initiative to legalize cannabis. They have called on the Bundestag to discuss the issue. The professors are part of the "Schildow Circle," founded two years ago by Lorenz Bollinger, professor emeritus of criminal law at Bremen University. Prime Minister Angela Merkel's coalition is skeptical.

Denmark Opens More Safe Injection Sites. Denmark's first safe injection site for hard drug users opened in October 2012. Now there are three in Copenhagen and at least one in each of Denmark's main cities. They have never had a fatal drug overdose on site.

Mexico Intra-Cartel Clashes Leave 28 Dead. At least 28 people have been killed in clashes between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel in northeastern Tamaulipas state since last weekend. Authorities described the fighting as "clashes or score-settling between criminal groups." The fighting comes after the February arrest of local Gulf Cartel leader Javier Garza, "El comandante 14."

Drug Bill in Australia's Capital Territory Will Ban New Drugs, Adjust Quantities That Trigger Dealing Charges. Under legislation proposed yesterday, Australia's Capital Territory (greater Canberra) will increase the quantity of drugs needed to trigger trafficking charges in a bid to separate out users from dealers. The amount of Ecstasy needed to trigger such charges would double, while the amount of cocaine would triple. The bill would also deal with new synthetic drugs by banning them, instead of regulating them, as neighboring New Zealand has done.

War of Words: The International Narcotics Control Board vs. A Changing World [FEATURE]

The global drug prohibition bureaucracy's watchdog group, the International Drug Control Board (INCB) released its Annual Report 2013 today, voicing its concerns with and wagging its finger at drug reform efforts that deviate from its interpretation of the international drug control treaties that birthed it. The INCB is "concerned" about moves toward marijuana legalization and warns about "the importance of universal implementation of international drug control treaties by all states."

"We deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis," INCB head Raymond Yans said in introducing the report. "INCB reiterates that these developments contravene the provisions of the drug control conventions, which limit the use of cannabis to medical and scientific use only. INCB urges the Government of the United States to ensure that the treaties are fully implemented on the entirety of its territory."

For some years now, some European and Latin American countries have been expressing a desire to see change in the international system, and "soft defections," such as the Dutch cannabis coffee shop system and Spain's cannabis cultivation clubs, have stretched the prohibitionist treaties to their legal limits. But legal marijuana in Uruguay is a clear breach of the treaties, as Colorado and Washington may be. That is bringing matters to an unavoidable head.

After surveying the state of drug affairs around the globe, the 96-page INCB report ends with a number of concerns and recommendations, ranging from non-controversial items such as calling for adequate prevention and treatment efforts to urging greater attention to prescription drug abuse and more attention paid to new synthetic drugs. [Ed: There is some controversy over how to best approach prescription drug abuse and synthetic drugs. e.g. the type of attention to pay to them.]

But the INCB is clearly perturbed by the erosion of the international drug prohibition consensus, and especially by its concrete manifestations in legalization in Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington and the spreading acceptance of medical marijuana.

"The Board is concerned that a number of States that are parties to the 1961 Convention are considering legislative proposals intended to regulate the use of cannabis for purposes other than medical and scientific ones" and "urges all Governments and the international community to carefully consider the negative impact of such developments. In the Board's opinion, the likely increase in the abuse of cannabis will lead to increased public health costs," the report said.

Similarly, the INCB "noted with concern" Uruguay's marijuana legalization law, which "would not be in conformity with the international drug control treaties, particularly the 1961 Convention" and urged the government there "to ensure the country remains fully compliant with international law, which limits the use of narcotic drugs, including cannabis, exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."

Ditto for Colorado and Washington, where the board was "concerned" about the marijuana legalization initiatives and underlined that "such legislation is not in conformity with the international drug control treaties." The US government should "continue to ensure the full implementation of the international drug control treaties on its entire territory," INCB chided.

But even as INCB struggles to maintain the legal backbone of global prohibition, it is not only seeing marijuana prohibition crumble in Uruguay and the two American states, it is also itself coming under increasing attack as a symbol of a crumbling ancien regime that creates more harm than good with its adherence to prohibitionist, law enforcement-oriented approaches to the use and commerce in psychoactive substances.

"We are at a tipping point now as increasing numbers of nations realize that cannabis prohibition has failed to reduce its use, filled prisons with young people, increased violence and fueled the rise of organized crime," said Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute. "As nations like Uruguay pioneer new approaches, we need the UN to open up an honest dialogue on the strengths and weaknesses of the treaty system rather than close their eyes and indulge in blame games."

"For many years, countries have stretched the UN drug control conventions to their legal limits, particularly around the use of cannabis," agreed Dave Bewley-Taylor of the Global Drug Policy Observatory. "Now that the cracks have reached the point of treaty breach, we need a serious discussion about how to reform international drug conventions to better protect people's health, safety and human rights. Reform won't be easy, but the question facing the international community today is no longer whether there is a need to reassess and modernize the UN drug control system, but rather when and how."

"This is very much the same old stuff," said John Collins, coordinator of the London School of Economics IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and a PhD candidate studying mid-20th Century international drug control policy. "The INCB views its role as advocating a strict prohibitionist oriented set of policies at the international level and interpreting the international treaties as mandating this one-size-fits-all approach. It highlights that INCB, which was created as a technical body to monitor international flows of narcotics and report back to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has carved out and maintains a highly politicized role, far removed from its original treaty functions. This should be a cause for concern for all states interested in having a functioning, public health oriented and cooperative international framework for coordinating the global response to drug issues," Collins told the Chronicle.

"The INCB and its current president, Raymond Yans, take a very ideological view of this issue," Collins continued. "Yans attributes all the negative and unintended consequences of bad drug policies solely to drugs and suggests the way to lessen these problems is more of the same. Many of the policies the board advocates fly in the face of best-practice public health policy -- for example the board demanding that states close 'drug consumption rooms, facilities where addicts can abuse drugs,'" he noted.

"If the board was really concerned about the 'health and welfare' of global populations it would be advocating for these scientifically proven public health interventions. Instead it chooses the road of unscientific and ideological based policies," Collins argued.

The INCB's reliance on ideology-driven policy sometimes leads to grotesque results. There are more than 30 countries that apply the death penalty for drugs in violation of international law. Virtually every international human rights and drug control body opposes the death penalty for drugs including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN's human rights experts on extrajudicial killings, torture and health, among many others.

INCB head Raymond Yans (incb.org)
But when an INCB board member was asked in Thailand -- where 14 people have been executed for drugs since 2001 -- what its position on capital punishment was, he said, "the agency says it neither supports nor opposes the death penalty for drug-related offenses," according to the Bangkok Post.

Human rights experts were horrified and immediately wrote asking for clarification, to which the INCB responded, "The determination of sanctions applicable to drug-related offenses remains the exclusive prerogative of each State and therefore lie beyond the mandate and powers which have been conferred upon the Board by the international community," according to Human Rights Watch.

Another area where the board's concern about the health and welfare of global populations is being challenged is access to pain medications. A key part of the INCB's portfolio is regulating opioid pain medications, and this year again it said there is more than enough opium available to satisfy current demand, although it also noted that "consumption of narcotic drugs for pain relief is concentrated within a limited number of countries."

The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees about that latter point. A 2011 study estimated that around 5.5 billion people -- or 83% of the world population -- live in countries with 'low to non-existent' access to opioid pain relief for conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. These substances are listed by the WHO as essential medicines, and the international drug control conventions recognise explicitly that they are 'indispensable' to the 'health and welfare of mankind.'

Adding to the paradox -- the global supply is sufficient, but four-fifths of the world doesn't have access -- the INCB calls on governments to "ensure that internationally controlled substances used for pain relief are accessible to people who need them."

What is going on?

"The INCB uses totals of requirements for opioid medicines compiled by the UN treaty signatory states," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, which keeps an eye on the agency with its INCB Watch. "Unfortunately there is often a huge gap between these administrative estimates and the actual medical needs of their populations."

The prohibitionist slant of global drug control also creates a climate conducive to understating the actual need for access to pain relief in other ways, Fordham told the Chronicle.

"Many governments interpret the international drug control conventions in a more restrictive manner than is necessary, and focus their efforts towards preventing access to the unauthorized use of opioids rather than to ensuring their medical and scientific availability," she said. "This is a grossly unbalanced reading of the conventions, underpinned by fear and prejudice regarding opioids and addiction."

Although the agency has cooperated somewhat with the WHO in attempting to enhance access to the medicines, said Fordham, it bears some blame for rendering the issue so fraught.

"The INCB has continually stressed the repressive aspect of the international drug control regime in its annual reports and other public statements, and in its direct dealings with member states," she said. "The INCB is therefore responsible for at least some of the very anxieties that drive governments toward overly restrictive approaches. This ambivalence considerably weakens the INCB's credibility and contradicts its health-related advocacy."

Fordham joined the call for a fundamental reform of global drug prohibition, and she didn't mince words about the INCB.

"The entire UN drug control system needs to be rebalanced further in the direction of health rather than criminalization, and it is changing; the shift in various parts of the system is apparent already," she said before leveling a blast at Yans and company. "But the INCB is notable as the most hard line, backward-looking element, regularly overstepping its mandate in the strident and hectoring manner its adopts with parties to the treaties, in its interference in functions that properly belong to the WHO and in its quasi-religious approach to a narrow interpretation of the drug control treaties."

The INCB should get out of the way on marijuana and concentrate on its pain relief function, said Collins.

"The INCB should stay out if it," he said bluntly. "It is a technocratic monitoring body. It should not be involving itself in national politics and national regulatory systems. So it doesn't need to be either a help or hindrance on issues regarding cannabis reform. It has no reason to be involved in this debate. It should be focusing on ensuring access to essential pain medicines. These debates are a distraction from that core function and I would argue one of the reasons it is failing to meet this core function."

Sorry, INCB. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Vienna
Austria

Chronicle AM -- February 17, 2014

Olympic drug testers back off on marijuana, a surprise marijuana vote in New Mexico, a bad medical marijuana bill in Michigan, NYPD's most sued cops are all narcs, a new South Australian law criminalizes some speech about synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

You don't even want to talk about synthetic stimulants now in South Australia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Senate Committee Votes to Remove Marijuana from Schedule I. In a surprise move, the Senate Judiciary Committee Saturday voted to remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances. The move came in the form of an amendment by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) to a synthetic cannabinoids ban bill, Senate Bill 127. The bill goes now to the full Senate.

Poll Finds Majority Support for Legalization in New York. A new Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that New Yorkers support the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana 57% to 39%, while 45% of those voters say marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and 36% say it's less dangerous. The poll also found whopping 88% support for medical marijuana. Click on the poll link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Landlords to Prohibit Patient Use on Private Property. A bill that would allow Michigan landlords to ban the use, possession, or cultivation on private property is set for a committee hearing this week. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sens. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and James Marleau (R-Lake Orion), gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon. Foes called the bill "hostile" and "unnecessary."

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drug Ban Bill Passes Alabama Senate. A bill that would expand Alabama's ban on new synthetic drugs passed the Senate last Thursday and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-3rd District), would add additional synthetic cannabinoids and other analogues to the ban. Next stop is the House Judiciary Committee.

(See the international section below for another synthetic drugs item.)

Law Enforcement

Meet NYPD's Most Sued Cops -- They're All Narcs. The New York Daily News reveals that 55 NYPD officers have been sued 10 times or more at a cost to the city of over $6 million. The Daily News then profiled the four officers with the most lawsuits filed against them. All four are narcotics officers. And for some reason, all four are still on the job.

Senators Still Looking for Answers on Customs Searches of Domestic Private Aircraft. It took holding up the nomination of current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to head Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but a pair of US senators finally got a response from CBP to their months-old question about how and why the border protection agency was stopping and searching private aircraft that had never left the US. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jim Risch (R-ID) put the hold on the nomination, and while CBP has responded, they say they are still not satisfied with the response and sent a February 12 letter requesting a briefing and additional written responses from DHS. Click on the title link to get all the details.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Sentencing Reform Initiative Cleared for Circulation. A sentencing reform initiative whose proponents are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdown has been approved for signature gathering. The initiative would require misdemeanor sentences instead of felonies for a number of petty crimes, including certain drug possession offenses. It would also require resentencing for people currently serving felony sentences for those offenses. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures before the end of spring to qualify for the November ballot.

International

Olympics Drug Testers Raise Permissible Levels for Marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has raised the permissible level of marijuana in athletes' urine from 15 nanograms per millileter to 150 nanograms. Although WADA considers marijuana to be a performance enhancing drug, it also conceded that it also "is a socially more or less an accepted drug being used in social context" and raised the threshold accordingly. "That's a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter and that was agreed upon as the best way to proceed with this particular issue," Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, told reporters Saturday in Sochi. "There is a big debate on it."

Harsh New Synthetic Drug Laws Now in Effect in South Australia. New laws that heighten criminal penalties for selling or manufacturing synthetic stimulant drugs went into effect across South Australia today. In addition to increased prison sentences, the Controlled Substances (Offences) Amendment Bill 2013 also outlaws the "promotion" of synthetic drugs or causing another person to believe they caused effect similar to an illegal drug or similar to a legal stimulant. Those speech-crime offenses are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Bermuda. Members of the opposition People's National Party filed a marijuana decriminalization bill Friday. The Decriminalization of Cannabis Act would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to half an ounce, but Attorney General Mark Pettingill seemed quite perturbed by it, accusing the PNP of coming "swashbuckling in" with a "very badly thought out" bill.

Norway Approves Use of Naloxone for Overdose Reversal. Norway has Europe's worst overdose rate, and now the Scandinavian country is preparing a pilot program that will offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in its two most populous cities, Oslo and Bergen, later this year. Since 2002, about 240 people have died each year in Norway from heroin overdoses, more than have died from traffic accidents.

Vancouver Clinic Seeks Federal Approval for Long-Running Safe Injection Site. The Dr. Peter Center, which has quietly provided supervised injection services for its clients since 2002, is now seeking a formal exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be able to do so legally. The move, which comes in the wake of a 2011 Canadian Supreme Court decision stopping the federal government from shutting down the Insite supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside, has the support of the city and provincial governments.

Hoffman, Heroin, and What Is To Be Done [FEATURE]

The news last Sunday that acclaimed actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman had died of an apparent heroin overdose has turned a glaring media spotlight on the phenomenon, but heroin overdose deaths had been on the rise for several years before his premature demise. And while there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth -- and quick arrests of low-level dealers and users -- too little has been said, either before or after his passing, about what could have been done to save him and what could be done to save others.

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
There are proven measures that can be taken to reduce overdose deaths -- and to enable heroin addicts to live safe and normal lives, whether they cease using heroin or not. All of the above face social and political obstacles and have only been implemented unevenly, if at all. If there is any good to come of Hoffmann's death it will be to the degree that it inspires broader discussion of what can be done to prevent the same thing happening to others in a similar position.

Hoffman, devoted family man and great actor that he was, died a criminal. And perhaps he died because his use of heroin was criminalized. Criminalized heroin -- heroin under drug prohibition -- is of uncertain provenance, of unknown strength and purity, adulterated with unknown substances. While we don't know what was in the heroin that Hoffman injected, we do know that he maintained his addiction and went to meet his maker with black market dope. That's what was found beside his lifeless body.

In a commentary published by The Guardian, actor Russell Brand, a recovered heroin addict, laid the blame for Hoffman's demise on the drug laws. "Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise drug addicts," Brand wrote, calling prohibitionists' methods "so gallingly ineffective that it is difficult not to deduce that they are deliberately creating the worst imaginable circumstances to maximise the harm caused by substance misuse." As a result, "drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem."

We didn't always treat our addicts this way. Even after the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, doctors continued for years to prescribe maintenance doses of opiates to addicts -- and hundreds of them went to jail for it as the medical profession fought, and ultimately lost, a battle with the nascent drug prohibition bureaucracy over whether giving addicts their medicine was part of the legitimate practice of medicine.

The idea of treating heroin addicts as patients instead of criminals was largely vanquished in the United States, but it never went away -- it lingers with methadone substitution, for example. But other countries have for decades been experimenting with providing maintenance doses of opioids to addicts, and to good result. It goes by various names -- opiate substitution therapy, heroin-assisted theatment, heroin maintenance -- and studies from Britain and other European countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, as well as the North American Opiate Medications Initiative (NAOMI) and the follow-up Study to Assess Long-Term Opiate Maintenance in Canada have touted its successes.

Those studies have found that providing pharmaceutical grade heroin to addicts in a clinical setting works. It reduces the likelihood of death or disease among clients, as well as allowing them to bring some stability and predictability to sometimes chaotic lives made even more chaotic by the demands of addiction under prohibition. Such treatment has also been found to have beneficial effects for society, with lowered criminality among participants and increased likelihood of their integration as productive members of society.

The dry, scientific language of the studies obscures the human realities around heroin addiction and opioid maintenance therapy. One NAOMI participant helps put a human face on it.

"I want to tell you what being a participant in this study did for me," one participant told researchers. "Initially it meant 'free heroin.' But over time it became more, much more. NAOMI took much of the stress out of my life and allowed me to think more clearly about my life and future. It exposed me to new ideas, people (staff and clients) that in my street life (read: stressful existence) there was no time for."

"After NAOMI, I was offered oral methadone, which I refused. After going quickly downhill, I ended up hopeless and homeless. I went into detox in April 2007, abstained from using for two months, then relapsed. In July 2008 I again went to detox and I am presently in a treatment center... I am definitely not "out of the woods" yet, but I feel I am on the right path. And this path started for me at the corner of Abbott and Hastings in Vancouver... Thank you and all who were involved in making NAOMI happen. Without NAOMI, I wouldn't be where I am today. I am sure I would be in a much worse place."

Arnold Trebach, one of the fathers of the drug reform in late 20th Century America, has been studying heroin since 1972, and is still at it. He examined the British system in the early 1970s, when doctors still prescribed heroin to thousands of addicts, and authored a book, The Heroin Solution, that compared and contrasted the US and UK approaches. Later this month, the octogenarian law professor will be appearing on a panel at the Vermont Law School to address what Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has described as the heroin crisis there.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (wikimedia.org)
"The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a tragedy all the way around," Trebach told the Chronicle. "It's a bad idea to use heroin off the street, and he shouldn't have been doing that."

That said, Trebach continued, it didn't have to be that way.

"If we had had a sensible system of dealing with this, he would have been in treatment under medical care," he said. "If he was going to inject heroin, he should have been using pharmaceutically pure heroin in a medical setting where he could also have been exposed to efforts to straighten out his personal life, and he could have access to vitamins, weight control advice, and the whole spectrum of medical care. And if he had had access to opioid antagonists, he could still be alive," he added.

While Hoffman may have made bad personal choices, Trebach said, we as a society have made policy choices seemingly designed to amplify the prospects for disaster.

"This is a sad thing. He is just another one of the many victims of our barbaric drug policy," he said. "This was a totally unnecessary death at every level. He shouldn't have been using, but we should have been taking care of him."

The stuff ought to be legalized, Trebach said.

"I'm an advocate of full legalization, but if we can't go that far, we need to at least provide social and psychological support for these people," he said. "And even if we were to decriminalize or legalize, I would still want to figure out ways to provide support and love and kindness to people using the stuff. I advise you not to do it, but if you're going to use it, I want to keep you alive. I remember talking to people from Liverpool [a famous heroin maintenance clinic covered in the '90s by Sixty Minutes, linked above] about harm reduction around heroin use back in the 1970s. One of the ladies said it is very hard to rehabilitate a dead addict."

"There are plenty of things we can be doing," said Hilary McQuie, Western director for the Harm Reduction Network, reeling off a list of harm reduction interventions that are by now well-known but inadequately implemented.

"We can make naloxone (Narcan) more available. We need better access to it. It should be offered to people like Hoffman when they are leaving treatment programs, especially if they've been using opiates, just as a safeguard," she said. "Having treatment programs as well as harm reduction programs distribute it is important. We can cut the overdose rate in half with naloxone, but there will still be people using alone and people using multiple substances."

There are other proven interventions that could be ramped up as well, McQuie said.

"Safe injection sites would be very helpful, so would more Good Samaritan overdose emergency laws, and more education, not to mention more access to methadone and buprenorphine and other opioid substitution therapies (OST)," she said, reeling off possible interventions.

Dr. Martin Schechter, director of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, knows a thing or two about OST. The principal study investigator for the NAOMI and the follow-up SALOME study, Schechter has overseen research into the effectiveness of treating intractable addicts with pharmaceutical heroin, as well as methadone. The results have been promising.

"What we're using is medically prescribed pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin," he explained. "It's what you have when you strip away all the street additives. This is a stable, sterile medication from a pharmaceutical manufacturer. We know the precise dose tailored for each person. With street heroin, not only is it adulterated and injected in unsterile situations, but people really don't know how strong it is. That's probably what happened to Mr. Hoffman."

Naloxone (Narcan) can reverse opiate overdoses (wikimedia.org)
In NAOMI, 90,000 injections were administered to study participants, and only 11 people suffered overdoses requiring medical attention.

"Never did we have a fatal overdose," Schechter said. "Because it was in a clinic, nurses and doctors are right there. We administer Narcan (naloxone), and they wake up."

Heroin maintenance had even proven more effective than methadone in numerous studies, Schechter said.

"There have been seven randomized control trials across Europe and in Canada that have shown for people who have already tried treatments like methadone, that medically prescribed heroin is more effective and cost effective treatment than simply trying methadone one more time."

Those studies carry a lesson, he said.

"We have to start looking at heroin from a medicinal point of view and treat it like a medicine," he argued. "The more we drive its use underground, the more overdoses we get. We need to expand treatment programs, not only with methadone, but with medically prescribed heroin for people who don't respond to other treatments."

Safe injection sites are also a worthwhile intervention, Schechter said, although he also noted their limitations.

"Injecting under supervision is much safer; if there is an overdose, there is prompt attention, and they provide sterile equipment, reducing the risk of HIV and Hep C," he said. "But they are still injecting street heroin."

He would favor decriminalizing heroin possession, too, he said.

Harm reduction measures, opioid maintenance treatments, and the like are absolutely necessary interventions, said McQuie, but there is a larger issue at hand, as well.

"We still need to look at the overall issue of the stigmatization of drug users," she said. "People aren't open about their use, and that puts them in a more dangerous situation. It's really hard in a criminalized environment."

Stigmatization means to mark or brand someone or something as disgraceful and subject to strong disapproval. Defining an activity, such as heroin possession, as a crime is stigmatization crystallized into the legal structures of society itself.

"The ultimate harm reduction solution," McQuie argued, "is a regulated, decriminalized environment where it is available by prescription, so people know what they're getting, they know how much to use, and it's not cut with fentanyl or other deadly adulterants. People wouldn't have to deal with all the collateral damage that comes from being defined as criminals as well as dealing with the consequences of their drug use. They could deal with their addictions without having to worry about losing their homes, their families, and their freedoms."

While such approaches have a long way to go before winning wide popular acceptance, policymakers should at least be held to account for the consequences of their decision-making, McQuie said, suggesting that the turn to heroin in recent years was a foreseeable result of the crackdown on prescription opioid pain medication beginning in the middle of the last decade.

"They started shutting down all those 'pill mills' and people should have anticipated what would happen and been ready for it," she said. "What we have seen is more and more people turning to injecting heroin, but nobody stopped to do an impact statement on what would be the likely result of restricting access to pain pills."

The impact can be seen in the numbers on heroin use, addiction, and overdoses. While talk of a "heroin epidemic" is overblown rhetoric, the number of heroin users has increased dramatically in the past decade. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of past year users grew by about 50% between 2002 and 2011, from roughly 400,000 to more than 600,000. At the same time, the number of addicted users increased from just under 200,000 to about 370,000, a slightly lesser increase.

If there is any good news, it is that, according to the latest (2012) National Household Survey of Drug Use and Health, the number of new heroin users has remained fairly steady at around 150,000 each year for the past decade. That suggests, however, that more first-time users are graduating to occasional and sometimes, dependent user status.

And some of them are dying of heroin overdoses, although not near the number dying from overdoses from prescription opioids. Between 1999 and 2007, heroin deaths hovered just under 2,000, even as prescription drug deaths skyrocketed, from around 2,500 in 1999 to more than 12,000 just eight years later. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, by 2010, the latest year for which data are available, heroin overdose deaths had surpassed 3,000, a 50% increase in just three years.

While the number of heroin overdose deaths is still but a fraction of those attributed to prescription opioid overdoses and the numbers since 2010 are spotty, the increase that showed up in 2010 shows no signs of having gone away. Phillip Seymour Hoffman may be the most prominent recent victim, but in the week since his death, another 50 or 60 people have probably followed him to the morgue due to heroin overdoses.

There are ways to reduce the heroin overdose death toll. It's not a making of figuring out what they are. It's a matter of finding the political and social will to implement them, and that requires leaving the drug war paradigm behind.

New York City, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- November 26, 2013

Medical marijuana gets attention in the statehouse, another drug war atrocity in New Mexico, Greece's first safe injection site is open, and a gram of opium or a few pounds of pot can get you the death penalty if you're in the wrong place. And more. Let's get to it:

This is three times the amount of opium that could get an immigrant worker executed in Dubai. (erowid.org)
Medical Marijuana

Key Michigan Politico Says Medical Marijuana Top Priority in December. House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said Monday his top priority next month is to take up three medical marijuana-related bills. The first,House Bill 4271, would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan after recent court rulings effectively stopped the facilities from operating in the state. Cotter also plans to take up two other medical marijuana-related bills. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible forms of marijuana. And Senate Bill 660 would clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan, but only if the federal government decides to regulate cannabis as a prescription drug.

New Jersey Lawmaker Files Bill Allowing Patients to Buy Out of State. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) Monday introduced a bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy their medicine in other states where it is legal and consume it in New Jersey. The bill attempts to address restrictions in the state's medical marijuana law that prevent easy access to some medical marijuana formulations, especially strains with high levels of CBD.

Alabama Lawmaker Ready to Try Again on Medical Marijuana. State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) will reintroduce medical marijuana legislation again next year, she said Monday. The bill would allow for the use of CBD. Todd's previous medical marijuana bills have gotten nowhere in Montgomery.

Hemp

New Jersey Hemp Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would create an industrial hemp license to regulate the "planting, growing, harvesting, possessing, processing, selling, and buying" of the crop passed the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Monday. The bill, Assembly Bill 2415, sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), would require the end of federal hemp prohibition before licenses could be issued.

Law Enforcement

New Mexico Woman Sues over Vaginal Macing During Drug Arrest. What on earth is going on in New Mexico? Just weeks ago, it was forced enemas and colonoscopies for drug suspects; now, another New Mexican, Marlene Tapia, is suing Bernalillo County after she says jail guards strip searched her and sprayed mace in her vagina, where she was hiding drugs. The ACLU of New Mexico is taking the case.

New Jersey Bill Would Increase Drug Penalties. A bill that would reduce the amount of heroin necessary to be charged with a first-degree crime and allow prosecutors to charge drug offenses by the number of units of the drug involved instead of their weight passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday. The bill, Assembly Bill 4151, is sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Passaic).

International

Greece Sets Up First Supervised Injection Site. Greece has opened its first "drug consumption" room in a bid to slow the spread of blood-borne diseases among injection drug users there. The site has been open since last month and has been used by more than 200 people so far.

European Drug Experts Urge Austerity-Battered Governments Not to Cut Drug Treatment. Drug experts and policy makers from around Europe gathered in Athens Monday to urge governments to exclude drug-abuse treatment from austerity budget cuts, citing an alarming rise in HIV infections among drug users in Greece. Included in the call are harm reduction programs like the Greek supervised injection site, which is funded with Council of Europe funds.

Colombia's FARC Wants to Lead Alternative Crop Pilot Project. The leftist guerrillas of the FARC, now in peace negotiations with the Colombian government, want an active role in a pilot project to get coca farmers to grow alternative crops. The group is proposing that one of its local military units team with the government in a village in southern Colombia in a five-year project intended to get farmers to quit growing coca.

Malaysia Court Gives Thai Woman Death Sentence for Weed. A judge in Malaysia Monday sentenced a 36-year-old Thai woman to death after she was caught with about 30 pounds of marijuana at a bus depot. Barring a successful appeal, Thitapah Charenchuea will be hanged. DPP Nor Shuhada Mohd Yatim prosecuted the case.

Dubai Prosecutors Seeks Death Penalty for Less Than One Gram of Opium. Prosecutors in Dubai are seeking the death penalty for an Iranian worker accused of possessing 0.8 grams of opium. They charged he possessed it for "promotional purposes," the equivalent of "with the intent to distribute."

A Clean, Well-Lit Place to Shoot Dope -- In Your City, Soon? [FEATURE]

The only existing supervised injection site for hard drug users in North America is Vancouver's Insite, but panelists at a session of the International Drug Reform Conference in Denver last month said activists in a number of US cities are working to be next. (Plans are also afoot in a couple of Canadian cities.)

client at Vancouver's Insite supervised injection site (vch.ca)
Supervised injection sites (SIS) are a proven public health and harm reduction intervention that can save lives by preventing overdoses, bring a measure of stability to the sometimes chaotic lives of addicts, reduce the spread of bloodborne infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and reduce crime and disorder in the community.

SISs also exist in a number of European countries and Australia, but face both legal and political hurdles in the US. Still, advocates are ready to push the envelope here in a bid to bring the life-, health-, and money-saving innovation here.

Donald Macpherson, executive \director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and former head of Vancouver's Four Pillars drug policy program explained the prehistory of Insite, offering hints of possible courses of action in the US.

"We had a public health disaster," he said, referring to the city's escalating heroin problem in the 1990s. "Drug users themselves opened an SIS in 1995, and the police watched it, but didn't shut it down. A second opened in 2002. A year later, another non-sanctioned injection site opened up. It was really messy and it took years."

But in the end, Vancouver ended up with Insite and has managed to keep it open despite the best efforts of the Conservative federal government in Ottawa.

"Insite survives because it has an exemption from Canadian drug laws," Macpherson explained. "We won in the British Columbia courts, we won in the Canadian Supreme Court, which instructed the health minister to issue a permit. But we still barely have Insite, and though other cities are working on it, there is a big chill in Canada right now and we're just trying to hang on to what we've got."

Plans for SISs in the US face similar obstacles, but that isn't stopping advocates in a number of cities -- notably Austin, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as somewhere in New Mexico -- from pressing forward with plans to open them there.

"I don't know if we'll be first, but we'll be one of many," said Robert Cordero, president and chief program officer of Boom! Health in the Bronx.

Boom! Health, which resulted from the merger of Bronx AIDS Services and Citiwide Harm Reduction, is a multi-service organization with a three-story building that includes a pharmacy, pharmacists with a harm reduction orientation, and a seven-day-a-week drop in center.

"Safe injection would be embedded with all these other services," he said.

"I don't know if we want to be first, but we want to be one of many," said Olivia Sloan, outreach and education associate for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) in New Mexico, which has been working patiently to bring cutting edge programs like SISs to the state. "We passed harm reduction, including needle exchange, through the state legislature, but it's not working," Sloan said. "We have overdose deaths at four or five times the national average."

Advocates in New Mexico have been and continue to lay the groundwork for SISs, Sloan said.

"We took a political and academic approach, and our conversation about injection facilities started a few years ago," she explained. "We have mobile syringe exchanges. We drafted legislation last year and the Senate passed a memorial to require we study the feasibility of SISs in New Mexico. We have partnered with the University of New Mexico and are looking for a principal investigator."

In San Francisco, preliminary discussions with local officials about SISs have been going on for some time, but the San Francisco Drug Users Union may follow the path taken by organized Vancouver drug users, as well as many of the needle exchange pioneers in the US, and just do it.

"We have a committee very committed to an SIS that meets every Monday for two hours," said Holly Bradford, the union's coordinator. "We're really on the verge. We have a very active bathroom here; you just open the door," she smiled. We're bringing it to San Francisco," she said. "It might not be sanctioned or aboveground, but it's going to happen."

Whether underground or not, SISs face a hazard-strewn trek. State, local, or federal officials can throw up any number of obstacles, said Lindsay LaSalle, a Berkeley-based law fellow for DPA.

"Drug possession remains illegal and could impact any SIS user, although probably not the staff or operator because they're not handling the drugs," she explained.

"Then there are the crack house laws, which both the federal government and some states have. They make it illegal for anyone to maintain, own, lease, or rent a property where drugs are used, consumed, or manufactured. These laws could cover SISs, and this could impact both clients and staff and operators alike," she elaborated.

"Then there are civil forfeiture statutes. They've used them to go after medical marijuana dispensaries," she enumerated.

Winning local official support reduces some risks, but not all, LaSalle said.

"If SISs were sanctioned at the local level, many of the legal risks dissipate, but state actors could still choose to prosecute," she warned. "In most states, local officers are deputized to enforce state law, so they could still go after an SIS. If authorized at the state level, that would be an incredible victory, but we would still have to deal with the federal government."

While acknowledging that lawyers can be "a buzzkill," LaSalle also hastened to add that things can change faster than we think.

"These legal barriers are not so different from the challenges we've faced with other drug policy issues, like syringe exchanges," she noted. "They were seen as completely radical, but now we have an almost universally accepted public health intervention with the exchanges."

Part of the process of initiating a supervised injection site is selling it to other stakeholders. Panelists had a number of ideas about messages that worked.

"For business people, you tell them this is how we clean up the neighborhood," said a Seattle activist.

"It is a very incremental change from syringe exchange to supervised injection sites," said LaSalle. "Position it as a very small change in an organization that provides all these other services to drug users."

"There's always 'what we're doing is not working,'" said Sloan.

"We're not going to arrest our way out of this problem," suggested Cordero. "But don't go straight to the SIS conversation. Let people see what we're doing, and then they say 'you're doing God's work' and second, 'Holy shit! Where would all those people be if you weren't open?'"

The obstacles to implementing supervised injection sites in the US are formidable, but the need to do so is urgent and increasingly understood, as are the benefits. With activists and advocates in a number of American locales pursuing SISs through a variety of means, the question is not whether it will happen here, but when and where.

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, 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, 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

StopTheDrugWar Video Archive