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Chronicle AM: AK to Allow Some Social Pot Smoking, Sentencing Reform Moves in Congress, More (11/23/15)

Marijuana Policy

You'll be able to toke up with this at some Alaska pot shops. (wikimedia.org)
Alaska Will Allow Marijuana Use at Some Stores. The state's Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 last Friday to allow consumption at some pot shops, making it the first state to do so. Board Chairman Bruce Schulte said there seemed to be public demand for such an option.

New Jersey Marijuana Arrests Going Up, Not Down. Even as state legislators discuss marijuana legalization, New Jersey cops are busily arresting pot smokers at a record pace. Marijuana arrests jumped 10% in 2012 and 10% again in 2013, according to New Jersey State Police Uniform Crime Reports. The 24,765 pot arrests is the highest number in 20 years, and nearly double the amount in 1993.

Vermont Legalization Supporters Release Report. The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative has released a report outlining a legalization framework for state lawmakers. The report calls for home grows of up to 9 plants, craft growers who could grow up to 99 plants, and large-scale operators, who could have a grow space of up to 30,000 feet. There's much more at the report link.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Mixed Ruling on Medical Marijuana DUID. The state's high court ruled last Friday that medical marijuana cardholders don't have immunity from prosecution under the state's DUID law, but also held that cardholders can try to mount a defense showing that they did not have enough marijuana or pot metabolites in their system to actually be impaired

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Rules Committee voted 25-8 last Wednesday to advance a medical marijuana bill. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still needs a House floor vote. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign the bill.

Heroin and Prescription

Maryland Legislator Proposes Heroin Maintenance Program. Delegate Dan Morhaim (D) said last Thursday he plans to offer legislature next year to provide free heroin to addicts in a bid to reduce crime.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Senators Sue Albuquerque Over Asset Forfeiture. A bipartisan pair of state senators have filed a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque over its vehicle seizure program, which they say violates the state's recently passed asset forfeiture reforms. Sens. Lisa Torraco (R-Albuquerque) and Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) are seeking an injunction to stop the city from seizing vehicles without the owner first being convicted of a crime.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Narcan Nasal Spray. The Food and Drug Administration last Thursday approved a naloxone nasal spray to stop or reverse opiate overdoses. The FDA said it was as effective as the injectable form of the drug.


Historic Sentencing Reform Bill Passes House Judiciary Committee. Last Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance the Sentencing Reform Act. The bill, introduced by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and sponsored by thirty other Representatives, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive. The bill is also moving in the Senate, where the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its version last month.


China Bans More Than a Hundred New Psychoactive Substances. China last month banned more than a hundred new psychoactive substances, including alpha-PVP, more widely known as "flakka." It is now illegal to distribute flakka, synthetic opiates, and a score of other chemicals.  

Chronicle AM: OH Marijuana Init Shot Down, DEA Releases National Drug Threat Assessment, More (11/4/15)

Ohio's "monopoly" legalization iniitiative got trounced, two Michigan towns vote to legalize it, the Seneca Nation marches toward medical marijuana, the DEA releases its annual threat assessment, and more.

Voters told ResponsibleOhio to take a hike.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Voters Approve Spending Marijuana Taxes. Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that gives legislators permission to spend $66.1 million in pot tax revenues. This marks the third time in four years Colorado voters have approved spending marijuana taxes, and the 69% victory came as little surprise.

Georgia Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Legalization. A new 11Alive/Survey USA poll has Georgia split down the middle on marijuana legalization, with 45% for and 46% against. A group called "Let Us Vote Georgia" says it will try to put the issue on the ballot for next year's election.

Ohio "Monopoly" Initiative Goes Down in Flames. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative was roundly defeated Tuesday, garnering only 35% of the vote. In addition to opposition from the usual suspects, the measure also aroused the ire of many Ohio legalization activists because of its provisions limiting commercial marijuana grows to only ten cultivation sites, all of them owned by the the campaign's funders.

Two Michigan Towns Vote to Legalize It. Voters in the towns of Keego Harbor in Oakland County and Portage in Kalamazoo County approved local ordinances allowing the "usage, possession, and transfer" of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over. The Keego Harbor measure passed with 55% of the vote; no totals are yet available for Portage.

Medical Marijuana

Seneca Nation Approves Medical Marijuana Measure. Tribal members approved a measure clearing the way for the creation of a legal and regulatory framework for medical marijuana operations on the reservation. The vote was 448-364. "A decision on our Nation's path of action on medical cannabis is far from made, but now, having heard from the Seneca people, our discussions and due diligence can begin in earnest," said tribal President Maurice John. "The first step from here is establishing thoughtful regulation for how the Seneca Nation could potentially move forward."

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Language Approved. The second time was the charm. Secretary of State Al Jaeger Monday approved petition language for a medical marijuana initiative. He had initially rejected the proposal because of language flaws. The measure would create a system of state-licensed dispensaries and would allow patients to possess up to three ounces. Patients more than 40 miles from a dispensary could grow their own.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. The assessment emphasized the toll from prescription drug and heroin overdoses and identified Mexican drug trafficking organization as "the biggest criminal threat to the United States," but also warned of that "affiliated and violent gangs are increasingly a threat to the safety and security of our communities." Access the report by clicking on the title link.


Palestinian Authority Approves Tough New Drug Laws. President Mahmoud Abbas today signed into law legislation that creates tough new penalties, including up to life in prison, for drug dealing and manufacturing. It also creates a new anti-drug bureaucracy, a special action office for drug abuse prevention. Palestinian officials blame the Israelis for the West Bank drug problem.

Chronicle AM: OH Legalizers Spend Big Bucks, CO Cops Now Carrying Naloxone, More (10/23/15)

Ohio pot legalizers are throwing millions of dollars into the effort, the Federal Reserve throws up another obstacle to marijuana banking, some Colorado cops will start carrying naloxone, and more.

The overdose reversal drug naloxone saves lives. Now, cops in Colorado are beginning to carry it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Banking Hits Another Road Block. In a court filing in Denver Wednesday, the Federal Reserve made clear that it does not plan to accept money from the marijuana industry because pot remains illegal under federal law. Last year, the Treasury Department issued rules for how banks can accept marijuana money, but the Fed isn't interested. Colorado officials aren't pleased. "We're frustrated," said Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. "We tried to do the most with the building blocks of instructions they sent us, set up the most rigorous solution. And we still are left with confusion."

Ohio Legalization Campaign Outspending Opponents 16 to 1. The ResponsibleOhio legalization campaign has spent $15.4 million trying to get its initiative passed, while opponents have managed to raise only $712,000, most of it from the campaign arm of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. ResponsibleOhio is getting its money from investors, who stand to reap financial benefits by owning one of only 10 commercial marijuana grow sites. The figures come from campaign finance reports released Thursday. Two polls this week show the race to be dead even.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Sets December Date for Hearing on Initiative. The court said it will hear oral arguments on whether language for a medical marijuana initiative complies with state requirements on December 8. The initiative is sponsored by People United for Medical Marijuana, the same group behind last year's failed initiative. (It actually won a majority of the vote, but because it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass). The group said it has already turned in nearly half the 683,000 valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

New York Unveils Medical Marijuana Training Course for Doctors. The state Health Department this week rolled out an online medical marijuana training course for physicians who wish to prescribe it. Doctors who want to register to prescribe medical marijuana must first complete the four-hour course. The state aims to have medical marijuana available for patients by next January.

Harm Reduction

Colorado Springs Cops Become First in State to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in Colorado Springs are currently undergoing training on how to administer naloxone (Narcan), the opioid antagonist that reverses overdoses, and will begin carrying it once training is completed. That's the first police department in the state to do so. The state passed a law last year allowing people other than medical staff to carry and administer the drug.

Chronicle AM: Thousands of Federal Drug Prisoners to Be Freed, Ohio Early Voting, More (10/6/15)

Major sentencing news today; early voting starts today in Ohio (marijuana legalization is on the ballot), a North Carolina hemp bill has gone to the governor, Colombia will still spray a nasty herbicide on coca crops, and more.

Federal prisons will be a little less crowded a month from now. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Law Criminalizing Hash Oil Explosions. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Monday vetoed Assembly Bill 849, which would have made it a crime to cause an explosion causing bodily harm. The bill was inspired by a series of butane hash oil lab explosions, but in his veto message, Brown said the conduct is already proscribed and another law on the matter "creates increasing complexity without commensurate benefit."

Early Voting Starts Today on Ohio Legalization Initiative. Ohioans can vote for or against Issue 3, the controversial ResponsibleOhio initiative beginning today. Early voters can mail in absentee ballots or visit early-voting locations across the state.

Oregon's Multnomah County (Portland) Issues Report on Legalization. The Multnomah County Health Department has issued a report saying there are drawbacks and benefits from marijuana legalization, but that more research is needed. The report recommends implementing policies to address impaired driving, teen use, and dependence; there should be warnings for pregnant and nursing women, and there should be limits on the potency of pot, as well as on contamination from pesticides and other substances.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Issues Emergency Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Health Department has just released emergency rules as the state moves to merge medical marijuana into the recreational pot regulatory system. The rules set standards for packaging "High THC compliant products," testing requirements, safe handling, employee training, and labeling. Click on the rules link for all the details.


North Carolina Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A measure legalizing industrial hemp production has been approved by the state legislature and now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory (R). The measure is Senate Bill 313. McCrory must veto it to block it; if he fails to act, it is approved.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

An Overdose an Hour in Chicago Last Week. In the middle of last week, Chicagoans were overdosing on heroin, prescription opiates, or drug combinations at a rate of more than one an hour. Authorities reported responding to 74 overdose calls in 72 hours between last Tuesday and last Friday. ER doctors are suggesting that heroin cut with the powerful opioid fentanyl is behind the outbreak.


Feds to Free 6,000 Drug Prisoners at Month's End, More to Follow. The Justice Department has announced that some 6,000 federal drug war prisoners will get early release from prison between October 30 and November 2. Most will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being freed on supervised release. This is the result of actions by the US Sentencing Commission, which cut sentences for some drug offenders last year and later made the chance retroactive, affecting currently serving inmates. An estimated 46,000 of nearly 100,000 federal drug prisoners should eventually qualify for the program.


Colombia Will Continue to Use Glyphosate, Just Won't Aerially Spray It Anymore. Colombian police will continue to use the herbicide glyphosate to eradicate coca plants, even though it won't apply it with aerial sprays, the chief of police said. The National Narcotics Council outlawed aerial spraying earlier this year, after glyphosate was found to contain massive amounts of carcinogens, but eradicators will now spray by hand, Police Chief Rodolfo Palomino said. "We will continue with other forms of manual eradication and land fumigation with glyphosate," said Palomino.

Chronicle AM: Late Uncertainty on CA Initiatives, FL Heroin Deaths at Record High, More (10/2/15)

There are signs of dissension around the ReformCA legalization initiative, Oklahoma medical marijuana supporters are searching for signatures, a federal bill to require police to report lethal force incidents is introduced, and more.

Heroin killed a record number of people in Florida last year, but more died of prescription drug overdoses. (NJ State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Last Minute Uncertainties for California's ReformCA Initiative. There are signs the unified front behind the pending ReformCA legalization initiative isn't as unified as was thought. The LA Weekly is reporting that one of its key backers, the Drug Policy Alliance, might go its own way. "We want to have a plan B option that's ready to go in case [another] initiative doesn't represent and uphold the values and principles," said Lynne Lyman, the DPA's California director. "We're most concerned about a case where it doesn't move forward." DPA, NORML, and the Marijuana Policy Project had been listed on the ReformCA website as supporters; now they're not. MPP has confirmed that it asked for its name to be removed. But Dale Gieringer, a spokesman for ReformCA, downplayed the situation. "It's not that chaotic. It will all be clear in a few days. It's about last-minute negotiation."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Signature Gathering Goes Forward. The Green the Vote medical marijuana initiative campaign was doing signature gathering in Ardmore Thursday. The group has 90 days to gather 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Florida Heroin Deaths at All-Time High. Heroin was detected in 447 fatalities last year, according to state medical examiners. That's more than double the 199 people who died with heroin in their bodies in 2013. Fentanyl was also surging; there were 538 deaths of people who had the powerful prescription opioid in their systems, nearly double the 292 from the previous year. While heroin deaths were at record levels, more than twice as many (978) people died with oxycodone in their systems. There were 8,587 fatal drug overdoses reported in Florida last year; many of them included multiple substances.

Drug Policy

New Hampshire GOP Lawmakers Want Online Drug Dealer Registry. Three GOP lawmakers have presented slightly different bills that would create an online drug dealer registry similar to sex offender registries, but advocacy groups said such a move is unfair and unnecessary. "It's a stupid, gratuitous and entirely unnecessary proposal," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. ''It reminds me of the sort of foolish rhetoric and foolish laws that flowed from back at the height of the drug war." Click on the title link for more detail.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Requiring Police to Report Use of Lethal Force Filed. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Thursday filed S. 2112, "a bill to require law enforcement agencies to report the use of lethal force, and for other purposes."

Chronicle AM: The Pope on Dope, Marijuana Arrests Jump, NYC Safe Injection Site Campaign, More (9/28/15)

The pope criticizes the drug war at the UN, the president addresses overdoses and addiction in his weekly address, marijuana arrests jumped last year, a campaign to bring safe injection sites to New York City is launching, and more.

Pots busts jumped last year. Why?
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Lawmakers Get Earful from Patients at Hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

Pope Francis Criticizes War on Drugs. During his address to the United Nations last Friday, Pope Francis turned from criticizing "systemic violence" in places like Syria and Ukraine to addressing violence linked to drug prohibition -- although without calling it that. "Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade," Pope Francis said. The drug war is failing, the pontiff said, and it brings dire consequences. "[It is] a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption," he continued. Click on the link for a full transcript of his remarks.

President Obama Uses Weekly Address to Talk About Preventing Substance Abuse. Obama used his weekly radio address last Saturday to encourage people to participate in "National Drug Take-Back Day" that same day, warning that too many Americans are dying of drug overdoses. "More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes," he said. "And most of those deaths aren't due to drugs like heroin or cocaine, but rather prescription drugs." Click on the link for a full transcript of the president's address.

International Drug Policy Conference in DC in November. The Drug Policy Alliance is hosting the world's premier drug policy conference in suburban Washington, DC, on November 18-21. Click on the link for much more information.

Harm Reduction

Campaign for Supervised Injection Sites Coming to New York City. The Open Society Foundation will host a town hall Wednesday on innovative solutions to public drug use and overdosing, including supervised injection sites. It's the opening salvo in a campaign to bring such sites to New York City. While a proven harm reduction measure, no such sites currently operate in the United States. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Nationwide Marijuana Arrests Jumped Last Year. The FBI has released its annual Uniform Crime Report. The report shows that nearly 701,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2014, up from 693,000 the previous year. Nearly 90% of all arrests were for possession.


United Nations Will Monitor Honduras War on Drug Gangs. The UN will open a human rights monitoring office in Honduras to monitor potential human rights violations by security forces as they pursue their war on drug gangs, President Juan Hernandez said Sunday. Hernandez and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, have increasingly relied on the military to fight gangs, and complaints about human rights violations have been piling up.

Bolivian Drug Law Reforms Would Reduce Penalties for "Microtraffickers," Consumers. The government of President Evo Morales has proposed reforms of the country's drug laws that would cut sentences for consumers and small-time traffickers. The proposal has been sent to the Legislative Assembly. Click on the link to read more in Spanish.

Illinois Governor Vetoes Heroin Bill Over Medicaid Treatment Funding [FEATURE]

Faced with a public health crisis related to heroin and prescription opioid use, the Illinois state government created a bipartisan Heroin Task Force in a comprehensive effort to address the problem from all angles. The task force created a set of policy recommendations that were embodied in House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Act.

Heroin is taking a toll not only in Chicago, but in its suburbs. (kirk.senate.gov)
The bill passed the House and Senate in May, and was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in June, where it sat on his desk until this week. On Monday, Rauner finally acted -- not by signing the bill, but by vetoing critical sections of it that he says the state cannot afford. He has now sent the bill back to the legislature and asked it to remove the offending sections.

But saying, "People are dying," the measure's House sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), has vowed an effort to override the veto. An override could be within reach -- the bill passed by veto-proof majorities in both houses -- but for members of a governor's own party, a veto override is a hard vote to take.

Here's what the bill does:

  • It increases the availability of opiate overdose reversal drugs and requires private insurance to cover at least one of them, as well as acute treatment and stabilization services. It allows licensed pharmacists to dispense overdose reversal drugs, allows school nurses to administer them to students suffering from overdoses, and provides protection from civil liability for people who administer them in good faith.
  • It requires the Department of Human Services and the State Board of Education to develop a three-year pilot heroin prevention program for all schools in the state, requires the Department of Human Services to develop materials to educate prescription opiate users on the dangers of those drugs, and it requires the Department of Insurance to convene working groups on drug treatment and mental illness and on parity between state and federal mental health laws.
  • It intensifies the state's prescription monitoring program by tightening reporting requirements and it requires doctors to now document the medical necessity of any three sequential 30-day prescriptions for Schedule II opioids.
  • On the criminal justice front, it permits multiple chances at drug court and prevents prosecutors from unilaterally blocking entry to drug court, and it requires prosecutors and public defenders to undergo mandatory education on addiction and addiction treatment. It also increases criminal penalties for "doctor shopping" if fraud is involved.
  • It requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment, including methadone and other opiate maintenance treatment, as well as all anti-overdose medications.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
It's the latter provision to which Rauner objects.

"I support all of the above measures and applaud the multifaceted approach to combating this epidemic in Illinois. Unfortunately, the bill also includes provisions that will impose a very costly mandate on the State's Medicaid providers. I am returning the bill with a recommendation to address that concern," he said in a veto statement.

"House Bill 1 mandates that fee-for-service and medical assistance Medicaid programs cover all forms of medication assisted treatment of alcohol or opioid dependence, and it removes utilization controls and prior authorization requirements," Rauner continued. "These changes would limit our ability to contain rising costs at a time when the State is facing unprecedented fiscal difficulties. Importantly, the State's Medicaid programs already cover multiple forms of medication necessary to treat alcohol and opioid dependence. But without adequate funding to support mandated coverage for all forms of treatment, regardless of cost, this change would add to the State's deficit."

His recommendation is simply to delete the language requiring Medicaid coverage.

Rep. Lang and other bill supporters aren't going for that.

"There's a human cost to not doing it," Lang said. "People are addicted, people are sick, people are dying. You want to talk about the costs of providing methadone and Narcan to addicts, but you forget totally that if you cure them or they get off the stuff, there's a savings to the Medicaid system on a different line item, because they're no longer in emergency rooms, they're no longer a burden to law enforcement."

Heroin and opiate addiction is a serious problem in Illinois. The rate of drug overdose deaths has nearly doubled since 1999, and in the Chicago suburbs, people have been dying of drug overdoses at a rate of three per day since 2012. In the state as a whole, 633 people died of heroin overdoses last year, with nearly half (283) in Chicago.

At the same time as the problem with heroin and prescription opioids has been deepening, the state's ability to provide treatment has been decreasing. According to a report this month from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, the state's ranking for drug treatment capacity has fallen from 28th in the nation in 2009 to 47th this year. This as demand for heroin and opiate treatment statewide is increasing dramatically. In Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, 35% of drug treatment admissions are for heroin, more than twice the national average.

The consortium's director and the study's lead author, Kathleen Kane-Willis, noted that Illinois is one of only a few states nationwide that doesn't allow Medicaid coverage of opiate maintenance treatment.

"We're going to pay for not paying," she said.

But bill supporters could also find the votes to override the veto. Rep. Lang says that is what's he going to try to do, and with a 114-0 vote in the House and a 46-6 vote in the Senate the first time around, he has plenty of supporters to ask. If that happens, Illinois will get the drug treatment it needs, and Rauner will still be able to maintain his fiscally conservative credentials.

Springfield, IL
United States

Chronicle AM: DC AG Talks Decrim, IL Gov Vetoes Medicare Heroin Treatment Funding, More (8/25/2015)

Another South Florida community moves toward marijuana decrim, GOP primary state voters want the feds to stay out of state marijuana policies, DC's top prosecutor hints at drug decrim, Illinois's governor vetoes Medicaid heroin treatment funding, and more.

Heroin users lining up to score in Chicago. The governor has vetoed heroin treatment funding. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: GOP Voters in Early Primary States Want Feds to Butt Out on Marijuana. Roughly two-thirds of Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire says states should be able to design their own marijuana laws without federal interference. The figure was 64% in Iowa and 67% in New Hampshire. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling and was commissioned by Marijuana Majority. "We put these polls into the field because we want presidential candidates to understand that the voters in these key states -- who they need support from to win -- overwhelmingly want the next occupant of the Oval Office to scale back federal marijuana prohibition," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

Key West Latest South Florida City to Move Toward Decriminalization. Officials in Key West have given preliminary approval to municipal marijuana decriminalization; a final vote will come next month. The change comes on the heels of similar moves this summer in Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, and Hallandale Beach. Lawmakers in Palm Beach County are now considering a similar proposal, as are lawmakers up the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Group Drops Legalization Initiative Plans; Will Instead Focus on Medical Marijuana Reforms. The Michigan Responsibility Council, which had been considering running a third legalization initiative campaign in the state, has decided to instead focus on an initiative aimed at improving the state's medical marijuana law. Two other groups are continuing with legalization efforts.

Reno's First Dispensary Opens Wednesday. Sierra Wellness Connections opens near downtown Reno tomorrow. It is the first one in the city and the third one in the state. One in nearby Sparks opened earlier this month, and one in Las Vegas opened Monday.

Drug Policy

DC's Attorney General Hints He Could Support Drug Decriminalization. DC Attorney General Karl Racine responded to a caller who argued that drug prohibition created the recent wave of new psychoactive substance use during a C-Span interview last Friday by largely agreeing with him. "Law enforcement and over-criminalization of drug laws can cause more harm to society than benefit… With respect to the legalization of other substances, including marijuana, I think the caller makes an excellent point… I think that the 21st Century policing is such that smart prosecution means less of an emphasis on criminalizing conduct, more of an emphasis on mental health and substance abuse. With respect to marijuana, you know, my position is very clear. I think it should be legal and I think that the District of Columbia, like the State of Colorado should be able to regulate it."

Heroin and Opiates

Illinois Governor Cuts Drug Treatment Funding From Heroin Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has partially vetoed a bill aimed at fighting heroin addiction and overdoses, cutting out a section that requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment programs, as well as anti-overdose and heroin-treatment medications (methadone). Rauner said that he supports the efforts, but the state can't afford to pay for them. Bill supporters say the move is short-sighted, pennywise but pound-foolish, and that there is a real human cost to it. They also said they would fight to see the funding restored. The bill is House Bill 1.


Russian Censor Lifts Ban On Wikipedia for Marijuana Page. Russia's Internet censor, Roskomnadzor, said Tuesday it had lifted a ban on Russian-language Wikipedia after Wikipedia complied with a court order and edited an entry dealing with charas, a substance made from marijuana resins. Under Russian law, if a web site is banned via court order, as was the case here, the entire website is banned even if the offending material is only on one page. Russian Wikipedia was shut down for about 24 hours.

How to Deal With New Psychoactive Substances? [FEATURE]

This story was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In recent years, we've been inundated with wave after wave of media panics over strange new drugs. First came "fake weed" (or as NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton called it last week, "weaponized marijuana"); then came "bath salts," with the infamous face-eating episode that wasn't; and most recently, "flakka," labeled as "$5 insanity" by one media outlet.

mephedrone (wikimedia.org)
These new (to the recreational drug market) substances mimic the effects of currently illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines, or ecstasy. The states and Congress have rushed to address the drugs by prohibiting them, but that has proven to be a game of cat and mouse, with innovative chemists and manufacturers replacing banned drugs with new variants faster than politicians can act.

"In recent years, lawmakers have moved to ban wave after wave of NPSs, only to see more emerge," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "All 50 states have passed laws against synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, and federally, there are 26 unique compounds under Schedule I. And the DEA, which has legal authority to criminalize drugs administratively, has banned more than two dozen. These laws take time, which allows manufacturers to create new compounds."

Not only is the prohibitionist reflex ineffective, it arguably increases the harms associated with the use of these drugs. But to ignore them or ban them aren't the only policy choices, and some advocates are calling for these novel substances to instead be controlled and regulated. One model they point to is New Zealand, which instead of banning "legal highs," moved to regulate them in 2013.

New Psychoactive Substances

Before turning to policy options, though, it's worth a moment to figure out just exactly what we're talking about when we talk about "new synthetic drugs," and why maybe that isn't the best term to use to describe these substances.

In a conference call organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for regulation over prohibition, Earth and Fire Erowid, the administrators of the Erowid drug information web site -- "Documenting the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives" -- tried to bring some rigor to a domain where science too often gets lost in the distortions of moral panic.

"Synthetic drugs is a term used to imply scary new street drugs," said Earth Erowid. "But nearly all pharmaceutical drugs are synthetic, whether they're cannabinoids, opioids, stimulants, or sedatives. You don't want to use the phrase 'synthetic drugs' unless you're talking about every pharmaceutical developed over the past 50 years."

"A more accurate and appropriate term is "new psychoactive substances," he said. "That's the standard term in Europe."

NPSs can be grouped into some general categories, based on the effects they seek to replicate, the Erowids said:

synthetic cannabinoids (wikimedia.org)
Replacement Cannabinoids. Sometimes sold as powders, sometimes sprinkled on herbal blends. These are not cannabis, but new synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists. The specific compounds include JWH 018 and AB-PINACA, among many others. Several of these have been associated with death and serious medical complications.

Replacement Euphoric Stimulants. These include cathinones like methedrone, MDPV ("bath salts"), and Alpha PDP ("flakka"), as well as compounds related to Ritalin.

Replacement Psychedelics. The best known are the NBOMe series ("N-Bomb"). They are often distributed on blotters, and many people who think they're buying LSD are getting this. The NBOMe class has been linked to about 20 deaths.

Replacement Dissociatives. These are PCP-like chemicals, including various ketamine variants and methoxetamine.

Replacement Opioids. These include chemicals such as AH 7921 and U4770.

The Drug Policy Alliance has a similar, if not quite identical, taxonomy here.

The deaths and other adverse reactions that have been linked to NPSs have occurred under regimes of either prohibition or its opposite -- no regulation. "Legal highs" were just that, NPSs yet to be banned but lacking any sort of reliable labeling or quality control. Many formerly "legal highs" are now illegal, but the harm continues, and new NPSs continue to come on the market, legal until the politicians get to work.

"There's a reason for that, said Earth Erowid. "People are looking for legal replacements for illegal drug effects," he explained. "Most people simply want a stimulant or a psychedelic, and they're willing to try anything if it's legal."

"That may hold true for "fake marijuana" users than other NPS users," said Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

"Synthetic marijuana users have different profiles from other NPS users," he said "They are resorting to using it as a legal replacement for marijuana as a means of avoiding arrest, especially minorities. Other NPS users, especially clubbers and ravers, may be taking them unwittingly, Palamar added, pointing a finger especially at "Molly," which is supposed to be pure MDMA in powder form, but often isn't.

"Molly is the biggest system of unintentional NPS use that ever came around," said Palamar. "A lot of the drug users, especially Molly users, are unknowingly taking NPSs.

(The Erowids helpfully pointed out that there are a number of web sites where users can submit their Molly for testing, including one they run at EcstasyData.org.)

What's in your ecstasy tablet? (pillreporter.org)
There are other options for dealing with NPSs beyond the extremes of prohibition on the one hand and laissez-faire on the other. In some cases, it may be politically feasible to simply legalize the currently prohibited drug they are imitating.

Roger Goodman, chairman of the Washington state House Public Safety Committee and senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said that legalizing weed is a start.

"By legalizing marijuana, we have no problem with synthetic marijuana," said Goodman. "No one wants to use that. We have a rational regulatory approach. Prohibition is in the past for us. Marijuana is a good first step for us. We know better than to impose prohibition and outlaw any particular substance."

Legalizing marijuana more widely could put a real dent in the synthetic cannabinoids market, but there is no immediate prospect for legalizing drugs such as meth, cocaine, and the psychedelics and putting a dent in the market for other NPSs that way. That means if we're not going to prohibit them and we're not going to ignore them, we're going to have to regulate them.

That's what New Zealand did with its 2013 law, which transformed unregulated "legal highs" into regulated "legal highs" sold with labels at established stores. Drug makers were required to submit their products for testing and labeling before they could be approved for legal sale.

"I really look to the New Zealand law," said Goodman. "It provided for licensing and testing, and it got rid of the criminal actors. It seemed like a very rational way to go."

"That model would encourage manufacturers to make safer products," DPA's Smith concurred.

But, alas, the New Zealand law is no more. It was overturned and replaced with a more prohibitionist retrenchment a year later amidst complaints that drug users were getting high and hanging around the dope shops like winos in front of liquor stores. That is a lesson for legalizers (or regulators) here. Not only are progressive drug reforms difficult to enact, they also sometimes require a strong defense.

Chronicle AM: White House Focuses on Heroin, Peru Coca Tensions Rise, CO Pot Sales Hit Record, More (8/17/2015)

It's big bucks for the Colorado marijuana industry (and the state's tax revenues), there's more initiative news, the White House takes on heroin, Peruvian coca farmers are feeling the pinch of eradication, and more.

Heroin is on the White House agenda today. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Sold a Record $50 Million Worth of Recreational Marijuana in June. Recreational pot sales totaled $50.1 million in June, a record high, and up 7.6% over the previous month, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Medical marijuana sales also hit a record, with $35.2 million taken in. The state took in $10.9 million in combined marijuana taxes in June, putting the year's total tax haul to date at nearly $42 million. For all of last year, the total was $44 million.

Idaho Initiative Would Decriminalize, Allow Medical Marijuana and Hemp. Activists with New Approach Idaho have crafted a three-pronged initiative that would decriminalize up to three ounces, allow for medical marijuana, and allow for hemp. The group needs more than 47,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Illinois Governor Wants Changes in Marijuana Bills. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday used his veto authority to alter two marijuana bills on his desk. A decriminalization bill would make possession of up to 15 grams punishable by a fine of between $55 and $125; Rauner wants to decrease the amount to 10 grams and increase the fines to between $100 and $200. A medical marijuana bill would extend the state's medical marijuana program; Rauner wants an extension of only four months. The bills now go back to the legislature.

With ResponsibleOhio on the Ballot, Organized Opposition Emerges. A coalition of business groups are organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The Greater Cleveland Partnership is one member, so are the Ohio Manufacturers Association and the Ohio Farm Bureau. The Cuyahoga County drug and alcohol abuse board is also opposing, as are all Republican state higher officeholders.

Wyoming Moves to Criminalize Marijuana Edibles. After rulings by state court judges that state felony marijuana laws only criminalize its possession in plant form, the legislature's Joint Justice Committee is pondering how to deal with edibles. One proposal is to make possession of more than three ounces of an edible a felony. The committee will hold further discussions on the issue in November.

Medical Marijuana

New Version of Michigan Dispensary Bill Could Throttle Medical Marijuana. The House Judiciary Committee will be presented with new versions of the Provisioning Centers Act and the Smoking Alternative Bills that failed to get through the legislature in the 2013-14 session. But advocates say the new versions are less patient-friendly than business-friendly. Click on the link to get the lowdown on the legislature's medical marijuana shenanigans.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Could Be Coming. Families who don't trust the legislature to act are preparing to push for action through the initiative process. Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis says it won't make a final decision until next month, but is exploring its options. Another, NORML-affiliated state group is already working on a medical marijuana initiative signature-gathering campaign, but said it could merge efforts.


White House Focuses On Heroin. The White House announced today an initiative aimed at reducing heroin use by pairing public health and law enforcement in an effort to shift the focus from punishing addicts to treating them. The plan will pair drug intelligence officers with public health officials to increase epidemiological knowledge about heroin use. The plan is being criticized by some reform advocates. Look for a Chronicle feature story later this week about the initiative and the critique.


Peruvian Coca Farmers Take Financial Beating from Eradication, Start to Fight Back. Peru has eradicated more than 210 square miles of coca crops this year, winning kudos from the US, but impoverishing thousands of coca farmers and their families who have lost their livelihoods. Government eradicators are manually destroying the crops in the field. "This is what we live off," said one farmer, surveying what's left of her family plot after eradication. The Peruvian government says some 42,000 families received financial help or support with alternative crops last year, but another 53,000 affected families did not. Grower anger is rising, with a July protest by 5,000 people in Ciudad Constitution ending with one farmer killed by police and 23 wounded. It was the first violent cocalero protest since 2012.

South Australia Bans Synthetic Cannabinoids. State Attorney-General John Rau has added two new psychoactive substances, a pair of synthetic cannabinoids, sold as Full Moon and Sinsence, to the state's list of banned substances. The move comes after reports of deaths and other adverse effects.

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