Overdoses

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Chronicle AM: VT Gov Will Act on Legalization, Trump Retreats from ONDCP Defunding, More... (5/23/17)

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott says he will act on marijuana legalization tomorrow, the Trump budget reverses earlier plans to radically defund the drug czar's office, a new Michigan poll has good news for activists, and more.

Will Vermont's governor sign or veto the marijuana legalization bill? Check back tomorrow to find out. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the Marketing Resource Group has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol. The strongest support came from Democrats and people under 40. The poll comes as the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is beginning a signature gathering campaign to put its legalization initiative on the November 2018 ballot. "While attitudes toward marijuana may be mellowing, most Republican voters and those 65 and older still are not ready to legalize it," said Tom Shields, president of MRG. "Support for legalizing recreational use of marijuana has grown from 41 percent in 2013 to 58 percent in just the last four years. I would not be surprised to see a successful ballot proposal within the next few years."

Vermont Governor to Act on Legalization Bill Tomorrow. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said Tuesday he would either sign or veto Senate Bill 22 on Wednesday, the last possible day for him to act. Under state law, the bill could become law if Scott fails to act, but Scott said he would not let that happen and would either veto or sign the bill. If he signs it, Vermont becomes the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process.

Hemp

Arizona Governor Vetoes Hemp Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed an industrial hemp bill on Monday. Ducey said he vetoed Senate Bill 1337 because it did not provide funding for the state Agriculture Department to administer the program.

Drug Policy

Trump Backs Away From De-Funding the Drug Czar's Office. President Trump has reversed a proposal to cut 95% of the funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). In his budget proposal released Tuesday, ONDCP funding is still reduced, but only by 3%, in line with other non-defense-related spending cuts.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Supervised Injection Site Task Force Launched. A 15-member task force charged with developing a report to the Board of Supervisors on the feasibility and potential costs and benefits of a supervised drug consumption site got to work on Monday. The task force will meet three times over the next three months before issuing its report. The city has bout 22,000 injection drug users and a hundred overdose deaths a year, mostly from heroin and opioids.

Chronicle AM: DEA Wants Prosecutor Corps, ME Gov Wants ODers to Pay for Naloxone, More... (5/4/17)

The DEA proposes its own corps of prosecutors to go after opioids, Maine's governor wants to force repeat overdosers to pay for the naloxone they use, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Legislature Approves Adding PTSD as Qualifying Condition. A bill to "Allow Medical Marijuana Use for Stress Disorders," Senate Bill 17, was sent to the governor's desk on Monday after the Senate last week approved a final concurrence vote to amendments accepted in the House. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is expected to sign it.

New York Assembly Approves PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve Assembly Bill 7006, sponsored by Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), which would add PTSD to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Harm Reduction

Maine Governor Wants Repeat Overdosers to Pay for Naloxone Used to Revive Them. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has submitted a bill, Legislative Document 1558, that would require Maine communities to recover the cost of naloxone from repeat users and fine them $1,000 per incident if they don't go after the money. But doctors and advocates said the bill would make it harder to stop the state's wave of drug overdoses. Le Page is no friend of naloxone, saying it "does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose." He has twice vetoed naloxone bills, only to see them overridden both times.

Law Enforcement

DEA Wants Own Prosecutor Corps to Go After Opioids. In a little-noticed proposal published in the Federal Register in March, the DEA said it wants to hire as many as 20 prosecutors to help it enhance its resources and target large offenders. The new prosecutor corps "would be permitted to represent the United States in criminal and civil proceedings before the courts and apply for various legal orders." Funding for the program would come from drug manufacturers regulated by the DEA. If approved, the move would mark the first time the DEA had its own dedicated prosecutors to go after drug offenses. But critics say the plan "exceeds DEA's authority under federal law" because it would require funding from the drug diversion registration program. "In this notice, the DEA effectively proposes a power grab and is trying to end-run the congressional appropriations process," said Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Chronicle AM: No Fed $$$ for Anti-MedMJ, MA Docs Call for Safe Injection Sites, More... (5/2/17)

Congress won't fund federal medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal, the Massachusetts Medical Society calls for a pilot safe injection site, a Wisconsin federal judge throws out that state's "cocaine mom" law, and more.

Chris Christie is back to attacking marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Accuses Democrats of Wanting to "Poison Our Kids" With Pot to Raise Tax Revenues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday criticized efforts to legalize marijuana and claimed Democrats were willing to "poison our kids" to get marijuana tax revenues. A reference to a recent report saying the state could earn $300 million in pot taxes set him off. "This is the part that liberals love the most: We can tax it. Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!" Christie exclaime. "I can say this now because I'm not running for anything again: $300 million is nothing. We have a $35.5 billion budget; $300 million is a rounding error. I'm sorry. It's true. Think about it, that's 1 percent, less than 1 percent, of the entire state budget for a year. And we're going to poison our kids for 1 percent more money that they can spend on some God awful, stupid program that they can put in the mailer and send out and say, 'I delivered $300 million more for this.'" There's more, too; just click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Rolls Out Interim Budget With No Funding for Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

Federal CBD Bill Filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Florida House Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill. The House on Tuesday approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Baltimore Cops Begin Investigating Overdoses in Bid to Nail Dealers. A task force of five Baltimore police detectives have begun investigating drug overdoses in an effort to build criminal cases against drug dealers. But with 800 fatal overdoses in the city las year, five detectives may not be able to keep up. The state lacks a law allowing prosecutors to charge dealers in the death of an overdose victim, but prosecutors say there exists "a wide range" of ways they can bring related charges.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Docs Call for Supervised Drug Consumption Sites. The Massachusetts Medical Society has endorsed lobbying state and federal policymakers to allow the state to begin a safe injection site pilot program. At the group's annual meeting last Saturday, the membership adopted a policy calling for "a pilot supervised injection facility program in the state, to be under the direction and oversight of the state" as well as wider use of naloxone and more treatment for substance use disorder. The policy calls for the organization to lobby for a federal exemption and state legislation to allow such a facility.

Law Enforcement

Federal Judge Blocks Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law. A US district court judge in Madison ruled last Friday that the state's "cocaine mom" law, which allows the state to detain a pregnant woman suspected of drug or alcohol abuse, is so vague as to be unconstitutional. The law is "void for vagueness," Judge James Peterson held. "Erratic enforcement, driven by the stigma attached to drug and alcohol use by expectant mothers, is all but ensured." The law allowed the state to treat fetuses like children in need of protection if the "expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered." But Peterson ruled that such terminology is not "amenable to reasonably precise interpretation."

International

Uruguay Begins Registering Users to Buy Pot in Pharmacies. The first country to legalize marijuana took another step toward implementing that decision on Tuesday as it opened a registry for people who wish to buy marijuana from pharmacies beginning in July. All potential pharmacy pot customers must register before availing themselves of the service. Pot will go for about $1.30 a gram, with each user limited to 10 grams per week.

Chronicle AM: Nevada MJ Bills Moving, NY Safe Consumption Campaign Underway, More... (4/26/17)

A group of DAs have published a report critical of marijuana legalization, Nevada marijuana bills are moving, a New York campaign for the establishment of safe drug consumption rooms gets underway, and more.

Will El Chapo pay for the border wall? Ted Cruz thinks it's a swell idea.
Marijuana Policy

In New Report, Prosecutors Slam Marijuana Legalization. The National District Attorneys' Association has released a report, Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective, that criticizes legalization as leading to greater access by children and creating challenges for impaired driving enforcement. The DAs also criticized state-level legalization and decriminalization as "an obstacle to the comprehensive federal framework." The report will be used by the Trump administration to help fashion its marijuana policy.

Massachusetts House Passes Bill Barring Use of Cash Welfare Benefits to Buy Pot. The House on Tuesday passed House Bill 3194, which would bar the use of cash welfare benefits to purchase marijuana. State law already prohibits cash benefits from being used to purchase alcohol, lottery tickets, cigarettes, and pornography. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Nevada Marijuana Bills Advance. In a frenzy of last-minute activity, legislators approved a series of marijuana bills on Tuesday. Senate Bill 375, which advocates for tribes' right to establish marijuana facilities; Senate Bill 344, which establishes packaging standards; Senate Bill 236, which would allow for on-site consumption; and Senate Bill 374, which would allow the use of medical marijuana for opioid addiction, all passed the Senate and head for the Assembly. Meanwhile, the Assembly passed Assembly Bill 259, which would allow courts to seal the records of people charged with possessing an ounce or less. That bill now heads for the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday approved House Bill 1397, which aims to regulate the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system. Critics call the House bill too restrictive and are calling on legislators to instead support a rival bill in the Senate.

Drug Policy

Ted Cruz Files Bill to Make El Chapo Pay for the Border Wall. US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has filed Senate Bill 939, "to reserve any amounts forfeited to the US government as a result of the criminal prosecution of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera (commonly known as "El Chapo"), or of other felony convictions involving the transportation of controlled substances into the United States, for security measures along the Southern border, including the completion of a border wall.

Harm Reduction

Safe Shape Tour across New York State Calls for "Safer Consumption Spaces" to Combat Skyrocketing Overdoses. In response to New York State's overdose and opioid epidemic, a coalition of healthcare professionals, public health experts, advocates, and people with a history of drug use are launching a statewide campaign calling for the creation of safer consumption spaces (SCS) supervised injection facilities (SIF) where people can legally consume previously-purchased illicit drugs with supervision from peers and healthcare professionals who help make their use safer and connect them with medical care, drug treatment, and social services. Click on the link for much more information and how to register for events.

Chronicle AM: NM GOP Gov Vetoes MedMJ & OD Bills, Canada MJ Bill Thursday, More... (4/10/17)

Congressional drug policy reform bills are piling up, New Mexico's GOP governor vetoes medical marijuana and overdose prevention bills, Canada's Liberals roll out their marijuana legalization bill Thursday, and more.

A federal marijuana rescheduling bill has been filed. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Congressmen Gaetz and Soto Propose Legislation to Reschedule Marijuana, Two Florida GOP congressmen, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Darren Soto, have filed House Resolution 2020, "to provide for the rescheduling of marijuana into schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act." Rescheduling would make it easier to conduct research into medical marijuana, the congressmen said. "This drug should not be in the same category as heroin and LSD, and we do not need to continue with a policy that turns thousands of young people into felons every year," Gaetz added.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bills. Both houses of the legislature have approved measures allowing for expanded access to CBD cannabis oil But Senate Bill 15 and House companion legislation now have differences in the percentages of chemicals allowed, so the bills must go to conference committee to hammer out the differences.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Changes. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) vetoed a measure that would have improved the state's medical marijuana law last Friday. House Bill 527 would have allowed people diagnosed with an opioid use disorder to use medical marijuana. In her veto message, Martinez wrote that allowing people addicted to opioids to seek medical marijuana "will likely cause a rapid increase in program enrollment, which the program is currently unable to sustain." But critics called that reasoning bogus, noting that the state Health Department sets the number of licensed producers and the amount they can grow.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Legislators Approve Overdose Monitoring, Creation of Office of Drug Policy. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 2620, which would create a statewide program to monitor drug overdoses and establish an office of drug control policy to coordinate the response to the heroin and opioid crisis. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D).

Harm Reduction

Kansas Governor Signs Naloxone Access Bill. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 2217, which will allow first responders to administer the opioid overdose drug naloxone and which also allows pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription. Kansas was one of only three states without a naloxone access law, and the bill passed both houses unanimously.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 47, the 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, on Friday. The bill would have expanded the state's existing Good Samaritan law to include alcohol-related overdoses and to limit the prospect of arrest of people, who are on probation or parole or who have a restraining order, when they call 911 on behalf of someone experiencing a drug or alcohol overdose. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a 58-5 vote.

Law Enforcement

Sheila Jackson Lee Files Bill to Raise Evidentiary Standards for Federal Drug Offenses. US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has filed House Resolution 1979 "to increase the evidentiary standard required to convict a person for a drug offense, to require screening of law enforcement officers or others acting under color of law participating in drug task forces, and for other purposes." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Reentry

Corey Booker, Elijah Cummings File Federal "Ban the Box" Bills. US Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have filed identical bills in the Senate and House that would prevent employers from asking about applicants' criminal backgrounds until a job offer has been made. The bill would only apply to government agencies and federal contractors. The Senate measure is Senate Bill 842; its House companion is House Bill 1906. The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

Canada Marijuana Legalization Bill to Be Unveiled Thursday. The governing Liberals will roll out their marijuana legalization bill on Thursday, a "senior government source" said Monday. The government has said it wants legal marijuana to be a done deal on or before July 1, 2018.

FEATURE: Ohio Opioid Overdose Outrage: One Town's Ugly Effort to Punish Victims

The article was prepared in collaboration with AlterNet.

Ohio is state with a serious opioid problem. It's tied with neighboring Kentucky for the third-highest overdose death rate in the county, and the state Department of Health reports that fatal overdoses, mostly due to opioids, have jumped eight-fold in the past 15, killing more than 3,000 Ohioans in 2015.

In a bid to address the problem, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law last year. Such laws, which are also in place in 36 other states, provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession offenses for overdose victims and people who seek medical assistance to help them. The idea is to encourage people to seek help for their friends rather than hesitate, perhaps with lethal consequences, out of fear of being busted.

But one Ohio town is getting around the intent of the law by using an unrelated statute to go after overdose victims. If you OD in the city of Washington Court House, you can expect to be charged with -- wait for it -- "inducing panic," which is used for cases that "cause serious public inconvenience or alarm."

In the last two months, Washington Court House police have used the "inducing panic" statute at least a dozen times to charge overdose victims. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The move has drawn fire from the ACLU of Ohio, which sent a demand letter to city officials urging the city to "immediately end its practice of charging people experiencing a health crisis under this vague and inappropriate criminal statute." The city's "unlawful application of this statute will intensify the dangers of heroin use -- not help to control them," the ACLU argued.

The arrests have also caught the attention of Human Rights Watch, which called them "misguided and counterproductive." The advocacy group added that "increasing penalties for drug use is not the solution to Ohio's opioid crisis" and "what city of Washington Court House should be providing is access to health and harm reduction services, including clean syringes, the overdose reversal medication naloxone, and access to treatment."

But the city isn't heeding those warnings. Instead, in the face of the criticism, the city last week dug in its heels, saying the arrests weren't about punishment, but were a means to help addicts.

"We are not after jail time. We are not after fine money. We are simply looking to get these people some assistance. Obviously they need it, but they are not seeking it willingly upon themselves to get the assistance," said Police Chief Brian Hottinger.

City Manager Joe Denen added that the city is not planning any changes to its policy.

"In challenging circumstances, charging some individuals with inducing panic provides the court system with a means of connecting people in need of treatment with treatment opportunities," he said.

Or they could just offer them treatment.

Chronicle AM: Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Test Bill, WVA MedMJ Bill House Vote, More... (4/3/17)

President Trump signs a bill that will expand the drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits, the West Virginia House is taking up medical marijuana, Colorado legislators have crafted a plan to deal with any federal attack on recreational marijuana, and more.

President Trump has signed a bill undoing Obama administration rules limiting unemployment drug testing. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Seeks to Avoid Thwart Possible Fed Crackdown by Classifying Legal Marijuana as Medical. In what the Associated Press called "the boldest attempt yet by a US marijuana state to avoid federal intervention in its weed market," the legislature is considering Senate Bill 17-192. The bill would allow retail marijuana licenses to be transferred into medical marijuana licenses. The measure has already passed out of the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee and the Senate Finance committee and has a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Michigan Hash Bash Draws 10,000+. Ann Arbor's annual celebration of marijuana drew the largest crowd in years this past weekend, with more than 10,000 people showing up to light up and voice support for marijuana legalization. Michigan nearly became the first Midwest state to put legalization to a vote last year -- coming up just short on signature gathering -- and activists there are vowing to try again in 2018.

Kansas City Voters to Decide on Decriminalization Tomorrow. Residents of Kansas City, Missouri, will vote Tuesday on whether to approve the Question 5 decriminalization ordinance. Under the proposal, people 21 and over caught with less than an ounce would face no more than a $25 ticket.

Wichita Pot Defelonilization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. Wichita activists hope the second time is the charm. A successful 2015 defelonization initiative was stuck down by the state Supreme Court on a technical issue. Now, the activists say they are preparing a new campaign to put the issue on the August municipal ballot. Under their proposal, small-time pot possessors would face a misdemeanor charge and a maximum $50 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Governor Signs a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a dozen bills aimed at regulating the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Bills that actually modified the law required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the link.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Hearing Today. After a delay over the weekend at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, the House is taking up the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, today. Shott was expected to introduce an amendment during today's hearing before a vote is taken.

Drug Testing

Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Into Law. President Trump last Friday signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that will allow states to expand the pool of unemployment benefits applicants who can be drug tested. The bill undid an Obama administration rule that limited unemployment drug testing to professions where drug screenings are the norm. The bill passed Congress with no Democratic support in the Senate and only four Democrats in the House.

Harm Reduction

JAPA Issue Focuses on Naloxone. The March-April issue of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association is devoted to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. It contains nearly 30 letters, research reports and research notes on issues related to pharmacists and naloxone. The articles appear to be all open access, too. Click on the link to check 'em out.

One Simple Way to Reduce Deadly Heroin and Pain Pill Overdoses

The United States is in the grips of the worst drug overdose crisis ever, with prescription opioids and illicit opiates like heroin killing tens of thousands of people each year, but many of those people aren't dying from opioids alone. Another class of prescription drugs is too often involved.

Those drugs are the benzodiazepines -- with brand names like Valium and Xanax -- and are prescribed by the millions to treat anxiety, They can be deadly on their own, with federal data showing nearly 9,000 fatal benzo ODs in 2015. But here's the kicker: Nearly half of all fatal benzo ODs involve both them and opioids.

And a new study published in the British Medical Journal provides further evidence of the risks of doing benzos and opioids together. That study drew on a sample of more than 300,000 patients continuously enrolled in private health insurance plans between 2001 and 2013, and researchers looked at emergency room visits for drug overdoses among those prescribed only opioids versus those prescribed both opioids and benzos.

The results were dramatic: People prescribed both types of drugs had nearly double the risk of an ER or inpatient visit for a drug overdose. Based on the results, researchers estimated that cutting benzo prescriptions for opioid users reduced the risk of ER visits by 15%. If that figure holds true for overdose deaths, some 2,630 opioid-related overdose deaths could have been prevented in 2015 alone.

The policy implications are clear, said study coauthor and Stanford University drug policy expert Keith Humphreys: Don't prescribe benzos to people being prescribed opioids.

"Even if we didn't change opioid prescribing at all, the data here suggest that we could cut overdoses dramatically just by getting prescribers to not put people on a benzodiazepine at the same time," Humphreys said.

That would require a real shift in prescribing practices. The number of patients in the study being prescribed both benzos and opioids nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013, from 9% to 17%.

Reducing co-prescriptions could be problematic for some patients. If they are suffering both pain and anxiety, they and their doctors will have to work together to decide which issue is most serious and which could be treated with alternatives. But making such tough choices could lead to a reduced risk of fatal overdose.

The BMJ study has its limits. It looked only at legally prescribed benzos and opioids, missing the effects of concurrent use of illicit drugs, and it looked only at ER and inpatient visits, not fatal overdoses. And it only demonstrated correlation, not causation. It's possible some factor other than co-prescribing was driving up overdose rates among study patients, but given that the overdose risks of mixing benzos and opioids are well established, suggesting that co-prescribing them results in increased overdoses is not exactly controversial.

Doctors can do their part to reduce the number of overdose deaths by reducing benzo and opioid co-prescribing, but since much benzo and opioid use occurs outside legal medical channels, users in non-medically supervised settings are also going to have to be keenly aware of the dangers of mixing those drugs. If they are, the evidence suggests they can save some lives.

Chronicle AM: Philippines Prez in Hot Seat Over Drug War, WV Legalization Bill, More... (3/16/17)

The Philippines' bloody-handed president is facing harsh criticism as the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meets in Vienna, West Virginia gets a marijuana legalization bill, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio rolls out a plan to fight opioid addiction and overdoses, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte is under attack at home and abroad over drug war abuses. (The Fix)
Marijuana Policy

West Virginia Legalization Bill Filed. Delegate Sean Hornbuckle (D-Cabell County) introduced House Bill 3035 Tuesday. The bill would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. It has been sent to the House Health and Human Resource Committee. If it gets through there, it must then go to the House Judiciary Committee before heading for a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Bill to Ban Edibles, Public Smoking Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would bar medical marijuana patients from consuming edibles or from smoking their medicine in public was approved Wednesday by the House Rules Committee. But the measure, House Bill 1400, faces an uphill battle to win final approval because any changes to the voter-approved medical marijuana law require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Massachusetts Bills Would Protect Patients' Employment Rights. Even as the state Supreme Court Thursday heard a case on employment rights for medical marijuana patients, two bills alive in the state legislature would do just that. Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) has introduced House Bill 2385, which would explicitlyprotect the rights of a medical marijuana patient to use the drug without facing discrimination in hiring, firing or terms of employment. The bill would also protect medical marijuana patients from discrimination in education, housing and child welfare and custody cases. That bill is currently before the Committee on Marijuana Policy. A similar bill was filed last sessions, but didn't pass. A second bill, House Bill 113, is aimed mostly at updating state law to bring it in line with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but one provision clarifies that employers cannot take adverse employment action against someone for using medical marijuana. That bill is before the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Charged Hearing. At a hearing in the Judiciary Committee Wednesday, law enforcement, the state attorney general's office, and the state's top doctor all came out in opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Legislative Bill 622, but legislators also heard emotional testimony in favor of the bill from Army veterans and others who said they would benefit from access to medical marijuana. Five of the bill's sponsors sit on the eight-member Judiciary Committee, so the bill is likely to make it to a House floor vote, where opposition has killed similar measures in past years.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York City Mayor Reveals Plans to Fight Opioid Addiction. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the city planned to spend as much as $38 million a year on a broad array of measures aimed at reducing opioid addiction and overdoses. Among the measures mentioned were expanded methadone and buprenorphine treatment, the distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone to all 23,000 city patrol officers, a focus on city hospitals on dealing with addiction and overdoses, and increased prosecution of opioid dealers. De Blasio mentioned outreach, treatment, and law enforcement, but not harm reduction.

International

Bolivia Says It Does Not Need US or European Help to Fight Drug Trafficking. Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Lima said Wednesday that his country doesn't need help or advice from the US or Europe on its coca policies or its fight with drug traffickers. "We fight against drug trafficking with Bolivian money, we do not depend on the European Union (EU) to fight against drug trafficking. Before when we depended on the United States, Bolivia received about USD $100 million. We have set aside that aid," he said. Garcia Lima's remarks came in response to European Union criticism of a new Bolivian law nearly doubling legal coca cultivation. The EU suggested that perhaps its aid to Bolivia should be "refocused." Garcia Lima retorted that Bolivia is "not begging money" from the EU.

Philippines Vice-President Condemns Duterte's Drug War. In an interview with Time magazine ahead of a speech set for Thursday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo condemned President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war and said she was "inspired" by growing opposition to it. She also said she was "encouraged" that the international community is speaking out. "We hope that in the next few months we, together with the international community, can convince the current administration to focus its efforts in ending human-rights violations and extrajudicial killings," she said. "In addition, let us work together to strengthen the existing accountability mechanisms in the Philippines in order for us to have those responsible brought to justice. We hope that we can persuade the administration to concentrate more on the bigger war we are facing -- the war on poverty."

Philippines Lawmaker Files Impeachment Complaint Against Duterte, Cites Drug War Killings. Philippines Rep. Gary Alejano has filed an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte, calling for his removal for high crimes, abuses of power, and betrayal of public trust. The complaint lists drug-related murders, the operation of death squads while Duterte was mayor of Davao City, and conflicts of interest among the impeachable offenses. Pro-Duterte lawmakers said the complaint "will not fly," but Alejano was undaunted. "Our goal with this complaint is to be a vehicle for Filipinos to have a voice to oppose and fight against the abuses and crimes of President Duterte," Alejano told a televised news conference. "We know it's an uphill battle... but we believe that many will support this."

Jeff Sessions Claims Marijuana Only "Slightly Less Awful" Than Heroin

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions once again displayed his ignorance about drugs Wednesday as he claimed that marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. In the same speech, he acknowledged rising heroin and prescription opioid overdose death levels, but failed to note that no one dies from overdosing on marijuana.

The US attorney general made more inflammatory remarks about marijuana on Wednesday. (senate.gov)
Heroin produces physical addiction and is linked to thousands of overdose drug deaths each year. Marijuana does not produce physical addiction, and although it may lead to psychological dependency for a small percentage of users, the dependency rate is much lower than it is even for users of alcohol and tobacco, both of which are more dangerous than marijuana.

Sessions' uninformed claim is likely to increase jitters in the country's nascent legal marijuana industry as it confronts an attorney general whose rhetoric so far has strongly suggested he would like to crack down on legal weed -- although he has yet to take any concrete steps to do so.

Sessions made the claim in prepared remarks for a speech to state, local, and federal law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia. The long-time foe of marijuana and marijuana law reform again sketched his stance toward pot, saying "life-wrecking dependency" on marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction.

I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana -- so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

Sessions would not be so "astonished" at the notion that access to marijuana lead to declines in opioid overdose deaths if he actually followed the field. At least three recent studies have found a link: A 2014 Johns Hopkins study found that states with medical marijuana laws have a 25% lower opioid death rate than other states; a 2015 RAND study found a decline in opioid deaths of between 16% and 31% in states that had medical marijuana dispensaries; and a 2016 Health Affairs study found that doctors in medical marijuana states wrote fewer opioid prescriptions for Medicaid patients.

Actual science notwithstanding, Sessions suggested he was prepared to embark on a 21st Century version of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" and the "this is your brain on drugs" anti-drug propaganda campaigns of the 1980s:

In the '80s and '90s, we saw how campaigns stressing prevention brought down drug use and addiction. We can do this again. Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.

But if Sessions wants to educate Americans on "the terrible truth" about drugs, he should probably start with himself. An attorney general who cannot recognize the difference between marijuana and heroin is not one who is fit to pronounce on such matters.

Richmond, VA
United States

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