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Fighting Stigmatization of Drug Users in Denver [FEATURE]

In many ways, ours is harsh, moralistic, and punitive society. One need only look at our world-leading incarceration rate to see the evidence. We like to punish wrongdoers, and our conception of wrongdoers often includes those who are doing no direct wrong to others, but who are doing things of which we don't approve.

We label those people of whom we don't approve. When it comes to drugs and drug use, the labels are all too familiar: Heroin users are "fucking junkies;" alcohol abusers are "worthless drunks;" cocaine smokers are "crack heads;" stimulant users are "tweakers;" people with prescription drug habits are "pill poppers." The disdain and the labeling even extends to the use of drugs on the cusp of mainstream acceptance. Marijuana users are "stoners" or "pot heads" or "couch potatoes."

Such labeling -- or stigmatizing -- defines those people as different, not like us, capital-O Other. It dehumanizes the targeted population. And that makes it more socially and politically feasible to define them as threats to the rest of us and take harsh actions against them. It's a pattern that we've seen repeatedly in the drug panics that sweep the nation on a regular basis. Drug users are likened to disease vectors or dangerous vermin that must be repressed, eradicated, wiped out to protect the rest of us.

(It is interesting in this regard to ponder the response to the most recent wave of opiate addiction, where, for the first time, users are being seen as "our sons and daughters," not debauched decadents or scary people of color who live in inner cities. Yes, the impulse to punish still exists, but it is now attenuated, if not superseded, by calls for access to treatment.)

Never mind that such attitudes can be counterproductive. Criminalizing and punishing injection drug use has not, for example, slowed the spread of blood-borne infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. To the contrary, it has only contributed to the spread of those diseases. Likewise, criminalizing drug possession does not prevent drug overdoses, but it may well prevent an overdose victim's friends or acquaintances from seeking life-saving medical attention for him.

A recent survey from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reinforces the view that we tend to stigmatize drug users as morally decrepit. That survey found that Americans are significantly more likely to have negative attitudes about drug addiction and addicts than about mental illness.

Only one out of five said they would be willing to work closely on the job with a person addicted to drugs (as compared to 62% for mental illness), and nearly two-thirds said employers should be able to deny a job to someone with an addiction issue (as compared to 25% for mental illness). And 43% said drug addicts should be denied health insurance benefits available to the public at large.

"While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition," said study leader Colleen L. Barry, Ph.D. of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one's struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal."

"The more shame associated with drug addiction, the less likely we as a community will be in a position to change attitudes and get people the help they need," study coauthor Beth McGinty, Ph.D. said in a news release. "If you can educate the public that these are treatable conditions, we will see higher levels of support for policy changes that benefit people with mental illness and drug addiction."

As the survey suggests, the process of stigmatization is an impediment to smart, evidence-based approaches to dealing with problematic drug use. Now, the Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center is trying to do something about it.

In the last few days, it has rolled out a new anti-stigmatization campaign featuring the faces of injection drug users, the locations where they overdosed or suffered other bad consequences, and their individual stories in brief.

"My name is Alan," says a middle-aged man with a brushy mustache. "I overdosed on heroin. Right there in that parking lot in that picture. I know the risks of doing heroin, but drug dependency is strong."

The second part of Alan's message is repeated with each drug user pictured: "There are 11,500 injection drug users like me in Metro Denver. 73% of us carry Hepatitis C. 14% of us have HIV. The transmission of bloodborne diseases and drug overdoses are nearly 100% preventable. Support the Harm Reduction Action Center. Learn more about how our public health strategies keep you, and the people you know, safe."

"My name is Andrew," says a dreadlocked and pierced young man whose image is coupled with a photo of an empty apartment. "After a decade living as a homeless youth, the most traumatic thing that happened to me didn't happen to me at all. It happened to my best friend Val. She died of a heroin overdose. Right here in this picture. She was my friend. She was someone's daughter. Sobriety has taught me a lot about the thin line that separates us all. Val was someone you knew. She probably served you coffee. She probably even greeted you with a friendly smile."

"My name is Joanna," says a woman whose image is paired with a photo of a car parked beneath a highway overpass. "When I was diagnosed with lymphoma, I was prescribed a heavy dose of pain killers. Cancer hurts, but with treatment, it went away. My dependency on opioids did not. Two years later, this is where I live; in a car, under the interstate. I did not choose to get cancer. I did not choose to get dependent on opioids."

The images and the messages are strong and direct. That's the idea, explained HRAC executive director Lisa Raville.

"This campaign is about bringing awareness of our work in the community, focusing on the common sense approach championed by harm reduction," she said. "Stigma, of course, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks, preventing otherwise reasonable conversation on the matter of communicable diseases and accidental overdoses. This campaign sets the scene that harm reduction is a valid and evidence-based approach to public health. Access to clean syringes, proper syringe disposal, and naloxone are key components to a comprehensive public health strategy that curbs the spread of HIV, HVC, and reduces the rate of otherwise fatal overdoses."

It's a message directed at the general public even more than drug users themselves, Raville said.

"One of the fundamental problems faced by health care advocates working with injection drug users is a generalized, public perception that the issue is isolated to people and places outside of the normal social sphere. Generally speaking, our tendency is to dissociate our ordinary experiences -- the people we know and the places we go -- from things that we consider dangerous, dark, or forbidden," she said.

"In the arena of injection drug use, the consequence of this mode of thinking has been historically devastating," she continued. "Instead of crafting public policy that works to minimize the harm caused by addiction, our trajectory tends towards amplifying consequences for anyone that wanders outside of the wire and into these foreign spaces. Rather than treating addiction as a disease, we treat it as something that is volitional and deserving of its consequences. Accordingly, our policies view the contraction of blood-borne pathogens and the risk of overdose as deterrents to the act of injecting drugs."

That cold-blooded attitude may make some people feel better about themselves and their policy prescriptions, but it hasn't proven useful in reducing deaths, disease, or other harms resulting from injection drug use. Instead, it tends to increase them.

"These 'consequences,' of course, have little impact on rates of addiction," Raville argued. "They do, however, all but ensure the continued spread of HIV and hepatitis C. Moreover, possession and distribution of naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of otherwise fatal opiate overdoses, remains criminal in many areas throughout the world."

At bottom, the campaign is not just about drug users but about better public health.

"As our campaign points out, when we drive things underground, we make them truly dangerous," Raville said. "Harm reduction is predicated on the fact that people use drugs. Those who inject drugs are among the most insular and at-risk for contracting HIV, HCV or dying of an overdose. Like a stone that falls in the water, these acute health-related events have ripples which touch all of us, regardless of whether or not we use drugs. HIV infects those who inject the same as those who do not; the best way to prevent its spread is to prevent its spread across all populations of people, not just those deemed more socially 'worthy.' By facing stigma head-on and by humanizing the people in our community who we serve, the Harm Reduction Action Center hopes to normalize the issue and bring the conversation about drug use and healthcare to a more practical level. As a public health agency that serves people who inject, we could get so much more done in our community without stigma."

Denver, CO
United States

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 hold 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: CA Decrim Report, Afroman's Back, Pill ODs Drop, Colombia Synthetic Drug Trade, More (10/15/14)

A report on decriminalization in California has good news, state-level marijuana legalization could be an impetus for the US to modify international drug treaties, pain pill deaths are down (but heroin deaths are up), New Zealand has a different take on employee drug testing, and more. Let's get to it:

Afroman's got a whole new positive take on "Because I Got High."
Marijuana Policy

Report: California Decriminalized, and Nothing Bad Happened. A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines California's experience with marijuana since decriminalization went into effect at the beginning of 2011. It finds that "marijuana decriminalization in California has not resulted in harmful consequences for teenagers, such as increased crime, drug overdose, driving under the influence, or school dropout. In fact, California teenagers showed improvements in all risk areas after reform." There's lots of good number-crunching and analysis. Click on the second link to read the whole thing.

Afroman Revised: Good Things Happened "Because I Got High." California rapper Afroman burned up the charts in 2001 with his catchy lamentation about the perils of being a stoned-out couch potato, but now, thanks to NORML and Weedmaps, he's back with a new version of "Because I Got High," and he's singing a different tune. He eased his glaucoma thanks to the "cannabis aroma" and he can deal with anxiety attacks without Xanax, he sings. The song's new lyrics praise the benefits of marijuana in a number of ways, all supported by scientific evidence, says NORML, which has been working with Afroman for several years. Click on the title link to view the video.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Patients Protest Over Medical Marijuana Implementation. Several dozen patients and advocates rallied outside the Department of Public Health in Boston Tuesday to call on the department and the governor to get the state's medical marijuana program moving. Voters legalized medical marijuana nearly two years ago, but: "We have zero cannabis plants in the ground to serve the patients," said Mickey Martin, a medical marijuana activist. "It's unacceptable to make patients wait." The protestors are calling for the state to immediately open up the program, get dispensaries up and running, and ease restrictions on "hardship cultivation" so more patients can grow their own.

Drug Policy

Brookings Report Sees Marijuana Legalization as Chance to Update International Drug Treaties. A report from the Brookings Center for Effective Public Management, "Marijuana Legalization is an Opportunity to Modernize International Drug Treaties," says that the Obama administration's tolerance of legal marijuana in the states creates tension with international drug control treaties and that, as state-level legalization spreads, the US should consider "narrowly crafted treaty changes" to "create space within international law for conditional legalization." The US could, for now, argue that even allowing state-level legalization is compliant with the treaties, but that argument will not hold water if legalization spreads, the authors say. Click on the report link to read the whole thing.

Opiates

Prescription Pain Reliever Deaths Drop for First Time in Years, But Heroin Deaths Up. For the first time since 1999, deaths from prescription opiates declined in 2012. The number of prescription opiate ODs quadrupled to nearly 17,000 by 2011, before dropping to 16,007 in 2012, a decline of 5%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal officials are crediting crackdowns on "over-prescribing" and the expansion of prescription drug monitoring programs. The decline in prescription opiate ODs follows a tapering off of the rate of increase that began in 2006. Before that, ODs had increased at a rate of 18% a year beginning in 1999; after that, the rate of increase declined to 3% through 2011. But with the crackdowns has come an apparent shift to heroin among some prescription opiates, and with that is a rising heroin OD death toll. Heroin ODs jumped 35% from 2011 to 2012, reaching 5.927 that year.

Prescription Drugs

Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Goes to Governor's Desk. A bill that would establish a prescription drug monitoring database has passed the House. Senate Bill 1180 already passed the Senate in May, and after a pro forma housekeeping vote there, goes to the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett (R), who has said he will sign it. The legislation would track all prescriptions for Schedule II through Schedule V drugs, which is a bit too far for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The rights groups said it had privacy concerns, and that low abuse potential Schedule V drugs should not be tracked.

Law Enforcement

"Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid Protestors March to Atlanta Federal Courthouse. Supporters of Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesevahn, the Georgia toddler severely burned by a flash bang grenade during a botched SWAT drug raid, marched to the federal courthouse in Atlanta Tuesday to press for federal action in the case. A local grand jury refused to indict any of the officers involved. The group, included a lawyer for the family, met with US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates to discuss possible federal charges. Yates' office said it is considering the case.

International

New Zealand Arbitrator Throws Out Positive Marijuana Test Firing. The Employment Relations Authority has overturned the firing of a man forced to take a drug test after an anonymous caller told his employer he had been smoking pot in a parking garage. The Authority held that the company was not entitled to force the man to take a drug test. The company was ordered to pay $14,000 in damages and lost wages.

Colombia Massacre Opens Window on Black Market Synthetic Drug Trade. Eight reported drug traffickers involved in trying to dominate the trade in synthetic stimulants were gunned down outside Cali recently, and TeleSur TVhas a lengthy and interesting report on what it reveals about the fragmented nature of the drug trade there and the role of the new synthetics in it. The new drugs, such as 2CB, known colloquially as "pink cocaine," are popular with elite youth, and are now apparently being produced in-country. The lucrative trade is leading to turf wars, with the Cali killings being the most evident example.

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

Harm Reduction

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

Pregnancy

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

International

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

Chronicle AM: CO MedMJ Crackdown, Heroin ODs Up, Mexican Soldiers Charged in Massacre, More (10/2/14)

A Colorado legislative panel wants to tighten up on medical marijuana, a South Carolina legislative panel studies medical marijuana, the CDC says heroin overdoses are up, a North Carolina county engages in more drug war same old-same old, and there's news from Mexico, too. Let's get to it:

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Colorado Lawmakers Want to Crack Down on Medical Marijuana. A state legislative panel, the Marijuana Revenues Interim Committee, yesterday recommended filing legislation that would tighten up the medical marijuana caregiver system and clarify that local governments can collect taxes on recreational marijuana. The bill would require all primary caregivers to register with the state. Officials fear that their inability to track caregiver grows under the present system is helping the black market. The bill would limit caregivers to six plants per patient and limit patients to one caregiver. Medical marijuana supporters questioned why a committee charged with revenue issues was concerning itself with medical marijuana laws.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Panel Meets Today. A joint legislative panel studying the uses of medical marijuana in the state is meeting at the Medical University of South Carolina today. It's the first of three meetings to be held around the state to gather information. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill; these meetings are designed to help lawmakers gather information and refine the state's marijuana and hemp laws.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

CDC Report Says Heroin Overdose Death Rate Doubled. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the heroin overdose death rate doubled between 2010 and 2012 in the 28 states covered in the report, but that twice as many people died from prescription opiate overdoses. The study says two things appear to be driving the increase in heroin overdoses: widespread exposure to prescription opiates and increasing rates of opiate addiction, and easier availability of heroin. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Craven County, NC, Makes Penny-Ante Drug Roundup. After a "two-month investigation," the Craven County Narcotics Unit and the New Bern Police Narcotics Unit (CNET-the Coastal Narcotics Enforcement Team) rounded up 16 drug suspects this week, but the charges are less than impressive. Of the 16 people arrested in the big bust, five were charged only with possession of drug paraphernalia (which was also tacked onto nearly everyone else's charges, too), two were charged solely with failure to appear in court, and one was charged with possession of marijuana in jail. Five were charged with "possession with intent to sell" various drugs and one with "possession with intent to sell" marijuana. One person was charged with possession of meth precursors. Of the 16 arrested, only one was arrested on an actual drug trafficking charge.

International

Mexican Special Forces Grab Beltran-Leyva Cartel Head. Hector Beltran Leyva, head of the Beltran Leyva cartel since his brother Arturo was killed by Mexican marines in 2009, was captured at a San Miguel de Allende restaurant yesterday. It's another coup against the cartels for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has also captured Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and at least two leaders of the feared Zetas cartel.

Three Mexican Soldiers Charged With Murder in Massacre of 22. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam announced late Tuesday that three soldiers have been charged with homicide in the shooting deaths of 22 people killed in Mexico state on June 30. The military originally said they were cartel members who died in a shoot-out with troops, but witnesses described them being executed after surrendering. Just last week, the Defense Ministry had charged eight of the soldiers with crimes against military justice.

Chronicle AM: Decrim in Jamaica/MD/Philly, Chris Christie Talks Drugs, PA ODs Bill, More (10/1/14)

Decrim comes to Maryland and Philadelphia, and Jamaica is working on it, too; the Oregon initiative campaign heats up, Chris Christie talks drugs, a SWAT reporting bill in Michigan gets a hearing, and more. Let's get to it:

Rastas down Jamaica way will soon have something to smile about. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Campaign Unveils First TV Ad. The Measure 91 legalization initiative campaign has unveiled the first of its TV spot ads, featuring a former veteran Oregon law enforcement officer explaining why he supports legalization. The campaign has about $2 million budgeted for TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign. Click on the title link to view the ad.

Leading Legalization Foe to Make Oregon Campaign Appearances. The man who is arguably the leading public opponent of marijuana legalization, Dr. Kevin Sabet of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), will make seven appearances in Oregon this week to campaign against the Measure 91 legalization initiative. He had planned a 13-stop "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour" partly funded with federal grant dollars, but that was scrapped after the Measure 91 campaign cried foul. Now, Sabet's crusade is privately funded.

Philadelphia Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Mayor Michael Nutter (D) today signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Up to an ounce will be considered a civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine or a $100 fine for public consumption. The new law will go into effect October 20.

Decriminalization Now in Effect in Maryland. As of today, the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a crime, but a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100. The move comes after the legislature earlier this year passed and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed into law SB 364. Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Louisiana Poll Shows Little Support for Harsh Marijuana Sentences. A new Public Policy Polling survey released by the ACLU of Louisiana found that 78% opposed sentences of longer than six months for pot possession, 71% opposed life sentences for felons caught with marijuana, and 68% support medical marijuana. Louisiana has some of the nation's harshest marijuana laws, including a sentence of up to life in prison for marijuana possession by a felon and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for repeat pot possession offenders. Simple possession first offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, but 60% of respondents said it should be decriminalized. Click on the poll link for demographics and methodologies.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers to Hear High CBD Cannabis Oil Testimony Today. A legislative panel is meeting today in Lawrenceville to hear testimony from law enforcement, health care professionals, and others about medical marijuana extracts and cannabis oils. This could lay the groundwork for new legislation to be filed next year.

New Mexico Credit Unions Will Close Medical Marijuana Producer Accounts. Some credit unions have sent letters to nearly half the state's licensed medical marijuana producers saying they no longer accept their business and are closing their accounts. The credit unions said they could not comply with federal guidelines. Medical marijuana supporters are demanding to know why.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Talks Drug Treatment, Ending Mandatory Minimums. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, called Tuesday for making drug and alcohol treatment "more available for everybody" and criticized mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. "With 23 million folks addicted, it's not working," Christie said of the war on drugs. "There's gotta be a separation between the criminal act [of using illegal drugs] and the disease." Click on the link for more details.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) Tuesday signed into law SB 1164, which has two harm reduction measures aimed at reducing drug overdoses. The bill creates a "Good Samaritan" immunity from prosecution for people helping overdose victims and it makes the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) more available to police and the public. The new law will go into effect on October 20.

Law Enforcement

Michigan House Committee Hears Testimony on SWAT Reporting Bill. The state House Criminal Justice Committee is hearing testimony today on a bill that would require SWAT teams in the state to report on their activities. The SWAT Team Reporting ACT, HB 4914, would require agencies with SWAT teams to n the number, location, reason, authorization and outcome of all deployments, and to file reports with the Attorney General's office twice a year.

International

Jamaica on the Way to Marijuana Decriminalization. Justice Minister Mark Golding said today that a bill to decriminalize marijuana has been drafted and should be passed into law before the end of the year. The bill would make possession of up to two ounces a petty offense and would also allow decriminalization for religious purposes, allowing the island nation's Rastafarians to smoke "Jah herb" without fear of arrest.

Chronicle AM: NFL Relaxes Marijuana Policy, Bolivia Rejects US Criticism, Aussie PM Supports MedMj, More (9/18/14)

MPP fights to get a third local Maine initiative on the ballot, Florida CBD cannabis oil growers fight for better rules, the NFL relaxes its marijuana policy, Bolivia's president rejects US claims on drugs, Australia's prime minister supports medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales shrugs off US criticism of his country's drug policies. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

MPP Files Complaint to Get York, Maine, Initiative on Ballot. The Marijuana Policy Project filed a complaint yesterday in York County Superior Court seeking a temporary injunction to force the town Board of Selectmen to put a possession legalization question on the November ballot. The board has twice refused to put the matter to voters, despite petitioners gathering enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. The complaint seeks a hearing by tomorrow. Similar initiatives are already set for Lewiston and South Portland; Portland voted to legalize it last year.

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Program Delayed After Growers Complain About Proposed Rules. The Department of Health's issuance of proposed rules on who could qualify for one of five licenses to grow low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana under a new state law have run into stiff opposition from potential growers. The growers have filed challenges to the rules, and now an administrative judge must deal with those challenges. He has up to 60 days to do so.

Drug Policy

NFL, Players Agree on New Drug Policy, League Eases Up on Marijuana. The league's new drug policy allows for immediate testing for the presence of human growth hormone (HGH). It also raises the acceptable level of THC found in a player's system from 15 nanograms per millileter to 35 nanograms. The change in policy will allow several suspended players to return immediately; others will see the lengths of their suspensions reduced.

Opiates

Senator Whitehouse Files Bill to Address Prescription Opiate, Heroin Use. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) yesterday introduced SB 2389, "a bill to authorize the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use." The next of the bill is not yet available online. The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

North Carolina Conference on Heroin Set for February. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, legislators, medical professionals, law enforcement, and heroin users and people impacted by its use will hold a conference in February to discuss legislative solutions to heroin use and heroin-related drug overdoses. Click on the link for more information.

International

Irish Review Calls for Easing Drug Laws. A government study of sentencing policy has called for an easing of mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug dealing offenses, which currently stand at 10 years. The Strategic Review of Penal Policy also recommends increasing the monetary threshold that triggers serious drug dealing charges, which is currently at about $20,000. And it calls for increasing "good time" for good behavior in prison from 25% to 33%.

Bolivia Rejects US Claim It Hasn't Done Enough to Curtail Drug Production. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a coca growers' union leader, rejected the White House's designation last week of Bolivia as one of three countries (along with Burma and Venezuela) that had failed to comply with US drug policy mandates. "Whatever they do and whatever they say, or yell from the United States, the people won't be confused by this type of information," Morales said Wednesday in a speech. Although the US complains that "illegal cultivation for drug production remains high," the UNODC said in June that coca leaf production in Bolivia last year had declined 9% and was at the lowest level since 2002.

Mexico Orders 18 Black Hawk Helicopters for More Better Drug War. The Pentagon announced this week that it has awarded a $203 million contract to Sikorsky to build 18 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Mexican Air Force. That contract doesn't include the cost of engine and mission systems; the total cost for supplying the choppers will be about $680 million. Mexico will use the choppers "to enhance its counter-narcotics capabilities."

Australia Prime Minister Backs Medical Marijuana. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has written in a letter to a radio host saying he is prepared to support legalizing medical marijuana. "I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates," Abbott wrote. "If a drug is needed for a valid medicinal purpose though and is being administered safely there should be no question of its legality. And if a drug that is proven to be safe abroad is needed here, it should be available. I agree that the regulation of medicines is a thicket of complexity, bureaucracy and corporate and institutional self interest. My basic contention is that something that has been found to be safe in a reliable jurisdiction shouldn't need to be tested again here."

South Africa Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Support of Christian Democrats. The Medical Innovation Bill, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana, has gained the support of the African Christian Democratic Party. The bill was reintroduced by an Inkatha Party member last week, and the governing African National Congress Party approved letting it move forward.

Chronicle AM: Obama Names Drug Producing Countries, CDC Overdose Report, CA Narcan Law, More (9/16/14)

Congress is back and bills are picking up cosponsors, Guam will vote on medical marijuana, Wyoming moves toward ending civil asset forfeiture reform, the president names drug producing and transit countries (again), and more. Let's get to it:

The rate of increase in opiate OD deaths is slowing. (CDC/NCHS)
Marijuana Policy

Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act Picks Up New Sponsor. The bill, HR 4137, would "prohibit assistance provided under the program of block grants to States for temporary assistance for needy families from being accessed through the use of an electronic benefit transfer card at any store that offers marijuana for sale." Introduced in March by Rep. David Weichert (R-WA), the bill now has 16 cosponsors, all Republicans. The latest is Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). The House Speaker has indicated the bill could see action this week.

Medical Marijuana

Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014 Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would exclude low-THC, cannabidiol-based medicines from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The latest cosponsors are Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Tom McClintock (R-CA). The bill now has 24 cosponsors -- 14 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Guam Medical Marijuana Legislative Initiative Published, Pro and Con Arguments Sought. The Guam Election Commission has released the text for Proposal 14A, the legislatively-initiated medical marijuana measure that will go before voters in November. The election commission is urging opponents and proponents of the measure to submit written arguments not exceeding 500 words by this Friday.

At Harrisburg Rally, Top Pennsylvania House Republican Says He Supports Medical Marijuana Bill. State Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) told a rally on the capitol steps Monday that he now supports pending medical marijuana legislation. This could be a sign that Republican opposition to Senate Bill 770 in the House is softening. The bill has some bipartisan support in the Senate, but the session only has a month left.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Votes to Sponsor Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee voted last Thursday to sponsor a draft bill for next year's legislative session that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The draft bill is 15LSO-009. Under the bill, defendants would have to be convicted of a crime before property could be seized, they would have to be told what property is being considered for seizure, and, if they are convicted of a crime, they could challenge the forfeiture and request a hearing.

Drug Policy

In Annual Determination, White House Names 22 Countries as Major Drug Producers or Transit Countries. The White House has named the following countries as "major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries:" Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Among that group, the determination singles out Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as "having failed demonstrably" to undertake drug war policies to Washington's liking. But it also says Washington will keep supplying aid to Burma and Venezuela because it is "vital to the national security interests of the United States."

Harm Reduction

California Governor Signs Naloxone Access Expansion Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 1535, which allows pharmacists to furnish the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) without a prescription. Previously, the drug was only available with a prescription or through a handful of programs throughout the state.

Prescription Pills

CDC Finds Slowing Rate of Increase in Prescription Opiate Overdose Deaths. Opioid pain relievers were involved in about 11,700 drug overdose deaths in 2011, up about four-fold over 1999, but the rate of increase in such deaths has leveled off since 2006, according to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. But while ODs from opiates alone seem to be stabilizing, ODs from a combination of opiates and benzodiazepines were on the increase, with benzos involved in 31% of opiate ODs in 2011, up from 13% in 1999.

Sentencing

Second Chance Reauthorization Act Gets New Sponsor. The bill, HR 3465, would amend the Second Chance Act of 2007 to allow continued authority for grants for drug treatment in prisoner reentry programs. The bill has 41 cosponsors -- 33 Democrats and eight Republicans -- with the latest being Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL).

House Smarter Sentencing Act Gets New Sponsor. The bill, HR 3382, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, allow for applications for resentencing for some crack offenders, and allow judges to sentence beneath mandatory minimums in some cases. The bill has 50 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 14 Republicans -- with the latest being Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA).

CBO Says Senate Smarter Sentencing Act Would Save $3 Billion Over Next Decade. The bill, SB 1410, would reduce Justice Department corrections spending by about $4 billion, but would also result in about $1 billion in costs related to ex-offenders receiving federal benefits earlier than they otherwise would have, the Congressional Budget Office reported. The bill would see about 250,000 prisoners released earlier than they would have been over the next decade.

International

Australia's Victoria State to See Government-Sponsored Medical Marijuana Bill. Victoria Health Minister David Davis said a bill to make it easier to conduct medical marijuana clinical trials will be introduced today.

Chronicle AM: Santa Fe Decriminalizes, New Drug Czar Nominated, NYC Heroin Deaths Rise, More (8/29/14)

Santa Fe decriminalizes, no medical marijuana for Alzheimer's in New Mexico, NYC heroin deaths at 10-year high, new drug czar nominated, another drug war death, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli has been nominated to be the new head of ONDCP, the drug czar's office. (whitehousedrugpolicy.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Santa Fe Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. In a surprise move, the Santa Fe city council voted Wednesday night to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The move came after the Drug Policy Alliance and Progress Now New Mexico undertook a successful signature drive to put a decriminalization initiative on the ballot. Rather than have it go to a vote, the city council simply approved the ordinance instead.

NORML Endorses Alaska, DC, Oregon Legalization Initiatives. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has officially endorsed all three marijuana legalization initiatives on statewide (or District-wide) ballots this fall. "NORML's board of directors endorses these cannabis legalization measures. All three support basic tenets of reform. They differ slightly in scope and implementation based on local considerations of law, customs and polled public sentiment," the group said. Both the Oregon and Alaska initiatives envision a legalize, tax, and regulate scheme, while, because of peculiarities in local law, the DC initiative only legalizes the possession and cultivation -- but not the sale and taxation of -- small amounts of marijuana.

Alaska Conference of Mayors Opposes Legalization Initiative. The Alaska Conference of Mayors announced Thursday it had voted to oppose Measure 2, the state's marijuana legalization initiative. The mayors' group is also kicking in $5,000 to the opposition campaign. The group expressed concerns over public safety, increased enforcement costs (?), and possible effects on youth.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Overrides Advisory Board, Denies Medical Marijuana for Alzeimer's. The Secretary of Health yesterday denied a petition to add Alzheimer's disease to the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana. The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had unanimously recommended that Alzheimer's be added. Click on the link to read some reactions.

Georgia Medical Marijuana Study Committee Holds First Hearing. The Georgia Medical Cannabis Joint Study Committee held the first of five scheduled public hearings at the state capitol yesterday. The hearings are aimed at drafting legislation to allow for the use of medical marijuana for epilepsy and other conditions. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

White House Nominates Acting Drug Czar to Head ONDCP. The White House has nominated acting drug czar Michael Botticelli to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic, has been acting drug czar since March, when his predecessor, Gil Kerlikowske, left to take over Customs and Border Protection. Prior to coming to ONDCP in 2012 to serve as Kerlikowske's deputy, he headed the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services.

Heroin

New York City Heroin Overdose Deaths at Ten Year High. Some 420 people in New York City died of heroin overdoses last year, the highest figure since the 438 recorded in 2003, according to data released Thursday by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. After peaking in 2003, the number of heroin deaths declined steadily, bottoming out at 209 in 2010. Since then, they have been steadily increasing.

Law Enforcement

Armed Orlando Man Killed in SWAT Drug Raid is Year's 31st Drug War Death. Members of Orlando SWAT team serving a drug search warrant shot and killed an armed man this morning. The man, who is as yet unnamed, becomes the 31st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. According to the Orlando Sentinel, citing police sources, the SWAT team hit an apartment on Orange Blossom Trail about 8:00am. At least two members of the SWAT team opened fire on the man as he pointed his weapon at them.

Chronicle AM: Medical Marijuana and Opiate ODs, ME Welfare Drug Test Law, Colombia Drug Talks, More (8/26/14)

Medical marijuana may reduce opioid overdose death rates, International Overdose Awareness Day is coming, the drug war claims another victim, new studies from the NIJ, and more. Let's get to it:

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana States Have Lower Opiate Overdose Rates, JAMA Study Finds. States with medical marijuana laws have significantly lower rates of opiate overdose deaths than states that don't, according to an article published Monday in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. The article is Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010.

Illinois Seeks Nominees for Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. The state medical marijuana program is looking for health professionals and patients to serve on its advisory board, which will be appointed by the governor. For more information, visit the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

New Mexico Cannabis Medical Advisory Board Holds Public Hearing on Proposed New Rules. The state's cannabis program's Medical Advisory Board (MAB) held a public hearing yesterday on proposed rule changes to the program. The MAB is frustrated that the Department of Health did not formally consult with it before releasing proposed rule changes, which have garnered unhappy responses from patients and providers.

Harm Reduction

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. In Los Angeles, members of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) are hosting an event at the Santa Monica Pier and Palisades Park. Click on the title link for more details. For details on other Overdose Awareness Day events, visit International Overdose Awareness Day.

Drug Testing

Maine Welfare Drug Test Program Gets No Support at Public Hearing. Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told a public hearing on Gov. LePage's (R) welfare drug testing plan that it was a "common sense approach," but no one else seemed to agree. The ACLU of Maine and Maine Equal Justice Partners vehemently differed. The drug testing scheme, which had been okayed in 2011, but which LePage just rolled now as he faces reelection, would require people with past felony drug convictions to be tested before being approved. A written public comment period is open through Sept. 7, after which Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, will need to sign off on whether the final rule complies with federal law and the intent of the original state-level legislation.

Drugs and Crime

National Institute of Justice Releases Reports on Crime and Drugs. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service at the National Institute of Justice has released five technical reports on drugs and crime. They are: How Much Crime Is Drug-Related? History, Limitations, and Potential Improvements of Estimation Methods, Reducing Drug Violence in Mexico: Options for Implementing Targeted Enforcement, Measuring the Costs of Crime, Drug Control and Reductions in Drug-Attributable Crime, and Managing Drug-Involved Offenders. Click on the title link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Puerto Rico Police Officer is Year's 30th Drug War Fatality. Puerto Rican police officer Geniel Amaro Fantauzzi died Monday after being taken off life support six days after he was shot and critically wounded during a drug raid at a residence. He was an agent of the Humaco Drug Division.

International

Colombia Drug Policy Talks Get Underway. The National Dialog for the Future of Drug Policy got underway last Friday in Bogota. The meeting with members of academia, political groups, and unions is the first of 10 national and regional forums organized by the ministries of Justice, Health and Social Welfare, and Public Affairs. In the first forum, a survey of 61 recognized drug experts was presented, with all 61 saying drug policy "must change" and 42 of them considering current policy "ineffective, costly, and repressive."

Drug War Issues

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