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Chronicle AM: New Obama Opioid Initiative, DOJ Backtracks on Forfeiture Reform, More... (3/29/16)

The drug czar uses a recycled and updated version of the gateway theory to oppose marijuana legalization, the Justice Department restarts its Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, the president announces a new package of initiatives to fight heroin and opioid death and addiction, and more.

Obama has plans for fighting heroin and prescription opioid death and addiction. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Leans On Gateway Theory Variant to Explain Opposition to Legalization. In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week, Office of National Drug Control Policy head Michael Botticelli reaffirmed the Obama administration's opposition to marijuana legalization, using a familiar, if discredited, argument to do so: "I think the evidence is pretty clear that early use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana -- often used together -- significantly increases the probability that someone will develop a more significant addictive disorder later in their life," he said. "Early substance use actually effects brain development and predisposes people for more significant vulnerabilities later in their life." That sounds a whole lot like an updated version of the roundly criticized gateway theory.

Hawaii Resolution Seeks Study on Marijuana and Driving. Rep. Cindy Evans (D-North Kona) and 15 other lawmakers have introduced a resolution asking the state health department to study the effect of marijuana on driving. State law bans people from driving under the influence of impairing drugs, but there is no threshold set for marijuana because there is no widespread consensus on what an acceptable level might be.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Obama Announces New Moves to Fight Heroin and Opioid Abuse. In a speech in Atlanta today, President Obama unveiled a package of new initiatives to help stem the tide of death and addiction from prescription and non-prescription opioids. These initiatives are above and beyond the $1.1 billion in new spending he proposed last month. The package includes expanded access to medication-assisted treatment (methadone, buprenorphine) for addicted users, doubling the cap on the number of patients to whom a doctor may prescribe buprenorphine, increasing the number of doctors who can prescribe it, funding an increase in access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), ensuring that substance abuse and mental health benefits are offered for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, and $7 million for the Justice Department to conduct law enforcement operations aimed at heroin distribution.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Resumes Equitable Sharing Program -- More Money for Cops. The Justice Department has announced it is resuming its program that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to do an end run around state asset forfeiture laws by handing investigations over to the feds. State laws may mandate that seized funds go in the general fund or other specified funds, but under the federal program, 80% of the seized funds go to the seizing law enforcement agency, not the state's general or other specified funds. Law enforcement lobbying groups had been loudly protesting the program's shutdown last fall, claiming they needed the windfalls to do their jobs. Now, the program is back on line.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Has Saved 2,500 Lives in North Carolina. In less than three years, some 2,500 North Carolinians have had their heroin or prescription opioid overdoses reversed by people using naloxone (Narcan), the North Carolina Harm Reduction Center reported today. As of today, the number stands at 2,503. "Through distributing naloxone with NCHRC, I have been able to save the lives of many of my friends, loved ones and peers," says Kendra, a volunteer distributor in Wilmington. "Without this amazing group of people and this life-saving drug, many people who are very close to me may not have had a second chance at life. In the last few months alone I have had close to 100 reversals reported to me personally and many of those people are now in recovery because they were ready to make a change in their lives after overdosing."

International

Mexican Popular Support for Marijuana Legalization Rising, But Still Low. This year's officially-supported debate on marijuana legalization appears to be having an impact. Mexico has never been a legalization-friendly country, and in October, daily polls had support for legalization at only 7%, with 92% opposed. But six months later, after the issue has been publicly debated, pro-legalization sentiment has increased four-fold, to 29%, with opposition dropping to 66%. The trend is in the right direction, but there's still a long way to go.

Chronicle AM: Pain Pills to Get "Black Box" Warning, FL to Get Syringe Exchanges, More... (3/23/16)

The Vermont marijuana legalization bill gets a first House hearing, it's do or die tomorrow for Georgia CBD legislation, the FDA orders "black box" warnings for quick-acting prescription opioids, Florida's governor has signed a syringe exchange bill into law,and more.

The FDA is mandating a "black box" warning for opioid pain pills. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Has Raised Ten Times More Funds Than the Opposition. According to a new report from the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $1.1 million for its legalization effort, while the leading group opposing legalization, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, has raised only $90,000. The legalization campaign needs 150,642 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. It already has 180,000 raw signatures and says it aims to collect 225,000 to have a nice cushion.

Vermont Legalization Bill Gets House Panel Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Tuesday heard testimony on the legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, from representatives of state police, prosecutors, and sheriffs. The witnesses said legalization would not end the black market, worried about out-of-state pot tourists driving under the influence, and called for a marijuana DUID law. More hearings are coming.

Dallas City Council Rejects Ticketing Instead of Arresting Pot Possessors. The city council has backed away from a plan to ticket small-time pot possessors after realizing that state law prevents the city from imposing the policy outside of Dallas County. Tiny portion of the city of Dallas extend into neighboring Collin, Denton, Kaufman, and Rockwell counties. The idea had been supported by the police chief and several council members.

Medical Marijuana

Last Chance for Georgia CBD Expansion Tomorrow. The legislative session ends at midnight tomorrow, and lawmakers will have a chance to take up a bill that would expand qualifying conditions for the state's CBD medical marijuana registry. The measure, House Bill 722, was defeated earlier in the session, but lead sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has added it as an amendment to another bill to try to get it through tomorrow.

Iowa Patients, Supporters Rally in Des Moines. Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday to urge lawmakers to approve a comprehensive medical marijuana program. "This is not a partisan issue. This is something for the health and safety of our citizens," said Windsor Heights Mayor Diana Willits. "It truly is heartbreaking that legislators are not paying attention to their citizens and their constituents. It's time for everybody to put their political obstacles aside and do what's right in a nonpartisan way." The state passed a 2014 law allowing patients with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil, but that law did not provide for manufacturing or distributing the medicine in the state. A bill this year, House File 2384, would establish two grow facilities in the state and allow use of CBDs by patients who suffer from epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or terminal cancer. It is still being debated at the committee level. A recent poll had support for medical marijuana at 78%.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Bill Coming. Sen. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) said Tuesday he plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill shortly. Yuko said the legislature needs to act on medical marijuana this spring or see the decision possibly taken out of its hands by the voters. There are at least three medical marijuana initiative campaigns brewing.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Survives Legislative Deadline. Tuesday was the day bills approved by one chamber had to see committee action in the other chamber or die, and House Bill 1410, the Asset Forfeiture Transparency Act, survived. It was approved by the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee Tuesday afternoon and is now headed for a Senate floor vote. The bill would not end civil asset forfeiture, but require state officials to maintain a searchable database of all cash and property seized by law enforcement.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Says Opioid Pain Relievers Will Have to carry "Black Box" Warnings. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Tuesday it will require immediate-release opioids to carry a "black box" warning label alerting users to the risks of misuse, addiction, overdose, and death. The warnings will refer users to the manufacturer's website for details. "Opioid addiction and overdose have reached epidemic levels over the past decade, and the FDA remains steadfast in our commitment to do our part to help reverse the devastating impact of the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids," FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD said in a news release. "Today's actions are one of the largest undertakings for informing prescribers of risks across opioid products, and one of many steps the FDA intends to take this year as part of our comprehensive action plan to reverse this epidemic."

Democratic Rep. Tears Into Pharma Company for Price-Gouging on Overdose Reversal Drug. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) used his opening remarks at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on heroin use to rip into Amphastar Pharmaceutical, the manufacturer of the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), for trying to profit off the crisis. "We can no longer allow drug companies to keep ripping off the taxpayers for life-saving medications," Cummings said. "Cities all around the country have recognized the need to equip their first responders, police officers and public health officials with naloxone -- a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses in a matter of minutes."

Harm Reduction

Florida Governor Signs Syringe Access Bill. Gov. Rick Scott (R) today signed into law the Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA Act), which will allow for the creation of needle exchanges.

International

Commission on Narcotics Drugs Meeting Ends, Now on to the UNGASS on Drugs. The 59th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) ended Tuesday in Vienna. The meeting and its outcome document are laying the groundwork for the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs at UN headquarters in New York next month.

Latin America's Largest Medical Marijuana Crop Now Being Harvested. Workers near the city of Colbun in central Chile have begun harvesting some 6,000 marijuana plants destined for 4,000 Chilean medical marijuana patients. The operation is being overseen by the Daya Foundation, which has hired 60 local temporary workers for the job. "It is an important day. We want it to be the first harvest of many more to come in Latin American countries," Ana Maria Gazmuri, president of the Daya Foundation.

Chronicle AM: Joep, We Miss You; Supreme Court Rejects NE, OK Pot Lawsuit; Bud Business Going Big, More... (3/21/16)

The international drug reform movement has lost a valued member way too soon, the Supreme Court rejects Nebraska and Oklahoma's efforts to derail Colorado's pot law, a new report says the pot business is going big, Ohio medical marijuana initiatives keep hitting roadblocks, and more.

A $23 billion industry by 2020? Arcview thinks so. (wikimedia.org/hampuforum)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Rejects Nebraska and Oklahoma Lawsuit Over Colorado Marijuana Legalization. The US Supreme Court today declined to hear the case brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law. The two states had claimed the Colorado law created an increased law enforcement burden in their states and claimed that federal marijuana prohibition trumps the state law. But the Obama administration urged the high court to reject the case, and today it did on a 6-2 vote.

Legal Marijuana Could Be a $23 Billion Business By 2020, Report Says. In its 4th Edition State of Legal Marijuana Markets Report, the Arcview Market Research and the data-analysis firm New Frontier said that the legal marijuana industry is creating thousands of jobs and is online to reach $23 billion in sales by 2020, driven largely by adult use.

Vermont House Panels Will Hold Hearing on Pot Legalization Bill on March 31. The House committees on Judiciary and on Government Operations will hold a joint hearing on the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 241. The measure has already passed the Senate, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) supports it. If the bill passes, Vermont will become the first state to legalize it via the legislative process.  

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Two More Initiatives. It's back to the drawing board for two more medical marijuana initiatives after Attorney General Mike DeWine found problems with their ballot language. The Medical Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Amendment, submitted by a group led by attorney and veteran marijuana activist Don Wirstshafter, had inconsistencies between its text and its summary, DeWine said. Last Friday, he rejected a fourth petition for the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment for similar reasons. The groups behind the initiatives will now have to gather an additional 1,000 signatures and then resubmit their initiatives.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New CDC Prescribing Guidelines Urge Doctors Not to Test for Marijuana. New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opiate addiction and overdose deaths recommend that doctors stop drug testing patients for the presence of THC and discourages them from dropping patients who test positive for pot. "Clinicians should not test for substances for which results would not affect patient management or for which implications for patient management are unclear. For example, experts noted that there might be uncertainty about the clinical implications of a positive urine drug test for tetrahyrdocannabinol (THC),” the guidelines state. "Clinicians should not dismiss patients from care based on a urine drug test result because this could constitute patient abandonment and could have adverse consequences for patient safety, potentially including the patient obtaining opioids from alternative sources and the clinician missing opportunities to facilitate treatment for substance use disorder."

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Poll Has 86% Opposing Current Asset Forfeiture Laws. A new Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by Drug Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, shows overwhelming dissatisfaction with the state's civil asset forfeiture laws. More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents said they were unaware of civil asset forfeiture, but when provided a brief summary, 86% supported the position that "Police should not be able to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been charged with a crime." The poll comes as asset forfeiture reform legislation has been stalled by organized opposition from law enforcement.

Pregnancy

Tennessee Law That Criminalized Drug Use By Pregnant Women Could Be Modified. On Tuesday, lawmakers will vote to amend the state's "fetal assault" bill, which makes it a crime for women to use drugs while pregnant. The amendment being offered would only prosecute woman who are more than 25 weeks pregnant.  But advocates are calling for a better solution: don't renew the law.

International

European Drug Reform Stalwart Joep Oomen Dead at 54.Joep Oomen, a key figure in European civil society drug reform efforts, has died unexpectedly of natural causes at his home in Antwerp, Belgium. He was found by colleagues dead in bed Friday when they went looking for him after he failed to show up for a meeting.  He was 54 years old. A veteran activist with more than a quarter century of organizing under his belt, Oomen was the co-founder of numerous drug reform NGOs, including the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), the Trekt Uw Plant cannabis cultivation social club in Antwerp, and the Dutch Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibtion (VOC). Joep's vision of a world without drug war drew his attention beyond Europe's borders as well. He had been active with groups like Mama Coca and Friends of the Coca Leaf in working to see the coca plant treated with the respect it deserves, and had been a steady presence at organizing around the United Nations' international drug prohibition bureaucracy. We consider Joep a friend and colleague. We are shocked and saddened by his untimely departure.  

Chronicle AM: VT Gov Urges Lawmakers to Pass Legal Pot Bill, House Dems Urge Obama to Stand Tall at UNGASS, More... (3/18/16)

The taxman is happy in Oregon, Vermont's governor would be happy if the House passed the pot bill, New Orleans is a signature away from decriminalizing pot, Wisconsin's governor signs a package of bills to tamp down heroin and pain pill use, and more.

Some House Democrats are calling on President Obama to use the UNGASS on Drugs as a bully pulpit for global drug reform.
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Took in $3.48 Million in Marijuana Taxes in January. Even though legal marijuana is still for sale only through medical marijuana dispensaries, the state still sold an estimated $14 million worth of non-medical weed, resulting in the $3 million-plus funding gift to the state. State officials had predicted the take would be about $1 million.

Vermont Governor Urges House to Pass Legalization Bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) told legislators "the time is now to take a smarter approach to marijuana" in a statement released Friday. "The stakes are important. The bill passed by the Vermont Senate would represent the most careful, deliberate attempt to regulate marijuana in America. Before passing the bill, the Senate took testimony from experts, asked the right questions, and learned lessons from those states that have legalized marijuana already. The result is a bill to create a system which would represent a huge improvement over the status quo….The choice in front of Vermonters and their elected representatives in the next couple of months is whether we want our state to take a rational step to end an antiquated War on Drugs policy that almost everyone agrees has failed. We can take a smarter approach in Vermont and be prepared for whatever other states around us do. But we must have the courage to do it." The House has taken up the legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, this week.  

New Orleans City Council Approves Decriminalization. The council voted unanimously Thursday night to approve an ordinance allowing police to write tickets instead of arresting people caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana. Fines will start at $40 and be capped at $100. The ordinance still needs to be signed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Wisconsin Governor Signs Bill Package Targeting Heroin, Pain Pills. The package signed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) includes Assembly Bill 364, which requires doctors to check a database whenever they fill or refill a prescription for abusable drugs; Assembly Bill 365, which requires police to provide information to the Prescription Drug Monitoring database when they find evidence of prescription drugs being abused or stolen; Assembly Bill 366, which requires pain clinics to be certified by the state; Assembly Bill 367, which requires methadone clinics to provide relapse and other information to the state;  Assembly Bill 658, which makes it a crime to possess a use a masking agent to foil a drug test; and Assembly Bill 659, which streamlines rules for opioid treatment programs.

Drug Policy

House Democrats Urge Obama to Go Big at the UNGASS on Drugs. Fourteen House Democrats have urged President Obama to use the UNGASS as a bully pulpit for a call for substantive global drug reforms and moving away from failed criminalization strategies. Led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR) and John Conyers (MI), the group urged the president to "take full advantage of this timely and powerful event to communicate our progress toward a more effective, science-based approach to drugs to the rest of the world." The Democrats called for Obama himself to deliver the US position before the General Assembly. "That unique platform gives you the opportunity to elevate the 2016 UNGASS on the World Drug Problem and change the way drug policy is approached, not only domestically, but also around the world, establishing the United States’ commitment to a new approach on an international scale," the letter reads.

International

Canada Petition Calling for Full Marijuana Legalization Gaining Steam. A petition asking the Canadian government to fully repeal marijuana prohibition is picking up signatures, especially in British Columbia. There are more than 12,000 signatures so far, more than 5,000 of them from BC. The petition launched by federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May calls for removing marijuana from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, ending police actions against existing storefronts, granting of pardons and expungements of criminal records to pot criminals, and leaving the regulation and taxation of marijuana commerce to the states. The Liberal government has said it is going to legalize it, but it hasn't said how or when. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another DEA scandal is brewing in the Big Easy, more jail guards gone wild, another cop with a pill problem, and more. Let's get to it:

In New Orleans, a "golden boy" DEA agent is at the center of an investigation into misconduct in a multi-agency drug task force he led. An FBI-led criminal inquiry has focused on several sheriff's deputies who served on the task force and are suspected of stealing cash and selling drugs. The problems with the DEA in New Orleans resulted last month in the head of the New Orleans being recalled to Washington.

In Lisbon, Ohio, a Columbiana County jail guard was arrested last Friday as he tried to smuggle drugs into the jail. Corrections Officer Steven Michael Hamilton, 27, was caught carrying joints, pills, and loose tobacco into the jail hidden inside a Burger King bag. He admitted being paid $50 to do so. He is charged with illegal conveyance of a drug of abuse.

In Corinth, Mississippi, an Alcorn County jail guard was arrested last Saturday as he tried to smuggle drugs, alcohol, and other contraband into the jail. Acting on a tip, sheriff's deputies searched Ethan Wayne Little's vehicle when he reported to work and found meth, cocaine, marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, and a cell phone bundled in a package. It's not clear what the precise charges are.

In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a former Dupont police officer was convicted Tuesday of letting a drug dealer go free in exchange for prescription pain killers. Kenneth Shotwell, 46, was convicted of bribery, obstruction of justice, and official oppression. He went down after pulling over the known dealer, accusing him of driving on a suspended license, and then letting him go in exchange for oxycodone tablets.

In Sacramento, California, a former deputy US Marshal was sentenced last Thursday to 10 years in federal prison for ripping off 24 pounds of marijuana from drug dealers in Yuba City. Clorenzo Griffen, 38, and two acquaintances stole the weed at gunpoint in a motel parking lot, but then attracted the attention of a Highway Patrol officer by blowing through a stoplight as they fled. The robbers then abandoned their vehicle, and Griffen ran into a nearby building—which happened to be the Sutter County Sheriff's Office—where he was arrested.

In Philadelphia, a former prison guard was sentenced Monday to 2 ½ years in federal prison for delivering OxyContin pills to prisoners in return for cash. Joseph Romano, 31, pleaded guilty in December to attempted organization and two counts of attempted distribution of controlled substances. He quickly confessed to his offenses, and that confession helped lead to a sting that resulted in the indictment of five other prison guards. Romano said he was addicted to opioates because of an injury and said he would focus on his recovery. 

Chronicle AM: US Signals Flexibility on International Drug Reforms, Senate Set to Approve CARA, More... (3/9/16)

In the run-up to UNGASS, the US is signalling some flexibility if other countries want to decriminalize drugs, the Senate is poised to pass a bill to deal with heroin and prescription opiate use, crackdowns could be coming for unpermitted dispensaries in Los Angeles and San Diego, and more.

State Department's William Brownfield signals "flexibility" on other countries' drug reform efforts. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Criminal Law Committee voted Tuesday to advance a decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2228, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago). The bill would drop criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of pot, but also set a limit at which someone can be prosecuted for drugged driving at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. A decrim bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R); this one attempts to address his concerns by lowering the amount decriminalized, increasing the fine from $100 to $200, and by lowering the nanogram limit.

Colorado Springs Wants Its Cannabis Social Clubs to Go Away. The city council voted Tuesday night to ban "cannabis consumption clubs" despite overwhelming public support for them at the council before the vote was taken. But it isn't going to happen overnight. The council gave the clubs eight years to shut down. In the meantime, they will have to be licensed by the city and pay for the privilege of doing so.

Medical Marijuana

Los Angeles County to Crack Down on Illegal Dispensaries. The county supervisors voted Tuesday to crack down on dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The county will create a "Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team" to shut down and prosecute the unpermitted operations, which have been banned since 2011.

San Diego Licensed Dispensaries Call for Crackdown on Unlicensed Ones. The Association of Cannabis Professionals, which represents licensed dispensaries, is calling on the city to shut down dispensaries operating without a license. There are an estimated 30 unpermitted dispensaries in the city, and the seven licensed ones are claiming they can't compete because of the increased costs they bear to get and stay legal. "The City of San Diego spent nearly four years developing regulations, and our members spent nearly two years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, to meet the conditions needed to obtain their permits from the City of San Diego,” says Association President Chris Siegel. “But despite having jumped through all of these hoops and costs, in order to do things right, the City continues to allow unpermitted dispensaries to operate with impunity."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate About to Pass Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Senators voted 83-6 to advance the bill Monday, setting the stage for a final vote sometime this week. The bill, S 524, is sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and has 42 cosponsors. It would provide support drug treatment, education, and prevention initiatives, and expanded prescription drug monitoring programs.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Senate Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. The Senate voted 48-0 Tuesday to approve Senate File 2218, which would allow police, fire departments, EMS programs and others to carry and use naloxone (Narcan), the opioid overdose reversal drug. The bill now goes to the House

International

Top State Department Official Gives Green Light for Other Countries to Decriminalize Drugs. William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), told reporters at the United Nations Tuesday that it was less concerned with how countries attempted to deal with drug problems than with reducing the harms from drug use. "The issue is not precisely whether a government has chosen to decriminalize or not to decriminalize," Brownfield remarked. "It is whether the government is working cooperatively to reduce the harm of a product. A nation can reach its own determination," he added, suggesting that countries should feel free to consider removing penalties for drug use.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Takes Up CO Legalization, DEA Can't Keep Track of Evidence, More... (2/19/16)

The Supreme Court will decide if the case against Colorado can go forward, Ohio pot legalizers call it quits for now, Detroit dispensaries are facing a crackdown, a New Jersey bill would criminalize pregnant women who use drugs, and more.

Where did the drugs go? (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Hears Case Against Colorado Legalization Today. The nation's highest court is deciding whether to take up a challenge against the state's legal marijuana law from neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend could alter the balance. If the court splits conservative vs. liberal, that would mean a 4-4 vote on the case. In regular cases that would mean that lower court rulings would hold. But the Supreme Court has "original jurisdiction" when states sue each other, meaning that there are no lower court rulings, raising the question of what would happen next.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Calls It Quits. The group, Legalize Ohio 2016, says it has put its signature gathering drive on hold because it doesn't have any money. The group's political action committee, Ohioans to End Prohibition, had only $268 in the bank. The group has some 80,000 signatures, but needs more than 300,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It says it will instead concentrate on supporting the Marijuana Policy Project's medical marijuana initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit Dispensary Boom Faces Looming Crackdown. The Motor City is now home to more than 200 dispensaries, but an ordinance that goes into effect March 1 is likely to put some of them out of business. The new ordinance insists that dispensaries must be at least a thousand feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries, and other dispensaries, and an unknown number are not going to be in compliance. Don't expect immediate raids, though; dispensary owners will have a chance to apply for licenses, and police said they would give dispensaries some time to comply before moving against them.

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois County Sued for Asset Forfeiture "Racketeering." Three people have filed a federal lawsuit against the Kane County Sheriff's Office alleging it is running a racketeering enterprise by stopping drivers, falsely arresting and searching them, and seizing their cash and cars for the benefit of the county. The suit also names three deputies, including one -- Sgt. Hain -- who is also employed by a private company, Desert Snow, that trains police to prolong traffic stops, conduct searches without warrants or consent, and aggressively seize assets. The plaintiffs allege they were stopped, searched, and had several thousand dollars in cash seized, and that they were booked into the county jail overnight, but never charged with a crime. They were released the next day. Police found no drugs or other suspicious items. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Inspector General Rips DEA Over Evidence Handling Procedures. The DEA isn't properly documenting, tracking, and relocating the drugs it seizes, compromising the security of the drugs and undermining their usefulness as evidence in court, the inspector general said in findings released Thursday. In nearly one out of every 10 cases, DEA could not even find the tracking documents that are supposed to account for the drugs. "Gaps in the formal documentation of the chain of custody for drug exhibits can compromise the security of the drugs and jeopardize the government's ability to use the evidence in court proceedings," the IG said. The IG also found that more than half of all seizures, DEA forms did not list the amount of drugs seized, making it impossible to know if they had been tampered with. The inspector general made nine recommendations in total to improve the oversight of DEA drug seizures, all of which the agency agreed to address.

New Jersey Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use By Pregnant Women. A trio of Democratic Assembly members have introduced Assembly Bill 774, which would make using drug while pregnant a felony crime. Advocates for pregnant women called the bill "blatantly discriminatory" and said it will deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment. They also said it was aimed at poor women.

International

Report Criticizes Use of Private Contractors in Colombia Aerial Coca Fumigation. A new report from the United Kingdom's Swansea University analyzes the role of private contractors and finds their primary benefit to the governments involved -- Colombia and the US -- are "secrecy and lack of accountability." "The ineffective policy is of dubious legality, causes damage to people and the environment, and would, if carried out by US military forces, imply the direct involvement of the US in Colombia's civil war, thereby triggering the application of international law as it applies to armed conflict," the report found. Still, aerial fumigation achieved "strategic objectives" of the two governments by displacing rural populations from areas of insurgent influence.

Chronicle AM: NH, NM Legalization Bills Killed, FL & WY Forfeiture Reform Advances, More... (2/15/16)

A pair of state marijuana legalization bills get defeated, a pair of state asset forfeiture reform bills advance; House Republicans want states to be able to drug test food stamp recipients, Senate Democrats want $600 million in anti-heroin funding, Mexico cartel mayhem continues, and more.

Senate Democrats want $600 million to fight the heroin and pain pill epidemic. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Kills Legalization Bill. The House voted last Thursday to kill House Bill 1694, which would have legalized the use of marijuana by adults. The House has previously passed legalization, only to see if die in the Senate. Another legalization bill, House Bill 1610, is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

New Mexico Senate Kills Legalization Initiative Bill. The state Senate last Friday voted 24-17 to kill SJR 5, which would have placed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana on the November ballot. Six Senate Democrats voted "no" along with all the Republican members.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Needs Redo. State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said last Thursday that a legalization petition submitted the day before was flawed because it used a list of Schedule I substances that was not current. Eric Olson, who heads the sponsoring committee for the initiative, said the committee will resubmit the petition. The group has until July 11 to come up with some 13,000 valid voter signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Lawmakers Ponder Bill That Would Allow Outdoor, Greenhouse Grows. Under the state's medical marijuana law, the Department of Health has decided that all cultivation must take place in an enclosed structure, but lawmakers say that wasn't their intent, and they are preparing a bill that would clarify that medical marijuana could be grown in the open air, in greenhouses, or in shade houses.

Massachusetts Doubles Amount of Medical Marijuana Patients Can Purchase. The Department of Public Health last Friday more than doubled the amount of medicine patients can possess after regulators said laboratories can ensure the safety of the drug. Now, patients will be able to buy up to 10 ounces of medical marijuana every two months.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice last Thursday. The measure is Senate Bill 1044, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday. The measure is House Bill 14. It is nearly identical to a bill that easily passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Matt Meade (R). It looks like another veto showdown could be coming.

Drug Policy

London School of Economics Issues "After the Drug Wars" Report. A new report from the London School of Economics, After the Drug Wars, calls for the war on drugs to be replaced by sustainable development goals (SDGs). The report is endorsed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and five Nobel Prize recipients. "The question now is not, whether to end the 'war on drugs', but what to replace its failed policies with," said Dr John Collins, coordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and editor of the report. "The path to drug peace becomes clearer if we look to the SDGs as the way to address the root causes of many socioeconomic problems, one of which is problematic drug use. It is also the way to tackle the systemic causes of illicit market violence, which is often a product of and worsened by hard-line prohibitionist policies. The global priorities should be -- develop first, manage drug issues second. If states pursue prohibitionist policies in the absence of development and political integration, the result is usually instability, violence and failures on drug control goals. To be successful states must recognise that policies need to be properly sequenced. Focusing on the SDGs over counterproductive drug control goals is the way to do this."

Democrats Seek $600 Million for Emergency Heroin Bill. Just after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (Senate Bill 524), Senate Democrats announced they will try to add a $600 million funding measure authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to the bill. The measure includes funding for treatment, prevention, and recovery at the state level, as well as funding for treatment and law enforcement programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to bring the Recovery Act to the Senate floor shortly.

Drug Testing

House Republicans Pushing Measure to Allow States to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chair of the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, last Thursday unveiled a measure that would allow states the option of drug testing people who apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. The Agriculture Department, which administers the program, currently says states cannot impose new requirements, such as drug testing, under the program.

Harm Reduction

Alaska Naloxone Bill One Vote Away From Passage. A bill to increase access to opioid overdose reversal drugs passed its final House committee vote last Friday and now heads for a House floor vote. The measure, Senate Bill 23, has already passed the Senate. It grants immunity for those prescribing or administering naloxone (Narcan) and allows pharmacies to legally dispense the drugs to members of the public without a prescription.

Law Enforcement

Maine Bill to Stiffen Penalties for Out of State Drug Dealers Advances. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted mainly along party lines last Wednesday to approve LD 1541, which would increase the sentences for out of state drug dealers. The measure advanced despite criticism that it would be difficult to prove drug importation in court and that the state already sufficiently punishes drug dealers. It is being championed by Gov. Paul Le Page, who was called for the use of the guillotine to execute drug dealers, called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers, and accused black drug dealers from New Year of impregnating white Maine girls.

International

Four Swiss Cities to Create Cannabis Club Pilot Projects. Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Zurich have agreed to launch a pilot project for cannabis clubs where consumers could use the drug. The projects are to be run over four years and will be scientifically evaluated. But they must first be approved by canton governments and the federal office of public health.

Mexican Cartel Prison Battle Leaves 49 Dead. A battle last Wednesday between Zetas cartel members and rivals from other drug gangs left 49 people dead at the Topo Chico prison near Monterrey. One inmate was killed by gunfire; the rest by being stabbed with bottles or blades or by being hit with objects. The prison has long housed Zetas, who dominate much of its interior.

Upstart Mexican Cartel Makes a Move on Tijuana. After five years of relative peace in the border town, killings are on the increase, with many of the victims described as low-level members of the city's drug trade. The uptick in violence is being blamed on the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has been leaving messages with mutilated corpses on city streets or hanging from bridges. People were being killed at a rate of more than two a day in January, making it the most violent January since 2010. Jalisco New Generation is believed to be challenging the Sinaloa cartel, which currently dominates the Tijuana drug trade.

Chronicle AM: Historic Federal Drug Budget, 2015 CO MJ Sales Nearly $1 Billion, More... (2/10/16)

A marijuana legalizer wins a presidential election primary, Western states take up marijuana issues, the Obama administration balances demand and supply anti-drug spending in a historic first, and more.

Colorado sold nearly a billion in buds (and edibles) last year. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalizer Wins New Hampshire Democratic Primary. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) swept to victory in neighboring New Hampshire's Democratic election primary, defeating presumed frontrunner Hillary Clinton with 60% of the vote to Clinton's 39%. Sanders becomes the first presidential primary candidate to win a state while supporting marijuana legalization, a sign of the times.

Colorado Marijuana Sales at Almost a Billion Dollars Last Year. Medical and adult marijuana sales in the state totaled $996,184,788 last year, the Department of Revenue reported Tuesday. Those sales generated $135 million in taxes and fees for the state.

New Mexico Bill for Legalization Initiative Advances. If approved by the legislature, the measure would allow voters to vote in November on a constitutional amendment legalizing and regulating marijuana. The bill, SJR 6, sponsored by Sen. Geraldo Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque), was approved by the Senate Rules Committee today.

Oregon Bill to Let Out of State Investors Join Pot Businesses Advances. The bill, House Bill 4014, removes the two-year residency requirement for license applicants included in a law passed last year by the Legislature. The measure won a committee vote today and now heads for a House floor vote.

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have decriminalized small-time pot possession in the Cowboy State died in the House Tuesday. The measure, House Bill 3, filed by Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) died on a 21-37 vote. This is the third straight year decrim bills have been filed and then killed in the legislature.

Drug Policy

White House Drug Budget Makes History By Equalizing Demand and Supply Funding Levels. For the first time since the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), the proposed federal anti-drug budget balances spending on law enforcement and interdiction (supply) with spending on treatment and prevention (demand). The White House budget request released today seeks $15.8 billion for treatment and prevention and $15.3 billion for law enforcement, domestic and overseas. "The President's 2017 Budget calls for our country's largest investment in treating and preventing substance use disorders in history," said Michael Botticelli, Director of ONDCP. "By funding public health and public safety efforts at near-identical levels, this budget demonstrates the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to a balanced approach to drug policy. The Budget recognizes how important it is to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services so we can prevent youth substance use, provide treatment to those in need, and sustain long-term recovery."

International

Macedonia Medical Marijuana Measure Wins Committee Vote. The parliament's Health Committee Tuesday approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that would allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. The change is being proposed by the Ministry of Health, which said: "The need to change this law comes from the requests of patients who want to have the option to use naturally derived cannabis products, under strict supervision. The amendments would allow patients to have access to strictly controlled products, improving on the current situation when some patients use unverified products without any supervision regarding the dosage," the ministry said.

New Cartel Emerges in Mexico's Michoacan. Police in Michoacan have detained a dozen people carrying banners proclaiming the emergence of a new criminal enterprise in the state. The banners announced the appearance of the New Family cartel, whose name suggests it is a successor to the Family Michoacana cartel. That gang was displaced by the Knights Templars in 2010, who were in turn displaced by armed vigilantes backed by the Mexican state in 2013. The banners announced that the New Family would "clean up" people who supported the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has been moving into the state. "All those who contribute to this scum will be punished," the banner reportedly proclaims.

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

Will the VA Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans? [FEATURE]

On Wednesday, a group of 21 US senators and representatives sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs calling on it to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana as medicine in states where it is legal.

The bipartisan effort was led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). All represent medical marijuana states.

Under current VA policy, embodied in VHA Directive 2011-004, which expires Sunday, VA doctors are prohibited recommending marijuana as a treatment option even in legal states. This discourages patients and doctors from being honest with each other.

"According to the current directive, VA providers are prohibited from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran's participation in a state-sanctioned marijuana program. This policy disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other," the solons wrote. "Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal. However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month. We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

If patients can't get a recommendation from their VA docs and thus can't access dispensaries, they would be tempted to go elsewhere for recommendations, to doctors "likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history," the solons wrote.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (senate.gov)
Noting that there has been a "sea change" in the legal framework around marijuana since the directive was issued in 2011, they asked that "upon the directive's expiration, any new directive remove barriers that would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in states that have chosen to legalize marijuana for medical purposes."

But without a new directive, even though the old one is expiring, it will be the status quo at the VA, said Michael Krawitz, a US Air Force veteran and executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Krawitz participated in the process that led to the production and distribution of the directive.

"VA Directives remain in effect with full force even after expiration unless they are officially replaced or rescinded," he said. "Although I can understand that patients might not know that and might get uneasy about the expiring directive, but in practicality there should be no change in clinical practices caused by the expiration."

While VA patients could be spooked by the expiration, the status quo is unacceptable, said Dr. Sue Sisley, MD, in clinical psychiatry and internal medicine, who has two decades of experience treating veterans and who is set to do a pilot study on medical marijuana and PTSD for veterans.

"I've worked with veterans all over the country who are dealing with severe and chronic, debilitating medical problems," she said. "They just want the treatment that is going to help them the most, with the least side effects. I have seen firsthand the dramatic improvement so many veterans have had while taking cannabis. Not only have they experienced relief from problems such as PTSD, chronic pain, and migraines, but many of them have also been able to break their addiction to more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines."

Vets can't get into dispensaries without recommendations. (wikimedia.org)
VA staff physician Deborah Gilman, MD, said current VA policy forces physicians to ignore the science if it conflicts with policy.

"Unlike private practice physicians, VA physicians are under a gag order regarding discussing marijuana with patients," she said. "In other settings, doctors can be honest about their medical opinions regarding treatment options, based on science. In the VA, an administrator can write policy that you can't disagree with without losing your job. Veterans are fearful of losing either their medical benefits or their access to health care if they acknowledge using marijuana. This causes a VA doctor to give you a medical opinion based on the VA regulation, not on the science. I knew many VA doctors whose professional opinion was that cannabis might help some of their patients, but they could never say so in their office or in public."

"There is nothing more sacred in healthcare than the doctor-patient relationship," said Sisley. "Right now we are seeing interference with that coveted relationship. No government policy should come between a doctor and their patients. The only people who should be making medical decisions for veterans are their physicians, not a bureaucrat and not a law enforcement official. These men and women have sacrificed so much for their country. It's only fair that they get the care that they deserve, and have access to the whole range of treatment options."

For Krawitz, it's about getting health care he and countless other vets deserve.

"I suffer from a combination of internal injuries and broken bones leading me to be a perfect candidate for cannabis as an adjunct pain treatment," he explained. "I need to be able to go in and see my VA doctor and have a honest conversation where my doctor feels free to gain knowledge now available through continuing medical education and relay that information to me in writing even if that is the very documentation is what I need to participate in a state medical marijuana program."

Now it's up to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. He's heard from Congress, he's heard from patients, he's heard from doctors and scientists. We'll see if he's listening.

Washington, DC
United States

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