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Chronicle AM: Kratom Ban Delayed (But Still Coming), Mad Drug Arrest Binge in Indy, More... (9/30/16)

California's governor signs asset forfeiture reform and medical marijuana "micro farmer" bills, a Massachusetts town pays out big time for killing an elderly black man in a drug raid, Indianapolis narcs have arrested 1,000 people in two and a half months and think that's success, and more.

Eurie Stamps. Killed in a 2011 drug raid, now his family wins a $3.75 million settlement. (Stamps family)
Marijuana Policy

Another California Poll Has Prop 64 Winning. A new KPIX 5/Survey USA poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning with 52% of the vote, with 41% opposed. It's the latest in a long line of polls that show the initiative winning, but has it winning by a smaller margin than most other polls.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Marijuana "Micro Farmer" Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law the Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill, Assembly Bill 2516. The measure creates a new medical marijuana cultivator license for "micro farmers," defined as farms with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy size for mixed-light cultivation, up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation, or 500 square feet or less of total canopy size for indoor cultivation, on one premises.

Kratom

DEA Ban Delayed, But Only for Days. The DEA says that despite loud protests, its proposed emergency ban on kratom is still coming; it's just been delayed for a few days as the agency deals with paperwork. It was supposed to become Schedule I Friday, but the reprieve could last a week or more. A DEA spokesman said it's "highly accurate" to say the ban won't take effect next week, either.

Asset Forfeiture

California Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 443, which requires a criminal conviction before police can permanently seize property valued at under $40,000. Bill sponsor Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) sponsored a similar bill last year, but it failed after law enforcement grumbled that it would make it more difficult to go after big drug dealers. Police dropped their opposition after Mitchell agreed to the $40,000 threshold.

Law Enforcement

Family of Massachusetts Man Killed in SWAT Drug Raid Awarded $3.75 Million. The town of Framingham has agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a lawsuit in the death of Eurie Stamps, 68, who was shot and killed by a Framingham police officer as he laid on the floor of his home complying with officers' demands. It was the killing of Stamps that inspired the Chronicle's tracking of drug war deaths, a work now in its sixth year.

Federal Bill to Require Police Reporting of Deaths and Injuries Filed. Rep. Mark Veasey (D-TX) has filed HR 6217, which would "require States and units of local government to have in place laws requiring law enforcement officers to submit... reports when an individual is injured or killed by such a law enforcement officer in the course of the officer's employment as a condition on receiving certain grant funding, and for other purposes. Currently, there is no federal database on law enforcement killing or injuring suspects.

Indianapolis Narcs on Mad Arrest Binge. A newly formed Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department drug unit has arrested more than 1,000 people in the past two and half months. Local media is calling it a "success" and IMPD Chief Troy Riggs vowed that more of the same was coming. "We're not backing off," he said. "This is the new normal."

Powerful Coalition is Building Pressure on Feds to Think Again on Kratom Ban [FEATURE]

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

In a last ditch bid to stop the DEA from criminalizing an herb widely hailed for its ability to treat pain, depression, and anxiety, and help people wean themselves from more dangerous opioid pain relievers, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the agency Monday asking it to reconsider its decision to place kratom on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Kratom is a southeast Asian herb made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciose, a tree related to the coffee plant. In small doses, it has a mild stimulant effect, but in larger doses, it acts like a mild opioid. To be precise, the DEA has moved to criminalize not the herb itself, but two alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxmitragynine, which activate opioid receptors in the brain.

Last month, the DEA exercised its emergency scheduling powers in announcing that it was moving kratom to Schedule I, effective at the end of this week. The drug agency said kratom poses "an imminent hazard to public safety," citing only press reports of some 15 deaths linked to kratom use. But in at least 14 of those cases, the victims were also using other drugs or had pre-existing life-threatening conditions. (Meanwhile, some 25,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses last year.)

Kratom users, who could number in the millions, immediately raised the alarm, organizing campaigns to undo the decision and lobbying Congress for help. That's what sparked Monday's letter from 51 lawmakers, including 22 Republicans.

"This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders," reads the letter, drafted by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Matt Salmon (R-AZ). "This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement."

Given the ongoing high level of heroin and prescription opioid use and the associated overdose deaths, he DEA was hypocritical in mounting a campaign against kratom, the lawmakers said.

"The DEA's decision to place kratom as a Schedule I substance will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions -- a significant public health threat," they wrote.

The lawmakers called on DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to delay the emergency scheduling and instead "engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters."

Since first emerging in the US a few years ago, kratom has been unregulated at the federal level, although the Food & Drug Administration began seizing shipments of it in 2014. At the state level, a half dozen states have entertained moves to ban it, but such efforts failed in all except Alabama. In other states, kratom advocates have managed to turn bans into regulation, with age restrictions and similar limits.

Kratom capsules (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
A ban on kratom would be disastrous, said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association. Ash said she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2006 and ended up essentially disabled under the weight of 13 different prescriptions, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines (to counter the opioids and the benzos). She became addicted to the opioids and finally tried kratom as a last resort.

"I didn't really want to have anything to do with a plant, but I decided to try it, and it worked day and night," she said Tuesday. "Within two weeks, I went from home bound to starting this organization."

With the kratom ban looming, her members are facing "our darkest hour," Ash said. "Our average member is a middle-aged woman, about 40% of whom have experienced addition, and tens of thousands of them are using it as an alternative to pharmaceutical medications because they believe it is safer and more natural. Now, people are saying they are going to lose their quality of life, that they will be re-disabled. People are terrified. What we need is regulation, not prohibition."

"Despite the moral, political, and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as public health issues, the DEA wants to subject people with kratom to prison sentences," said Jag Davies, director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is also fighting the ban. "The DEA's move would also effectively halt promising scientific investigations into the plant's uses and medicinal benefits, including helping many people struggling with opioid addiction."

The scientific studies are promising indeed. Researchers at Columbia University just published a study on kratom alkaloids and found that they activate opioid receptors in a way that doesn't trigger respiratory depression, the lethal side effect of most opioids. Such research could lead to the "holy grail" of narcotic analgesics, a painkiller that doesn't kill users and doesn't get them addicted.

"Our research shows that mitragynine and its analogs activate the opioid receptors in a unique way compared to morphine or oxycodone," said Dr. Andrew Kruegel, one of the Columbia researchers. "They activate a certain protein pathway while avoiding other pathways, and that gives you a better safety profile, mostly for respiratory depression. The scientific data is consistent with an improved safety profile from the alkaloids and suggestive of the same with the raw plant," he explained.

"This new prohibition will really restrict our ability to purse new opioid painkillers based on alkaloids and new safer drugs for pain," Kruegel said.

And then some, DPA's Davies added.

"Placing kratom in Schedule I would place regulatory and funding barriers in front of research, drive users into the black market, and leave them facing lengthy prison terms," he said. "It's troubling that the DEA is moving hastily to criminalize kratom at the same time Congress and the president have been made sentencing reform a priority this year and when communities are grappling with unprecedented rates of heroin and opioid overdoses, the DEA is threatening to punish people for using it instead of potent pharmaceutical preparations. Kratom has a role to play in mitigating the opioid crisis."

But not if the DEA refuses to budge from its ban plan. If the DEA cannot be moved, kratom is illegal as of this coming Friday.

Chronicle AM: DEA Issues Carfentanil Warning, Malaysia to Hang Man for MJ Trafficking, More... (9/23/16)

The DEA issues a warning on a powerful emerging opioid, Michigan marijuana legalizers turn their eyes to 2018, Malaysia sentences a man to death for pot dealing, and more.

Marijuana Policy

This Year's Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Could Add $7.8 Billion to US Economy. A new report highlighting the rush of capital into the legal pot business estimates that expanding the legal marijuana market into the states that have initiatives on the ballot this year could add $7.8 billion to the nation's economy by 2020. The report is from New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research. The report said legalization could generate a billion in taxes in California alone.

Undaunted Michigan Legalizers Lay Plans for 2018. After losing their battle in the courts to get all their signatures counted, the folks at MI Legalize are already gearing up for 2018. The group turned in 354,000 signatures for this year, but some were not counted because they were gathered outside a 180-day window. The group said is going to restructure itself in preparation for another petition drive.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Issues Carfentanil Warning to Police and Public. "DEA has issued a public warning to the public and law enforcement nationwide about the health and safety risks of carfentanil. Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin. DEA, local law enforcement and first responders have recently seen the presence of carfentanil, which has been linked to a significant number of overdose deaths in various parts of the country. Improper handling of carfentanil, as well as fentanyl and other fentanyl-related compounds, has deadly consequences," a DEA press release said.

Drug Policy

Sen. Leahy Files Bill to Fund Heroin and Methamphetamine Task Forces. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has filed S 3359, which would allocate $17 million a year in grants to state law enforcement to fund drug task forces aimed at heroin, prescription opioid, and methamphetamine trafficking.

International

Dutch Moving Toward Allowing Legal Marijuana Cultivation. Draft legislation that would regulate legal marijuana cultivation now appears to have backing from a majority of members of parliament. The bill had been pushed by the liberal D66 Party, with backing from Labor, Green Links, the Socialists, and an animal rights party. That was not quite enough. But now, two MPs who left the anti-Islamic PVV to form their own breakaway party say they will support the measure, and that should be enough to pass it. Stay tuned.

Malaysia Sentences Unemployed Man to Death for Marijuana Trafficking. The High Court in Kuala Lumpur Friday sentenced Ibrahim Musa Rifal, 32, to be hanged after he was convicted of trafficking about 20 pounds of marijuana. Under the country's 1952 Dangerous Drugs Act, such a charge carries a mandatory death sentence.

Seattle Aims to Open the First Safe Injection Sites in the US [FEATURE]

Seattle and surrounding King County are on a path to establish the country's first supervised drug consumption sites as part of a broader campaign to address heroin and prescription opioid misuse. A 99-page report released last week by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force calls for setting up at least two of the sites, one in the city and one in the suburbs, as part of a pilot project.

The facilities, modeled on the Canadian government-funded InSite supervised injection site in Vancouver, just 140 miles to the north, would be places where users could legally inject their drugs while under medical supervision and be put in contact with treatment and other social services. There have been no fatal overdoses in the 13-year history of InSite.

Although such facilities, which also operate in various European countries and Australia, have been proven to reduce overdose deaths and drug use-related disease, improve local quality of life, and improve the lives of drug users, they remain controversial, with foes accusing them of "enabling" drug use. Thus, the report refers to them not as "safe injection sites," or even "supervised consumption sites," but as the anodyne "Community Health Engagement Locations" (CHELs).

"If it's a strategy that saves lives then regardless of the political discomfort, I think it is something we have to move forward," said County Executive Dow Constantine, discussing the plan at a news conference last week.

The safe sites will address the region's high levels of opioid and heroin use, or what the task force called "the region's growing and increasingly lethal heroin and opioid epidemic." As the task force noted, the number of fatal overdoses in the county has tripled in recent years, with the rate of death rising from roughly one a week (49) in 2009 to one very other day (156) in 2014. The current wave of opioid use appears centered on young people, with the number of people under 30 seeking treatment doubling between 2006 and 2014, and now, more young people are entering detox for heroin than for alcohol.

Outside Vancouver's InSite (vch.ca)
Overdose deaths actually dropped last year to 132, thanks to Good Samaritan laws that shield people who aid overdose victims from prosecution and to the wider use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. But that's still 132 King County residents who needn't have died. Task force members said the CHELs would help reduce that number even further.

"The heroin epidemic has had a profound effect not just on our region, but across our country as a whole," said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. "It is critical that we not only move forward with meaningful solutions that support prevention and treatment, but that we remove the stigma surrounding addiction that often creates barriers to those seeking help.

Not only are key local elected officials on board, so is King County Sheriff John Urquhart. He said the safe site plan was workable.

"As long as there was strong, very strong, emphasis on education, services, and recovery, I would say that yes, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks," he said. "We will never make any headway in the war on drugs until we turn the war into a health issue."

The region may willing to embrace this ground-breaking harm reduction measure, but it is going to require some sort of federal dispensation to get around the Controlled Substances Act and the DEA. How that is going to happen remains to be seen, but Seattle is ready.

The task force wasn't just about CHELs. In fact, the safe sites are just a small, if key, component of a broad-based, far-ranging strategy to attack the problem. The task force report's recommendations come in three categories:

Inside Vancouver's InSite (vch.ca)
Primary Prevention

  • Increase public awareness of effects of opioid use, including overdose and opioid-use disorder.
  • Promote safe storage and disposal of medications.
  • Work with schools and health-care providers to improve the screening practices and better identify opioid use.

Treatment Expansion and Enhancement

  • Make buprenorphine more accessible for people who have opiate-use disorders.
  • Develop treatment on demand for all types of substance-use disorders.Increase treatment capacity so that it’s accessible when and where someone is ready to receive help.

Health and Harm Reduction

  • Continue to distribute more naloxone kits and making training available to homeless service providers, emergency responders and law enforcement officers.
  • Create a three-year pilot project that will include at least two locations where adults with substance-use disorders will have access to on-site services while safely consuming opioids or other substances under the supervision of trained healthcare providers.

Will Seattle and King County be able to actual implement the CHELs? Will the federal government act as obstacle or facilitator? That remains to be seen, but harm reductionists, policymakers, and drug users in cities such as Portland, San Francisco, and New York will be watching closely. There have been murmurs about getting such sites up and running there, too.

Chronicle AM: LA Times Endorses Prop 64, Urgent Action Time on Kratom, More... (9/19/16)

Donations are starting to flow for and against reform initiatives, California's largest newspaper endorses marijuana legalization, so do Italian cops, a new study suggests medical marijuana may reduce opioid-related auto fatalities, it's time to act to keep kratom off Schedule I, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Dr. Bronner's Kicks In $660,000 for Legalization Initiatives. The magic soap and organic products maker -- and longtime drug reform supporter -- Dr. Bronner's had pledged to contribute at least $660,000 to the initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. "The expected sweep of these states will exert enormous pressure on federal lawmakers to end the racist outdated policy of cannabis prohibition, that shreds productive citizens' lives and families for no good reason, and focus law enforcement resources instead on actual crime," officials for Dr. Bronner's said in an announcement released Monday.

Los Angeles Times Endorses Prop 64. California's largest newspaper has hopped on board the legalization bandwagon with an editorial endorsing the Prop 64 initiative. Saying that "the federal government has effectively ceded its role and left it to the states to create a new national marijuana policy," the Times editorial board asks if it is time "to treat marijuana less like heroin and more like alcohol" and answers its own question in the affirmative. "On balance, the proposition deserves a 'yes' vote. It is ultimately better for public health, for law and order and for society if marijuana is a legal, regulated and controlled product for adults. Proposition 64 -- while not perfect -- offers a logical, pragmatic approach to legalization that also would give lawmakers and regulators the flexibility to change the law to address the inevitable unintended consequences."

Massachusetts Legalization Supporters Celebrate With Big Freedom Rally Turnout. Thousands of people turned out for the annual Boston Freedom Rally this weekend, jazzed by the prospect of being able to vote "yes" on the Question 4 legalization initiative in November.

Mississippi Legalization Initiative Campaign Gearing Up. A measure known as Initiative 60, which would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, has been approved for signature gathering in Mississippi. To make it to the 2018 ballot, organizers will need roughly 86,000 valid voter signatures, with at least 17,000 from each of the state's five congressional districts. They have one year for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Study of Fatal Car Crashes Suggests Medical Marijuana May Curb Opioid Use. A study conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that fewer drivers killed in car crashes tested positive for opioids in medical marijuana states than before those laws went into effect. The findings will be published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Florida Medical Marijuana Foes Get a Million Dollars From Sheldon Adelson.Las Vegas casino magnate and conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson is again attempting to sway Florida voters away from approving medical marijuana. In 2012, Adelson spent $5.5 million to help defeat the initiative; this year, he has recently kicked in another one million.

Nine out of Ten Montana Medical Marijuana Patients Have No Legal Provider. With the GOP-led legislature's 2011 gutting of the state's medical marijuana program now in effect, 93% of the state's more than 12,000 registered patients have no registered provider. That means unless they can grow it themselves, they are out of luck. An initiative that would restore the state's medical marijuana program, I-182, is on the November ballot.

Kratom

It's Urgent Action Time to Fight DEA's Proposed Kratom Ban. The American Kratom Association is asking supporters to urge their congressional representatives to sign onto a bipartisan "Dear Colleague" letter asking the DEA to slow down the process of placing the herb on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The group is urging supporters to call or email their reps BEFORE 5:00 PM ET TUESDAY.

Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Dead for the Year. Efforts to further reform federal drug sentencing in this congressional session are dead, congressional leaders said late last week. While the consensus legislation appeared set to pass earlier this year, opposition from some Republican lawmakers has killed it. Some Republicans opposed cuts in mandatory minimums, others were angry at President Obama for freeing so many federal drug prisoners, and the "law and order" campaign of Donald Trump seems to have been the final nail in the coffin.

International

Italy's Largest Police Union Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The SIULP, Italy's primary police union, has now come out in support of legalization. A bill to do just that is currently before the Italian parliament, with growing support.

Governor of Mexico's Guerrero State Again Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Guerrero Gov. Hector Astudillo has again called for the legalization of poppy production for medicinal purposes. "We must look for other paths that bring about less tension, less conflict, and less violence," he said as he reiterated a call first made in March. Guerrero is one of the centers of opium production in Mexico, and production is increasing as local farmers switch from coffee to poppy due to low coffee prices.

Chronicle AM: CA&MA Polls, Kratom Proponents Mobilize, Canada OKs Prescription Heroin; More... (9/14/16)

The polling is looking good in Massachusetts and better in California, there will be no initiative for Michigan this year, kratom proponents fight a proposed DEA ban, Canada gives the go-ahead for expanded heroin prescribing, and more.

The Canadian government has cleared the way for limited heroin prescribing for hard-core users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Could Be a $50 Billion a Year Industry Within a Decade. A new report from financial analysts Cowen & Company says the legal weed industry could grow to a $50 billion a year business by 2026. The report notes that legalizing pot in California alone could triple the size of the industry, currently around $6 billion a year.

California: LA Times Poll Has Prop 64 at 58%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative is supported by 58% of voters, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Only 34% said they would vote against the measure, with 8% undecided. "It's very clear that Californians' attitudes have changed dramatically on this issue over the last several years," said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "The opposition is going to have to identify a fairly sizable source of campaign funding if this initiative is to be close," he added.

California: Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup Poll Has Prop 64 at 52%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative has 52% in a new poll from Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup. Some 40% said they would vote no, with 8% undecided.

Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Up By Five Points. A new poll from WBUR TV has support for the Question 4 legalization initiative at 50%, with 45% opposed. "There's some big demographic splits, particularly along age lines," pollster Steve Koczela said. "Younger people are very much in favor of legalization, and it declines steadily as you move up the age brackets to where you get to voters who are 60-plus, and they're opposed to it by a 17-point margin."

Federal Judge Puts Final Nail in Coffin of Michigan Legalization Initiative. A federal court judge rejected a last chance effort by MI Legalize to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot. Judge Linda Parker Tuesday denied a motion from the group to stop the printing of election ballots, saying there was not enough time to stop the election process. MI Legalize gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them came outside a 180-day mandated by state law. MI Legalize challenged rulings by state officials that knocked those signatures off the tally, but lost in the state courts -- and now, in federal court.

Kratom

Kratom Supporters Fight Proposed DEA Ban. Proponents of the Southeast Asian plant with mild opium-like qualities have mobilized to block the DEA proposed emergency move to place the substance on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Hundreds marched in front of the White House Tuesday and more than 120,000 have signed a Change.org petition opposing the ban, meaning the White House will have to publicly address the issue.

International

Canada Has Approved Prescription Heroin. The Canadian government last week quietly approved new regulations that will allow doctors to prescribe diacetylmorphine (heroin) to long-term users who have not responded to more conventional approaches to weaning them from the drug. The Crosstown clinic in Vancouver is currently the only place in the country with a heroin maintenance program, but that should now not be the case for long.

British MPs Call for Medical Marijuana. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform has called for medical marijuana to be legalized in the United Kingdom. The call comes on the heels of a report by neurologist Dr. Mike Barnes urging that marijuana be moved from Schedule I to Schedule IV on the British drugs classification scheme. "Many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are already taking cannabis for primarily medical reasons," said MP Caroline Lucas, who co-chairs the group. "It is totally unacceptable that they should face the added stress of having to break the law to access their medicine."

Chronicle AM: Denver Pot Social Use Init Makes Ballot, Kratom Fight Gathers Steam, More... (9/6/16)

Big city Texas prosecutors are increasingly dropping small-time pot cases, a Denver social use marijuana initiative qualifies for the ballot, kratom proponents move to block the DEA effort to place it on Schedule I, and more, including lots of international items.

Denver skyline (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Big City Prosecutors Are Dismissing Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Prosecutors in the state's five most populous counties -- Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas, Harris (Houston), Tarrant (Ft. Worth), and Travis (Austin) -- are increasingly dismissing small-time pot possession charges. In Ft. Worth, the number of cases dropped rose from 9% in 2011 to 25% last year. In Dallas, the number dropped rose from 18% to 41% in the same period. Travis County prosecutors Dan Hamre explained. "Jurors would look at us like we are crazy," he said. "'You are spending your time, our time and the court's time on a small amount of personal marijuana?'"

Washington State Campaign to End Marijuana Possession Felonies Underway. Under marijuana legalization via I-502, the stat legalized the possession of up to 28 grams of pot, but possession of 40 grams or more remains a felony. A Change.org petition calling on state lawmakers to fix the law is now underway. It has more than a thousand signatures in ten days, but could always use more.

Denver Marijuana Social Club Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative from the Denver Social Use Campaign has qualified for the November ballot. It would allow for the creation of "designated consumption areas" for marijuana use. Permits would be open to a broad range of businesses, and could cover a single event or be good for up to a year. Patrons would have to bring their own buds, though, since sales would not be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Second Arkansas Lawsuit Challenges Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Little Rock attorney who is a member of NORML's National Legal Committee has filed a lawsuit seeking to knock the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act off the November ballot. In the lawsuit, attorney Kara Benca asked the court to invalidate some 15,000 voter signatures, which would disqualify the initiative. A second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has also qualified for the ballot. If both pass, the won with the most votes wins.

Drug Policy

Petition Drive to Undo Making Kratom Schedule I is Underway. In response to the DEA's announcement it was moving to make kratom's active ingredients Schedule I, fans of the opioid substitute have begun a Change.org petition asking the White House to intervene. The White House must respond if the petition hits 100,000 signatures by month's end. So far, it has nearly 70,000. The American Kratom Association also says it is pondering a lawsuit to block the move.

International

Australia Will Legalize Medical Marijuana in November. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has made it official. The agency has now formally announced it will move medical marijuana from Schedule 9 (prohibited substances) to Schedule 8 (controlled drugs). The change will go into effect in November.

Bolivian Government Proposes Prison Time for Illegal Coca Cultivation. Vice Minister for Social Defense Felipe Caceres announced Friday that the government is proposing a bill that would make illegal coca production a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Under current law, illegal cultivators face no prison time, only the destruction of their crops.

Colombia Attorney General Calls for Renewed Aerial Eradication of Coca Crops. Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez has released a report calling for a resumption of aerial spraying of coca groups with herbicides. The government ended that policy las year, citing health risks, as well as a desire to emphasize public health and human rights in its drug policies. But an expansion of coca production has the government signaling it may change its tune.

Denmark's Christiania Residents Tear Down Hash Stalls After Police Shot and Wounded. Christiania has long been the go-to place to score hash in Copenhagen, but after a known drug seller opened fire on police last week, wounding two, residents of the hippie enclave began tearing down dealers' stalls, saying they feared organized crime was moving in. "If they start building up the booths again tonight, then well, we're here tonight as well. The plan is to continue tearing them down until it works," Christiania resident Helene Schou said. "I'm not saying hash should disappear completely from Christiania, but we needed a kiosk and what we had was a supermarket."

Philippines Will Make Drug Tests Mandatory for College Students. In the latest move in President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous war on drugs, his administration has announced it will seek to make students entering college undergo drug tests beginning next year. More than 2,400 people accused of being drug users or sellers have been killed in Duterte's two months in office, and his administration has instituted broad drug testing of police and politicians, among others.

A Long Hot Summer of Drug War Deaths [FEATURE]

The killing of a young, black, unarmed Tampa man by a SWAT team that raided his home in an operation that turned up two grams of marijuana has sparked angry protests last week, including demonstrations last Thursday where people damaged vehicles, lit fires, and threw trash at police, leaving five people arrested and a community outraged.

Levonia Riggins. Unarmed, killed in his bedroom in a raid that netted two grams of weed. (family photo)
Levonia Riggins was shot and killed in his bedroom by Deputy Caleb Johnson of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office as the SWAT team executed a search warrant based on purchases of marijuana from Riggins by undercover officers earlier this summer. Police said they used the SWAT team because they had found guns in the house a year earlier.

When deputies arrived, they broke through a window and found Riggins in bed. "Mr. Riggins then jumped up and moved his hands toward his waistband," a police spokesman explained. Johnson then fired, killing Riggins in what police called "a split-second decision." The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office is now investigating the killing, as is a sheriff's internal team.

Riggins was only the last person to be killed in drug law enforcement operations this summer that left 10 other people dead in separate incidents, including a Tennessee police officer. According to the Drug War Chronicle, which has been tracking such deaths since 2011, the year's drug war death toll now stands at 33.

That's a rate of about one a week, a rate that has held constant throughout the five years the Chronicle has been counting. Also consistent is the ratio of civilians killed to police officers killed. It has been running at about 10:1 over the five-year period, and with three officers killed so far this year, that ratio is being maintained.

Here are the rest of the summer's drug war victims and the circumstances of their deaths:

On August 18, in Apache Junction, Arizona, a Maricopa County sheriff's SWAT Team member shot and killed Larry Eugene Kurtley, Jr., 53, as the SWAT team attempted to take him into custody on drugs, drug paraphernalia, and weapons charges. A woman who left the residence as police arrived told them he could be armed, and the SWAT team then began to negotiate his surrender, police said. But Kurtley refused to come out, so police fired tear gas into the home. When he emerged from the house, he was armed, police said, and one of the SWAT deputies opened fire, killing him. Kurtley had served multiple prison sentences dating back to the 1990s. The Pinal County Attorney's Office and the sheriff's office professional standards bureau are investigating.

On August 16, just outside Augusta, West Virginia, a sheriff's deputy shot and killed John O'Handley, 55, of Yellow Springs as he reportedly grabbed the deputy's gun while being transported to jail after being arrested on methamphetamine and other charges. Deputies had originally gone to O'Handley's residence in search of a stolen motorcycle, but discovered an active meth lab in the home, as well as homemade bombs and stolen property. O'Handley allegedly reached between the front seats of the police car and grabbed the arresting deputy's gun. "A struggle then ensued," and the deputy fired one shot, striking O'Handley in the head and killing him. The shooting is being investigated by the West Virginia State Police.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent De'Greaun Frazier. Killled during an undercover drug buy. (tn.gov/tbi)
On August 9, in Jackson, Tennessee, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent was shot and killed while conducting an undercover drug buy. Special Agent De'Greaun Frazier, 35,was assisting Jackson Metro Narcotics and was in the front seat of a vehicle when the man he was supposed to buy drugs from instead tried to rob him, shooting him from the back seat. That man, Brendan Burns, has now been charged with murder in his death. Frazier had earlier served on a DEA task force while working at the Millington Police Department.

On August 9, in Los Angeles, LAPD officers in Boyle Heights shot and killed Jesse Romero, 14, as he fled from them while they investigated a report of possible "gang writings" and drug activity. According to the LAPD account, Romero and another youth split up and took off running when police arrived, and a witness saw Romero shoot a handgun toward pursuing officers. One officer returned fire, striking and killing Romero. But another witness said she saw Romero pull a gun from his basketball shorts as he ran, then toss it toward a fence. The gun fired when it fell to the ground after hitting the fence, startling Romero. "He didn't shoot," she said. Police recovered an old revolver, but it is unclear how near it was to Romero's body. The officers involved were wearing body cameras, but under LAPD policy that footage is only released to the officers involved before they make an initial statement -- not to the public. The ACLU of Southern California released a statement saying it was "particularly concerned" about Romero's death and criticizing LAPD's body camera policies.

On July 7, in Clovis, California, Clovis Police serving an arrest warrant on narcotics and related charges shot and killed Adam Smith, 33, as he attempted to flee in his vehicle. Police and his girlfriend's family lured him to the family residence, but he and his girlfriend tried to escape, jumping in his van in an alley. According to police, when they confronted the pair in the alley, the girlfriend jumped out of the van, Smith slammed it into reverse, nearly hitting her, then accelerated his vehicle toward the officers. Two of the three offices opened fire, fatally wounding Smith. He was not named in initial reports, but was later identified. In another report, an acquaintance said Smith was on heroin and had repeatedly said they he would die in a "suicide by cop," especially when he was on heroin.

Street meorial for 14-year-old Jesse Romero. (scpr.org)
On June 30, in Douglas, Wyoming, a US marshal shot and killed Jasen Scott Ramirez, 44, in the parking lot of a Catholic Church as he was leaving his father's funeral. The federal agents were seeking Ramirez to serve an arrest warrant on methamphetamine and weapons charges. Local police called to the scene after the shooting discovered 3.5 ounces of meth and two pistols in the vehicle he was driving, but it's unclear to whom the car, the guns, or the drugs belonged. It's also unclear whether Ramirez was brandishing or reaching for a weapon when he was shot and killed. The US Marshals Service has issued only a one-paragraph statement, short on details, including the name of the marshal who pulled the trigger. The agency said it would not be saying more until all investigations into the incident are concluded, including one by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. After the killing, an unconfirmed death threat was made against law enforcement, prompting authorities to temporarily lock down the county courthouse, city hall, and the hospital where Ramirez died.

On June 16, in Westminster, Colorado, a Westminster police officer shot and killed Nicholas Damon, 30, after Damon allegedly dragged the officer and ran over him with his car. Police were attempting to arrest Damon on outstanding drug and assault warrants when he hopped into his car and attempted to flee the scene. The officer involved was briefly hospitalized with "non-life threatening injuries." The killing is being reviewed by an Adams County special investigatory team.

On June 14, in Chula Vista, California, an undercover ICE agent shot and killed Fernando Geovanni Llanez, 22, as agents met with a half-dozen suspected marijuana traffickers in an apparent buy-bust deal at an Eastlake-area strip mall. The agent was part of the Homeland Security Investigations Operation Alliance drug task force, and the agency said Llanez attacked him in what could have been a robbery attempt. The agent fired several times, fatally wounding Llanez. His five companions fled, but were all chased down and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana for sale, conspiracy, and suspicion of robbery. Chula Vista police declined to confirm that it was an undercover operation and would not say if any cash or drugs were seized. There was no mention of any weapon.

On June 8, in Kansas City, Missouri, members of a DEA task force executing a search warrant shot and killed Carlos Garcia, 43, after he fired at officers from inside the house and then refused to exit, leading to an hours-long standoff. Finally, after police shot tear gas into the house, Garcia ran out the back door of the residence aiming his rifle at officers, police said. Task force members then opened fire on Garcia, killing him in the back yard.

On June 7, in Turlock, California, two Modesto police officers who were members of the Stanislaus County Drug Enforcement Agency "involved in a narcotics investigation" shot and killed Omar Villagomez after the vehicle he was driving collided with unmarked police vehicles as they attempted to arrest him. The passenger in the vehicle was not shot, but was injured by debris from the collision. He was charged with suspicion of meth possession with intent to sell, transportation of meth, possession of a controlled substance while armed, and possession of a loaded and concealed firearm.

DEA Places Kratom on Schedule I, the Same Status as Heroin

The DEA announced Tuesday that it plans to crack down on kratom, a Southeast Asian plant that has gained increasing popularity among chronic pain sufferers and people wishing to wean themselves from opioids.

Kratom. Only on the shelves for another 30 days. (Creative Commons)
The drug agency said it was using its emergency powers to place two psychoactive substances in the plant -- mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine -- on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the same schedule as heroin. The move will take effect by the end of September and will be in effect for up to three years.

"Kratom has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision," the defining characteristics of a Schedule I drug, the DEA said.

Kratom was traditionally used in Thailand and Malaysia to help endure physical labor, relieve pain, and stop diarrhea. It was also good for relieving the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

That's because it acts like an opiate. Its active ingredients activate the same opioid receptors heroin and prescription pain pills do. And it behaves like an opiate -- with a couple of exceptions, one interesting and one quite important.

Like other opiates, it relieves pain, slows bowel activity, produces euphoric feelings, and creates physical addiction and a withdrawal syndrome. But unlike other opiates, it causes a pleasant, caffeine-type buzz in small doses and, more significantly, it is apparently very difficult -- if not impossible -- to overdose on it. The few deaths where kratom is implicated include poly-drug use, or as in a case reported by the New York Times, suicide by a young kratom user who was also being treated for depression.

And it has caught on here in the United States, especially among pain patients and people seeking to transition from opioid addiction, so much so that the DEA said it needed to act "in order to avoid an imminent threat to public safety." Calls to poison control centers about kratom jumped from a mere two between 2000 and 2005 to 660 between 2010 and 2015. DEA reported 15 "kratom-related" deaths between 2014 and now.

But that's out of millions of doses. According to DEA's own data, at least 130,000 pounds of kratom was seized by law enforcement in the last two years, and the FDA has ordered another 140,000 pounds of the stuff held pending an admissibility decision. That's enough for some 12 million doses, and that's just what they seized.

The DEA decision will doubtless lead to the removal of falsely-labeled and tainted products claiming to be kratom, but it's also likely to drive thousands of people with chronic pain and opioid problems back to the substances they were trying to avoid. And when it comes to lethality, kratom is opium's mild-mannered little sister. While the DEA cites 15 deaths linked to kratom since 2014, there were more than 29,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2014 alone.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DEA to Make Kratom Schedule I, Thailand to Downschedule Meth, More... (8/30/16)

The DEA announces it will make the active ingredients in kratom Schedule I substances, marijuana legalization initiatives in Arizona and Michigan go to court, the Thai government is moving to reform the way it deals with meth, and more.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Sues Over Ballot Description. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a lawsuit Monday asking the state Supreme Court to fix what is says is inaccurate language in the ballot description of Prop 205 that will be presented to voters. The description written by Secretary of State Michele Reagan left out information that the campaign says is important, such as noting that a new 15% marijuana tax would go mainly to schools. The Supreme Court is also hearing a challenge from opponents of Prop 205. It needs to finalize the ballot language today.

Michigan Legalization Campaign Asks State Supreme Court to Put Initiative on Ballot. In a last ditch bid to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot, MI Legalize has filed a motion with the Supreme Court asking it to overturn a lower court's ruling that the state had no obligation to include signatures gathered outside a 180-day window. MI Legalize gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them were deemed too old to be counted.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Democratic Party Endorses Medical Marijuana. With two competing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, the state Democratic Party has approved a platform plank endorsing medical marijuana. The plank calls for "the development of a responsible medical marijuana program that will receive patients in need of such relief the freedom to access this remedy."

Drug Policy

DEA to Place Kratom on Schedule I. The DEA announced Wednesday that it is moving to place the active materials in the kratom plant on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. That schedule is reserved for drugs that have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. The scheduled substances are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Kratom is a tropical tree indigenous to Southeast Asia. It produces opioid-like effects and has been marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances. Not anymore, though.

International

Hundreds of Argentine Judges, Lawyers Call for End to Drug War. Some 500 magistrates, lawyers, and other legal figures used the 30th anniversary of key Supreme Court decision to call for an end to the war on drugs. In 1986, in the "Bazterrica" ruling, the nation's high court ruled it unconstitutional to prosecute people for simple drug possession. Yet Argentine law still allows such prosecutions. The legal figures are demanding that the law be changed to be in compliance with the Bazterrica ruling.

Thailand Takes Another Step Toward Moving Meth off Dangerous Drugs List. The Justice Ministry is set to remove methamphetamine from its list of dangerous drugs, which would allow health authorities to use it for medical reasons. The move is part of a larger shift in how the country deals with drug use, and is part of a bill that will emphasize treatment for drug users, including substituting prescription stimulants such as Modafinil for meth. The government has given no time line for when the bill will move.

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