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Chronicle AM -- May 6, 2014

Uruguay issues rules for legal marijuana growing and sales, the Argentines attack US drug policy, a new London School of Economics report trashes the drug war as a failure, the DEA orders a massive increase in marijuana for research purposes, a Minnesota medical marijuana bill is moving, and more. Let's get to it:

Legal marijuana sales and cultivation is about to get underway in Uruguay. By the way, that's Argentina just across the estuary.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Orders Massive Increase in Marijuana Production for Research Purposes. They're going to be busy this year at the US government's pot farm in Mississippi. The DEA announced Monday that it has dramatically increased the amount of marijuana to be grown for research purposes. The DEA had originally set the quota at 21 kilograms of marijuana, but has now increased that amount 30-fold, to 650 kilograms. The DEA acted at the behest of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which says the increase is needed "to provide for current and anticipated research involving marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. A proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota is headed for a vote by the full state Senate. Senate File 1641 passed out of the Senate Finance Committee Monday. It would authorize up to 55 dispensaries and provide access to marijuana for patients with specified medical conditions, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, PTSD, and several conditions that cause chronic pain. Patients would not be allowed to smoke marijuana, but could vape it. A more restrictive bill is moving in the House.

Iowa Governor Unsure About Signing CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said Monday he's unsure if he'll sign a CBD medical marijuana bill that has passed the legislature. He said he hadn't read the Senate File 2360 yet and noted that he has 30 days to take action. "This is not something that's been approved by the [Food and Drug Administration,]" Branstad said in response to questions from reporters during his weekly news conference.

International

Uruguay Releases Regulations for Legal Marijuana Commerce. Today, Uruguay's new marijuana commerce regulations (link is in Spanish) go into effect. The government will now embark on the implementation of the legal marijuana market, which is expected to be up and running by the end of 2014. The regulations for medical marijuana are to be released later this summer. Under the new regs, Uruguayans 18 and older can grow their own (up to six plants), grow as part of a club or collective (up to 45 members and 99 plants), or buy up to 10 grams of marijuana a week at a licensed pharmacy. Marijuana consumers will have to register with the government for one of the three options. The registry data will be confidential and protected. All forms of advertising and promotion of use are prohibited, as is smoking in closed, public spaces, in the workplace, and at health establishments, schools and sports institutions. Driving under the influence of marijuana is not allowed, and the newly created Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), tasked with regulating and controlling the whole system, will set the THC limits and types of test performed for DUI. Consumption at or during work is also prohibited. The price will vary, but will start at roughly $1 a gram.

Argentine Cabinet Chief Blasts US Drug Policy. Argentine Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich has joined Security Secretary Sergio Berni in harshly criticizing US drug policies. The attacks come in the wake of a US State Department report saying there was a "dramatic" increase in drug consumption there. Over the weekend, Berni rejected the report as "arbitrary" and said the US "imports drugs and exports death." Those statements were "clear, eloquent, and convincing," Capitanich said Monday. "Some countries are intent to teach lessons on drug policy when they should be taking a closer look at what happens in their own countries," he added.

London School of Economics Report Calls for New Approaches to Failed Drug War. A report from the London School of Economics released Monday night outlines the enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage from the war on drugs and calls for new, evidence-based approaches to drug use and the drug trade. The report, Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, has chapters authored by leading drug policy experts from around the world and has been signed onto by five Nobel Prize-winning economists, as well as political figures including British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former US Secretary of State George Schultz, and former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Dr. Javier Solana, among other luminaries. There's lots of good reading in it; click the link to access it.

European Drug Monitoring Agency to Release Annual Report Later This Month. The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) will present its annual overview of the European drug situation on May 27. Click on the link for more details.

DEA Chief Opposes Marijuana Legalization, Supports Mandatory Minimums

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday to warn of the dangers of marijuana legalization and affirm her support for mandatory minimum sentences.

DEA administrator Michele Leonhart (usdoj.gov)
Leonhart's testimony put her increasingly at odds with the administration that employs her. The Obama administration has announced that it is not going to interfere with legal marijuana in states that have approved it -- unless some of its eight listed enforcement priorities are in play -- and it has made it very clear that it views mandatory minimum sentencing as a failed policy.

Leonhart mentioned two of the enforcement priorities -- the leakage of marijuana to non-legal states and the use of the herb by minors -- in her statement to the committee. She said she is worried by an increase in marijuana trafficking in states surrounding Colorado and that the same thing could happen in Washington state. She also worried that increasing acceptance of marijuana would lead to increased use.

"The trends are what us in law enforcement had expected would happen," she said. "In 2012, 438,000 Americans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that number were dependent on marijuana." But she did not provide any evidence tying the number of marijuana users to changing attitudes or laws.

The DEA is indeed concerned about marijuana legalization. Three months ago, DEA chief of operations James Capra called legalization in the states reckless and irresponsible and warned of looming disaster.

"It scares us," Capra said during a Senate hearing in January. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again."

Except that marijuana legalization has never been tried anywhere before Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington made the leap too recently to cite. In the Netherlands, where authorities turn a blind eye to sales at cannabis coffee shops and which is often cited as an example of "legalization," life goes on and marijuana use rates are well with European norms.

Leonhart continued singing the same old tune Wednesday, warning that emergency room visits related to marijuana increased by 28% between 2007 and 2011.

ER visits may be up, but it's the quality, not just the quantity that also matters. Marijuana has no fatal overdose potential; most marijuana-related ER visits are panic attacks or anxiety reactions, not life-threatening events.

Leonhart also had kind words for mandatory minimums, even though her immediate boss, Attorney General Eric Holder has said they create cruel, disproportionate punishments and contribute to federal prison overcrowding.

"Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work at the DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations," said Leonhart, in response to a question from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). "We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences equate the level of violator we are going after."

Leonhart is a holdover from the Bush administration. It is unclear how long she can continue to fit in under an Obama administration that is moving forward on drug policy reform.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 28, 2012

Medical marijuana continues to be contested terrain, a legalization bill gets a hearing in Boston, hemp is on the move in Hawaii and New York, New Zealand cracks down on its regulated synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

New Zealand is taking regulated synthetic drugs off the shelf until they can be proven "low risk." (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Seal Past Marijuana Convictions. Marijuana convictions that predate current Colorado law could be sealed under a bipartisan proposal being floated inside the Capitol -- a move that could potentially impact thousands of Coloradans. The proposal, sponsored by Sens. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Westminster) and Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins), allows anyone convicted of a marijuana offense that would now be legal under Amendment 64 to have their records sealed. Also, a draft of the bill says that a person convicted of "any other marijuana offense" beyond the scope of Amendment 64 would also be allowed to file a petition with a district attorney to have their record sealed. If the district attorney does not object, the court would then be required to seal the conviction record.

Massachusetts Legislators Hear Legalization Bill. The Joint Committee on Judiciary held a well-attended and well-covered hearing on a marijuana legalization measure, House Bill 1632, Thursday. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act Initiative Goes Signature-Gathering. Hundreds of Arkansans volunteered over the weekend to collect signatures for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act in more than 50 locations across the state. They need to collect more than 62,000 valid voter signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot.

Florida Sheriffs to Fight Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida law enforcement authorities are set to begin a public awareness campaign to fight the effort to legalize medicinal marijuana, a question that will be put to voters in November. This winter, the Florida Sheriff's Association sent sheriffs across the state an email asking for their support of a resolution opposing the legalization of marijuana. A vast majority of the 67 sheriffs was in favor of fighting against any effort to legalize pot. That's a shocker.

Iowa Federal Marijuana Patients in Danger of Losing Access After Their Doctor Leaves the State. Two of the last remaining federal marijuana patients are facing a bleak future as a result of their physician relocating to another state. Patients Out of Time is issuing an urgent request for a Midwestern physician to come forward and help these individuals. No physicians in Iowa have stepped up so far. The patients, Barbara Douglass and George McMahon, are two of four remaining recipients of federal marijuana for medical purposes under the now defunct Compassionate IND program. For further information please call All Byrne of Patients Out of Time, (434) 263-4484, or email at al@medicalcannabis.com.

Montana Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Businesses Owned By Sponsor of Proposed Anti-Marijuana Initiative. Supporters of medical marijuana protested outside two of the businesses co-owned by the sponsor of a proposed initiative that would make all marijuana illegal in Montana. About 100 people demonstrated outside Rimrock Subaru and Rimrock KIA in Billings on Saturday. Steve Zabawa, a partner with the Rimrock Auto Group, is sponsoring an initiative that would "eliminate the disparity between federal law and state law." The potential law would make any drug on Schedule One of the Federal Controlled Substances Act illegal in Montana.

Pennsylvania Legislator and Parents of Sick Kids Plan Sit-In at Governor's Office. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and parents of sick children said Monday they have asked repeatedly to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett (R) to have a meaningful discussion about his opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 770. Now, after Corbett continues to stonewall their requests, Leach and family members said they will sit-in at Corbett's office until a meeting is scheduled. "If the governor chooses to forcibly remove sick children and the parents of those children, that is up to him. But we will not voluntarily leave until a meeting is scheduled," Leach said.

Rhode Island Cops Want to Amend Medical Marijuana Law for "Public Safety" Reasons. Law enforcement officials are pushing to amend Rhode Island's medical marijuana law to address what they say are public safety problems, but patient advocates say the changes would jeopardize access to medicine. The attorney general's office and municipal police chiefs say some licensed cardholders are growing excess amounts of marijuana under a program with inadequate oversight and some caregivers and patients have become targets of home invasions. House Bill 7610, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Tomasso (D-Coventry), would reduce the number of plants patients could grow from 12 to three and add more oversight by the Department of Health. The bill had a hearing earlier this month in the House Judiciary Committee, but no vote was taken.

Hemp

Hawaii Hemp Bill Passes Legislature. Last week, Hawaii legislators approved a bill that will focus on the study of hemp as a biofuel feedstock and phytoremediation resource. The bill, House Bill 1700, authorizes the dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii-Manoa to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program. It does have quite a few strict stipulations to prevent undesired consequences.

New York Hemp Bill Introduced. Growing industrial hemp for research purposes would be legal in New York under a bill proposed last week by a pair of Southern Tier lawmakers. An amendment to the federal farm bill this year allowed for hemp research programs in states that allow industrial hemp growth. The New York bill, Senate Bill 7047 is sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwel), and Sen. Tom O'Mara (R-Big Flats).

Drug Policy

Big Congressional Drug War Hearings This Week. This week, both chambers of Congress will hold major hearings on the drug war. On Tuesday, April 29, at 10:00am there will be joint subcommittee hearing entitled "Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships," held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. These Committees will hear from General John F. Kelly, USMC Commander of Southern Command, at the Department of Defense, and Luis E. Arreaga Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, at the Department of State. On Wednesday, April 30, at 10:00am, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, "Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration." The sole witness is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Georgia Leaders Consider Expanding Drug Testing of Public Benefits Recipients. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said Monday he was exploring a plan that would require drug tests those who apply for unemployment benefits, and would set aside funding for treatment programs if they fail. The move would require legislative approval in 2015 as well as signoff by the US Department of Labor. He also hinted he would sign House Bill 772, which would require drug testing for some food stamp recipients. He said he believes it strikes a "delicate balance" between helping the neediest and protecting taxpayer dollars, though he would not say definitively whether he would sign the measure into law. He has until Tuesday to decide.

International

New Zealand Backpedals on Regulating Synthetics; Will Pull Drugs Off Shelves Until Proven Safe. All synthetic drugs will be pulled off the shelves within two weeks until individual testing has proven each brand is "low-risk," the government has announced. Citing reports of severe adverse reactions and the government's inability to determine which of the regulated synthetics are causing them, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said he would introduce emergency legislation to remove the remaining 41 allowed synthetics from store shelves until they are tested. "I will bring to Parliament amending legislation to put this measure in place, to be introduced and passed through all stages under urgency on May 8 and come into force the day after receiving the Royal Assent," he said.

Israeli MP Admits Regularly Smoking Marijuana. Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg said she occasionally smokes marijuana, which is illegal, in an interview Friday. Zandberg is one of the most outspoken proponents of legalizing cannabis in the Knesset, together with MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu), who says he has never used the drug. "Like everyone else, I smoke sometimes. I'm not a criminal and I'm not a delinquent," she said.

Poppies Bloom in Egypt's Sinai. A sharp slump in tourism is rippling across the southern Sinai, where resorts catering to foreigners line the Red Sea coast, and as a result, Bedouins are turning to the opium poppy to make a living. The Christian Science Monitor has an in-depth report; just click on the link.

Mexican Vigilantes Must Turn in Weapons By May 10. Mexican authorities and leaders of the self-defense groups who have been battling the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan for more than a year have signed an agreement spelling out the timetable for the militias to disarm. The self-defense groups must begin surrendering their guns, which include AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, on Monday and completely disarm by May 10, officials said. The militia leaders inked the disarmament deal Friday in a meeting at the headquarters of the 43rd Military Zone in Apatzingan, Michoacan, the largest city in the crime-ridden Tierra Caliente region.

Brazil Marchers Demand Legalization. Brazilian police said about 2,000 people gathered in downtown Sao Paulo Saturday in a demonstration demanding the legalization of the production and sale of marijuana in Latin America's largest country. Several of the demonstrators were smoking marijuana cigarettes while carrying posters reading "Legalize Marijuana Now," and "Marijuana is Medicine." Police say the demonstration was peaceful. No arrests have been reported.

Chronicle AM -- April 15, 2014

The Obama administration punts on marijuana rescheduling, Maryland's decrim excludes paraphernalia (for now), sneaky DEA tactics are being challenged in Arizona, fears of more cartel violence in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Under Maryland's new decrim law, the pot won't get you busted, but the pipe could. (wikimedia/erik fenderson)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Holder Signals Administration Won't Reschedule On Its Own, Wants to Work With Congress. In an interview with The Huffington Post last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration would not act unilaterally to reschedule marijuana. "I think that given what we have done in dealing with the whole Smart on Crime initiative and the executive actions that we have taken, that when it comes to rescheduling, I think this is something that should come from Congress," Holder said. "We'd be willing to work with Congress if there is a desire on the part of Congress to think about rescheduling. But I think I'd want to hear, get a sense from them about where they'd like to be."

Maryland Decriminalization Doesn't Include Paraphernalia. The decriminalization bill signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) yesterday does not decriminalize the possession of pipes, papers, and other marijuana-smoking paraphernalia. Bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said he intentionally left intact the criminal penalties for having marijuana accessories. He said it could help ensure that if police see marijuana accessories in someone's car, they still have legal grounds to search the car for items like guns and heroin. But he also said the legislature would consider eliminating the paraphernalia penalties next year. In the meantime, prosecutors are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island House Committee to Hold Hearing on Bill That Would Regulate and Tax Marijuana Like Alcohol. The House Committee on Judiciary is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. House Bill 7506, sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), would allow adults to possess up to one once and grow one plant, as well as establishing a system of legal marijuana commerce. A press conference will precede the committee hearing. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 174, also known as Carly's Law. The measure creates an affirmative defense for patients suffering from debilitating epileptic conditions -- or their caregivers -- for the possession and use of marijuana extracts that are high in CBD. But it doesn't do anything for other medical marijuana patients.

Minnesota Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 68%. A new KSTP-TV/SurveyUSA poll finds that 68% of registered voters surveyed think marijuana should be legal when used for medical purposes. The poll comes as legislators struggle to push through a bill in St. Paul.

More Than 70 Oregon Cities Have Dispensary Moratoriums. At least 71 Oregon cities have moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, and more than 40 others are considering bans, according to the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties. The legislature last year passed a dispensary regulation bill, but some localities don't want dispensaries. The new law, however, only allows the moratoriums to stay in place for one year. The state has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties.

Law Enforcement

Arizona "Whisper Stop" Highway Drug Busts Set Up Constitutional Clash. Defense attorneys in Arizona are challenging "whisper stop" highway drug busts, in which the DEA wants to arrest someone they suspect of trafficking drugs, but don't want to alert possible co-conspirators. In such cases, the DEA alerts local and state police to make the stop, but police and prosecutors have been remiss in failing to inform defendants and their attorneys about the reason for the stop, violating the Brady rule, which requires full disclosure of evidence that might help defendants by prosecutors. "We're about to have a big clash on this," said a Flagstaff defense attorney challenging the conduct. Click on the link for more details.

International

DC Event on "Politics of Crime in Mexico" Tomorrow. The Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and the Inter-American Dialogue are hosting an event tomorrow to present the new book "The Politics of Crime in Mexico: Democratic Governance in a Security Trap," by John Bailey. Click on the link for more details and to RSVP.

Mexican Cartel Conflict Expected to Heat Up in Tamaulipas. At least 30 people have been killed in recent days in fighting pitting factions of the Gulf Cartel against each other in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Most of those killing took place around Tampico, in the far south of the state, but in Mexican border towns like Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas are being blamed for an uptick in kidnappings and extortion. Now, there are fears the Zetas could make moves to try to eliminate the Gulf Cartel once and for all, when it is doubly weakened: by the infighting following the arrest of a major Gulf Cartel leader, and by the February arrest of Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who was aiding the Gulf Cartel against the Zetas.

Bermuda Medical Cannabis Activist Asks Jamaica Health Minister for Legal Shipment of Medical Ganja Oil. Bermuda medical marijuana advocate Alan Gordon has sent an open letter to Jamaica's health minister asking for a permit to export enough cannabis oil extract to supply some 300 Bermuda cancer patients with a 2-3 month supply. Gordon said that Bermuda's Cabinet has previously approved import permits from elsewhere on a per-patient basis, but were experiencing trouble with availability, price and quality which Jamaica seems well suited to alleviate. Gordon has also specified that the oil must be grown organically by Rastafarians, as a matter of social justice and "fair trade" principles. Gordon says he is not a Rastafarian but says that after the gravely ill patients, first consideration must be given to Rastafarians as a way of expressing society's remorse for oppression of Rastafarians under the old laws. No response yet from Jamaica.

Chronicle AM -- April 14, 2014

Maryland decriminalizes and becomes a medical marijuana state, a Tennessee hemp bill awaits the governor's signature, a Kentucky omnibus heroin bill appears dead for the session, a campaign is underway to free a Missouri marijuana lifer, and more. Let's get to it:

billboard for Missouri marijuana lifer Jeff Mizanskey
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Governor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley today signed into law Senate Bill 364, making Maryland the 18th decriminalization state. The new law makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program. The measure will officially go into effect on October 1.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) today signed into law House Bill 881, making Maryland the 21st state with a full-fledged medical marijuana law. The bill allows Maryland residents suffering from qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Possession limits and regulations governing cultivation and dispensary facilities will be determined by a state-sanctioned commission prior to implementation. The measure will officially go into effect on June 1.

Kentucky Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) last Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 124, which will allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil. Physicians at state research hospitals will be able to recommend use of the drug.

Colorado Bill Would Add PTSD to List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. Even though marijuana is legal in Colorado, one lawmaker, Rep. Jonathan Signer (D-Longmont) has introduced a bill, House Bill 1364, to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the state medical marijuana program's list of qualifying conditions. Because PTSD affects many veterans, who receive federal benefits, Singer said it's important to provide them with the ability to qualify under the state's medical marijuana law.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Again. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has again rejected the popular name and ballot title for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. These are the same folks that put the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act on the ballot in 2012, but this year, another group, Arkansans for Responsible Medicine has claimed that initiative title. The 2014 Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is now in the signature-gathering phase.

Vermont Lawmakers Advance Dispensary Bill, But Reject Adding PTSD to List of Qualifying Conditions. A bill that would create dispensaries in Vermont has passed out of the House Human Services Committee, but the committee rejected an effort to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. The measure is Senate Bill 247. It has already passed the Senate.

Hemp

Tennessee Hemp Bills Awaits Governor's Signature. Senate Bill 2495 and House Bill 2445, which would reclassify and regulate industrial hemp, have passed the legislature and await the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam (R). The bills would allow Tennessee farmers to grow hemp for research and development purposes. Earlier this year Congress approved language in a federal farm bill that would allow the cultivation of industrial hemp in the agricultural pilot programs in states that have already passed hemp measures.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Appears Dead. A bill that responded to heroin use and sales in the Bluegrass State through a combination of increased treatment, overdose prevention, and harsher criminal penalties will not pass this session, a key legislator said. "There's basically no time left to pass it," Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-Berea), cosponsor of Senate Bill 5, said Friday. It had passed the state Senate, but got stalled in the Judiciary Committee in the Democrat-controlled House. The session ends tomorrow.

Law Enforcement

DEA in Illinois Spying on Indoor Garden Stores. The DEA in Illinois has investigated and raided at least two people after watching them make purchases at a legal local gardening center. Both had shopped at Midwest Hydroganics in Crest Hill. One, Angela Kirking, said she and her pet terrier woke to find four flak-jacketed DEA agents and five Shorewood cops in the bedroom of her Ranchwood Drive home at 5:00am on Oct. 11. At least one of the agents held her at gunpoint before 9 grams were allegedly found. A second person, a man from Channahon, was raided and charged with growing marijuana after shopping at Midwest Hydroganics. In both cases, the DEA took interest after it spotted them shopping at the store. Federal investigators then rooted through garbage and compared utility bills to get search warrants. Kirking's attorney said he is challenging the warrants and that he has heard of more cases linked to DEA spying on a legal business since the story broke.

A Quarter Million Immigrants Have Been Deported For Non-Violent Drug Crimes, Report Finds. The report, an analysis of federal immigration data conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, details how roughly 40,000 people have been deported for drug law violations every year since 2008. That means that nearly 250,000 -- one-quarter of a million -- people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses in just the past six years. A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11%) people deported in 2013 for any reason -- and nearly one in five (19%) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction. The report reveals that simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any crime, and the most common cause of deportation for crimes involving drugs. On average, more than 6,600 people were deported in each of the last two years just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported last year for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.

Florida Bill to Raise Drug Possession Thresholds Passes House. The House has passed a bill increasing the weight threshold for trafficking in oxycodone and hydrocodone in a move to ease what have been called overly harsh sentencing guidelines. Senate Bill 360 moves the current threshold of four grams of either drug to seven grams of oxycodone and 14 grams of hydrocodone.

Sentencing

Campaign On to Free Missouri Marijuana Lifer. The ongoing campaign to win the release of Jeff Mizansky, the only man in Missouri serving a life-without-parole sentence for a nonviolent marijuana charge, are continuing this month with help from Show-Me Cannabis and Change.org. Show-Me Cannabis has bought billboard space on I-70 near Kansas City (and near Sedalia, where Mizanskey was arrested) to bring attention to his case, and a Change.org petition calling for his release now has more than 360,000 signatures. Mizansky has three convictions, all for marijuana. Campaigners will hold a press conference at the state capitol on April 28.

International

New WOLA Report on Colombia's Peace Prospects Released. As negotiations between the leftist FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government continue, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has released a new report, Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia, that analyzes the prospects for a peace accord and the challenges that will follow. Click on the title link to read the report.

Pew Poll Reveals Seismic Shift in Drug Policy Attitudes [FEATURE]

A new national survey released today by the Pew Research Center provides strong evidence that Americans are undergoing a tectonic shift in their views on drug policy. Not only are Americans convinced that marijuana legalization is coming; a majority supports it, and even larger majorities support a fundamental realignment of our drug policies away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment instead of punishment for hard drug users.

rethinking...
Among the key findings of the report was that more than six in ten Americans (63%) say that state governments moving away from mandatory prison terms for drug law violations is a good thing, while just 32% say these policy changes are a bad thing. This is a substantial shift from 2001 when the public was evenly divided (47% good thing vs. 45% bad thing). The majority of all demographic groups, including Republicans and Americans over 65 years old, support this shift.

Similarly, two-thirds (67%) say the government should focus more on providing treatment for people who use drugs like cocaine and heroin. Just 26% think the focus should be more on prosecuting people who use such drugs. The poll did not ask if hard drug users should just be left alone barring harm to others.

"Given that the vast majority of Americans don't think people should be prosecuted for drug possession, it's time to ask the question: Why are we still arresting people for nothing more than drug possession?" asked Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

More than 1.5 million people are arrested in the U.S. every year for a drug law violation. The vast majority -- more than 80% -- are arrested for possession only. Roughly 500,000 Americans are behind bars on any given night for a drug law violation, including more than 55,000 people in state prisons for simple drug possession.

"There's a new consensus that mandatory minimums are no longer appropriate for drug and other nonviolent offenders," said Nadelmann. "This is reflected and confirmed by the growing bipartisan support for rolling back and ending such laws."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/pew-mandatory-minimums-poll.jpg
The passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced, but did not eliminate, sentencing disparities between federal crack and powder cocaine offenders is one example of the emerging reformist consensus. Sentencing reform measures passed by around half the states in the past decade, which have resulted in an absolute decline in state prison populations, have also proven popular with a citizenry increasingly tired of drug war without end.

And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have continued to make a series of moves over the past year indicating that they are serious about reducing mass incarceration and fixing the criminal justice system, including a call from Holder to federal prosecutors to not use mandatory minimum charges if they don't have to.

Likewise, in an otherwise-bitterly-divided Congress, legislators from both sides of the aisle are pushing to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. The reforms are supported by a group of Senators who can only be described as strange bedfellows: Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

At the same time, the Pew poll illuminates what has been a major shift in attitudes on whether the use of marijuana should be legal. As recently as four years ago, about half (52%) said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal; 41% said marijuana use should be legal. Today those numbers are roughly reversed -- 54% favor marijuana legalization while 42% are opposed. Just 16% say it should not be legal for either medical or recreational use.

And no matter respondents' personal feelings for or against marijuana legalization, 75% of them think it is inevitable.

Also, more than two-thirds (69%) said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana for individuals. And nearly the same number (63%) said alcohol was more harmful to society.

"Leadership is needed to overcome the institutional lethargy and vested interest that have stymied meaningful police and sentencing reform," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "The policies are counterproductive, and too many otherwise law-abiding people are getting caught up in the justice system because of them."

"It is good to know that despite the DEA's best efforts the American people are getting scientifically accurate information about marijuana, and the fact that it is objectively less harmful than alcohol to both individual health and society at large. The increase in support since last year's poll shows that more and more Americans understand it's simply bad public policy to steer adults toward alcohol by punishing those who prefer marijuana as a less harmful alternative," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Now that three-quarters of Americans understand taxing and regulating marijuana is inevitable, the writing is on the wall. Congress needs to read it and move forward with legislation allowing states to choose more effective policies without federal interference," Riffle added.

While Nadelmann also greeted the poll results, he warned that it should not be used as fuel for even more, if softer, expansion of the criminal justice system.

"It's good to see yet another poll confirm the results of other state and national polls showing majority support for legalizing marijuana," he said. "And it's nice to see that Americans overwhelmingly support treatment-instead-of-incarceration. But it's important to recognize that there has been overwhelming support for treatment-instead-of-incarceration for well over a decade now -- and that we've reached the point where the public needs to be better educated about the benefits of providing treatment outside the criminal justice system rather than within and through it. It would be a shame if this latest poll result were used to promote drug courts and other coercive, abstinence-only programs rather than meaningful treatment in the community."

Obama Needs to Slap Down His Rogue DEA Chief

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart told a congressional committee today her agency is "fighting back" against Justice Department policies tolerating marijuana in states where it is legal. The president needs to dump her, or at least remind her who the boss is.

Your tax dollars at work (usdoj.gov/dea)
Thanks to the Marijuana Policy Project for the heads up on this. Here's their release on it:

DEA Administrator Tells Congress Her Agency Is “Fighting Back” Against Administration’s Tolerance of Marijuana Legalization                                                               

At a Wednesday House subcommittee hearing, DEA director Michele Leonhart publicly opposed Department of Justice position on legal marijuana in Colorado and Washington and warned of dangers of marijuana legalization … to pets.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Michele Leonhart, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), repeatedly criticized the Obama administration at a hearing Wednesday on the DEA’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

In a memo released in July 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would not interfere with the effective implementation of laws regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adults in Colorado and Washington. When asked by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) during a Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing whether the Obama administration’s tolerant views toward legal marijuana had affected morale at the DEA, which is a branch of the DOJ, Leonhart replied that “our agents are fighting back against those messages. It makes us fight harder.” She had earlier criticized the DOJ for a perceived delay in issuing a response to Washington and Colorado’s new laws, claiming there was “a lot of confusion in those 296 days.”

Leonhart also claimed that public opinion in Colorado is turning against the initiative making marijuana legal, yet two recent polls suggest Colorado residents are more supportive of the law than ever before. A Public Policy Polling survey from March showed that 57% of Colorado voters think marijuana should be legal, and a Quinnipiac poll from February showed 58% support for the state’s legalization law. It was supported by 54.8% of voters in 2012. Finally, Leonhart claimed legalization would be dangerous to pets in Colorado and warned of a surge in veterinary clinic visits due to dogs consuming marijuana.

The Marijuana Policy Project has launched a Change.org petition calling on the president to fire Leonhart and replace her with someone who will base decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology. The petition currently has more than 29,000 signatures and is available at https://www.change.org/petitions/president-barack-obama-fire-anti-marijuana-dea-administrator-michele-leonhart.

"Administrator Leonhart’s comments were shocking," said Dan Riffle, MPP director of federal policies. "The DEA is not simply ignoring the administration’s policies with respect to regulating marijuana, but actively undermining them. Publicly criticizing and questioning the competence of your supervisor would get anyone fired in the private sector. It’s frankly astounding to me that Ms. Leonhart is still employed and American taxpayers continue to foot her $165,000 salary to publicly campaign against the president’s policies. As more Americans recognize that marijuana is safer than alcohol, more think we need to start treating it that way. Michele Leonhart is standing in the way, and it is time for her to go."

Yes, it is time for Michele to go. I would nominate someone like Ethan Nadelmann or Eric Sterling to replace her, but honestly, Zippy the Pinhead would do as well.

Chronicle AM -- April 2, 2014

A new Pew Research poll has some surprising and heartening results, Madison (WI) says legalize it, Wisconsin passes a CBD medical marijuana bill, misbehaving cops get noticed, the Russians are griping about the Aghan poppy crop again, and more. Let's get to it:

Aghanistan opium poppy field (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin, Voters Say Legalize It. Voters in Dane County approved a non-binding advisory referendum calling on legislators to legalize marijuana in the land of the Cheese Heads. The referendum passed with 64.5% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate General Laws Committee heard testimony on a medical marijuana bill Tuesday, but took no action. The measure, Senate Bill 951, is not expected to pass this session.

Wisconsin CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Legislature. The Wisconsin legislature has approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. Assembly Bill 726 passed the Senate Tuesday, the last day of the legislative session. It had already passed the Assembly.

Drug Policy

Pew Poll Finds Tectonic Shift Underway on Drug Policy. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that the public is ready for a truce in America's long-running drug war. Two-thirds favored treatment over jail for heroin and cocaine users and strong majorities said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana. Click on the link for full poll results, or read our feature story on it in this issue.

Prescription Drugs

US Senator Calls on DEA to Implement Prescription Drug Take Back Program. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to press the DEA to implement a 2010 law based on bipartisan legislation she sponsored. The law expands drug take back programs. "Prescription drug abuse has reached crisis levels and is leading to a spike in heroin abuse as well, and we should spare no effort to reverse this deadly trend," Klobuchar said. "My drug take back law will help keep drugs out of the wrong hands and prevent prescription drug abuse as well as heroin abuse. The Administration needs to implement this common sense law so that we can give families new tools to help fight this devastating epidemic." No word yet on any DEA response.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Occupy Activists Given Drugs By Cops Can Sue, Judge Rules. In a bizarre story out of Minneapolis, a federal judge has ruled that Occupy activists plied with marijuana by Minnesota police doing a drug identification training exercise during the protests can sue. Law enforcement agencies that employed the officers involved had filed a motion to throw out the case, but US District Court Judge John Tunheim rejected the motion, noting that "in light of the clear prohibition on providing illicit drugs to citizens," the agencies "are not entitled to the protection of qualified immunity." Click on the link for all the weird details.

Lawsuit Charges Corruption, Harassment Among Alabama Narcs. A former Walker County deputy who worked for the department's Narcotics Enforcement Team before he was fired has filed a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff charging he was fired for cooperating in an FBI investigation of his boss, who killed himself after stealing drug money to pay personal bills and support his mistress. Click on the link for all the sordid details.

International

Russian Drug Czar Charges NATO Doesn't Care About Afghan Drug Production. NATO's decision to phase out cooperation with Russia in training anti-drug officers for Afghanistan reveals the alliance's unwillingness to really combat drug production in this country, Viktor Ivanov, the chief of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, told Interfax on Wednesday. "This is not surprising. What could you have expected from NATO?" Ivanov said. "NATO has long been pursuing a policy aimed at the presence of its military component in Afghanistan. Now they are pulling out of this country, leaving massive drug production there," Ivanov said. Afghanistan accounts for nearly 90% of the world's illicit opium production, according to the UN.

Chronicle AM -- March 17, 2014

Alaska state agencies complain that legalization will cost money (and they want some of it), Vermont cops complain the governor is soft on pot, federal prosecutors complain about reforming mandatory minimums, and more. Let's get to it:

What will keep this Rasta smiling? Jamaican ganja farmers have some ideas. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative Dead for 2014. The number of active marijuana legalization initiatives in California has dropped to one after the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative failed to qualify for the ballot by its signature-gathering deadline. That leaves only the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act, which, barring a miracle, isn't going to make the ballot, either. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures by April 18, but only has 10,000. The big money is waiting for 2016 in California.

FBI Refuses to Do Washington State Marijuana Industry Background Checks. The FBI is refusing to do criminal history background checks on people applying for legal marijuana licenses in Washington state, even though it has done such checks in Colorado. The agency has balked for the past year at requests from state officials, and refused to tell the Associated Press why. The state has issued three licenses so far; for those, they relied on background checks by the Washington State Patrol, which would catch in-state criminal convictions, but might miss out-of-state ones.

Alaska Agencies Claim Legalization Will Cost Millions. In a new report, Alaska state agencies said that if the marijuana legalization initiative passes there, it will cost the state between $3.7 million and $7 million to implement and enforce the new law. Included in that figure are law enforcement requests for "at least three additional Alaska State Trooper positions to target the illegal diversion and exportation of marijuana lawfully cultivated in Alaska" and nearly $1.5 million for a media campaign to warn of stoned driving and training for troopers to recognize when a driver is high. The report doesn't address increased tax revenues from legalization.

Vermont Cops Accuse Governor of Being Soft on Pot. The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, Vermont Sheriffs Association and the Vermont Police Association said in a press release Friday that they are united against efforts for marijuana legalization and that, while they have previously expressed concern about Gov. Peter Shumlin's (D) "tolerance of marijuana," their concerns had been ignored. They also called marijuana "a gateway drug."

Washington Legislature Approves Sale of Hash and Hash Oil. The state legislature has approved a bill that would legalize the sale of hashish and hash oil at state-licensed marijuana retail outlets.House Bill 2304 now goes to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

Medical Marijuana

HHS Gives Go-Ahead for MAPS PTSD Research Study. The federal Department of Health and Human Services granted permission Thursday for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to purchase research-grade marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for its planned study of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD. MAPS notes that this is the first time in the 22 years it has been trying to start marijuana drug research that it has actually won permission to purchase marijuana from NIDA. It's not quite a done deal yet, though; the DEA still as to approve. MAPS said it was "optimistic" DEA would do so.

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Initiative. A University of North Florida poll released Monday has the state's medical marijuana amendment initiative well-positioned to win in November. The initiative has already qualified for the ballot. The poll had 74% of registered voters planning to vote for it. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% approval to pass.

Iowa Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 81%. In a new Quinnipiac Poll, 81% of Iowa voters said they would support "allowing adults in Iowa to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it." Even among Republicans, 68% agreed. That's in sharp contrast to a recent Iowa Poll that had only 59% supporting "legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes."

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Wants No Jobless Benefits for Fired Medical Marijuana Users. Michigan's leading business group is urging the state appeals court to rule out jobless benefits for people who are fired for using medical marijuana. The move comes as the court weighs the cases of people who sought benefits after being fired for using medical marijuana. Lower court judges have ruled in favor of the workers, who argued that they shouldn't be denied benefits after losing their jobs for using marijuana legally under state law.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Has 15% of Necessary Signatures. A signature-gathering campaign to put medical marijuana on the November ballot has collected about 15% of the signatures needed to qualify, Arkansans for Compassionate Care said on Thursday. The initiative is one of two gathering signatures this year. It has until July 7 to hand in 62,000 qualified signatures, and has about 10,000 so far.

Nevada Board of Health Approves Dispensary Regulations. The Board of Health gave its approval Friday to rules to regulate new dispensaries. The next and final step is approval by a legislative commission on March 28. A 2013 law allowing dispensaries goes into effect April 1. But even then, there will be a 45-day notice announcing the date applications will be accepted. Once the application period opens, there will only be a 10-day window for accepting them. After the application period closes, the state must make a decision on each application within 90 days of receiving it. And then dispensaries have to grow their supply. Maybe by year's end…

Drug Policy

House Passes Bill to Force President to Enforce Federal Drug Laws. The Republican-controlled US House last week passed the Enforce the Law Act (House Resolution 4138), which would allow Congress to sue the president for failing to execute federal laws. While the bill is a broad attack on the Obama administration, one key supporter, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), singled out the "selective non-enforcement" of part of the Controlled Substance Act in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states as a major concern. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the bill was "dead on arrival" in the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Nevada County Settles Up in Interstate-80 Cash Seizure Cases. Humboldt County, Nevada, where sheriff's deputies developed a habit of stopping travelers on I-80 and seizing their cash through threats of arrest or impoundment even though no drugs were found, has settled a lawsuit over the practice. Two men from whom thousands of dollars were taken sued and have won their money back and attorneys' fees. The county District Attorney's Office also said Friday it had launched an internal review of the county's "forfeiture program," but that it had seen no evidence of illegal stops or other wrongdoing on the part of Sheriff Ed Kilgore or his deputies. The lawsuits claimed the cash seizures were part of a pattern of stopping drivers for speeding as a pretext for drug busts in violation of the Constitution.

Illinois Bill to Ban Kratom Filed. Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) has filed a bill to outlaw kratom, a Southeast Asian herb with psychoactive properties. The plant is not banned federally, although the DEA has it on its list of "drugs of concern." Indiana is the only state so far to have criminalized it, designating its active ingredients as controlled substances. The Illinois bill is House Bill 5526.

Sentencing

Some Federal Prosecutors Oppose Eliminating Mandatory Minimums. Attorney General Holder's move to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for most drug offenders is running into flak from some prosecutors, The Washington Post reported Thursday. They complained that "tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command." The prosecutors spoke out at a hearing of the US Sentencing Commission where Holder endorsed changing federal sentencing guidelines to reduce drug sentences in most cases.

International

NGOs to Address Inter-American Human Rights Commission on Drug Policy and Human Rights. For the first time, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has granted an audience to hemispheric civil society groups to address the impact of the war on drugs on human rights in the Americas. The audience will take place in Washington, DC, on March 25. Click on the link to see the impressive list of organizations that will participate.

Jamaican Rastas Want Legal Marijuana Monopoly. The newly formed Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association said licenses to grow and sell marijuana upon legalization should be limited to Rastafarians and other poor people, who have been victimized for decades for cultivating the herb. "We will not stand by and watch anybody outside of Rastafari and grassroots people take over this product. And we make no apology," association President Ras Iyah V declared during his address at the launch of the organisation at the MXIII Lawn in Negril on Sunday night. "We are saying this loud and clear to the Government, we are saying it to society, and we are saying it to the international community. Otherwise, we will take to the streets and turn Jamaica upside down -- and we make no apology. Because we not going take baton lick and brutality and all of a sudden now when the legalization aspect come, a some rich people come tek it ova -- people who used to scoff and scorn at the very mention of the herb name ganja," he added. "The WHGFA's objectives are to make sure that those who have paid the price -- who have been going to jail, going to prison, getting the baton licks, who have been planting the herb and it get cut down by police and soldiers, and yet have been persistent with this product -- that the rights of these individuals are protected."

Mexico Moves to Rein In Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Leery of having created a Frankenstein monster, Mexican authorities moved last week to put anti-cartel vigilante groups on notice that their illegal tactics will no longer be tolerated. Locals who saw the vigilantes as saviors from cartel extortion and threats now complain of similar behavior from the vigilantes, and the government says it now no longer needs them. Several vigilante leaders have been arrested on murder and other charges.

Responding to Holder on Heroin, Reformers Call for a Health Direction [FEATURE]

US Attorney General Eric Holder had heroin on his mind Monday, using his weekly video message and an accompanying press release to draw attention to rising heroin overdose deaths and vowing to combat the problem with a combination of law enforcement, treatment, prevention, and harm reduction measures. Drug reformers generally responded positively, but called on the Obama administration to seek comprehensive, science- and health-based solutions instead of engaging in more drug war.

Attorney General Holder takes on heroin (usdoj.gov)
"Addiction to heroin and other opiates -- including certain prescription pain-killers -- is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life -- and all too often, with deadly results. Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45%," Holder said. "Scientific studies, federal, state and local investigations, addiction treatment providers, and victims reveal that the cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse. The transition to -- and increase in -- heroin abuse is a sad but not unpredictable symptom of the significant increase in prescription drug abuse we've seen over the past decade."

What Holder didn't mention is that the rise in prescription pain pill misuse is tied to a massive increase in prescribing opioids for pain in the past decade. A study published last fall found that between 2000 and 2010, the amount of opioids prescribed for non-cancer pain had nearly doubled, and that during the same period, the percentage of people complaining of pain who received prescriptions for opioids jumped from 11% to nearly 20%. But reining in prescriptions generally isn't the answer either.

But at the same time, a 2011 Institute of Medicine report found that while "opioid prescriptions for chronic non-cancer pain [in the US] have increased sharply… 29% of primary care physicians and 16% of pain specialists report they prescribe opioids less often than they think appropriate because of concerns about regulatory repercussions."

As the IOM report noted, having more opioid prescriptions doesn't necessarily mean that "patients who really need opioids [are] able to get them." Opioid misuse and under-use of opioids for pain treatment when they are needed are problems that coexist in society. Pain pill crackdowns have also been found to result in increased use of street heroin, as a Washington Post article last week reports -- two additional reasons advocates prefer public health approaches to heroin more than law enforcement -- and why great care should be taken with the law enforcement measures.

"It's clear that opiate addiction is an urgent -- and growing -- public health crisis. And that's why Justice Department officials, including the DEA, and other key federal, state, and local leaders, are fighting back aggressively," Holder continued. "Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both."

Holder pointed to DEA efforts to prevent diversion of pharmaceutical pain-relievers to non-medical users, mentioning investigations of doctors, pharmacists, and distributors.

"With DEA as our lead agency, we have adopted a strategy to attack all levels of the supply chain to prevent pharmaceutical controlled substances from getting into the hands of non-medical users," Holder said.

Cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Holder also pointed out that DEA had opened some 4,500 heroin investigations since 2011 and promising more to come.

But, as Holder noted, "enforcement alone won't solve the problem," so the administration is working with civil society and law enforcement "to increase our support for education, prevention, and treatment."

And although he didn't use the words "harm reduction," Holder is also calling for some harm reduction measures. He urged law enforcement and medical first responders to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) and signaled support for "911 Good Samaritan" laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose.

Holder got restrained plaudits from drug reformers for his small steps toward harm reduction measures, but they called for a more comprehensive approach.

"Preventing fatal overdose requires a comprehensive solution," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While naloxone is an absolutely critical component, we need a scientific, health-based approach to truly address the roots of the problem. This includes improving access to effective, non-coercive drug treatment for everyone who wants it, as well as improving access to medication-assisted treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine."

Naloxone (Narcan) can reverse opiate overdoses (wikimedia.org)
Ralston also added that just making naloxone available to cops and EMTs wasn't good enough. Friends and family members, not "first responders," are most often the people who encounter others in the throes of life-threatening overdoses.

"While we applaud Attorney General Holder's clear support for expanding access to naloxone, particularly among law enforcement and 'first responders,' we urge him to clarify that he supports naloxone access for anyone who may be the first person to discover an opiate overdose in progress," she said.

But Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs, applauded the move, which could help soften reflexive law enforcement opposition to carrying the overdose antidote, an attitude reflected in the the International Association of Chiefs of Police's opposition to all harm reduction measures.

"Police may not be the first to embrace change, but we are slowly evolving," said Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.). "We cannot arrest our way out of a public health problem, and it's clear that the Attorney General is beginning to understand that and to embrace the role of harm reduction in reducing death, disease and addiction in our communities. We still have a long way to go, but this is a good sign."

The idea is "a no-brainer," according to executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.). "It is simply immoral not to support something proven to save lives for political reasons," Franklin added. "Yes, police send a message when they choose not to carry naloxone. But that message is not 'don't do drugs,' it's 'if you make the wrong decisions in your life, we don't care about you.' That offends me both as a former cop and as a human being."

The nuanced pushback to Holder's law enforcement/prevention/treatment/hint of harm reduction approach is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Decriminalizing and destigmatizing now illicit drug use, as has been the case in Portugal, is an obvious next step, and removing the question of drugs from the purview of the criminal justice system altogether would be even better. Still, that a sitting attorney general is calling for treatment and harm reduction as well as law enforcement is a good thing, and for reformers to be calling him on not going far enough is a good thing, too.

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