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A Maryland Lawmaker's Paradigm-Shifting Approach to the Heroin and Pain Pill Crisis [FEATURE]

With nearly 47,000 Americans dying of drug overdoses in 2014 -- more than from gunshots or car crashes -- the problem of heroin and prescription opioid (pain pill) addiction is getting well-deserved attention. From community town halls to state capitals, as well as in Congress and on the rival presidential campaigns, the crisis is spawning demands for solutions.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dan-morhaim-180px.jpg
Dan Morhaim
The response, in general, has been more sympathetic than to earlier waves of hard drug use, such as heroin in the 1960s or crack cocaine in the 1980s, which brought down the harsh drug war policies of Nixon and Reagan. Now, there are more calls for drug treatment than for further law enforcement crackdowns, police departments are carrying overdose reversal drugs, and public health agencies are taking on a more prominent role.

But addicts continue to be arrested, with all the deleterious consequences that entails, and, when it comes to policy, the problem of addiction remains largely in the realm of criminal justice. Harm reduction practices proven in other parts of the world improve both the lives of drug users and those of the communities they live in continue to be shunted aside in the US.

That could change in at least one state. Veteran Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) has just introduced a paradigm-shifting package of bills that would begin to move the state's posture toward drug use from prohibition to public health and harm reduction. Morhaim, a practicing physician with three decades of frontline hospital ERs, brings to his approach a vision formed by that experience.

If enacted, Morhaim's package would mark a radical, but commonsensical, humane, and scientifically-supported shift in Maryland's drug policies. Here's what it includes:

  • Emergency Room Treatment on Demand. House Bill 908 provides treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings. The bill requires acute care hospitals to have a counselor available or on-call at all times and specified arrangements for transferring patients to appropriate treatment settings. Addicted patients make up a large percentage of uninsured visits to ERs, making them an ideal place for initial therapeutic contact.
  • Safe Consumption Sites. House Bill 1212 allows individuals to use drugs in approved facilities while supervised by trained staff who also provide sterile equipment, monitor the person for overdose and offer treatment referrals. Similar on-going programs in Australia, Canada, and several European countries have eliminated overdose deaths, reduced the spread of disease, and provided points of accessto the most hard-to-reach drug users.
  • Drug Decriminalization. House Bill 1219 decriminalizes the possession and use of small quantities of drugs: one gram of meth or heroin, two grams of cocaine, 10 hits of MDMA, 150 micrograms of LSD. The object is to keep otherwise non-criminal drug users out of the criminal justice system, saving resources and avoiding saddling more residents with criminal records.
  • Heroin Maintenance. House Bill 1267 allows a four-year pilot study of "poly-morphone assisted treatment" with pharmaceutical grade opioids, including heroin, to treat under medical supervision a small number of hardcore users who have proven resistant to other forms of treatment. Ongoing heroin maintenance programs in several European countries have been shown to reduce illegal drug use, decrease crime, reduce the black market for heroin, and lead to less chaotic lives for their participants.

The package didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Morhaim's experiences in the ER, where he dealt not only with direct consequences of drug use -- overdoses, infections -- but also direct consequences of drug prohibition -- old women injured in muggings for black market drug money, the toll of dead and wounded in black market drug turf battles -- colored his approach.

"I'm a physician, not a prosecuting attorney," Morhaim told the Chronicle. "I come at this from a public health perspective. We talk about 'surges' to fight this and that, but what we haven't had in this country is a surge in the public health approach, real, substantive public health. This is different, and some will see it as controversial, but I'm comfortable with that. This is something that's really corroding the heart and soul of our society."

He wasn't alone.

"I've had a lot of conversations, and my district has generally been very supportive of these kind of innovative things. No negative feedback. There's a broad consensus that the war on drugs is a failure," Morhaim said. "People are really cognizant of that. And I'm an Emergency Room physician at a Level II trauma center, I've also done healthcare for the homeless. I've been on the front lines, seen the carnage, the death, the violence, and the way this affects the families, and I'm speaking from true experience, and people respect that."

Not only did Morhaim have support in his community, he had support from a strong group of advocates and experts.

"As things were coming to a head, Delegate Morhaim reached out to us at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)," said DPA staff attorney Lindsay LaSalle, who was involved in developing the proposals. "He said he felt like he could offer progressive solutions to the crisis and he wanted our subject matter expertise to help develop those proposals."

DPA, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), whose executive director, Neill Franklin, is a former Baltimore police officer, and the Open Society Foundations joined with academics, lawyers, doctors, and harm reductionists to develop and refine the policy proposals that became the bill package. Local institutions of higher learning, including the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University, had academics involved in the effort as well.

Passing the bills won't be easy, and it's not likely to happen this year, but Morhaim and his supporters are playing to win in the not-too-distant future.

"Dan is currently on the second year of a four year term," LaSalle said. "These bills were introduced strategically this term with the understanding that it would be a year of educating colleagues and generating positive media coverage. This is always a long game; we don't expect passage this year, but we hope to gain traction on one or more of these in the next two or three years."

"I've been in the legislature a long time, and I've learned you just have to be persistent, you listen and address concerns, maybe you accept an amendment to a bill," Morhaim said.

He pointed to the successful effort to get medical marijuana through the legislature.

"On that, people had suggestions, and we said let's fix it in the bill," he recalled. "Law enforcement didn't oppose it because I sat down and worked with them."

He also recalled legislative battles he had fought -- and won -- around smoking in restaurants and the use of safety seats for children.

"Banning smoking in restaurants seemed impossible in 1995, but now it's commonplace," he said. "The same with kids safety seats. Both of those were hard-fought on the political level, but when we talk to people, we can convince them. These things take time, but when you recognize what's not working, then you can explore what is. People are looking for answers."

Although Morhaim's package of bills is the most comprehensive, explicit harm reduction interventions are being considered in other places, too. California will see a safe consumption site bill introduced next week, and activists and officials in a number of cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle are laying the groundwork for such facilities at the local level.

"We're getting traction on these issues," said LaSalle. "Nevada was the first state with a heroin-assisted treatment bill, and while it didn't get out of committee, we had robust hearings, with international experts. And that California bill will be moving forward this session. Drug treatment and harm reduction don't always go hand in hand, but in this case the treatment community is cosponsoring or officially supporting safe consumption sites."

Meanwhile, some states are moving in the opposite direction. In Maine, the administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul Le Page (R) is seeking to reverse a law passed last year that defelonized drug possession. (The rambunctious Republican has also called for guillotining drug dealers, blamed black drug dealers for impregnating white Maine girls, and called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers.) And next door in New Hampshire, the attorney general wants to start charging heroin suppliers with murder in the event of fatal overdoses. Prosecutors in other states have also dusted off long-unused statutes to bring murder or manslaughter charges.

"We need to ask those people why they're doubling down on a failed policy," said LaSalle. "Why would this work now when it's just more of the same that's been in place for four decades, and now we have use and overdoses and Hep C increasing."

"I understand the impulse to 'Do Something!' in response, and because criminalization has been our go-to response, it seems logical that increasing penalties or prosecutions is a way to solve the problem, but we know, we have shown, that it is not. It's frustrating."

It can be worse than frustrating, too, LaSalle noted.

"Using murder charges as a whipping stick in the case of overdoses is really counterproductive," she said. "If the goal is to reduce overdoses, this is going to reduce the likelihood of anyone calling 911. Maybe they shared their stash, and if they could face murder charges, they now have a serious disincentive to call."

Clearly, the war on drugs is not over. But after half a century of relying predominantly on the forces of repression to deal with drug use, a new vision, both smarter and more humane, is emerging. Now comes the political fight to enact it.

Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init Qualifies for Ballot, VT Gov Endorses Pot Legalization Bill, More... (1/28/16)

Busy, busy. State legislatures are in full swing, and the bills just keep coming. Meanwhile, Florida's medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot, Vermont's governor endorses legalization, and more.

Heroin is on the agenda at statehouses this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Colorado's Legalization. A Colorado US District Court judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the legality of marijuana legalization in the state. The lawsuit was filed by a Washington, DC-based anti-marijuana group, the Safe Streets Alliance, and asked the court to find the state and Pueblo County guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The judge in the case rejected the claims, concluding that private parties have no standing to seek recourse for alleged violations of the Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land. Another lawsuit, filed by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, is still being decided.

New Mexico Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization. Three out five (61%) adult New Mexicans support legalizing and regulating marijuana, according to a new poll from Research & Polling. The poll comes as the legislature ponders two bills, one that would amend the state constitution to let voters decide the issue, and one that is a straightforward legalization bill. The bills are Senate Joint Resolution 5 and House Bill 75, respectively.

Vermont Governor Endorses Legalization Bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin has endorsed the Senate Judiciary Committee's legalization bill, Senate Bill 137. "The War on Drugs has failed when it comes to marijuana prohibition," Gov. Shumlin said. "Under the status quo, marijuana use is widespread, Vermonters have little difficulty procuring it for personal use, and the shadows of prohibition make it nearly impossible to address key issues like prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, and dealing with those driving under the influence who are already on Vermont's roads. The system has failed. The question for us is how do we deal with that failure. Vermont can take a smarter approach that regulates marijuana in a thoughtful way, and this bill provides a framework for us to do that."

DC Poll Finds Residents Want District to Move Ahead With Regulation -- Despite Congress. A substantial majority of District residents believe Mayor Bowser should move forward with taxation and regulation of marijuana despite Congressional prohibition, according to a survey conducted over the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Drug Policy Alliance, DC Vote, DC Working Families and the Washington City Paper. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents believe the mayor should pursue a legal method (such as use of reserve funds) to implement taxation and regulation of marijuana in the District. In light of congressional interference attempting to prevent such regulation, 63% of residents view marijuana legalization as a statehood issue for the District.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Releases Report on State Medical Marijuana Programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded harshly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

California Bill to Halt Medical Marijuana Bans Heads to Governor's Desk. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for the November Ballot. The group behind the effort, United for Care, said Wednesday the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Injection Drug Use Driving Appalachian Hepatitis B Infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that acute Hepatitis B was up 114% in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia between 2009 and 2013. The report found that injection drug was tied to 75% of the new cases. Unlike Hep C, Hep B can be prevented with a vaccine, but vaccine coverage is low among adults nationwide.

Maine Governor Wants Gunowners to Shoot Drug Dealers. Just days after saying Maine should revive the guillotine to execute drug dealers, Gov. Paul LePage suggested just shooting them instead. "I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry," LePage said in an on-camera interview in Lewiston. "Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they're killing our kids," the governor said. He then denied that he was encouraging vigilantism.

New York Assembly Minority Task Force Releases Report on Heroin Addiction. The task force has come out with suggestions for combating heroin and opiate addiction. The recommendations include earlier drug education, involuntary "emergency medical" detention of addicts, and a felony "death by dealer" statute. Now, the task force must work with Assembly Democrats to create legislation.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Killed in Committee. The Health and Human Services voted to kill a bill that would have required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Even the Republican governor had opposed the bill.

International

Producers of Prohibited Plants Issue Declaration Ahead of UNGASS. The Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants (coca, opium, marijuana) is demanding that growers be heard at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in April. In a joint declaration from producers in 14 countries, the group urged an end to forced eradication of drug crops, the removal of the three plants from international drug control treaties, and sustainable rural economic development. Click the title link for a full list of participants and recommendations.

Chronicle AM: Colombia Legalizes MedMJ, MD MedMJ Delayed Until 2017, More (12/22/15)

DPA ups the pressure on Louisiana Gov. Jindal to free Bernard Noble, Maryland patients face further delays, Colombian patients won't, and more.

Colombian President Santos signs medical marijuana decree today. (colombia.gob)
Marijuana Policy

The Drug Policy Alliance Requests Sentencing Reprieve for Louisianan Given 13-year Prison Sentence for Possession of Two Marijuana Cigarettes. The Drug Policy Alliance today formally requested the Louisiana governor today to grant Bernard Noble a gubernatorial reprieve and release Mr. Noble from prison, where he has served more than four years behind bars having been sentenced to a term of 13.3 years of hard labor without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes. "The sentence inflicted by Louisiana on Mr. Noble for simple, low-level marijuana possession, on a gainfully employed father with absolutely no history of any serious or violent crime, is a travesty," said Daniel Abrahamson, senior legal advisor to the Drug Policy Alliance. "Mr. Noble's sentence does not enhance public safety. It has devastated Mr. Noble and his family. And it flies in the face of what Louisianans believe and what current law provides. Governor Jindal should exercise mercy and use his power as Governor to advance fairness, justice and compassion by issuing Mr. Noble a sentencing reprieve."

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Introduced. For the third year in a row, Rep. Jim Byrd (D-Cheyenne) has introduced a bill to decriminalize pot possession. House Bill 3 would decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana, with a $50 for less than a half ounce and a $100 fine for up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Patients Will Wait Until 2017 to Get Their Medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission said Monday that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

New Jersey Senate Panel Approves Employment Protections for Patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 Monday to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

Harm Reduction

Indiana County to Start Needle Exchange in Bid to Fend Off Hep C. Monroe County will become the fourth in the state to authorize needle exchange programs after officials there declared a public health emergency amid an outbreak of Hepatitis C. That declaration allows the county to start a needle exchange program.

International

Colombia Legalizes Medical Marijuana. President Juan Manuel Santos today signed a decree legalizing medical marijuana. "This decree allows licenses to be granted for the possession of seeds, cannabis plants and marijuana," he said from the presidential palace. "It places Colombia in the group of countries that are at the forefront... in the use of natural resources to fight disease."

Israel's Top Ethicist Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Professor Asa Kasher, described as "Israel's preeminent expert on ethics and philosophy," told the Knesset Committee on Controlled Substances Tuesday that restrictions on medical use of marijuana violated the principles of medical ethics and that general legalization "can be promoted, but only if the process includes relevant regulation."

Spending Bill Just Passed By Congress Includes Important Drug Reforms

The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects, and it also softens a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs.

But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

The language blocking the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana where it is legal also came in the form of an amendment from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was passed last year, but had to be renewed this year. In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sponsored the amendment.

Drug and criminal justice reformers welcomed the progress on Capitol Hill.

"The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It's encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies."

"Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "It's very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state's rights and the rights of patients."

Reformers also cheered the softening of a ban on states and localities spending federal AIDS funds on needle exchange programs. The ban was put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988, and repealed in 2009 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.

Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding, but not completely. There is still a ban on federal funding of syringes for the programs, but funds can be used for other program expenses such as staff, if a local or state authority has issued an emergency finding.

"Syringe access programs are a sound public health intervention, rooted in science, and proven to drastically reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C," said DPA's Collins. "Lifting this archaic ban will save thousands of lives."

"Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity," said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. "This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles."

Needle exchange programs are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne diseases and are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and US Conference of Mayors, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International Red Cross-Red Crescent Society.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: House Leaders Offer Sentencing Reforms, FL & OH Pot Polls, MI MedMJ Bills Move, More (10/8/15)

The House leadership rolls out a sentencing reform package, new polls show marijuana legalization majorities in Florida and Ohio, the Duke City still can't have decriminalization, and more.

Dispensaries could be coming soon in Michigan. Legislation is moving. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization, Overwhelming One For Medical Marijuana. A New Quinnipiac University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 51% and support for medical marijuana at 87%. The state has a CBD medical marijuana law, legislators are proposing expanding it, and there is a medical marijuana initiative campaign underway, too. Click on the link for more poll details and methodology.

Massachusetts Legalization Campaign Halfway There on Signature Gathering. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts says it has already collected some 47,000 signatures, half of its goal of 100,000. The initiative needs just under 65,000 valid voter signatures by November 18. No word yet on how the rival Bay State Repeal, which has its own legalization initiative, is doing.

As Initiative Vote Looms, Ohio Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has generic support for legalization at 53%, just about where it was a year ago. The poll comes as voters there will decide next month on the fate of a controversial legalization initiative from ResponsibleOhio -- Issue 3 on the November ballot. The poll did not specifically ask voters about support for that measure. Click on the title link for more poll results and methodology.

Albuquerque Mayor's Decriminalization Veto Upheld (Again). For the second time in as many years, the Albuquerque city council has passed a decriminalization ordinance, the mayor has vetoed it, and the council has been unable to override the veto. An attempt to override Mayor Richard Berry's (R) latest veto failed Wednesday night on a 5-4 vote along party lines.

Medical Marijuana

As Clock Ticks, Calls on California Governor to Sign Medical Marijuana Bills. Law enforcement and the cannabis industry, as well as cities and counties and state lawmakers, are all calling on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign a package of comprehensive, statewide medical marijuana regulation bills without delay. The bills are Assembly Bill 266, Senate Bill 653, and Assembly Bill 243. Brown has until Sunday to act. If he doesn't the bills will become law without his signature.

Florida Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) has filed House Bill 307, which would allow patients to use medical marijuana under the state's "investigational drug" law. Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) said he would file a companion measure in the Senate.

Michigan House Approves Dispensaries, Edibles Bills. The House Wednesday voted 95-11 to approve House Bill 4209, which would create a state board to regulate dispensaries, as well as approving bills to allow for the use of edibles and to set up a tax structure. The measures now head to the state Senate.

Harm Reduction

Expert Panel Calls for Injection Drug Users to Have Access to Hep C Treatment. An international expert panel convened by the International Network for Hepatitis in Substance Users is recommending that injection drug users be offered drugs to cure the disease, as well offered comprehensive social support and harm reduction services. The recommendations were published this month in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Sentencing

House Leaders Announce Sentencing Reform Deal. House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) Wednesday announced a deal on sentencing reform with his counterpart Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). The bill -- The Sentencing Reform Act -- takes a similar approach to the Senate's Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, announced last week, although this bill contains new problematic provisions. "This is not the legislation we would have drafted, but we are encouraged that we now have bills in the House and Senate that tackle similar issues and that move the ball down the field for sentencing reform," said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are more optimistic than ever that a bill will land on the President's desk."

Chronicle AM: Needle Exchanges Spread in WVA, Obama Admin Eases Buprenorphine Restrictions, More (9/18/15)

It's looking like Arizona will vote on marijuana legalization next year, the Obama administration eases restrictions on the opiate maintenance drug buprenorphine, needle exchanges expand in West Virginia, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative on Track With Signature Gathering. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said Thursday that it has already gathered 75,000 signatures, putting the group about one-third of the way to its goal of gathering 230,000 by July 2016. The group needs more than 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A second group, Arizonans for Mindful Regulation wants to put its own initiative on the ballot, but has gathered only about 6,000 signatures so far.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Obama Administration Makes Big Announcement Addressing Heroin Epidemic. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burrell said Thursday that her agency would rewrite regulations to make it easier for doctors to treat opiate addiction with buprenorphine in a bid to get a handle on opiate abuse and addiction. "We need to lift people out of opioid-use disorder through medication-assisted treatment," Burwell said. "This epidemic is multifaceted, and we need to respond with the best solutions that medicine and behavioral therapy can provide together, so we need to increase the use of buprenorphine, which can help us treat opioid use disorder when combined with psycho-social support."

Ohio Bill Would Require Insurers to Cover Tamper-Resistant Drugs. A bipartisan pair of legislators have introduced a bill that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for tamper-resistant drugs that are more difficult to abuse. Reps. Robert Schrager (R-Findlay) and Nickie Antonion (D-Cleveland) said the measure is necessary because the long-term cost of opiate abuse in the state will cost the state millions of dollars. The bill has not yet appeared on the state legislative website.

Harm Reduction

West Virginia County to Begin Needle Exchange Program. Harrison County plans to move forward with a needle exchange/harm reduction program after hearing of the success of a similar program in Morgantown. The Morgantown exchange began in 2013, when 34 local residents tested positive for Hepatitis C. There have been 118 Hep C infections in Harrison County this year. It is a regional problem -- West Virginia and Kentucky have the highest Hep C infection rates in the country, many of them tied to intravenous drug use.

Chronicle AM: Truckers Oppose Hair Drug Tests, TX Drug Felon Food Stamp Ban Ending, More (8/20/2015)

Asset forfeiture reform is moving in Michigan, Texas is about to end its ban on food stamps for drug felons, Brazil's high court takes up a case that could lead to drug decriminalization, the Teamsters and other labor groups pan hair drug testing, and more.

Truckers and other labor groups are urging the House to reject hair drug testing. (wikimedia/Veronica538)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Chamber of Commerce Joins Opposition to Legalization Initiative. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it would "strongly oppose" the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative and will donate $100,000 to defeat it at the polls. The chamber cited worries over workplace safety. The initiative campaign said it was not surprised, given that chambers of commerce in other states where legalization has been an issue have always opposed it.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Asset Forfeiture Reform Package Wins Senate Panel Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a package of bills reforming civil asset forfeiture. House Bills 4499 and 4503-4506 all passed unanimously. Five of the bills increase reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies, while two bills would raise standards in drug and public nuisance forfeiture cases from "a preponderance of evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The committee did not vote on House Bill 4508, which would have barred the seizure of vehicles used to purchase less than an ounce of marijuana, after committee lawyers said it would legalize marijuana.

Drug Policy

Texas to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. Beginning September 1, Texas becomes the latest state to opt out of a federal ban on food stamps for drug felons that was enacted as part of the 1996 federal welfare reform bill. Many states opted out immediately, and now only a handful maintain the ban. They are Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Drug Testing

Teamsters, Other Unions Urge House to Reject Hair Testing. A coalition of labor groups has sent a letter to House lawmakers dealing with transportation issues asking them to reject a recent Senate proposal to let trucking companies use hair testing for drugs instead of urine testing. The Senate proposal is part of a six-year highway bill. "We urge the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to reject efforts to allow hair to be used for federal drug tests before the validity and reliability of this testing method can be determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, the groups, including the Teamsters and a branch of the AFL-CIO, wrote. Urine testing, which detects recent drug use, has "proven effective," the groups said. Hair drug testing detects drug use going back months.

Harm Reduction

Third Indiana County Gets Emergency Needle Exchanges. The state health commissioner has declared a public health emergency in Fayette County because of high levels of Hepatitis C infections. That will allow the county to institute needle exchange programs. Similar emergencies were declared earlier this year in Scott and Madison counties.

International

Brazil Supreme Court Considering Case That Could Lead to Drug Decriminalization. On Wednesday, the country's high court began arguing the case of a prison inmate caught with three grams of marijuana and charged with drug possession. Sao Paulo state public defenders are pushing for the conviction to be overturned on the grounds that the charge is unconstitutional because it violated citizens' privacy rights. The judges are continuing to consider the case today, with a ruling expected shortly.

New Canada Poll Has Two-Thirds for Marijuana Decriminalization. A new Ipsos poll has 65% of Canadians favoring decriminalization, with 35% opposed. "Doesn't matter where you live in the country, a majority of every demographic group supports decriminalization," said pollster Sean Simpson. Support was at 39% in 1987 and increased steadily since then.

Chronicle AM: Federal Pot Banking Bill, OK Okays CBD Oil, IN Needle Exchange Approved, More (4/30/15)

Seventeen congressmembers introduced a federal marijuana banking bill, CBD cannabis oil gets approved in Oklahoma, medical marijuana advances in Louisiana, Indiana approves needle exchange programs, and more.

Facing an HIV outbreak in one county, Indiana has approved statewide needle exchange programs. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Banking Bill Filed. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and 16 bipartisan cosponsors yesterday introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act (HR 7076), which would allow marijuana businesses to open bank accounts. The bill would provide banks with a "safe harbor" so they can offer accounts to such businesses without fear of federal retaliation.

Rhode Island House Committee Hears Testimony on Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee yesterday heard testimony on House Bill 5777, the marijuana regulation, taxation, and legalization bill from Rep. Thomas Slater. No vote was taken; the bill was held for further study. Click on the title link for more hearing details.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) today signed into law House Bill 2154, also known as Katie and Cayman's Law. It allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil by children suffering from epileptic seizures and sets up a study program.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. Only a year after overwhelmingly rejecting a similar bill, the Senate Health Committee Wednesday unanimously approved a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, Jr. (R-Parks). The bill is set for a Senate floor vote next week. The bill does not allow for smoked marijuana; only marijuana processed into oils.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina House Votes to Ban New Synthetics. The House voted unanimously today to add more compounds to the state's list of illegal drugs. House Bill 341 adds the NBOMe (N-bomb) compounds to the list. The drugs are described as similar to LSD. The bill now heads before the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Texas House Approves Bill Giving Cops More Power to Move Against Synthetics. With no debate and on a voice vote, the House Wednesday approved House Bill 1212, which would give law enforcement greater ability to move against synthetic drug manufacturers. A final vote of approval was expected today, and then the bill moves to the Senate. Similar legislation is already moving in that chamber.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Legislature Approves Needle Exchange Programs. Faced with an HIV outbreak in one southwestern county, the legislature last night approved a bill allowing for the establishment of needle exchange programs throughout the state. Gov. Mike Pence (R) says he will sign SEA 461.

International

Canada Supreme Court to Take Up Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing. The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear an appeal of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses in the case of R v. Lloyd. Lloyd was arrested carrying small amounts of heroin, crack, and meth, and was subject to a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, but the Provincial Court found that sentence to be cruel and unusual. The BC Court of Appeal overturned the Provincial Court and increased his sentence. Now, the Supreme Court will decide if the sentence violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Roadside Waits for Drug Dogs, DEA Head to Resign, More (4/21/15)

The DEA head is on her way out, the Supreme Court rules on making motorists wait for drug dogs to arrive, Indiana's governor extends an emergency needle exchange, a new report on asset forfeiture abuses in California is out, and more.

The US Supreme Court rules that detaining motorists on the side of the road to wait for drug dogs is illegal. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Legal Pot Price Declines to $12 a Gram. Pot prices averaged nearly $30 a gram—well above black market prices—when the state's first marijuana retail outlets opened, but that has changed dramatically, according to the State Liquor Control Board. Now, the average retail price of a gram is about $12, as supply expands to meet demand. That's still $336 an ounce, though.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Getting Underway. Activists with Wyoming NORML submitted their initiative application with the secretary of state's office Monday. If and when the application is approved, organizers will have until next February to gather 25,673 valid voter signatures to place it on the 2016 general election ballot. A recent poll had support for marijuana at 72% in the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

New Report Details California Asset Forfeiture Abuses. The Drug Policy Alliance today released a new report, Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California, a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in the state that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. The report finds that a handful of LA County cities lead the state in per capita seizures, that some departments rely on asset forfeiture for funding themselves, and that some departments were providing false or incomplete reports to the Justice Department.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Dead. The legislator who unexpectedly proposed adding a welfare drug testing proposal to a social services spending bill has withdrawn it after learning how few people would be tested and how little support there is for it. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crawfordsville) said today he would instead seek a study committee to examine how best to fight drug abuse.

Florida Governor Settles on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has formally given up on his effort to subject state employees to random, suspicionless drug testing. He reached an agreement Monday with the employees' union that will only allow drug testing in a relative handful of safety-sensitive positions. Of the 1,400 job classifications Scott originally wanted covered, only 267 will be covered.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Extends Emergency Needle Exchange Program. Gov. Mike Pence (R) Monday extended an emergency needle exchange program in Scott County for another 30 days in a bid to get a handle on an injection drug-related HIV outbreak there. The move comes as the legislature heard testimony supporting a bill that would allow similar exchanges elsewhere in the state.

Law Enforcement

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Set to Resign. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, a unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate. Click on the link to read our feature story on this.

Supreme Court Says Detaining Motorists to Wait for Drug Dogs to Arrive is Not OK. In a 6-3 decision today, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unlawful searches and seizures. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely—the ostensible reason for the stops. "A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said. Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said. Click on the link to read our newsbrief and view the ruling itself.

International

Mexicans Capture Gulf Cartel Leader. Mexican authorities confirmed over the weekend that they had captured Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, who they described as a Gulf Cartel leader responsible for much of the recent violence in the border city of Reynosa. He was caught despite a shootout between Mexican soldiers and police and around 60 cartel gunmen who tried to rescue him. The Mexicans caught a key Juarez Cartel leader just a day earlier. 

Chronicle AM: Third MI Init, TX MJ Bill Hearings, Drug Czar Touts Needle Exchanges, More (4/9/15)

An Alaska marijuana regulation bill continues its slow advance, another Michigan legalization initiative effort emerges, Texas pot bills get a hearing, the DEA recommends tripling the federal research marijuana crop, and more.

Drug czar Michael Botticelli touts needle exchang programs. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill to create a marijuana control board to govern the state's soon-to-be legal pot industry. The committee advanced the bill, House Bill 123, without adopting amendments that would have barred people with felony convictions within the past five years or misdemeanor drug convictions within the past three years from getting licenses. The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

Michigan Legalization Initiative Group Files Proposed Language. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition today submitted proposed language to state officials for review. The coalition is one of three groups considering a 2016 legalization initiative. If approved for signature-gathering, initiatives would have to come up with some 250,000 valid voter signatures within 180 days to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

Texas Marijuana Reform Bills Get Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee ran late into the night last night hearing impassioned testimony on a set of bills aimed at decriminalizing marijuana. The main bill is House Bill 507, by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), which would make possession of less than an ounce a civil infraction. Another bill, House Bill 325, from Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would make possession of less than a third of an ounce a Class C misdemeanor, the least serious criminal offense. Yet another bill, House Bill 414, from Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would make possession of less than an ounce a Class C misdemeanor, while House Bill 1115, from Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would keep pot possession a misdemeanor, but would require police to cite and release anyone caught with less than four ounces. Finally, House Bill 2165, from Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) would remove all marijuana prohibition laws from the books. No votes were taken.

Wichita Seeks Court Ruling on Legality of Local Decriminalization. The city has filed a petition for declaratory judgment in local district court asking the court to rule on the legality of enacting a decriminalization ordinance approved Tuesday by voters. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt said last month that the ordinance would have no effect, and he's also warned the city that he would be required to sue to enforce state law.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Recommends Government Triple Amount of Marijuana Grown for Research. The DEA recommended Wednesday that the government produce nearly 900 pounds of marijuana for research this year, more than three times the amount the agency had estimated it would need. The increase is because of "unanticipated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States," the agency said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dead for This Year. Both the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Committee voted to kill pending medical marijuana bills this week. Both committees, however, agreed to create summer study committees to look at the legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Senate Panel Takes Up Asset Forfeiture Bill. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice today took up Senate Bill 1534, from Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Tampa). The bill would limit law enforcement to using seized funds only to reimburse themselves for the cost of holding seized property, with the rest going into the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar Touts Needle Exchange Programs in Kentucky Visit. Director of the Office of National Drug Control (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli touted needle exchange programs as a means of reducing the spread of infectious diseases and to steer drug users toward treatment in a visit to Kentucky Wednesday. He said the program also reduce the danger of law enforcement getting stuck with dirty needles. Kentucky lawmakers just passed an anti-heroin bill that will allow for needle exchanges, and a nearby Ohio county just started an emergency needle exchange to combat an HIV outbreak.

International

Chile Harvests First Medical Marijuana Crop. TV cameras were on hand in Santiago Wednesday as the country's first permitted medical marijuana crop was harvested. Chilean health officials last fall gave the okay. The therapeutic Daya Foundation will produce cannabis oils from the plants and provide them to 200 selected cancer patients.

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