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Chronicle AM: Trump Names Drug Czar Nominee, Dallas to Take Up Decrim, More... (4/11/17)

A Colorado bill barring co-op grows heads to the governor, an Oregon bill protecting marijuana consumers and an Iowa bill reforming asset forfeiture go to their governors, Trump reportedly names a new drug czar, and more.

Trump has reportedly named Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. (marino.house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Legislature Approves Banning Co-op Grows. The state Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve House Bill 17-1771, which makes it a criminal offense to grow recreational marijuana for other people. The House approved the measure earlier. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) supported the bill and is expected to sign it.

Oregon Bill Would Shield Marijuana User Data from Federal Officials. The legislature has approved a bill that would protect marijuana consumers by ending the state practice of collecting point-of-sale identification information. The measure now goes to Gov. Kate Brown (D), who is expected to sign it.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Hearing Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to hold a hearing on a marijuana legalization measure, House Bill 5555, on Tuesday. The bill would legalize the consumption and cultivation of marijuana by adults and set up a system of legal, regulated marijuana commerce.

Tennessee Bill to Reduce Penalty for Small Amounts of Marijuana Fails. A bill that would have increased the amount of marijuana for which simple possession could be charged from one-half ounce to one ounce has died in the legislature. House Bill 0109 lost by one vote in the House on Monday.

Dallas City Council to Vote on Decrim Ordinance Wednesday. The city council will vote Wednesday on a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. The city says it hopes to reduce jail time for nonviolent offenders and free officers for more serious policing priorities.

Medical Marijuana

Montana House Amends Regulation Bill, Advocates Unhappy. A bill aimed at setting up a new regulatory framework for medical marijuana in the state was radically overhauled in a House committee Monday -- and supports of the original measure are not pleased. The measure, Senate Bill 333, saw 20 amendments attached by the House Taxation Committee, including amendments that changed the taxing structure, before that committee sent it to the House floor. The bill has already passed the Senate, and if the bill passes the House, a conference committee will be necessary to try to reconcile the differences.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Legislature Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The legislature has approved Senate File 446, which bars civil asset forfeiture for cash or property valued at less than $5,000 and raises the standard of proof required for asset seizure from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Terry Branstad (R) for final approval.

Drug Policy

President Trump Reportedly Names Congressman Tom Marino as Drug Czar. CBS News has reported that President Trump will name Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Marino is a former prosecutor now in his third term who has cosponsored at least two major drug policy bills, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act and the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, both of which have their critics.

International

The Industry and Trade Ministry has proposed allowing the cultivation of opiates for medicine production. It has prepared a bill for the Duma take up. The notion has already been explored by federal executive bodies and apparently has their go-ahead.

Chronicle AM: Trump Could Cut Drug Czar Office, Thousands Protest Duterte's Drug War, More... (2/20/17)

The drug czar's office could be on Trump's chopping block, asset forfeiture reform advances in two states, a Washington state legislator tries to sic the Justice Department on Seattle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Protect Kids From Weed Would Allow Cops to Inspect Pot Businesses. Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) has filed Assembly Bill 729, which he said is aimed at putting "safeguards in place" to keep marijuana out of the hands of children. Among its provisions are allowing law enforcement to enter and conduct inspections of pot businesses, requiring retailers to "maintain an unobstructed view for law enforcement into their establishment," and allowing underage sting operations aimed at retailers.

Colorado Bill Would Allow Home Delivery of Weed. A bill filed last week would allow for the home delivery of recreational and medical marijuana. Senate Bill 192 is modeled after Oregon's newly launched home delivery regulations. "This hopefully solves some of the problems as it relates to people concerned about marijuana DUIs or sick patients who don't have access to dispensaries," said lead cosponsor Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont).

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Approves Bill Banning Military Members from Becoming Registered Caregivers. The body approved House Bill 1451 last Thursday. Bill sponsor Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) said federal law prevents military members from acting in that capacity. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Arkansas Bill Would Ban Smoking Medical Marijuana. State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 357, which would make it illegal to consume medical marijuana by smoking it. The bill also removes a provision in the current law that bars landlords from prohibiting the use of non-smoked medical marijuana, leaving renters wondering if landlords will just bar any use of medical marijuana.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Freshman Rep. John Sims (D-Fleminsburg) has filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 411, which would give doctors the ability to recommend medical marijuana for patients. Sims said he saw the bill as a tool for reducing opioid addiction in his state.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Ends. Medical marijuana will not be on the ballot next year. Organizers of a signature-gathering campaign failed to hand in signatures to the secretary of state's office by the Valentine's Day deadline. Organizers said they will continue to fight to bring medical marijuana to the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Bill Would Use Seized Cartel Assets to Build Border Wall. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has filed House Resolution 1067, which would order the Justice Department to issue a report on Mexican drug trafficking organization profits and how the DOJ could "increase assets seized by such cartels" to build President Trump's promised border wall. He's even got a name for the bill that creates a nifty acronym: the "Build Up Illegal Line Defense With Assets Lawfully Lifted (BUILD WALL) Act of 2017.

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would require prosecutors to set a higher evidentiary standard -- from "preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence" -- is advancing in the House. House Bill 2477 cleared the Federalism, Property Rights & Public Policy by a 9-0 vote last Tuesday, and passed the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee by the same margin last Wednesday.

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture in most cases has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 1170 now heads for a House floor vote.

Drug Policy

White House Could Cut Funding for Drug Czar's Office. The New York Times reported last Friday that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is on an Office of Management and Budget "hit list" of programs that could be eliminated to reduce federal spending.

Harm Reduction

Washington State Republican Asks Justice Department to Block Seattle Safe Injection Sites. State Sen. Mark Miiloscia (R-Federal Way) has sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to block Seattle and King County from opening supervised injection sites for drug users. An avowed opponent of the harm reduction measure, Miloscia has already authored a bill in the legislature to block it.

International

More Than a Dozen Dead in Mexico Border Town Shoot-Outs. More prohibition-related violence broke out in Reynosa over the weekend, with at least 13 people killed in gun battles between cartel members and in fighting between authorities and the cartels.

Thousands March in Manila Against Duterte's Drug War. Thousands of Filipino Catholics gathered in Manila Sunday in a "show of force" to protest extrajudicial killings carried out in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. Organizers estimated the crowd at 20,000, the largest rally yet against the mass killings.

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

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

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

International

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Canada Still Legalizing Weed, GAO Rakes Drug Czar Over Drug War Failures, More (12/7/15)

Canada reiterates its intent to legalize pot, there's strong support for expanding medical marijuana in Georgia, the GAO reports that federal drug policy goals are not being met, and more.

Oh, Canada.
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Doctors Oppose Legalization. Doctors with the Massachusetts Medical Society voted over the weekend to reaffirm their opposition to marijuana legalization. The move comes as a legalization initiative appears poised to go before voters next year. The doctors voted to continue their opposition to legalization, a policy first adopted in 1997, and also urged that if legalization were to occur, people under 21 should be barred from use.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Poll Finds Strong Support for Expanding Medical Marijuana Law. Under current Georgia law, people with certain illnesses are allowed to use medical marijuana, but it can't be grown or produced in the state. A new poll has 84.5% of respondents supporting expanding that law to allow for in-state cultivation with strict regulation. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has sponsored legislation that would do just that.

Illinois Tells Patients They Can't Be Gun Owners, Then Retreats. Illinois state police sent letters to a handful of patients saying their firearms cards were being revoked, but now say the letters were sent in error. Patients remain skeptical.

Drug Policy

GAO Says National Drug Policy Goals Not Being Met. In a report released today the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) and other agencies "had not made progress toward achieving most of the goals in the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy (the Strategy) and ONDCP had established a new mechanism to monitor and assess progress. In the Strategy, ONDCP established seven goals related to reducing illicit drug use and its consequences to be achieved by 2015. As of March 2013, GAO's analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results were available, one showed progress and four showed no progress. GAO also reported that ONDCP established a new monitoring system intended to provide information on progress toward Strategy goals and help identify performance gaps and options for improvement. At that time, the system was still in its early stages, and GAO reported that it could help increase accountability for improving progress. In November 2015, ONDCP issued its annual Strategy and performance report, which assess progress toward all seven goals. The Strategy shows progress in achieving one goal, no progress on three goals, and mixed progress on the other three goals. Overall, none of the goals in the Strategy have been fully achieved."

Law Enforcement

The Sickening Use of Young People as Confidential Informants in the Drug War. "Supporters of the drug war often claim that we need to wage this unwinnable war to "protect" young people. 60 Minutes ran an explosive piece last night showing one of the many ways that the war on drugs actually endangers young people: the sickening use of young students as confidential informants," writes the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman. Click on the link for the whole piece.

International

Canada's New Liberal Government Reiterates Vow to Legalize Marijuana. In the annual throne speech last Friday, Governor General David Johnson reiterated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plans to legalize marijuana. The effort should get moving once parliament is back in session.

Chilean President Removes Marijuana From Hard Drug List. President Michelle Bachelet has signed an order removing marijuana from the country's list of hard drugs and authorizing the sale of marijuana-derived medicines in pharmacies. Marijuana production and distribution remain criminal offenses, but the Congress is expected to discuss wider reforms of the drug laws early next year.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Calls Overdoses Top Priority, Just One MA Init Left, More (12/3/15)

The drug czar is concerned about the rising toll of heroin overdose deaths. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Marijuana Legalization Not a High Priority for Californians. Californians are more concerned with school funding, increasing the minimum wage, and tax levels than they are with marijuana legalization, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll. The poll found that 88% thought school funding was "very" or "somewhat" important, 80% though increasing the minimum wage was, 76% thought extending tax increases was, but only 49% though legalizing pot was. Fully one-third (32%) of respondents said legalization was "not at all important."

Down to One Legalization Initiative in Massachusetts. The legalization situation is clarifying. Bay State Repeal, which had mounted a grassroots effort to get its own legalization initiative on the ballot next year, has conceded that if failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. That leaves the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol as the sole possible contender next year. The latter group turned in more than 100,000 voter signatures earlier this week; it needs some 67,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Says Heroin, Prescription Opiate Overdoses Top Priority. Michael Botticelli, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), told a congressional hearing Wednesday that heroin and prescription opiates overdoses are the most urgent issue facing his agency. "There is no more pressing issue," said Botticelli, who testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the nation's drug policy. "We have seen a reduction in prescription drug misuse among young adults but that has been replaced by a significant increase in heroin overdose deaths. We know some of this is related to the vast supply of very cheap, very pure heroin in parts of the country where we haven't seen it before." He said that more than 8,000 people died of heroin overdoses in 2013 and that he expects last year's figure to be substantially higher.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Poll Shows Broad Support for Repealing Mandatory Minimums. A poll conducted by Suffolk University's Political Research Center for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) found that voters there support repealing mandatory minimum sentences by a margin of three-to-one. Some 62% supported repeal, while only 21% were opposed. Other poll questions showed broad support for sentencing reforms as well. "Massachusetts voters get it," said Barbara J. Dougan, Massachusetts project director for FAMM. "They know that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are a failed public policy. They want these ineffective and expensive laws repealed. The only question left is whether state lawmakers will listen to their constituents."

International

Malaysian Truck Driver Faces Death Sentence for Less Than a Pound of Pot. Abdul Sukur Saiful Bahri, 38, a driver for a government agency, faces a mandatory death sentence after being charged under the country's draconian drug trafficking laws. He was caught with 305 grams of marijuana, about 11 ounces of weed.

Australian Government Creates National Medical Marijuana Licensing Scheme. The federal government has announced a national licensing plan that will remove the need for states and territories to come up with their own regulatory schemes. The national government will now oversee all regulations for medical marijuana. A bill is being drafted to turn the plan into law. That's expected to happen next year.

Chronicle AM: Federal Sentencing Reform Advances, OH Legalization Init in Dead Heat, More (10/22/15)

It's nail-biting time for marijuana legalizers in Ohio -- and for different reasons in California -- the Obama administration rolls out new measures to deal with heroin and prescription opiates, a federal sentencing reform bill advances, and more.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Billionaire Philanthropist Sean Parker Circulating California Legalization Initiative Draft. Napster cofounder and early Facebook president Sean Parker has a team of lobbyists and political consultants circulating a draft legalization initiative this week. The move comes as the state's legalization effort is in turmoil, with state activists organized as ReformCA having drafted their own initiative, only to see national reform groups, such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, drift away. Click on the link for all the juicy details.

Another Ohio Poll Has Legalization Initiative in Dead Heat. A second poll this week has found the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative race "too close to call." A new Bowling Green State University poll has the initiative supported by 44.4% of "likely voters," with 42.9% opposed. Among "definite voters," the measure does a bit better, getting 46% support, with 45% opposed and 9% undecided. Earlier this week, a University of Akron Buckeye poll had voters evenly split at 46%.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Obama Announces New Steps to Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. The administration announced Wednesday that it is moving to increase access to drug treatment and to expand the training of doctors who prescribe opiates in a bid to fight high levels of heroin and prescription opiate use. The plan includes doubling the number of doctors who can prescribe the maintenance drug buprenorphine. The administration has a "sense of urgency that we at the federal level can do more to address this issue," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. Click on the link for much more.

Sentencing

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The committee today voted 15-5 to advance the bill, S. 2123, which would reduce mandatory minimum drug sentences, expand the federal "safety valve," expand early release and reentry programming, and make other sentencing reforms retroactive.

International

Capture of Gulf Cartel Leader Sparks Weekend of Violence in Matamoros. The mayor of the Mexican border city just across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas, has warned residents to exercise caution and stay indoors after the arrest last Friday of a Gulf Cartel leader sparked a weekend of clashes between security forces and cartel gunmen. Prado "El Ciclon 7" Rodriguez, the cartel's Matamoros boss, was captured Friday morning, with traffic blockades and gunfights breaking out that same day and continuing through the weekend.

Chronicle AM: FL Legalization Init to Roll Out, Dark Web's Largest Drug Market Shuts Down, More (8/27/2015)

The controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative continues to make news, a Florida legalization initiative kicks-off tomorrow, the Dark Web's biggest drug marketplace is shutting down -- at least temporarily -- and more.

"Buddie," the Ohio legalization initiative mascot (responsibleohio.com)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Rolls Out Tomorrow. An initiative campaign to legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State will begin with a news conference in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow morning. The Sensible Florida PAC will announce a signature-gathering drive for a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Some 683,000 valid voter signatures will be needed, and since this is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% of the vote to pass.

Ohio Legalizers Roll Out "Buddie" Mascot, Get Flak From Child Advocates. The folks behind the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative have introduced their mascot, "Buddie," a cape-wearing superhero with a green marijuana bud for a head and a "B" logo over a picture of a pot leaf. Some child advocates grumbled that the mascot would lead kids to believe that pot is OK.  ResponsibleOhio said Buddie will only visit college campuses filled with voting age college students.

Ohio Legalizers Go to State Supreme Court Over Ballot Language. ResponsibleOhio asked the Supreme Court today to reject the state Ballot Board's wording of its initiative. In a 40-page complaint, the group claimed the board used prejudicial language, deliberate omissions, and outright falsehoods by Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) and his staff, and that the resulting language is "fatal to the validity of the ballot."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor to Call Out National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday the state would ramp up police efforts to fight drugs in the state, including deploying the National Guard to support the struggle against drug trafficking. He also renewed his pleas for more funding for more cops and prosecutors, a stance that leaves him at odds with the state legislature. LePage's remarks come a day after drug czar Michael Botticelli told a Maine roundtable the state needs more drug treatment facilities.

International

Dark Web's Largest Drug Marketplace Closing Its Doors -- For Now. Agora, the reigning champion among Dark Web drug sellers, is shutting down at least temporarily to heighten its defenses against intruders who may be seeking to identify and bust the site's operators and servers. The site's anonymous administrators said they had detected "suspicious activity" they thought was aimed at breaking the anonymity software Tor browser, which could reveal not only administrators, but customers. "At this point, while we don't have a solution ready it would be unsafe to keep our users using the service, since they would be in jeopardy," Agora said. "Thus, and to our great sadness we have to take the market offline for a while, until we can develop a better solution. This is the best course of action for everyone involved."

Obama's Heroin Initiative: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? [FEATURE]

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

The White House Monday announced a new initiative to combat heroin that will pair law enforcement and public health in what it called a bid to shift the focus of the fight from punishing drug addicts to treating them. Under the plan, drug intelligence officers will work with public health officials to track heroin supplies, how it gets to street-level dealers, and how and where it's getting cut with sometimes deadly adulterants.

The initiative has won support from some elected officials in states hard-hit by rising levels of heroin use and heroin overdose deaths. But drug reform advocates called it "one step forward, two steps back."

Under the plan, announced today as part of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) funding program by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, $5 million will go to "a broad range of efforts that will reduce the trafficking, distribution, and use of heroin," with half of that funding a Heroin Response Strategy involving an "unprecedented partnership" of five HIDTA programs -- Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore -- to fight smack.

Another $4 million in HIDTA funds will go toward prevention in 18 HIDTAs, including programs that feature "key partnerships between law enforcement agencies and their counterparts in public health and education," the announcement says. Another $1.3 million will go to five Southwest border HIDTAs "to enhance investigational efforts" against the Mexican trafficking organizations supplying most of the nation's heroin.

"The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program helps Federal, state, and local authorities to coordinate drug enforcement operations, support prevention efforts and improve public health and safety," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. "The new Heroin Response Strategy demonstrates a strong commitment to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue. This Administration will continue to expand community-based efforts to prevent drug use, pursue 'smart on crime' approaches to drug enforcement, increase access to treatment, work to reduce overdose deaths, and support the millions of Americans in recovery."

Branded heroin packet from New Jersey (NJ State Police)
The funding will pay for 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts to work within the HIDTA programs. The narcs will gather information on trafficking patterns and trends and feed it to street-level law enforcement. The health policy analysts will increase overdose monitoring, look for dope cut with dangerous adulterants, and train first responders on how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

The announcement comes amidst rising clamor over heroin's comeback and increasingly lethality in recent years. While the causes of the increase in heroin use are multifaceted and debatable, the reality of it doesn't seem to be. According to the Centers for Disease Control in a report released last month, more than half a million people were using heroin in 2013, up 150% from 2007.

The number of heroin overdose deaths is climbing even faster. The CDC reported that fatal overdoses hovered around 2,000 a year in the early 2000s before doubling to around 4,000 in 2011, and then doubling again to 8,257 two years later in 2013.

The sound of more federal funding is music to the ears of politicians in states like New Hampshire, which saw more than 300 heroin overdose deaths last year and where Republicans and Democrats are squabbling over how much money to spend on drug treatment. Elected officials across the political spectrum had kind words for the initiative Monday.

People lining up to score in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
"While the announcement of additional federal support for New England is an important first step, we must see these resources move as quickly as possible and we will need continued engagement from our federal partners to help combat this pressing public health and safety challenge," said Gov. Maggie Hassan (D).

"Stemming the tide requires investments in prevention, treatment and recovery, and broad cooperation at the federal, state and local levels," said US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D).

"Today's announcement is welcome news for New Hampshire and other New England states that are confronting this crisis," added US Senator Kelly Ayotte (R). "We must take a multi-pronged approach in this fight, and prevention is a key part of that."

But the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) took a more skeptical view.

"Half of what they're doing is right -- the focus on health and overdose prevention -- but the other half, the side that focuses on the failed arrest and incarceration policies of the past is destined to ruin lives and fail," said Bill Piper, director of the group's office of national affairs.

DPA took particular exception to the use of the HIDTA program as a vehicle for addressing heroin use, noting that even though its mandate was originally to focus on high-level drug traffickers, its programs "lack congressional oversight and generally waste resources pursuing individuals engaged in low-level drug crimes."

HIDTAs came into being in 1988, with five being created to focus on "top priority" areas. But since then, the HIDTA program has swollen to 28 different regional HIDTAs covering more than 60% of the US population, including such major drug trafficking hotbeds as South Dakota and Wyoming.

And, thanks to Congress, since 1998, no HIDTA money can be spent on drug treatment. DPA and other advocates have pointed out that this statutory ban reduces program flexibility and access to treatment, and have called on Congress to repeal the ban, eliminate the HIDTA program altogether, or move it out of the White House and into the Justice Department and merge it with the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force as the Bush administration once proposed.

If the Obama administration wants to really address drug use as a public health issue and not throw away more money on failed drug war policies, DPA had some suggestions:

  • "Shifting federal resources from enforcement and incarceration to treatment and public health program funding to save more lives and realize substantial savings for taxpayers. The federal government's drug control budget has increased exponentially throughout the years. Despite a recent change in rhetoric, the federal government still focuses the vast majority of its drug-related spending on interdiction, enforcement and incarceration.
  • "Committing more federal investments into naloxone access, overdose prevention, and greater access to methadone and buprenorphine and other forms of evidence-based treatment.
  • "Funding community-based initiatives such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion that reduce barriers to drug treatment and other health services.
  • "Removing barriers to methadone and other forms of medication assisted treatment in military treatment facilities that care for active duty and veterans.
  • "Investing more funding into making overdose prevention and medication assisted treatment available to incarcerated individuals who are at elevated risk of substance use and overdose.
  • "Eliminating federal legal barriers to research trials for supervised injection facilities and heroin assisted treatment."

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.

Drug War Issues

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