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Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Dies

A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana has died in the House. Legislators earlier killed a marijuana legalization bill.

The decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 472, passed out of the Senate a month ago and saw fervent debate in House committee hearings, but House leaders said there was not enough support for the bill to move forward.

Rep. Karl Rhoads (D-District 29), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee told the Associated Press Wednesday that there weren't enough votes to push the bill through. And although the state's two-year legislative session would allow the bill to be taken up again next year without having to pass the Senate again, Rhoads said he doubted that would happen.

"It was a moderate measure," Rhoads told the AP. "If this couldn't pass, I think it's very unlikely that anything is going to pass next year."

Marijuana reform supporters, including the ACLU of Hawaii and two new coalitions aimed at changing the state's marijuana laws, Fresh Approach Hawaii and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii, had been optimistic about the bill's prospects after it passed the Senate, but it ran into stiff opposition from law enforcement and community groups. Police testified that reforming the marijuana laws would make their job more difficult and increase crime.

Honolulu, HI
United States

Marijuana Possession Now Decriminalized in Rhode Island

Rhode Island became the 14th state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Monday as a law passed last year went into effect. As of now, it is no longer a criminal offense to possess up to an ounce of pot.

People caught with small amounts now face only a civil citation similar to a traffic ticket and a fine of up to $150. But get caught three times within 18 months and you will be facing a misdemeanor.

People under the age of 18 who are caught will have their parents notified. They could also be required to attend alcohol and drug education courses and perform community service.

Decriminalization legislation was introduced by state Rep. John Edwards in January 2011. It was approved by the legislature the following year and signed into law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee last June. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) helped shepherd the bill through the legislative process.

"We applaud the legislature and Governor Chafee for answering Rhode Islanders' calls for a more sensible marijuana policy," said Robert Capecchi, MPP deputy director of state polices. "Nobody should be subject to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol."

Providence, RI
United States

As NYC Pot Busts Continue, New York Punts on Marijuana Reform

People -- almost all of them young people of color -- are being arrested at the rate of a thousand a week in New York City for marijuana possession "in public view," but although a legislative fix was in sight this week, the state's political establishment couldn't come to an agreement on it. Instead, the legislature is going on vacation.

The New York City "in public view" arrests violate the spirit of the Empire State's 1977 marijuana decriminalization law, which made possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense, not a criminal one. They typically occur when the NYPD stops and frisks someone, then either reaches into his pockets or belongings or intimidates the detainee into pulling out his biggie himself and then charges him with the criminal misdemeanor of possession "in public view."

Through-out the legislative session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Senate and Assembly leaders talked about fixing the situation as part of the budget process. During his State of the State address, Cuomo had called for decriminalizing the possession of up to 15 grams "in public view," but with smoking in public remaining a misdemeanor. But on Thursday, Cuomo and the legislative leadership announced they had reached a final deal on the budget, one that didn't include marijuana law reform.

That doesn't mean decriminalization reform is dead this year -- the session will resume after a three-week hiatus -- but it is certainly delayed and possibly derailed without having the impetus of the budget agreement behind it. In either case, legislators and community activists blasted the leadership for punting on the issue while the arrests (and the costs) mount by the day.

"I am gravely disappointed that this budget failed to enact justice for the more than 44,000 individuals arrested last year based on a flawed law. Not only does allowing these arrests directly impact the lives of individuals and their communities, they are a gross misappropriation of city and state resources, and a waste of officer manpower that can be spent on more pressing law enforcement matters," said Assemblyman Karim Camara, Chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. "Changing this flawed law has the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYC Police Commissioner Kelly, the District Attorneys of the five boroughs, and Buffalo and Nassau and Albany counties, the Police Benevolent Association and major law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Yet politics trumped the policy that would be best for New York City and our state."

"This is an issue that cannot wait. Our tens of thousands of youth arrested annually under unfair practices shouldn't have to wait," said Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez. "They deserve better -- they deserve justice and equality. And they deserve it now. We need to end this policy that has plagued our communities for too long  and make public view possession a violation."

"Why is it acceptable to kick the can down the road when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of young Black and Latino New Yorkers?" asked Alfredo Carrasquillo, civil rights community organizer for VOCAL-NY. "Getting this done is a test for the political leadership in Albany that right now they are failing. It's time to stop delaying justice when it comes to ending racially biased and costly marijuana arrests."

Since 2002, nearly 500,000 thousand people have been arrested in New York  for marijuana possession -- the vast majority of those arrests, 440,000, took place in New York City. Last year alone in the city, there were nearly 40,000 such arrests, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests in the city between 1981 and 1995. The cost to taxpayers is $75 million a year, and over $600 million in the last decade. A report released earlier this week found that the NYPD had spent one million hours making these arrests over the past decade.

"Behind the one million police hours spent arresting young Black and Latino men is the shameful truth of 21st Century racism. These are unlawful, racially biased arrests, plain and simple. We need our elected officials to stand up for civil rights for all people" said Chino Hardin, Field Coordinator and Trainer with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions.

Albany, NY
United States

NYPD Facing Double-Barreled Challenge to Marijuana Practices [FEATURE]

There has been a double-barreled challenge this week to the NYPD and its heavy-handed policing. On the one hand, the department and the city are being sued in federal court over their stop-and-frisk program, which is aimed predominantly at young men of color. On the other, the NYPD is facing the glare of publicity over a new report that contends it has wasted as much as a million man-hours over the past ten years arresting low-level marijuana offenders.

March 2012 protest of NYC stop and frisk violations
Under the stop-and-frisk program, which the city touts as a crime-fighting effort, more than 531,000 people were stopped last year and nearly five million in the past decade. Some were stopped only for questioning, some had their bags or backpacks searched, some were subjected to full pat-down searches. Only 10% of those stops resulted in arrests -- including arrests for public marijuana possession after police tricked or intimidated people into pulling out their baggies (possession is otherwise decriminalized in the state) -- and only a tiny number resulted in the seizure of weapons.

The massive number of annual stop-and-frisks, five times the number a couple of decades ago, raises questions itself. But who is being stopped-and-frisked is raising even more questions and concerns. While blacks make up a quarter of the city's population, they accounted for 51% of all stop-and-frisk encounters, being stopped at a rate twice what would be expected with color-blind enforcement. Whites, on the other hand, make up 44% of the population, but accounted for only 11% of stop-and-frisk encounters.

Many of the stop-and-frisks are illegal and the enforcement is racially biased, argued attorneys in the class action lawsuit in federal court this week. In the case, which began Monday, attorneys for the plaintiffs -- people who were subjected to stop-and-frisk searches -- are seeking a court-appointed monitor to oversee changes in police practices.

They are not seeking to ban stop-and-frisk searches because they have been found legal. But US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, who has expressed deep concerns over the tactic in previous rulings, could order reforms. The trial could last for up to a month.

NYPD is doing illegal stops and must reform its practices, said Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Darius Charney, who is representing the plaintiffs. The stops are "arbitrary, unnecessary, and unconstitutional" and a "frightening and degrading experience" for "thousands, if not millions" of New Yorkers, Charney argued. He said plaintiffs will present "powerful testimonial and statistical evidence" that residents are stopped for no good reason.

On Monday, the first plaintiff witnesses took the stand. Devin Almonor, 16, the son of a police officer, testified that he was stopped when he was 13, handcuffed and thrown against an unmarked police car as he made his way home. David Floyd, now a 33-year-old medical student, testified that he was stopped twice without cause.

Attorneys for the city responded that in a city that large, large numbers of stop-and-frisks should not be unexpected and that the NYPD went where the crime was.

"The New York Police Department is fully committed to policing within the boundaries of the law," said Heidi Grossman, an attorney for the city. "Crime is not distributed evenly across the city. Police are given an awesome responsibility, one of which is to bring crime down and keep people safe."

Given those awesome responsibilities, a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project is raising eyebrows. The report's main finding is clear from its title: One Million Police Hours: Making 440,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests in New York City, 2002-2012. The report was authored by CUNY sociology professor Dr. Harry Levine, an expert on marijuana possession arrests, at the request of members of the city council and the state legislature.

While marijuana possession offenders typically faced only fines once they had their day in court, the report found that the arrests themselves inflicted immediate pain. Those 440,000 arrests resulted in five million hours of police custody, an average of more than 10 hours per person of being held in the city's notorious holding cells, often overnight.

"We cannot afford to continue arresting tens of thousands of youth every year for low-level marijuana possession," said Alfredo Carrasquillo, civil rights organizer with VOCAL-NY. "We can't afford it in terms of the negative effect it has on the future prospects of our youth and we can't afford in terms of police hours. It's shocking that the same mayor who has been taking money away from youth programs and cutting other social services, is wasting tens of millions of dollars locking youth up through the NYPD's marijuana arrests crusade. We need legislative action to fix this madness."

"This report shows that people arrested for marijuana possession spend an average of 12-18 hours, just in police custody, and the vast majority of those arrested are young Black and Latino men from seven to ten neighborhoods in NYC," said Chino Hardin, field coordinator and trainer with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions. "This is not just a crisis, but a frontline civil rights issue facing urban communities of color in the 21st century. We are calling on Governor Cuomo to do the right thing, and exercise the moral and political will to address this injustice."

While Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly last fall announced changes it how the NYPD processes marijuana arrests and the number of pot possession busts have begun to decline slightly, advocates are calling on the legislature and the governor to change the state's 1977 decriminalization law to remove law enforcement's "in public view" loophole, the provision NYPD has used to great effect.

"For years, New Yorkers from across the state have organized and marched and rallied, demanding an end to these outrageous arrests. And now we learn that the police have squandered one million hours to make racially biased, costly, and unlawful marijuana possession arrests. This is scandalous," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I’m sure we can all think of more effective things for the police to spend their time on -- imagine if NYPD committed one million hours to working with communities to stop gun violence or to pursue unsolved serious crimes. We stand with the caucus and other leaders in Albany -- both Democrats and Republicans -- in demanding reform. The hour of change is upon us, and reform is long, long overdue."

Whether it is the massive stop-and-frisk policing program or the practice of turning marijuana possession tickets into misdemeanor arrests complete with post-booking jail time and criminal records, NYPD is coming under increasing scrutiny and criticism..

New York City, NY
United States

Maryland Senate Okays Marijuana Decriminalization

 A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Maryland passed the state Senate Tuesday by a nearly two-to-one margin. The vote was 30-16.

Sponsored by Sens. Bobbi Zirken (D-Baltimore County) and Allan Kittleman (R-Carroll County), Senate Bill 297, would make possession of 10 grams (about a third of an ounce) or less a civil offense punishable by no more than a $100 fine. Under current state law, possession of 10 grams or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

A state legislative fiscal and policy analysis of the bill estimated that it would result in small losses in fine revenues, small savings from decreases in the number of jail days, and would significantly reduce caseloads in the Office of the Public Defender.

The bill now proceeds to the House, where it has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee. If it successfully passes out of committee, it would have to get a House floor vote, and pass it, before being sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

Annapolis, MD
United States

New Mexico Marijuana Decrim Bill Passes House

A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults and depenalize the possession of up to a half pound of pot narrowly passed the New Mexico House Tuesday. The measure was approved on a vote of 37-33.

[Editor's Note: Decriminalization means the removal of the possibility for criminal charges. It can, and in this case does, make possession a civil offense akin to a traffic citation. Depenalization means the removal of the possibility of jail or prison time while possession remains a criminal offense.]

Introduced by Rep. Emily Kane (D-Albuquerque), House Bill 465 would decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces. Possession of between four and eight ounces would be a petty misdemeanor, but the maximum sentence would be a fine. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce is petty misdemeanor punishable by fines and jail time, while possession of between one and eight ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

"Why on God's green Earth would we want to spend money throwing college kids in jail for having a few joints when we could be spending that money on early childhood education?" asked Rep. Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) during the debate. Criminalizing marijuana users is "institutional state stupidity," he added.

"Spending $5 million a year to arrest people with small amounts of marijuana is a waste of resources," said Rep. Kane. "We could put that money to better use."

"Why are we not legalizing it?" asked Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces), unwilling to stop with half-measures. McCamley laughed at the notion that marijuana users were a threat to public safety. Instead, he said, they typically "watch PBS, laugh, eat some Cheetos and go to bed."

Speaking in opposition to the bill was former police officer Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Albuquerque), who said he had seen "the bad side" of marijuana. He said he had once stopped a car full of teen pot smokers who then attacked him with a screwdriver.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which has only a handful of days to act on it. Even if the bill were to pass the Senate, it still faces an uphill fight. Gov. Susana Martinez has said she would veto the bill if it reached her desk, and the margin of passage in the House isn't enough to override that veto.

"As a prosecutor and district attorney, the governor has seen firsthand how illegal drug use destroys lives, especially among our youth, and she opposes drug legalization or decriminalization efforts," her office said in an earlier statement re-released on Monday. "Proponents of these efforts often ignore the fact that the vast majority of people convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana are diverted to treatment programs and those who are sentenced to prison are individuals with long criminal records with convictions for things like assault, burglary, and other crimes."

If decriminalization is going to happen in New Mexico this year, it's going to require quick action in the Senate and the rapid building of veto-proof majorities in both houses.

Santa Fe, NM
United States

Britain to Study Other Countries' Drug Reforms

British Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered a "what works" study of drug reforms in other countries, but has rejected a call from the House of Commons for a quick-acting royal commission on reform. The Commons home affairs select committee had called for a royal commission to report by 2015 on how to change the country's 40-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act.

While not going as far as MPs might have liked, the move suggests that the Tory government of Prime Minister David Cameron feels the ground shifting beneath it on drug policy, in part because its junior partners in the governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, advocate for a much more radical approach.

"The government does not believe there is a case for fundamentally re-thinking the UK's approach to drugs -- a royal commission is simply not necessary," said May's official response to the select committee. "Nonetheless, we must continue to listen and learn from emerging trends, new evidence and international comparators. In particular we will build on the commitment in the drug strategy to 'review new evidence of what works in other countries and what we can learn from it' and conduct a study on international comparators to learn more from the approach in other countries," she conceded.

But May's response also signaled that the government has already made up its mind on at least one topic, and that had the drug reform groups Release and Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) calling foul.

"The coalition government has no intention of decriminalizing drugs," May said, but added that any discussion of alternatives should be based on evidence and analysis.

"Is Theresa May calling for a review whilst promising to not act on the information gathered?" Release asked in Thursday tweet.

TDPF echoed that sentiment in its own tweet: "Why does HASC response say 'no intention of decriminalizing drugs' in same para as announcement of evidence-based inquiry into same?"

The review will be led by Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Jeremy Brown. It will include a trip to Portugal to study that county's experience under decriminalization, as well as a look at the effects of the marijuana legalization votes in Colorado and Washington, medical marijuana in US states, and the international response to new synthetic drugs or "legal highs."

London
United Kingdom

Hawaii Senate Okays Marijuana Decriminalization

The Hawaii Senate Tuesday voted unanimously to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure now goes to the House.

Hawaii State Capitol (wikimedia.org)
The bill, Senate Bill 472, would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction with a maximum $1,000 fine. The bill originally called for a maximum $100 fine, but was amended by lawmakers who said they wanted to emphasize that marijuana would still be illegal.

Bill supporters said it was aimed at reducing congestion in the state's criminal justice system.

Earlier this session, the House defeated a marijuana legalization bill. Whether it will embrace decriminalization remains to be seen.

The bill is being supported by a newly formed group, Fresh Approach Hawaii, which aims at lobbying the legislature on marijuana reform issues. The group said it will work with House members to reduce the fine and add other desirable provisions.

Honolulu, HI
United States

US, International Drug Warriors Attack State Marijuana Legalization [FEATURE]

As the nation awaits the Obama administration's response to marijuana legalization votes in Colorado and Washington, Tuesday saw a two-pronged attack on the whole notion. On the one hand, former drug czars and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) heads lined up to urge the administration to act now to strangle legalization in its crib, while on the other, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warned that allowing states to legalize would violate international drug control treaties.

"S.O.S." web site celebrates defeat of Hawaii marijuana legalization bill
Legalization supporters rejected the attacks, comparing the ex-DEA chiefs to Prohibition agents seeking to justify their efforts and dismissing the global anti-drug bureaucrats as largely irrelevant.

In a joint letter under the auspices of the anti-drug reform group Save Our Society From Drugs, eight former heads of the DEA and four former heads of the Office of National Drug Control Policy urged the federal government to act now to nullify the votes in Colorado and Washington. The same group similarly called on Attorney General Holder to speak out against those state initiatives last September, but he failed to do so.

Holder, who said last week his decision will be "coming soon," was scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. The retired drug fighters urged senators to press him on the issue.

Holder's actual appearance, though, was anticlimactic. He told the committee only that he hoped, again, to be able to announce a policy "relatively soon."

That prompted committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to hand out some advice of his own. "If you're going to be -- because of budget cuts -- prioritizing matters, I would suggest there are more serious things than minor possession of marijuana, but it's a personal view," Leahy told Holder, adding that more states were sure to follow in Colorado's and Montana's footsteps.

That's not what the drug warriors were telling Holder.

"We, the undersigned, strongly support the continued enforcement of federal law prohibiting the cultivation, distribution, sale, possession, and use of marijuana -- a dangerous and addictive drug which already has severe harmful effects on American society," they wrote. "We also respectfully request your committee at its March 6 hearing to encourage Attorney General Eric Holder to adhere to long-standing federal law and policy in this regard, and to vigorously enforce the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)."

The signatories suggested that senators ask Holder is he still believed in the Supremacy Clause when it comes to conflicts between state and federal law and why he isn't enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in Colorado and Washington. They also suggested asking him "what is being done about our international drug treaty obligations," noting that they require the federal government to enforce marijuana prohibition.

And speaking of international drug treaty obligations, the INCB, which is charged with ensuring that countries live up to them, also criticized marijuana legalization as it issued its 2012 Annual Report.

Noting the popular votes in favor of legalization in Colorado and Washington, INCB reiterated that "the legalization of cannabis for non-medical and non-scientific purposes would be in contravention to the provisions of the 1961 Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol."

The INCB also took a shot at medical marijuana, noting that "the control requirements that have been adopted in the 17 states in question and in the District of Columbia under the 'medical' cannabis schemes fall short of the requirements set forth in articles 23 and 28 of the 1961 Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol."

And, also expressing concerns about decriminalization moves, INCB "requests that the government of the United States take effective measures to ensure the implementation of all control measures for cannabis plants and cannabis, as required under the 1961 Convention, in all states and territories falling within its legislative authority."

The two-pronged attack excited a quick response from drug reform groups and at least one Democratic congressman.

"As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once observed, states are the laboratories of democracy. The federal government should concentrate on shutting down meth labs -- not the laboratories of democracy. The people of Colorado and Washington voted to implement these laws, and the federal government should respect their will. States have a right to determine their own possession laws," said Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) in a Tuesday statement.

"If the people of Colorado and Washington want to legalize small amounts of marijuana, that is their decision. It is arrogant of these former DEA chiefs to encourage the President to nullify these laws," Cohen continued. "The fact that these former DEA chiefs are so focused on marijuana possession is why we have lost the war on drugs. The war should be on heroin, meth, crack, cocaine and unauthorized use of prescription drugs -- not marijuana possession."

[Ed: We don't think war on those other drugs is a good thing either -- to the extent at least that "war" means arresting and incarcerating people. Not that we want underground meth labs all over the place. But meth is going to be supplied by someone in some way, despite enforcement efforts, so long as there are people who want to use it. We're losing the "war on drugs" because it is prohibition based, and prohibition doesn't work. The government's focus on marijuana enforcement only highlights the sheer senseless of it all. -DB]

"The former DEA chiefs' statement can best be seen as a self-interested plea to validate the costly and failed policies they championed but that Americans are now rejecting at the ballot box," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "They obviously find it hard to admit that -- at least with respect to marijuana -- their legacy will be much the same as a previous generation of agents who once worked for the federal Bureau of Prohibition enforcing the nation’s alcohol prohibition laws."

"The war on drugs has been a failure by every measure," said Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "After more than a trillion dollars spent over the last forty years, we have nothing to show for it except more violence on our streets, the fracturing of community trust in the police and overflowing prison populations. Still, use has not significantly declined. It's unfortunate the DEA heads can't admit this failure. As someone who gave three decades of his life fighting this 'war' on the ground, I can tell you that from that perspective, this policy was dead on arrival."

"It is not surprising that these ex-heads of the marijuana prohibition industry are taking action to maintain the policies that kept them and their colleagues in business for so long," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project and an official proponent of the Colorado initiative. "Their desire to keep marijuana sales in an underground market favors the drug cartels, whereas the laws approved in Colorado and Washington favor legitimate, tax-paying businesses. Marijuana prohibition has failed, and voters are ready to move on and adopt a more sensible approach. It's time for these former marijuana prohibitionists to move on too."

As for INCB, it essentially plays the role of toothless nag, said Eric Sterling, the executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. It is mandated by the United Nations to report on adherence to global anti-drug treaties, but has only the power to hector, not to enforce.

"The INCB has no power other than to issue reports," he said. "It can't issue indictments, it can't call for a resolution in some other body to condemn a nation. It's strictly hortatory, and for many years, it's bordered on the preposterous in the condemnations it's made. The INCB thinks that nations ought to suppress music or motion pictures or books that 'send the wrong message' about drugs. In that sense, it is completely out of step with Western Civilization. They would reject art and music and probably science if it were contrary to their abstinence focus on drug use."

Not only is the INCB relatively powerless, it is largely irrelevant, Sterling said.

"In our American drug policy, they have only negligible influence," he said. "I don't think that in any state capital, the INCB's comments carry any political weight. I don't think in most journals of opinion, their observations are important. Whether their comments have significance in other countries would be harder for me to assess. I tend to believe they are not that important," he said.

"Most people don't even know what it is or what its power is or what it said, including most members of Congress and their staffs," Sterling continued. "The INCB is obscure. Maybe some former DEA administrators might want to refer to them in a press release, but nobody else is going to pay any attention."

The forces of opposition to marijuana legalization are lining up to put pressure on the Obama administration. It shouldn't listen to them, said DPA's Nadelmann.

"President Obama and Attorney General Holder really need to allow Washington and Colorado officials to implement the new laws in ways that protect public safety and health while respecting the will of those states’ voters," he said. "At this point, insisting on blind obeisance to strict interpretation of federal drug laws will only serve the interests of criminals who want to keep this industry underground and law enforcement officials who want to justify their legacy."

And the wait for clarity from Washington continues...

Norway Government Wants to Decriminalize Heroin Smoking

The Norwegian government said Friday it wants to decriminalize the smoking of heroin as a harm reduction measure, Agence-France Presse reported. Smoking heroin is less dangerous than injecting it, and the move could reduce the number of overdoses, officials said.

heroin smoking image from 1965 UNODC newsletter
"The number of fatal overdoses is too high and I would say it's shameful for Norway," said Health Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere. "The way addicts consume their drugs is central to the question of overdoses. My view is that we should allow people to smoke heroin since injecting it is more dangerous," he said.

According to the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research (SIRUS), heroin overdoses accounted for 30% of 262 fatal overdoses in 2011. By comparison, only 168 people died in traffic accidents that year.

The city of Oslo has opened a supervised injection site in a bid to reduce overdoses, but decriminalizing heroin smoking would also help, said Stoere. Users currently can't smoke at the supervised injection site.

"This isn't about some kind of legalization of heroin but about being realistic," he said. "Those who are in the unfortunate situation of injecting themselves in a drug room should be able to inhale. It is less dangerous, you consume less and the risk of contracting a disease is lower," he added.

"It's a paradox that you can't smoke heroin when you can inject it, since the first method is less dangerous than the second," SIRUS researcher Astrid Skretting told AFP. "But the culture of injecting which provides a more immediate effect than smoking seems deeply rooted in Norway and it's not certain that a decriminalization will lead to a radical change in behavior," she suggested.

The Norwegian government is set to unveil its latest plan for fighting drug addiction next week. Stoere said the heroin smoking decrim plan has the backing of the center-left government.

Oslo
Norway

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