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Hoffman, Heroin, and What Is To Be Done [FEATURE]

The news last Sunday that acclaimed actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman had died of an apparent heroin overdose has turned a glaring media spotlight on the phenomenon, but heroin overdose deaths had been on the rise for several years before his premature demise. And while there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth -- and quick arrests of low-level dealers and users -- too little has been said, either before or after his passing, about what could have been done to save him and what could be done to save others.

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
There are proven measures that can be taken to reduce overdose deaths -- and to enable heroin addicts to live safe and normal lives, whether they cease using heroin or not. All of the above face social and political obstacles and have only been implemented unevenly, if at all. If there is any good to come of Hoffmann's death it will be to the degree that it inspires broader discussion of what can be done to prevent the same thing happening to others in a similar position.

Hoffman, devoted family man and great actor that he was, died a criminal. And perhaps he died because his use of heroin was criminalized. Criminalized heroin -- heroin under drug prohibition -- is of uncertain provenance, of unknown strength and purity, adulterated with unknown substances. While we don't know what was in the heroin that Hoffman injected, we do know that he maintained his addiction and went to meet his maker with black market dope. That's what was found beside his lifeless body.

In a commentary published by The Guardian, actor Russell Brand, a recovered heroin addict, laid the blame for Hoffman's demise on the drug laws. "Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise drug addicts," Brand wrote, calling prohibitionists' methods "so gallingly ineffective that it is difficult not to deduce that they are deliberately creating the worst imaginable circumstances to maximise the harm caused by substance misuse." As a result, "drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem."

We didn't always treat our addicts this way. Even after the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, doctors continued for years to prescribe maintenance doses of opiates to addicts -- and hundreds of them went to jail for it as the medical profession fought, and ultimately lost, a battle with the nascent drug prohibition bureaucracy over whether giving addicts their medicine was part of the legitimate practice of medicine.

The idea of treating heroin addicts as patients instead of criminals was largely vanquished in the United States, but it never went away -- it lingers with methadone substitution, for example. But other countries have for decades been experimenting with providing maintenance doses of opioids to addicts, and to good result. It goes by various names -- opiate substitution therapy, heroin-assisted theatment, heroin maintenance -- and studies from Britain and other European countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, as well as the North American Opiate Medications Initiative (NAOMI) and the follow-up Study to Assess Long-Term Opiate Maintenance in Canada have touted its successes.

Those studies have found that providing pharmaceutical grade heroin to addicts in a clinical setting works. It reduces the likelihood of death or disease among clients, as well as allowing them to bring some stability and predictability to sometimes chaotic lives made even more chaotic by the demands of addiction under prohibition. Such treatment has also been found to have beneficial effects for society, with lowered criminality among participants and increased likelihood of their integration as productive members of society.

The dry, scientific language of the studies obscures the human realities around heroin addiction and opioid maintenance therapy. One NAOMI participant helps put a human face on it.

"I want to tell you what being a participant in this study did for me," one participant told researchers. "Initially it meant 'free heroin.' But over time it became more, much more. NAOMI took much of the stress out of my life and allowed me to think more clearly about my life and future. It exposed me to new ideas, people (staff and clients) that in my street life (read: stressful existence) there was no time for."

"After NAOMI, I was offered oral methadone, which I refused. After going quickly downhill, I ended up hopeless and homeless. I went into detox in April 2007, abstained from using for two months, then relapsed. In July 2008 I again went to detox and I am presently in a treatment center... I am definitely not "out of the woods" yet, but I feel I am on the right path. And this path started for me at the corner of Abbott and Hastings in Vancouver... Thank you and all who were involved in making NAOMI happen. Without NAOMI, I wouldn't be where I am today. I am sure I would be in a much worse place."

Arnold Trebach, one of the fathers of the drug reform in late 20th Century America, has been studying heroin since 1972, and is still at it. He examined the British system in the early 1970s, when doctors still prescribed heroin to thousands of addicts, and authored a book, The Heroin Solution, that compared and contrasted the US and UK approaches. Later this month, the octogenarian law professor will be appearing on a panel at the Vermont Law School to address what Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has described as the heroin crisis there.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (wikimedia.org)
"The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a tragedy all the way around," Trebach told the Chronicle. "It's a bad idea to use heroin off the street, and he shouldn't have been doing that."

That said, Trebach continued, it didn't have to be that way.

"If we had had a sensible system of dealing with this, he would have been in treatment under medical care," he said. "If he was going to inject heroin, he should have been using pharmaceutically pure heroin in a medical setting where he could also have been exposed to efforts to straighten out his personal life, and he could have access to vitamins, weight control advice, and the whole spectrum of medical care. And if he had had access to opioid antagonists, he could still be alive," he added.

While Hoffman may have made bad personal choices, Trebach said, we as a society have made policy choices seemingly designed to amplify the prospects for disaster.

"This is a sad thing. He is just another one of the many victims of our barbaric drug policy," he said. "This was a totally unnecessary death at every level. He shouldn't have been using, but we should have been taking care of him."

The stuff ought to be legalized, Trebach said.

"I'm an advocate of full legalization, but if we can't go that far, we need to at least provide social and psychological support for these people," he said. "And even if we were to decriminalize or legalize, I would still want to figure out ways to provide support and love and kindness to people using the stuff. I advise you not to do it, but if you're going to use it, I want to keep you alive. I remember talking to people from Liverpool [a famous heroin maintenance clinic covered in the '90s by Sixty Minutes, linked above] about harm reduction around heroin use back in the 1970s. One of the ladies said it is very hard to rehabilitate a dead addict."

"There are plenty of things we can be doing," said Hilary McQuie, Western director for the Harm Reduction Network, reeling off a list of harm reduction interventions that are by now well-known but inadequately implemented.

"We can make naloxone (Narcan) more available. We need better access to it. It should be offered to people like Hoffman when they are leaving treatment programs, especially if they've been using opiates, just as a safeguard," she said. "Having treatment programs as well as harm reduction programs distribute it is important. We can cut the overdose rate in half with naloxone, but there will still be people using alone and people using multiple substances."

There are other proven interventions that could be ramped up as well, McQuie said.

"Safe injection sites would be very helpful, so would more Good Samaritan overdose emergency laws, and more education, not to mention more access to methadone and buprenorphine and other opioid substitution therapies (OST)," she said, reeling off possible interventions.

Dr. Martin Schechter, director of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, knows a thing or two about OST. The principal study investigator for the NAOMI and the follow-up SALOME study, Schechter has overseen research into the effectiveness of treating intractable addicts with pharmaceutical heroin, as well as methadone. The results have been promising.

"What we're using is medically prescribed pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin," he explained. "It's what you have when you strip away all the street additives. This is a stable, sterile medication from a pharmaceutical manufacturer. We know the precise dose tailored for each person. With street heroin, not only is it adulterated and injected in unsterile situations, but people really don't know how strong it is. That's probably what happened to Mr. Hoffman."

Naloxone (Narcan) can reverse opiate overdoses (wikimedia.org)
In NAOMI, 90,000 injections were administered to study participants, and only 11 people suffered overdoses requiring medical attention.

"Never did we have a fatal overdose," Schechter said. "Because it was in a clinic, nurses and doctors are right there. We administer Narcan (naloxone), and they wake up."

Heroin maintenance had even proven more effective than methadone in numerous studies, Schechter said.

"There have been seven randomized control trials across Europe and in Canada that have shown for people who have already tried treatments like methadone, that medically prescribed heroin is more effective and cost effective treatment than simply trying methadone one more time."

Those studies carry a lesson, he said.

"We have to start looking at heroin from a medicinal point of view and treat it like a medicine," he argued. "The more we drive its use underground, the more overdoses we get. We need to expand treatment programs, not only with methadone, but with medically prescribed heroin for people who don't respond to other treatments."

Safe injection sites are also a worthwhile intervention, Schechter said, although he also noted their limitations.

"Injecting under supervision is much safer; if there is an overdose, there is prompt attention, and they provide sterile equipment, reducing the risk of HIV and Hep C," he said. "But they are still injecting street heroin."

He would favor decriminalizing heroin possession, too, he said.

Harm reduction measures, opioid maintenance treatments, and the like are absolutely necessary interventions, said McQuie, but there is a larger issue at hand, as well.

"We still need to look at the overall issue of the stigmatization of drug users," she said. "People aren't open about their use, and that puts them in a more dangerous situation. It's really hard in a criminalized environment."

Stigmatization means to mark or brand someone or something as disgraceful and subject to strong disapproval. Defining an activity, such as heroin possession, as a crime is stigmatization crystallized into the legal structures of society itself.

"The ultimate harm reduction solution," McQuie argued, "is a regulated, decriminalized environment where it is available by prescription, so people know what they're getting, they know how much to use, and it's not cut with fentanyl or other deadly adulterants. People wouldn't have to deal with all the collateral damage that comes from being defined as criminals as well as dealing with the consequences of their drug use. They could deal with their addictions without having to worry about losing their homes, their families, and their freedoms."

While such approaches have a long way to go before winning wide popular acceptance, policymakers should at least be held to account for the consequences of their decision-making, McQuie said, suggesting that the turn to heroin in recent years was a foreseeable result of the crackdown on prescription opioid pain medication beginning in the middle of the last decade.

"They started shutting down all those 'pill mills' and people should have anticipated what would happen and been ready for it," she said. "What we have seen is more and more people turning to injecting heroin, but nobody stopped to do an impact statement on what would be the likely result of restricting access to pain pills."

The impact can be seen in the numbers on heroin use, addiction, and overdoses. While talk of a "heroin epidemic" is overblown rhetoric, the number of heroin users has increased dramatically in the past decade. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of past year users grew by about 50% between 2002 and 2011, from roughly 400,000 to more than 600,000. At the same time, the number of addicted users increased from just under 200,000 to about 370,000, a slightly lesser increase.

If there is any good news, it is that, according to the latest (2012) National Household Survey of Drug Use and Health, the number of new heroin users has remained fairly steady at around 150,000 each year for the past decade. That suggests, however, that more first-time users are graduating to occasional and sometimes, dependent user status.

And some of them are dying of heroin overdoses, although not near the number dying from overdoses from prescription opioids. Between 1999 and 2007, heroin deaths hovered just under 2,000, even as prescription drug deaths skyrocketed, from around 2,500 in 1999 to more than 12,000 just eight years later. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, by 2010, the latest year for which data are available, heroin overdose deaths had surpassed 3,000, a 50% increase in just three years.

While the number of heroin overdose deaths is still but a fraction of those attributed to prescription opioid overdoses and the numbers since 2010 are spotty, the increase that showed up in 2010 shows no signs of having gone away. Phillip Seymour Hoffman may be the most prominent recent victim, but in the week since his death, another 50 or 60 people have probably followed him to the morgue due to heroin overdoses.

There are ways to reduce the heroin overdose death toll. It's not a making of figuring out what they are. It's a matter of finding the political and social will to implement them, and that requires leaving the drug war paradigm behind.

New York City, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 5, 2014

Alaska will vote on marijuana legalization this summer, the DC council gives preliminary approval to a decriminalization bill, the farm bill with the hemp amendment intact passes Congress, advocates urge India's parliament to act on access to pain medications, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Patients in India need access to opioid pain medications, too. (cansupport.org)
Alaska Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. State election officials said Tuesday that a marijuana legalization initiative has enough signatures to qualify for the August ballot. The measure isn't officially certified yet, but it's all but a done deal.

DC Council Gives Preliminary Approval to Decriminalization. The District of Columbia city council Tuesday approved a marijuana decriminalization bill, Council Bill 20-409, but only after first accepting amendments that would criminalize the public use of marijuana and allow police to search vehicles if they encounter the odor of marijuana. A second and final vote will most probably happen next month, and efforts are underway to strip out the bad amendments. Meanwhile, a legalization bill and a legalization initiative are pending.

Deputy Drug Czar Forced to Admit Marijuana Safer Than Alcohol. Deputy ONDCP head Michael Botticelli had a rough hearing Tuesday at the House Government Oversight Committee. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) got him to admit that marijuana is safer than alcohol, but it was a painful process. Click on the link for the dialog.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Finalizes Regulations for a Single Medical Marijuana Compassion Center. The Marijuana Policy Project complains that its limit of 150 plants will be too few to meet patients' needs, but says its efforts to get the cap lifted have been blocked. Maybe the regs can be changed later, the group said.

Project CBD Responds to Attacks from Project SAM. Project CBD's Martin Lee has penned a lengthy rebuttal of a recent Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) "fact sheet" that seeks to justify continued marijuana prohibition "by misinforming the public about cannabidiol and THC." Check it out at the title link.

Hemp

Farm Bill With Hemp Amendment Passes Congress. The Senate Tuesday passed the omnibus farm bill with the hemp amendment intact. The amendment will allow universities and agriculture departments that have approved hemp production to undertake research. The president is expected to sign the bill any day now.

Drug Testing

Farm Bill Passes Congress Without Drug Testing Amendment. The same Farm Bill package that passed the Senate did not include language passed in a version of the bill last summer that would have encouraged states to drug test recipients of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance, also known as food stamps.

South Dakota Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Dies. A bill that would have required drug screening and testing for public benefits recipients died Tuesday in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 5-2 vote. The bill had been fiercely opposed by the administration of Republican Gov. Dennis Daugard.

Law Enforcement

Silk Road Mastermind Indicted By Feds. Ross Ulbricht, the suspected mastermind behind the dark web's Silk Road web site, has been indicted by federal prosecutors for allegedly trafficking drugs through the site. The indictment supersedes the original complaint from October 2013. Meanwhile, another version of Silk Road is back online, and so are competitors.

Prescription Drugs

Florida Prescription Drug Database Overhaul With Privacy Protections Passes Senate Committee. A bill that amends the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to require investigators to get court orders to access the database passed the Senate Health Policy Committee Tuesday. The move came over the objection of law enforcement, which said it would hamper its ability to curb the abuse of controlled substances. The bill is Senate Bill 7106.

Students

South Dakota Bill to Reduce Collateral Student Drug Punishments Advances. The Senate Education Committee Tuesday approved a bill that would reduce the collateral penalties for high school students convicted of drug offenses. Under current state law, students convicted of drug offenses are suspended from school activities for a year, but can get that reduced to 60 days if they attend treatment or counseling. The bill approved by the committee would reduce that to 30 days if the student undergoes treatment.

International

British PM Rejects Junior Partner's Call to End "Unwinnable" Drug War. British Prime Minister David Cameron flatly rejected Deputy PM Nick Clegg's call to end the war on drugs and explore alternative approaches. Clegg made his comments in over the weekend on a trip to Colombia, but Cameron was having none of it, according to a spokesman: "No. The PM's views are well-known and unchanged," when asked if Cameron agreed. "He thinks that we have the right approach. The government has a good record in this area, with drug usage at the lowest level since records began." [Ed: Actually, the prime minister's views are changed, or at least the public version of them. Prior to becoming prime minister, Cameron favored legalization.]

Indian Doctors, Advocates Call for Parliament to Quit Dithering, Pass Opioid Medication Law. Indian doctors and pain patient advocates are calling on parliament to pass an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Bill that would increase the availability of opioid pain medications. They say millions of Indians are suffering from untreated pain because of lack of access to such substances. Among the groups calling for action on the bill are Pallium India, the Indian Association of Palliative Care, and CanSupport, which provides home care and palliative care for patients with cancer.

DC City Council Approves Marijuana Decriminalization [FEATURE]

The District of Columbia city council moved another step closer to decriminalizing marijuana possession in the nation's capital Tuesday, approving a bill to do just that on an 11-1 vote. But it only acted after approving last-minute amendments that would make public pot-smoking a criminal offense and give police the right to conduct vehicle searches if they smell marijuana.

A final vote on the bill will come next month. It is expected to pass and already has the support of Mayor Vincent Gray.

While advocates greeted the council vote with praise, the accolades were tempered by concerns about the council's adoption of the late amendments. And looming over it all is the prospect of outright legalization in the District, either through a bill introduced by Councilmember David Grasso that is now before the council or through an initiative that is now awaiting language approval from District officials.

"This is a major victory for advancing the cause of racial justice in DC," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "The war on marijuana is largely a war on people of color and the DC council is saying enough is enough."

"As a former prosecuting attorney, I call this a step forward for the cause of promoting public safety," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Arresting and prosecuting adults for possessing a less harmful substance than alcohol is a waste of law enforcement and court resources. Police and prosecutors should focus their time and attention on addressing actual threats to public safety."

The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing marijuana impose a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it. But the amendments approved Tuesday criminalize public possession and allows those vehicle searches.

The bill was introduced after the publication of an ACLU report and a Washington Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs report highlighting the disparate rate of arrests of blacks over whites for marijuana possession in the District. The reports found that blacks are arrested eight times as often as whites for the offense, even though rates of use among both races are thought to be relatively similar.

But advocates complained that the amendments adopted Tuesday would only serve to perpetuate racially biased marijuana law arrests, not end them. Some called for a solution to the problem by having the council pass the legalization bill.

"These last-minute amendments will simply expand stop-and-frisk policies in the District and will do nothing to fight the horrible racial disparities in marijuana enforcement," said MPP's Riffle. "We need to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol, and take it out of the hands of criminals and drug cartels. Marijuana should be sold by legitimate businesses in licensed, regulated stores, not by criminals on our street corners. The sooner the council takes up Councilmember Grosso's bill, the better."

The Drug Policy Alliance will be working to undo the amendments when the council takes a final vote on the bill next month, Smith told the Chronicle Tuesday night.

"There is one more opportunity to change the criminalization of public smoking when the council considers and votes one more time on the bill," he said. "We hope to work with Councilmember Tommy Wells and our community partners here in DC to pressure the council to reverse its decision to criminalize public consumption and treat public smoking as a civil offense instead."

Looming just behind the decriminalization fight is outright legalization. Public opinion in the District appears ready to make the leap. A Washington Post poll last year had support for legalization at a healthy 63%.

While some groups, like the Marijuana Policy Project, are working the council in an effort to move a bill, others favor the initiative process, especially if the council fails to act.

"As a DC resident, I'm proud the Council took an important step today to stop the expensive, time-consuming and racially discriminatory practice of putting people into handcuffs just for possessing marijuana," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority."But while this is clearly movement in the right direction, this legislation would unfortunately leave marijuana production and profits illegal and largely in the hands of street gangs and criminals. A clear majority of District voters supports legalizing marijuana, and that's why we're likely to approve a ballot initiative this November that would completely remove penalties for possession and allow residents to grow up to six plants. Hopefully such widespread voter support will spur the council to adopt more comprehensive legislation taxing and regulating the marijuana trade at some point soon."

Adam Eidinger of the DC Cannabis Campaign is the public face of the DC marijuana legalization initiative. The veteran District political gadfly had kind words for the decriminalization effort, but signaled it wouldn't make any difference to the initiative campaign.

"The compromise on the decrim bill wasn't that bad. The big deal is that it passed, and it passed with a veto-proof majority, and the mayor will sign it. We should be celebrating," he said, "But I'm on the war path. Decriminalization is a stepping stone toward ending the raging stream of marijuana arrests; it's a nice place to stand, but you don't want to live there, because you're going to fall in the water eventually. And I mean get arrested," he clarified.

"Look, decriminalization will get rid of a lot of arrests, but there will still be marijuana arrests and people engaging in illegal activity when they want to buy it," Eidinger continued. "And they're exposed to heroin and other hard drugs. You need to separate cannabis from all the hard drugs and create a legal cultivation and distribution system. That hurts the bulk hard drug dealers. If you care about reducing drug use and addiction, you create a massive harm reduction with marijuana legalization first. I don't have sympathy for the illicit market for heroin, but for the illicit cannabis market, it's not deadly."

The legalization initiative campaign continues to aim at the November ballot, Eidinger said, but still needs to secure funding if it's going to be successful. A key date for the initiative will be February 25, when the DC Board of Elections decides whether to approve the initiative language for signature-gathering.

"If the language is good, that's a big deal," Eidinger said. "I think some of the big money has been holding off until that happens. We're doing this on a shoe string and have raised $30,000 in six months, but we do have the money for signature-gathering locked in, thanks to Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. We will do paid and volunteer signature-gathering."

Marijuana law reform is coming to the District of Columbia. And the decriminalization bill is only the beginning.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 4, 2014

Legalization proves profitable for Colorado's coffers, decrim moves closer in DC, more drug test bills get filed, Vermont attempts to do something about its opioid problem, a crime lab scandal brews in Florida, and more. Let's get to it:

meth house (assumptionsheriff.com)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Approves Decriminalization Bill. The District of Columbia city council today gave initial approval to the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409), which would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. The bill still faces another council vote, needs the approval of the mayor, then needs Congress to let it happen.

Colorado Takes in $1.2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month. According to an NBC News survey of Colorado retail marijuana shops, pot sales in the month since they were legal have contributed at least $1.24 million in tax revenues to state coffers. But wait -- there's more: The survey only counted tax receipts from half of the shops that opened New Year's Day, meaning the month's total is probably in the $2.4 million to $3 million range.

Arizona Democrat Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D) and 12 other Democrats have filed a bill to "regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol." The measure, House Bill 2558, allows for the possession of up to an ounce and a small number of plants as well. Another bill, House Bill 2474, would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

CBD Oil Medical Marijuana Bill for Epileptic Kids Filed in Utah. A bill that would allow for the importation into the state of marijuana extracts containing cannabidiol for use by epileptic children has been filed in Salt Lake City. Rep. Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville) introduced House Bill 100 yesterday.

Hemp

Indiana Senate Passes Hemp Bill. A bill that would allow the production of industrial hemp in the Hoosier State was approved unanimously by the Indiana Senate Monday. Senate Bill 357 would require a waiver from federal law before hemp could be grown there. The bill now heads to the House.

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Filed. State Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has filed a bill to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing for food stamp recipients. The bill is House Bill 772. Similar legislation ordering mandatory, suspicionless drug testing for welfare recipients was signed into law in 2012, but never implemented after a federal judge struck down a similar Florida law.

Northern Marianas Bills Would Require Drug Tests for Candidates, Elected Officials. Bills that would require that candidates for political office and elected officials submit to mandatory drug testing have passed the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations. House Bill 18-21 requires testing for candidates, and House Bill 18-152 requires testing for elected officials. The US Supreme Court has found a similar Georgia law unconstitutional.

Drug Treatment

Vermont Rolls Out Early Intervention Program for Criminal Drug Users. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and other state officials Monday announced a new program to divert crime-committing drug users into a pre-court, 90-day drug treatment program. If they successfully complete the program, they will not be prosecuted. Only those with nonviolent offenses will be eligible. "Instead of treating this as a crime, let's treat it as the disease that it is and offer addicts the opportunity to get into treatment, get the support they need and if they succeed, never to have to go through the criminal process," Shumlin said Monday at the Rutland County Courthouse.

Law Enforcement

Crime Lab Scandal Has Florida Police Reviewing Thousands of Drug Cases. Hundreds of drug convictions may be jeopardized and thousands of drug cases are under review in Florida after a single chemist at a state-run crime lab was accused of tampering with evidence. The chemist, who works at the Pensacola Regional Crime Lab, is suspected of removing "large" quantities of prescription pills from evidence packages and replacing them with over-the-counter medications, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Saturday. That chemist handled at least 2,600 drug cases.

Methamphetamine

Indiana House Passes Meth Property Disclosure Bill. A bill that would require Indiana property owners to disclose to potential new buyers whether the property had previously been used to manufacture methamphetamine passed the House Monday. The bill, House Bill 1141, would require that such properties be listed on a state web site until at least 90 days after it has been certified as decontaminated. The measure now goes to the Senate.

International

Scholar Francisco Thoumi Offers Comprehensive Analysis of FARC Illicit Drug Cultivation Proposals. Colombian scholar Francisco Thoumi, a long-renowned expert on drug production and trafficking there, has authored a lengthy analysis of the FARC's proposals in peace negotiations with the Colombian government in the area of illicit crop cultivation. The article is Las FARC y el campesinado cultivador de plantas ilícitas: dilemas, ideología y decisiones (The FARC and the Drug-Growing Peasantry: Dilemmas, Ideology, and Decisions). It is in Spanish, but can be translated.

In Colombia, British Liberal Democrat Leader Says UK Should Abandon Current Drug Policies. During a visit to Colombia, British Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Britain should abandon its current drug policies because they're not working. He said new approaches were needed, but declined to back full legalization. He said the Lib Dems would offer their own alternative proposals shortly.

DC Council Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

The District of Columbia city council today approved a marijuana decriminalization bill, but a second vote is needed for final approval.

That second vote will come no sooner than two weeks from now.

If approved again then, it will then have to get the okay from the mayor.

If that happens, Congress then has a limited opportunity to block it.

But it's on it's way

The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

DC City Council Voting on Marijuana Decriminalization Today

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dc-city-council-chambers.jpg
DC city council chamber

Things are looking for good for a vote for marijuana decriminalization in the DC city council this afternoon. From Phil's "Chronicle AM" drug policy roundup yesterday:

DC City Council Votes on Decriminalization Tomorrow. The DC city council is expected to vote Tuesday to approve the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.
 

At $25 per violation -- less than most parking tickets, and less than the $100 fine originally proposed for the bill, the legislation would be a really nice step forward. (On the other hand, if one counts the value of the marijuana that police will still seize, the net cost might still be more than a parking ticket.)

Chronicle AM -- February 3, 2014

Short-sighted Tories slam a Welsh harm reduction drug testing program, DC could decriminalize marijuana possession tomorrow, Oregon's governor thinks the legislature should legalize it, South Dakota legislators get busy with bad bills, and a South Dakota Indian reservation is thinking about legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Votes on Decriminalization Tomorrow. The DC city council is expected to vote Tuesday to approve the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

Oregon Governor Wants Legislature to Act on Legalization. Faced with the seeming inevitability of marijuana legalization in his state, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) said last Friday the legislature should take it up. "I hear the drumbeats from Washington and Colorado," he said. "I want to make sure we have a thoughtful regulatory system," Kitzhaber said. "The Legislature would be the right place to craft that." A bill to do that, Senate Bill 1556, is currently before the legislature. If the legislature doesn't act, a ballot initiative that could legalize marijuana in the state is waiting in the wings.

South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Considers Legalization. The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council on southwestern South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation has taken preliminary steps toward a public vote on marijuana legalization. Last week, the tribe's business development community approved the measure, and Tribal Chairman James Cross supports it. The full tribal council could approve a vote within the next month.

California Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act (MCLR) initiative was approved last Friday for signature gathering to begin. Organizers now have until May to qualify for the November 2014 ballot. They need 504,000 valid voter signatures to do so. Three other legalization initiatives have also been submitted, but at this point, it appears unlikely that any of the initiatives will qualify for the ballot.

Two-Thirds of Hawaiians Ready to Legalize It, Poll Finds. Support for marijuana legalization in the Aloha State has jumped nine points since 2012 and now stands at 66%, according to a new QMark Research Poll. The survey also found 77% opposed jail time for pot possession and 85% supported allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

New Jersey Poll: Only 41% Support Legalization. A new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll has support for legalizing small quantities of marijuana or personal use at 41%, although it is trending upward. "These numbers point to the possibility that fertile ground exists in the state for those looking to expand legalization beyond medicinal use," poll director Krista Jenkins said. "Policymakers will likely be watching for changes in public opinion as the percentage difference between those in favor and opposed gets closer to the 50/50 mark. Right now, however, a majority of the public remains opposed."

Medical Marijuana

Portland, Oregon, Medical Marijuana Business Symposium Draws Hundreds. Hundreds of people showed up in Portland Saturday at a marijuana business symposium to give and get advice on how to operate dispensaries and related businesses in the state. Beginning in March, the state of Oregon will start accepting applications for the businesses, making it a taxed and regulated industry.

Guam Senate Passes Bill to Put Medical Marijuana on the Ballot. The Guam Senate Saturday approved Bill 215, which would put the question of legalizing medical marijuana directly to the voters. The governor could still veto it, but unless he takes affirmative action to do so it will go into effect. Sponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) amended the bill to allow for a popular referendum after running into opposition in the legislature.

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Grower Sues over Stalled Permit. A Santa Fe man has sued the state Department of Health over what he describes as a severe medical marijuana shortage. Mark Springer of Medical Marijuana, Inc. accuses the department of failing to act on his application and asks that it reopen the application period for growers and ease limits on how much they can grow.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Bills Stalled. Two bills that would make it easier for patients to acquire medical marijuana, including allowing dispensaries and the use of edibles, passed the House late last year, but now appear stalled by a hostile Senate committee chair. They are stuck in the Senate Government Operations Committee, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), who is not a big fan. "I'm going to sit on them for awhile," he said. The two bills are House Bill 5104 (edibles) and House Bill 4271 (dispensaries).

Methamphetamine

South Dakota Meth Precursor Registry Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would make South Dakota the 30th state to join the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) to track pseudoephedrine sales passed the Senate last week. Senate Bill 24 now heads to the House for consideration.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. A bill that would direct the state Department of Social Services to screen and drug test public benefits applicants for drug use has been filed in the South Dakota Senate. State Sen. Mark Kirkeby (R-Rapid City) tried and failed with similar bills in 2011 and 2012, but he's back this year with Senate Bill 123.

International

French Legislator Has Bill to Legalize Marijuana. A Green Party legislator said Saturday she had written a bill to legalize marijuana in France. Sen. Esther Benbassa, who represents a district on the outskirts of Paris, said France suffered from "a paradox," with some of the toughest marijuana laws in Europe, but also rising use levels.

Welsh Tories Attack Government for Funding Harm Reduction Drug Testing. Public Health Wales is operating a web site, Wedinos, where individuals can have drug samples tested for content and purity, and that has Welsh Tories crying foul. "This website suggests that Labour in Wales has given up the fight against drugs," complained Shadow Health Minister Jim Millar. "This free service is not just testing recreational highs, but illegal and dangerous drugs including heroin, cocaine and crack and gives advice on snorting and injecting substances." A government spokesman responded that it totally rejects those charges. "We are taking action to help individuals and society deal with the problems of substance misuse," he said. "Wedinos can provide essential intelligence and can help save lives. "It contributes to the wider UK and European Early Warning Systems in place to identify and monitor changing trends in drug use."

United Arab Emirates Toughens Drug Trafficking Laws. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is vowing to seize assets from drug dealers and traffickers, but at the same time, it is working to enhance drug treatment services as part of "a containment policy for drug addicts, guiding them towards annihilating their addiction through innovative services."

Obama Elaborates on Marijuana Policy

In an interview with CNN Friday, President Obama expanded on his remarks regarding marijuana made in a recent New Yorker interview. In that latter interview, Obama described marijuana as not being any worse than alcohol, and CNN interviewer Jake Tapper pressed him on those comments.

President Barack Obama (whitehouse.gov)
When Tapper asked him about rescheduling marijuana out of Schedule I, the most restrictive classification, he declined to take a position, instead trying to pass the buck to Congress.

"First of all, what is and isn't a Schedule I narcotics is a job for Congress," he said.

That comment was misleading. While Congress created the drug schedules and placed drugs in different schedules when it passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, the act gives the executive branch the power to reschedule drugs. In fact, the DEA has denied three separate petitions seeking to reschedule marijuana.

"I stand by my belief based on the scientific evidence that marijuana for casual users, individual users, is subject to abuse, just like alcohol is and should be treated as a public health problem and challenge," he said.

The president added that his main concern was the criminalization of marijuana use.

"My concern is when you end up having very heavy criminal penalties for individual users that have been applied unevenly and, in some cases, with a racial disparity," he said. "I think that is a problem. We're going to see what happens in the experiments in Colorado and Washington. The Department of Justice under Eric Holder has said that we are going to continue to enforce federal laws."

Obama added that the federal government doesn't have enough manpower to bust people "smoking a joint on the corner." But it doesn't need to; more than 90% of all marijuana arrests are made by state and local police, not federal law enforcement.

Instead of concentrating on individual users, Obama said, the federal government was working to prevent undesired consequences, such as out-of-state drug trafficking or violence, from "creeping out of this experiment that is taking place."

The president also issued a "cautionary note" about the possible consequences of a commercialized marijuana industry and warned legalization proponents to watch out for increased use levels.

"I think they have to ask themselves some tough questions, too," he said. "Because if we start having a situation where big corporations with lots of resources and distribution and marketing arms are suddenly going out there, peddling marijuana, then the levels of abuse that may take place are going to be higher."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- January 27, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative will go to the voters in November, the DEA administrator is being both jeered and cheered for her criticism of President Obama's remarks on marijuana, the Supreme Court makes it harder to punish drug dealers for deaths related to their wares, and much more. Let's get to it:

Drug War Chronicle takes no position on the game.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Head Criticizes Obama Marijuana Remarks, Faces Calls to be Ousted. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart last week got a standing ovation from a convention of sheriffs when she criticized President Obama's remarks on the relative safety of marijuana compared with alcohol. But now, drug reformers are calling for her head.

Colorado and Washington NORML in Superbowl "Bud Bowl" Challenge. The contenders in Sunday's NFL Superbowl game, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, both come from states where marijuana is legal. In honor of their hometown teams and their respective states' legal marijuana status, NORML chapters in Washington and Colorado have engaged in a friendly wager. If the Denver Broncos win, WA NORML has agreed to dress in Bronco colors of blue and orange and sing Karaoke-style Colorado's (second) official state song "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. If the Seattle Seahawks win, CO NORML will do the same, but in Seahawk blue and green and singing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, a native son of Seattle. [Ed: StoptheDrugWar.org has no position on either the game or the wager.]

New Jersey State Senator Announces Plans to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) said late last week that he plans to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill is not yet filed, but envisions language that would tax and regulate marijuana like alchohol.

Harris County (Houston) DA Says Decriminalize It. Responding to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) remarks last week in Davos that he supported decriminalization of marijuana possession, Harris County DA Devon Anderson said she agrees with his call for decriminalization.

Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes last Thursday reiterated his request that the Washington State Liquor Control Board increase the number of marijuana retail stores allowed in the city. The board has set the number at 21, but Holmes has said that is not going to be enough.

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill Filed. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and several cosponsors have introduced Senate Bill 1556, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana possession and commerce for adults. If passed by the legislature, the measure would then go before voters on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative -- It's Going to the Voters! The Florida Supreme Court Monday removed the final obstacle to the state's medical marijuana initiative appearing on the November ballot. It rejected a challenge to the measure's language by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The initiative has already had enough signatures validated to qualify. Click on the link to read the opinion and the text of the initiative.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill Now Calls for Referendum. Sen. Tina-Muna Barnes, sponsor of medical marijuana Bill 215, announced Monday that she has rewritten the bill "to allow for a referendum, thus placing the question before the People of Guam in the 2014 General Election." She made the change, she said, because "the overwhelming majority of senators from both parties felt that an issue of this importance should be decided by the people directly."

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses Set To Be Awarded In Massachusetts. The state Department of Public Health says it hopes to award up to 35 medical marijuana dispensary licenses this week. More than a hundred applications have been submitted. State law allows up to five dispensaries in each county in the state.

Drug Testing

Bangor (PA) School District Wants Random Drug Tests for Teachers. A policy that would make the Bangor Area School District the only one in the state to require random, suspicionless drug testing of teachers is part of negotiations for a new union contract. The contract being discussed wouldn't impose random drug testing, but would require teachers to put it to a vote. The issue came to the fore in the area after a teacher died of a heroin overdose in the apartment of a wrestling coach in 2009.

Illinois Welfare Drug Testing Bill Introduced. State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has introduced a bill that would require welfare applicants to undergo a drug test before becoming eligible to receive benefits. House Bill 4255 does not include an intermediary step of drug screening to determine which applicants are likely to be drug users, but goes straight to testing all applicants. The federal courts have found similar laws unconstitutional.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Restricts Heroin Death Sentencing Enhancement. The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that a heroin dealer cannot be held liable for a customer's death if the heroin use was only a contributing factor and not necessarily the sole cause. Federal law imposes a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence when "death or serious injury results from the use" of an illegal drug, and prosecutors have used the statute to win the tough sentences, but the high court held Monday that prosecutors must prove that the drug was the specific cause of death, not just a contributing factor. The case is Burrage v. United States.

San Francisco Jail Population Dropping Because of Decrease in Drug Arrests. A report from the San Francisco board of supervisors' budget analysts says the jail population has dropped because of decreased drug arrests and city policies that promote alternatives to incarceration. The jail population is down 30% since 2008. The report comes as supervisors wrangle over whether the city needs a new jail and how big it should be.

Law Enforcement

DEA Busts Bitcoin Exchange CEO for Silk Road Money Laundering. Charlie Shrem, the CEO of BitInstant, a Bitcoin exchange, has been arrested by the DEA and is charged with money laundering for selling over $1 million in Bitcoins to users of the Silk Road dark web drug sales site, who used the currency to buy drugs there. Shrem faces federal money laundering charges. Shrem and an unnamed coconspirator were both charged. "Hiding behind their computers, both defendants are charged with knowingly contributing to and facilitating anonymous drug sales, earning substantial profits along the way," DEA agent James Hunt said in a release.

Virginia Bill to Criminalize "Secret Compartments" Filed. A bill introduced by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) would make it a crime to knowingly have a secret compartment in a car -- even if there isn't anything in it. The bill, Senate Bill 234, makes having such a compartment a felony and defines a "false or secret compartment" as any enclosure that is integrated into or attached to a vehicle or vessel, the purpose of which is to conceal, hide, or prevent the discovery of a person, controlled substance, or other contraband.

International

Mexican President Invites Anti-Cartel Vigilantes to Join Security Forces. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said last Thursday that anti-cartel vigilantes or militias were a result of institutional weakness within national security forces and asked them to join those same security forces. He asked them to do "to do it by observing the principles and formalities of the law, fulfilling the requirements to become part of the security corps." The vigilantes are engaged in ongoing battles with the Knights Templar cartel in the state of Michoacan.

Dutch MP Calls on Government to Allow Marijuana Growing Pilot Projects. Labor MP Marith Rebel called last week for Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to allow experiments with the legal production of marijuana. "Turning a blind eye to the fact the cafes are selling marijuana but not recognizing the fact they also have to buy it is helping criminals," Rebel said. Opstelten last month rejected calls from local councils to allow regulated grows, even though polls show majority support for the move.

New Zealand Greens Will Push for Marijuana Decriminalization, But Not Too Hard. New Zealand's Green Party says it will push for decriminalization in any post-election negotiations with Labor, but that the issue will not be a deal breaker. "I would like to progress a vast amount of our policy, and that would be one," said party coleader Metiria Turei. "We believe a drug-free lifestyle is the healthiest, but we don't believe people should be convicted of a crime, adults, if they smoke cannabis. So we still consider decriminalization is the wisest policy." But she also said the party had no bottom lines as it ponders the prospect of a coalition government with Labor.

Chronicle AM -- January 24, 2014

Bills are popping at state houses across the land, pot politics continues hot and heavy, world leaders have harsh words for prohibition at Davos, and much, much more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Touts Decriminalization, States' Rights. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, said he believes states should have the right to legalize marijuana and that he would move Texas toward decriminalization.

MPP Petitions Obama to Deschedule Marijuana. The Marijuana Policy Project Wednesday unveiled a Change.org petition asking the Obama administration to deschedule -- not reschedule -- marijuana The petition had nearly 36,000 signatures by Friday afternoon; it needs 50,000 to be addressed by the White House.

Hawaii House Majority Floor Leader Introduces Marijuana Export Bill. House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Rida Cabanilla Thursday introduced House Bill 2124, which would put the state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and Department of Agriculture in charge of a working group that would outline a plan to legalize the cultivation of marijuana in Hawaii for sale and export to foreign jurisdictions where marijuana is legal.

Rep. Jared Polis Invites Obama, Harry Reid to Check Out Legal Marijuana in Colorado. Colorado US Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) Thursday sent a letter to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) inviting them to come see how Colorado is implementing marijuana legalization. In the letter, Polis wrote that he was"confident that when you see Colorado's work to implement the law while protecting children and raising revenue for our schools firsthand, we can begin to make similar efforts on a federal level."

Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Candidate Says Legalize Marijuana. Former state Department of Environmental Protection head John Hanger, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, called for marijuana legalization at a campaign forum Wednesday night at Lehigh University. "This issue is moving and Democrats better get on board or we'll lose this election to Tom Corbett because people will not come out and vote," Hanger said. "We must expand the voting population." None of the other five Democratic candidates took a stand on the issue.

DC Council to Vote on Decriminalization Bill February 4. The District of Columbia city council will vote on a bill to decriminalize marijuana during its February 4 meeting. It is expected to pass, but may see some amendments during consideration. A legalization bill is also pending before the council, and activists are also leading an effort to legalize through the initiative process.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Valid Signatures to Qualify for Ballot. The Florida Department of Elections reported today that the Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions initiative has more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.The department reported more than 710,000 valid signatures; 683,000 were needed. The initiative campaign earlier said it had gathered more than 1.1 million raw signatures. It still must win approval by the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by April 1.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Polling at 65%. A new Public Policy Polling survey has support for the Florida medical marijuana initiative at 65%, with only 23% opposed. The initiative will require the votes of 60% of voters to pass because it is a constitutional amendment, as opposed to a statutory initiative.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Delegate Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) and nine cosponsors Thursday filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 4264. This is the fourth consecutive year Manypenny has filed such a bill.

Oregon Bill Would Let Localities Regulate, Ban Medical Marijuana Facilities. A bill that would allow local governments to regulate or ban dispensaries or grow ops will be heard by the legislature next month. Senate Bill 1531, sponsored by state Sens. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rod Monroe (D-Portland), was filed at the request of the Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities. The bill is a response to legislation last year that created statewide dispensary regulation and left regulation in the hands of the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania Nurses Endorse Medical Marijuana Bill. The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association Thursday became the first medical professional group in the state to publicly support a pending medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1182. The bill gets a hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee Tuesday.

Vermont Bill Would Ease Limits on Dispensaries. A bill introduced earlier this month would ease the rules for dispensaries. Senate Bill 247 would remove the 1,000-patient cap on the number of patients dispensaries can see, remove the cap limiting dispensaries to four, allow patients to grow their own, and allow for delivery services. The bill is now before the Senate Committee on Government Operations.

Louisiana Gov. Jindal Says Medical Marijuana Okay if Tightly Regulated. Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, said Wednesday night that he supports making medical marijuana available if it is tightly controlled. "I continue to be opposed to legalization of marijuana," Jindal said as he fielded questions Wednesday during an event at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. "When it comes to medical marijuana… if there is a legitimate medical need, I'd certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that."

Hemp

Virginia Hemp Advocates Meet, Look Ahead. The Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition met Thursday in Harrisonburg to watch a film and plan how to advance the cause in the Old Dominion. They said they are considering proposing a bill for the next general assembly session.

Heroin

Ohio Attorney General Creates Special Heroin Unit. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) announced Wednesday the creation of an investigative unit in his office to combat heroin trafficking and use. The Heroin Unit will include investigators, lawyers, and drug abuse awareness specialists, and will work with local leaders and law enforcement. DeWine is allocating $1 million for the unit. The move comes as the state's heroin overdose toll more than doubled between 2010 and 2012. [But will it accomplish its goal, better than other such programs have in the past? California's naloxone bill would be a better idea for Ohio, too.]

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would require welfare recipients to be screened for drug use and subjected to drug testing if they are likely drug users passed a House committee on an 8-4 vote Wednesday.

Harm Reduction

California Bill Would Expand Pharmacy Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has introduced Assembly Bill 1535, which would allow pharmacists to provide the overdose reversal drug naloxone to drug users, friends, and family members. "California's overdose crisis remains one of the state's most serious health problems," Bloom said. "Pharmacists are highly trained, highly trusted healthcare professionals. This bill makes it easier for them to help prevent a fatal drug overdose."

International

World Leaders Offer Harsh Assessment of Drug War at Davos. Global leaders gathered for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called drug prohibition a failure and said world leaders need to consider alternatives. "It's been a disaster and has inflicted enormous harm," said former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "My country has suffered probably the most from the war on drugs. We need to find more efficient ways to combat it," added Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia. "People are being given enormous prison terms just for use. There has got to be a better way than ruining so many people's lives," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said.

Human Rights Watch Makes Case for Drug Reform in 2014 Annual Report. Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2014 and included in it a special essay (click on the title link) on a human rights approach to drug control. The group is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession, finding alternatives to the criminalization of drug markets, and the primacy of human rights considerations in drug treatment.

Dark Web Drug Buyers and Sellers Can Now Use DarkList. A dark web web site that reappeared Wednesday is designed to serve as a directory of underground drug dealers operating dark web drug marketplaces, such as Silk Road 2.0, Agora, The Marketplace, Blue Sky, and others. DarkList says it will help customers connect with preferred dealers. "Let's face it -- buying and selling anonymously on the Dark Web is currently in a volatile state," reads the tagline on the site's homepage. "We built this directory so that you can always have a way to stay in contact with those you love."

Bulgaria Moving Backward on Drug Policy, NGOs Warn. Bulgaria's draft penal code, which has already won initial cabinet approval, includes mandatory prison sentences for any drug possession offense, and that is drawing sharp criticism from drug policy and human rights groups. "With these new proposals, Bulgaria is traveling in the opposite direction to what most other countries are doing," said Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). "They are going backwards, while the rest of Europe is modernizing their drug laws and implementing health-based approaches to drugs -- policies that support, rather than punish, people who use drugs."

Bermuda Marijuana Policy Debate Continues to Roil. Activist and attorney Alan Gordon continues to successfully stir the pot in the island nation's marijuana policy debate. On Wednesday, he sent an open letter to Governor George Fergusson asking him to clarify whether Government House would seek to block marijuana legalization legislation. Click on the link to read the letter.

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