Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

Harm Reduction

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


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

Chronicle AM: OR Marijuana Sales Begin This Week, FDA Defends Oxycontin for Youth, More (9/29/15)

Half of Oregon's dispensaries will start selling marijuana to any adult beginning this week, the FDA fires back at critics of its pediatric prescribing rules for Oxycontin, a prominent UN official lists the ways the drug "problem" impacts human rights, and more.

The FDA counters critics who say its rules for pediatric prescribing will increase availability. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Michelle Rehwinke Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana. The measure is House Bill 4021. This is the second time she has filed the bill.

Oregon Dispensaries to Start Selling to Recreational Users This Week. More than half of the state's 345 medical marijuana dispensaries have told the Health Authority they plan to sell recreational marijuana starting Thursday, October 1. Recreational marijuana has been legal in the state since July 1, but recreational pot shops won't be open until next year, so the state is allowing dispensaries to fill the void.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Now Taking Applications for Medical Marijuana Businesses. As of Monday, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is accepting applications for state licenses for growers, processors, and dispensaries. The commission will issue 15 licenses for growers, up to 92 for dispensaries, and an unlimited number for processors. The deadline for applications is November 6, and dispensaries could be stocked and open by next fall. Click on the commission link for more details.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

FDA Rejects Critics on Oxycontin for Youth. In response to critics including US senators, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defended its decision last month to allow the prescribing of the powerful opioid to pediatric patients. Critics accused the agency of expanding access to the drug, but the FDA said doctors could already prescribe Oxycontin to pediatric patients and the agency was merely setting prescribing standards. "It's important to stress that this approval was not intended to expand or otherwise change the pattern of use of extended-release opioids in pediatric patients," said FDA spokesman Eric Pahon said in a statement. "Doctors were already prescribing it to children, without the safety and efficacy data in hand with regard to the pediatric population."

Drug Policy

UN Official Says Drug "Problem" Violates Human Rights in Five Areas. UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said Monday that the global drug "problem" violates human rights in the areas of the right to health, rights relating to criminal justice and discrimination, the rights of the child, and the rights of indigenous peoples. "It is clear that the world's drug problem impacts the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, often resulting in serious violations," said Pansieri, "It is, nevertheless, a positive development that human rights are increasingly being taken into account in the preparations for the General Assembly's Special Session on the world drug problem to be held in April 2016." The remarks came during her report to the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

Harm Reduction

New York Governor Signs Bill to Expand Opiate Maintenance in Drug Courts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 4239, which prohibits drug court judges from forcing defendants to withdraw from opiate maintenance treatments as a condition of avoiding prison. Click on the title link for more details.


New Zealand Activists Call for Party Pill Drug Testing. The New Zealand Drug Foundation is calling on the government to legalize pill testing services. Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell said it was only a matter of time until someone died taking pills of unknown provenance. He added that the government routinely tests drugs for criminal justice purposes, and that those results should be made available as a public health measure. The government said it hadn't considered pill testing, but was open to the possibility in the future.

Chronicle AM: The Pope on Dope, Marijuana Arrests Jump, NYC Safe Injection Site Campaign, More (9/28/15)

The pope criticizes the drug war at the UN, the president addresses overdoses and addiction in his weekly address, marijuana arrests jumped last year, a campaign to bring safe injection sites to New York City is launching, and more.

Pots busts jumped last year. Why?
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Lawmakers Get Earful from Patients at Hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

Pope Francis Criticizes War on Drugs. During his address to the United Nations last Friday, Pope Francis turned from criticizing "systemic violence" in places like Syria and Ukraine to addressing violence linked to drug prohibition -- although without calling it that. "Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade," Pope Francis said. The drug war is failing, the pontiff said, and it brings dire consequences. "[It is] a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption," he continued. Click on the link for a full transcript of his remarks.

President Obama Uses Weekly Address to Talk About Preventing Substance Abuse. Obama used his weekly radio address last Saturday to encourage people to participate in "National Drug Take-Back Day" that same day, warning that too many Americans are dying of drug overdoses. "More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes," he said. "And most of those deaths aren't due to drugs like heroin or cocaine, but rather prescription drugs." Click on the link for a full transcript of the president's address.

International Drug Policy Conference in DC in November. The Drug Policy Alliance is hosting the world's premier drug policy conference in suburban Washington, DC, on November 18-21. Click on the link for much more information.

Harm Reduction

Campaign for Supervised Injection Sites Coming to New York City. The Open Society Foundation will host a town hall Wednesday on innovative solutions to public drug use and overdosing, including supervised injection sites. It's the opening salvo in a campaign to bring such sites to New York City. While a proven harm reduction measure, no such sites currently operate in the United States. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Nationwide Marijuana Arrests Jumped Last Year. The FBI has released its annual Uniform Crime Report. The report shows that nearly 701,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2014, up from 693,000 the previous year. Nearly 90% of all arrests were for possession.


United Nations Will Monitor Honduras War on Drug Gangs. The UN will open a human rights monitoring office in Honduras to monitor potential human rights violations by security forces as they pursue their war on drug gangs, President Juan Hernandez said Sunday. Hernandez and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, have increasingly relied on the military to fight gangs, and complaints about human rights violations have been piling up.

Bolivian Drug Law Reforms Would Reduce Penalties for "Microtraffickers," Consumers. The government of President Evo Morales has proposed reforms of the country's drug laws that would cut sentences for consumers and small-time traffickers. The proposal has been sent to the Legislative Assembly. Click on the link to read more in Spanish.

Chronicle AM: VT Poll Says Legalize, SC MedMJ Moves, Naloxone OTC at CVS in 14 States, More (9/24/15)

An increasing majority supports marijuana legalization in Vermont, a second Wisconsin Indian tribe moves toward allowing marijuana, a major national drugstore chain makes naloxone available over the counter, and more.

Public opinion appears headed to making Vermont a Green Bud state as well as a Green Mountain state. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Vermont Poll Has Support for Legalization at 56%. A new Castleton Polling Institute survey has majority support for legalization, and it's up two points from the same poll earlier this year. The poll comes as state lawmakers prepare an effort to become the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process. Click on the poll link for more details and demographic and methodological information.

Washington State Merger of Medical Marijuana Into Legal Sales System Advances. The state is folding medical marijuana into the legal marijuana system, and the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board announced Wednesday it will accept applications for new retail stores for the first time since 2013 beginning on October 12. Existing, non-licensed dispensaries will have a chance to apply for sales licenses; those without a sales license will have to shut down by next July.

Second Wisconsin Tribe Moves to Okay Marijuana on the Rez. The Ho-Chunk Nation tribal council voted over the weekend to end a policy that made marijuana use and sale on tribal lands illegal. The Ho-Chunks say that is just the first step on a path toward possible marijuana sales on tribal lands. Last month, the Menominee Nation also endorsed the possible legalization of weed.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Attorney General's Office Clarifies That Counties Cannot Ban Dispensaries. Faced with an effort by Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh to ban medical marijuana facilities in the county, the office of the attorney general has issued a non-binding legal opinion saying that while state law allows counties to decide where such facilities may locate, it does not allow them to ban them.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Panel Vote. A Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee today approved Senate Bill 672, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill. The vote was unanimous. The bill will head to the full committee early next year. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.

Harm Reduction

CVS Will Make Overdose Reversal Drug Available Without Prescription in 12 More States. The CVS pharmacy chain announced Wednesday that it will make available without prescription the anti-overdose drug naloxone (Narcan) to opiate users, friends, and family members. "Over 44,000 people die from accidental drug overdoses every year in the United States and most of those deaths are from opioids, including controlled substance pain medication and illegal drugs such as heroin," Tom Davis, vice president of pharmacy professional practices at CVS, said in a statement. "Naloxone is a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdoses and by providing access to this medication in our pharmacies without a prescription in more states, we can help save lives." Wednesday's announcement will affect CVS pharmacies in Arkansas, California, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. The chain already provides the drug without prescription in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.


Pakistan Targets Marijuana Cultivators in Bid to Assert Control, Fight Extremists. Peasant marijuana cultivators in the country's wild and remote Northwest territories are being squeezed by a military and paramilitary effort to exert effective control over the area and stamp out extremism. The authorities view the marijuana trade as a source of financing for the radicals, but it's also a lifeline for impoverished locals. Click on the link for an extensive report.

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

Chronicle AM: Republicans on Drugs, O'Malley on Marijuana, NC Needle Bill Advances, More (9/17/15)

Republican presidential contenders spar over drug policy, Martin O'Malley talks marijuana, Ohio's Supreme Court slaps down biased ballot language for ResponsibleOhio's initiative, pot people will march in Vienna on Saturday, and more.

logo of the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, one of two groups trying to put legalization on the 2016 ballot
Marijuana Policy

Martin O'Malley Meets With Colorado Marijuana People, Calls for Reclassification. Former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential contender Martin O'Malley met Thursday with state marijuana regulators, activists, and industry representatives and said he would immediately change federal marijuana policy if elected. He reiterated his pledge to reclassify marijuana as Schedule II, but stopped short of calling for legalization.

Michigan Initiatives in Midst of Signature Gathering. Two competing legalization initiatives are now deep in the signature-gathering phase. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition says it has collected nearly 170,000 signatures, which its petitioners are trying to verify as valid on the spot. Initiatives need some 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A second initiative campaign, MI Legalize didn't provide precise figures but said it is "on pace" to qualify for the ballot. MCC would let the legislature set taxes for marijuana sales and establish licensing requirements for stores. It would limit personal grows to two plants. MI Legalize would peg the retail pot sales tax at 10%, put licensing in the hands of local communities, and allow up to 12 plants for personal grows.

Ohio Supreme Court Orders New Ballot Language for ResponsibleOhio Initiative. Handing a rebuff to state officials, the high court agreed with ResponsibleOhio that the state's description of the initiative "inaccurately states pertinent information and omits essential information. The cumulative effect of these defects in the ballot language is fatal because the ballot language fails to properly identify the substance of the amendment, a failure that misleads voters." Now, the state Ballot Board must submit new, more accurate language. It could meet again as early as Friday. The state did win on one issue, though: Its language referring to the initiative as a "monopoly" will stay.

Drug Policy

GOP Candidates on Drugs At Last Night's Debate. Republican presidential contenders tangled over drug policy, with Sen. Rand Paul describing the damage of the war on drugs, recommending treatment and drug courts, and articulating a states' rights position on marijuana legalization, while Jeb Bush 'fessed up to smoking pot as a teenager, also endorsed treatment and drug courts, and hit back at Paul over heroin use. The anti-legalization Gov. Chris Christie touted his state's drug sentencing reforms, and Carly Fiorina claimed special consideration because her stepdaughter died of a drug overdose. Click on the link for a full review.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Bill Would Ban Oxycontin for Children. Responding to the FDA's approval of the use of Oxycontin for pain relief for children, a state representative has filed a bill to prohibit doctors in the state from prescribing the drug to kids. Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) filed House Docket 4154, which has yet to be assigned a bill number.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Senate Passes Pilot Project/Needle Disposal Bill. The Senate today unanimously passed House Bill 712, which does two things. First, it states that anyone who declares a syringe or sharp object to a law enforcement officer prior to search cannot be charged for possession of the object or for any drug residue inside the object. This bill improves H 850, the needlestick prevention bill passed in 2013, which protected people from the paraphernalia charge, but not from the residue charge. Second, the bill authorizes two to four North Carolina counties to establish pilot programs to collect and safely dispose of used syringes in their communities. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Center will start these pilot programs on December 1, 2015 in Cumberland and Haywood counties. The bill has already passed the House and awaits the governor's signature.


Marijuana Activists to March in Vienna This Weekend. Organizers expect up to 10,000 people to march through Vienna on Saturday to protest drug law "reforms" that will still criminalize medical marijuana patients. The march is being led by Legalize! Osterreich, which has begun a parliamentary initiative to legalize marijuana. That initiative has 15,000 signatures so far.

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

Chronicle AM: MA Legalization Inits Get Go-Ahead, DC Needle Exchanges Cut HIV Infections, More (9/8/15)

Two sets of Massachusetts legalizers get the go-ahead for signature gathering, Denver activists will negotiate with the city over social marijuana use, Hillary Clinton unveils drug policy proposals, DC HIV infections drop thanks to needle exchanges, and more.

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton rolls out drug policy proposals. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Two Competing Massachusetts Legalization Initiatives Okayed for Signature Gathering. State Attorney General Maura Healey last week approved the competing initiatives, one from Bay State Repeal and one from the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Click on the group links to read the initiatives. The groups must collect 64,750 valid voter signatures by November to qualify for next year's ballot.

ResponsibleOhio Supporter Sues Secretary of State Over Sweeping Election Fraud Investigation. An unnamed individual has filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) over his investigation of alleged electoral fraud in the ResponsibleOhio signature-gathering campaign. The suit argues that the probe will have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights of Ohioans who support the legalization effort and seeks an injunction to halt the investigation. Husted subpoenaed various ResponsibleOhio records, including "documents or electronically stored information related to or reflecting names of persons who created usernames and passwords to download petitions" from the group's website.

Albuquerque Decriminalization Effort is Back. Two city councilors, including council president Rey Garduno, filed a municipal decriminalization ordinance last Friday. They also filed a measure to make possession violations the lowest law enforcement priority. The council voted 5-4 last year for a decriminalization ordinance, only to see it vetoed by Mayor Richard Berry, who is still there. A vote is expected on September 21.

Denver Social Use Initiative Withdrawn; Organizers Seek Negotiated Deal With City. The Campaign for Limited Social Use, which submitted more than 10,000 signatures for a measure that would allow marijuana use in businesses only open to adults, has pulled the initiative before it could be certified for the ballot, saying it instead prefers to negotiate an agreement with city officials. The successful signature-gathering campaign should help the group in the negotiations.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma ACLU Releases Seizure Data Report. The state affiliate of the ACLU has released a report showing that nearly two-thirds of all cash seized under state asset forfeiture laws was seized from people never charged with -- let alone convicted of -- a crime. The report comes as the legislature ponders a bill that would reform or eliminate civil asset forfeiture.

Drug Policy

Hillary Clinton Releases Drug and Alcohol Policy Proposals. The Democratic front-runner is calling for $10 billion in new federal grants to fight drug and alcohol addiction, which she called "a quiet epidemic" in the country. She identified five goals: better drug education for teens, increasing the availability of drug treatment, increasing naloxone (Narcan) access, broadening drug and prescription monitoring programs, and emphasizing treatment over prison for low-level drug offenders. Click on the link for more details.

Illinois House Overrides Governor's Veto of Heroin Treatment Funding. The House has successfully voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) veto of parts of the Heroin Crisis Act. The override attempt now moves to the state Senate. Rauner vetoed sections of the bill that would offer Medicaid services to some heroin users, saying the state couldn't afford it.

Harm Reduction

DC HIV Infections Drop Dramatically With Needle Exchange Programs. The average monthly rate of new HIV infections in the nation's capital dropped by 70% after the District implemented a needle exchange program in 2008, according to a study released last week by George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. The program prevented 120 new cases of HIV/AIDS, saving the city some $44 million over just two years, the study found.


Mexican Opium Production on the Increase. Officials in both the US and Mexico are saying that Mexico's opium production jumped by 50% in 2014 alone. The increase is being tied to rising levels of heroin and opiate addiction in the US, but also to marijuana legalization in some US states -- legalization is pushing down the price of marijuana in Mexico, making opium poppies a more attractive alternative. Much more at the link.

Mexican Judge Okays Use of CBD Cannabis Oil for Epileptic Girl. A Mexico City administrative law judge has approved the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat Graciela Elizalde Benavides, an eight-year-old girl suffering from epilepsy. The judge ordered federal authorities to allow the girl's parents to import the drug. It's not clear when that will actually happen.

Bulgarian Member of Parliament Will File Medical Marijuana Bill. Independent lawmaker Velizar Enchev has announced he will introduce a medical marijuana bill this month. "Thousands of people are suffering in Bulgaria," he said. Last month, he launched a petition drive to gage support for medical marijuana. That petition now has some 3,730 signatures. Earlier this year, a judge acquitted a multiple sclerosis patient accused of growing his medicine, saying "numerous international studies" had proven the efficacy of medical marijuana.

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

Illinois Governor Vetoes Heroin Bill Over Medicaid Treatment Funding [FEATURE]

Faced with a public health crisis related to heroin and prescription opioid use, the Illinois state government created a bipartisan Heroin Task Force in a comprehensive effort to address the problem from all angles. The task force created a set of policy recommendations that were embodied in House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Act.

Heroin is taking a toll not only in Chicago, but in its suburbs. (kirk.senate.gov)
The bill passed the House and Senate in May, and was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in June, where it sat on his desk until this week. On Monday, Rauner finally acted -- not by signing the bill, but by vetoing critical sections of it that he says the state cannot afford. He has now sent the bill back to the legislature and asked it to remove the offending sections.

But saying, "People are dying," the measure's House sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), has vowed an effort to override the veto. An override could be within reach -- the bill passed by veto-proof majorities in both houses -- but for members of a governor's own party, a veto override is a hard vote to take.

Here's what the bill does:

  • It increases the availability of opiate overdose reversal drugs and requires private insurance to cover at least one of them, as well as acute treatment and stabilization services. It allows licensed pharmacists to dispense overdose reversal drugs, allows school nurses to administer them to students suffering from overdoses, and provides protection from civil liability for people who administer them in good faith.
  • It requires the Department of Human Services and the State Board of Education to develop a three-year pilot heroin prevention program for all schools in the state, requires the Department of Human Services to develop materials to educate prescription opiate users on the dangers of those drugs, and it requires the Department of Insurance to convene working groups on drug treatment and mental illness and on parity between state and federal mental health laws.
  • It intensifies the state's prescription monitoring program by tightening reporting requirements and it requires doctors to now document the medical necessity of any three sequential 30-day prescriptions for Schedule II opioids.
  • On the criminal justice front, it permits multiple chances at drug court and prevents prosecutors from unilaterally blocking entry to drug court, and it requires prosecutors and public defenders to undergo mandatory education on addiction and addiction treatment. It also increases criminal penalties for "doctor shopping" if fraud is involved.
  • It requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment, including methadone and other opiate maintenance treatment, as well as all anti-overdose medications.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
It's the latter provision to which Rauner objects.

"I support all of the above measures and applaud the multifaceted approach to combating this epidemic in Illinois. Unfortunately, the bill also includes provisions that will impose a very costly mandate on the State's Medicaid providers. I am returning the bill with a recommendation to address that concern," he said in a veto statement.

"House Bill 1 mandates that fee-for-service and medical assistance Medicaid programs cover all forms of medication assisted treatment of alcohol or opioid dependence, and it removes utilization controls and prior authorization requirements," Rauner continued. "These changes would limit our ability to contain rising costs at a time when the State is facing unprecedented fiscal difficulties. Importantly, the State's Medicaid programs already cover multiple forms of medication necessary to treat alcohol and opioid dependence. But without adequate funding to support mandated coverage for all forms of treatment, regardless of cost, this change would add to the State's deficit."

His recommendation is simply to delete the language requiring Medicaid coverage.

Rep. Lang and other bill supporters aren't going for that.

"There's a human cost to not doing it," Lang said. "People are addicted, people are sick, people are dying. You want to talk about the costs of providing methadone and Narcan to addicts, but you forget totally that if you cure them or they get off the stuff, there's a savings to the Medicaid system on a different line item, because they're no longer in emergency rooms, they're no longer a burden to law enforcement."

Heroin and opiate addiction is a serious problem in Illinois. The rate of drug overdose deaths has nearly doubled since 1999, and in the Chicago suburbs, people have been dying of drug overdoses at a rate of three per day since 2012. In the state as a whole, 633 people died of heroin overdoses last year, with nearly half (283) in Chicago.

At the same time as the problem with heroin and prescription opioids has been deepening, the state's ability to provide treatment has been decreasing. According to a report this month from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, the state's ranking for drug treatment capacity has fallen from 28th in the nation in 2009 to 47th this year. This as demand for heroin and opiate treatment statewide is increasing dramatically. In Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, 35% of drug treatment admissions are for heroin, more than twice the national average.

The consortium's director and the study's lead author, Kathleen Kane-Willis, noted that Illinois is one of only a few states nationwide that doesn't allow Medicaid coverage of opiate maintenance treatment.

"We're going to pay for not paying," she said.

But bill supporters could also find the votes to override the veto. Rep. Lang says that is what's he going to try to do, and with a 114-0 vote in the House and a 46-6 vote in the Senate the first time around, he has plenty of supporters to ask. If that happens, Illinois will get the drug treatment it needs, and Rauner will still be able to maintain his fiscally conservative credentials.

Springfield, IL
United States

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

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

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Policy

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

Drug Testing

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

Harm Reduction

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


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

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

Chronicle AM: AK Regulators Want to Ban MJ Social Clubs, ME Gov Threatens to Call Out Guard, More (8/11/2015)

Alaska regulators want to ban marijuana social clubs, Chris Christie signs a bill allowing methadone in drug court programs, a new report says Illinois needs to do better on heroin treatment, Russia wants to censor Reddit, and more.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. Illinois ranks 44th in spending for heroin treatment. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Want to Ban Marijuana Social Clubs. The Marijuana Control Board has presented its final set of proposed regulations and is generating controversy with a provision that bans social clubs. The board argues that since Alaska law doesn't allow BYOB bars, it shouldn't allow BYOM clubs.

California Governor Signs Law Targeting Illegal Pot Grows. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed a law that will impose steep fines on marijuana grows that cause environmental harm by dumping chemicals and wastewater, removing trees, and killing animals. The measure is Senate Bill 165. Last year, investigators found more than 135 dams or diversions in rivers and streams linked to marijuana cultivation, resulting in the theft of about five million gallons of water.

California Governor Signs Bill to Increase Penalties for Residential Butane Hash Oil Manufacture. Gov. Brown also last Friday signed Senate Bill 212, which will increase penalties for people caught making butane hash oil. The process has been linked to numerous fires and explosions in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Advocates Protest Slow Pace of Medical Marijuana Implementation. Led by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, protestors held a vigil on the stops of the State House this week in memory of patients who had died before they could get access to medical marijuana and to protest the slow pace of implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. Three years after voters approved it, the state's first dispensary just opened. Click on the link for more.

Drug Courts

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medication Assisted Treatment in Drug Courts. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 2381, which will allow people under the jurisdiction of the state's drug courts to complete their programs while using opiate-substitution medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine. Despite decades of evidence and the recommendations of treatment providers and even the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, most drug courts in the state required clients to quit medication-assisted treatment to complete the program. "Medication assisted treatment for drug court attendees, like all other clinical decisions made by a provider for their patient, is a critical component in a person's treatment and recovery plan. I thank the governor for his support of this legislation and his continued leadership and support of Drug Court programs," said Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex).

Drug Treatment

Illinois Doesn't Adequately Fund Drug Treatment and Wants to Cut It Even More, New Report Says. A report released today by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy found that the state ranked 44th in the nation in state funded treatment admissions for heroin and that Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) proposed budget would slash funding by another 61%. Chicago ERs rank first in the country in emergency room visits for heroin use, and Cook County is number one in the nation for arrestees who test positive for the drug. Click on the consortium link to read the report.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Threatens to Call in National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) today reiterated his threat to call in the National Guard to fight the state's "drug epidemic" if legislators don't give him his way. The legislature has rejected his repeated demands that it deal with the drug issue primarily by hiring more agents at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, and while it did agree to fund six additional agents, two prosecutors, and two judges, that wasn't enough for LePage, who called it "chump change." It's not clear just what LePage what have the Guard do. Click on the link for much more.


Australian Parliamentary Committee Approves Medical Marijuana. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has recommended that a Green-sponsored medical marijuana bill be passed. The committee called for the bill to be amended to set up a medical marijuana regulatory agency. The bill has cross-party support in the parliament.

Russia Threatens to Block Reddit Over Single Thread on Drugs. The Kremlin's increasingly busy Internet censor has warned that the popular website Reddit will be blocked unless it deletes a thread about growing marijuana plants. The censor said Reddit has so far failed to respond to demands that it delete the thread and asked readers to reach out to Reddit to tell its editors to check their emails. The censor has also blocked Wikipedia pages about how to smoke pot, online anonymity services, Pirate Bay, and made similar threats against YouTube.

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

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