Harm Reduction

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Chronicle AM: CDC Urges Docs to Severely Limit Pain Pill Prescribing, NY Rep Wants Safe Injection Sites, More... (3/16/16

Another poll has a national majority for pot legalization, the Vermont legalization bill is now before the House, the CDC urges doctors to really cut back on pain pill prescriptions, a New York assemblywoman wants supervised injection sites, a Mexican governor wants a pilot program of opium cultivation, and more. 

Prepare for physicians to begin tightening up on writing pain pill 'scrips. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Another Poll Has a Narrow National Majority for Legalization. A new national tracking poll conducted by Morning Consult has support for legalization at 52%, with 43% opposed and 5% undecided. That's in line with other major national polls in recent years that generally show support for legalization in the 50s. The most recent Gallup poll had it at 60%.

Massachusetts Sheriffs Oppose Legalization Initiative. More of the usual suspects weigh in against legalization, with the state's sheriffs saying it would destigmatize drug use and make it easier for teens to get their hands on the weed. Last week, the state Hospital Association and leading elected officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Attorney General Maura Healey (D), and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) came out against the initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts.  

Vermont Legalization Bill Now Before House. Senate Bill 241, the pot legalization bill, is now before the House Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) introduced the bill to the committee.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Revived. Supporters of House Bill 722, which would expand access to CBD cannabis oil, have resurrected the measure by attaching its language to an old Senate bill. It could go to a House vote as early as today. The bill would expand conditions that qualify for CBD cannabis oil and allow companies outside the state to ship it in. Language that would have allowed in-state marijuana cultivation to produce the oil was stripped out earlier in the House.

More Michigan Medical Marijuana Dispensary Raids. The West Michigan Enforcement Team (WEMET) has raided four dispensaries for allegedly selling medical marijuana to cardholders who were not their registered patients. Two were in Saugatuck, one in Allegan City, and one in Pullman. Twelve other Northern Michigan dispensaries were raided last week.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Campaign Resubmits Initiative. That didn't take long. Last Friday, Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) rejected the Ohioans for Medical Marijuana initiative because of deficiencies in its summary. On Tuesday, the campaign submitted revised language. After 20 days of review by state officials, the campaign will then have until July to gather 306,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts Conference Committee Agrees on Ending Driver's License Suspensions for Drug Offenders. House and Senate negotiators announced Tuesday that they had reached agreement on a bill to end the state's long-running policy of automatically suspending for five years the driver's licenses of people convicted of drug crimes. The relic of the 1980s drug war will be officially repealed after the full House and Senate vote on the amended bill. Both houses passed bills, and the conference committee has been ironing out the differences. More than 30 other states have taken similar steps.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CDC Urges Docs to Reduce Prescribing Pain Relievers. In a move bitterly decried by chronic pain advocates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday doctors should only prescribe opioid pain relievers as a last resort. Instead, doctors should urge their patients to try physical therapy, exercise, and over-the-counter medications before using opioids to treat chronic pain. The CDC is recommending not using opioids except to treat cancer and for palliative end-of-life care, using the lowest effective dose of opioids, and limiting prescriptions to three days for short-term pain.

Harm Reduction

New York Assemblywoman Wants Supervised Injection Facilities Statewide. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) said Tuesday she will soon introduce a bill to establish the harm reduction facilities. Rosenthal's move comes after Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick hoisted a proposal for such a facility there. "New York, and nearly every other state across the country, is grappling with a heroin and opioid addiction crisis that has grown to epidemic proportions," said Rosenthal, who heads the Assembly's Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, in a statement. "Addiction is a public health crisis, and we must address it as such, with aggressive, community-based solutions that reduce harm and provide access to life-saving treatment services."

International

Mexican Governor Proposes Legalizing Opium Cultivation.  Hector Astudillo, governor of violence-plagued Guerrero, said Monday that legalizing opium cultivation for medical purposes might help reduce the violence in his state and the idea should be considered. "Let's do some sort of pilot scheme," Astudillo, a member of President Enrique Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, said. "Provided it's used for medical issues ... It's a way out that could get us away from the violence there has been in Guerrero," he added.

Will UNGASS 2016 Be the Beginning of the End for the War on Drugs?

This article is by Ann Fordham and Martin Jelsma, and is republished from openDemocracy. It is part a series of articles about this April's UNGASS. Further information appears below.

In April 2016, the UN will dedicate, for the third time in its history, a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discuss global drug policy. The UNGASS has the potential to be a ground-breaking moment that could change the course of the international drug control system. However, political divisions and entrenched institutional dynamics have dampened hopes that it will go down in history as the beginning of the end of the war on drugs.

At the joint request of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala, the General Assembly decided to bring forward the convention of a special session to assess "the achievements and challenges in countering the world drug problem", originally foreseen for 2019 or 2020. The three countries stated at the time that "revising the approach on drugs maintained so far by the international community can no longer be postponed", and the UN needed to exercise leadership to "conduct an in-depth review analyzing all available options, including regulatory or market measures, in order to establish a new paradigm that would impede the flow of resources to organized crime groups". An international meeting had to be convened, "capable of taking the decisions necessary to increase the effectiveness of the strategies and instruments with which the global community addresses the challenges of drugs and their consequences".

Conventional drug control wisdom has put forward the view that stopping the supply of drugs at the source would solve the 'world drug problem', but Latin American countries bear witness to the failure of this approach. Stirred into action by the futility of spending billions of dollars to fight an unwinnable and increasingly violent war on drugs, it is no surprise that political leaders from Latin America have been at the forefront of the drug policy debate. From their perspective, the high human cost in terms of violence, insecurity, mass incarceration and the exacerbation of the social and economic vulnerability of some of society’s most marginalised groups – can no longer be justified as necessary collateral damage in pursuit of eradicating drug markets.

A growing group of Latin American and Caribbean countries are calling for a real discussion on alternative policies. In the meantime, Uruguay has moved to create the world's first national legally regulated cannabis market for recreational use, and similar initiatives have happened in the US at the state level. This opening up of the long entrenched and seemingly immovable discussion on prohibitionist drug control principles is unprecedented and has implications for global policy.

In this context, the UNGASS in April represents a critical juncture, an opportunity for an honest evaluation of global drug policy and how to address the most pressing challenges going forward. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in recognition of this rare and important opportunity, has urged member states to use the 2016 UNGASS "to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options."

The UNGASS preparations

The initial discussions to prepare for the UNGASS were fraught with disagreements over many procedural aspects. These included difficult negotiations over the extent to which the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna would lead the process; how to strike the right balance between the UN capitals of Vienna, Geneva and New York in the preparations; how to ensure meaningful involvement of all relevant UN agencies, academia and civil society; and – last but not least – how open the debate should be: should it be restricted to a discussion of how to improve the implementation of the 2009 Political Declaration and the achievement of its targets for 2019, or should the UNGASS be an opportunity to challenge the current global drug control strategy, possibly even questioning its foundation of the three UN drug conventions?

 

These difficult negotiations, which on the surface often appeared to be arguments over procedure, reflected the deep political divisions within the international drug policy debate. The much-revered 'Vienna Consensus' continues to weaken as the divide between some governments becomes increasingly irreconcilable. A growing number of countries now believe that the traditional repressive drug control approach, based on zero-tolerance, has not worked and has led to disastrous consequences for human rights, public health, citizen security and sustainable development, and as a result it has to be modernised.

 

Some countries calling for an open and inclusive debate at the UNGASS questioned whether this could be truly achieved with a process led by the Vienna-based drug control apparatus, given that the CND, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) have all gained quite a conservative reputation over the decades. Conducting all the preparations in Vienna led to a further problem for inclusivity, given that at least 70 member states do not have permanent representation there and would therefore struggle to fully participate in the process. The point of convening an UNGASS, is that by definition all UN member states and the whole UN system should be included on a equal basis, but limiting the political negotiations on the outcomes exclusively to Vienna, means that in practice the countries and UN agencies not represented in Vienna have much less influence on the process.

In the end, the hard fought-over resolution on the procedures decided that the UNGASS "will have an inclusive preparatory process that includes extensive substantive consultations, allowing organs, entities and specialized agencies of the United Nations system, relevant international and regional organizations, civil society and other relevant stakeholders to fully contribute to the process", while the CND "as the central policymaking body within the United Nations system dealing with drug-related matters, shall lead this process", inviting the president of the General Assembly to "support, guide and stay involved in the process".

UN special sessions are rare and crucial moments in UN-level policy making and are designed to ensure a coherent UN system-wide response to global problems of major concern to the international community. This has so far been less than optimal in discussions on global drug policy. After initial slow engagement from other key UN agencies, significant contributions have now been made from UNDP, UNAIDS and the WHO. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also submitted a comprehensive reportthat outlines the most pertinent human rights violations in relation to drug control policies, while the Human Rights Council held a high level panel in September 2015 on the topic of "the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights".

A Civil Society Task Force (CSTF) was convened to ensure the participation of civil society in the process. The CSTF has representatives from every region of the world, as well as representatives of the key affected populations such as people who use drugs and subsistence farmers growing drug-linked crops among others. Initially, formal recognition of the CSTF was challenging – civil society has always had to fight for visibility and access at the CND but over the last year there has been increasing support for this initiative from governments.  A major victory for the CSTF was explicit support from the president of the General Assembly, who presided over an Informal Interactive Stakeholder Dialogue in New York on the 10 February 2016 organised with the CSTF in support of the preparatory process. The calls for progressive policiesbased in principles of harm reduction, of public health and of human rights from global civil society were deafening at the event.

Shifting regional priorities

 

In terms of regional perspectives, as noted above, the impetus for pushing for another UNGASS on drugs followed growing calls for reform from across Latin America at the highest political level. In fact, the previous UNGASS meetings in 1990 and 1998 had been convened in response to similar calls from Colombia and Mexico. Around them, a group of like-minded countries is gradually shaping up around certain positions, including Ecuador, Uruguay and Costa Rica and supported by Brazil and Bolivia on some issues. Caribbean countries have long been largely absent from the debate, not least because discussions have been limited to the CND in Vienna, where few Caribbean countries are represented – although Jamaica has recently joined the chorus of dissent and the discussion on several other islands has intensified.

In terms of European, particularly European Union (EU), engagement, this has been markedly different from Latin America and reflects the fact that Europe has managed to avoid the sharpest edges of a repressive approach to drug control. European countries have not experienced to the same extent, the high human cost in terms of violence, insecurity, and mass incarceration experienced in Latin America.  Of course the context is different, but in addition, many European governments have been pragmatic, have prioritised health care, harm reduction and human rights protection. While in Europe there are some serious issues regarding the criminalisation of people who use drugs and disproportionate sentences for minor drug offences, most European countries have managed to keep a certain distance from the escalation of the war on drugs in the 1980s and 1990s in the US, Latin America and Asia. At the international level, the leadership that EU governments have shown in this regard has been critical in shifting the drug policy narrative towards public health, harm reduction and human rights principles.

On issues where common positions can be found, the EU can have a strong impact on the global debate. For example, a united EU promoted the principle of proper sequencing with respect to ensuring that subsistence farmers have sufficient access to alternative livelihoods before being forced to abandon their drug-linked crops. The EU has also demonstrated unity and commitment on harm reduction and the removal of death penalty for drug offences, although a global consensus on these issues is not yet in sight.

Unfortunately, there are also crucial areas where a strong European voice has been absent, and the EU has failed to understand or acknowledge the sense of urgency and relevance of this UNGASS. This is clearly the case with regard to the shift in priority that Latin American countries are seeking, to move away from arresting small-time dealers and chasing drug shipments towards reducing drug-related violence, organised crime and corruption instead. In a sense, this is a plea for a harm reduction policy on the supply side: the drugs market will not be “eliminated or significantly reduced” by 2019, and it is time to forget the hollow illusion of a drug-free world.

Instead, government policy could be more sophisticated and focus on mitigating the most harmful aspects of the drug trade through reducing the levels of illicit drug market-related violence, crime, insecurity and corruption. This thinking mirrors similar priority shifts that have previously taken place in Europe under the harm reduction banner, with governments taking a pragmatic approach to reduce the harms associated with drug consumption without necessarily seeking to stop the use of drugs. These harm reduction policies and programmes have significantly reduced drug-related harm such as overdose deaths, and HIV and hepatitis C prevalence among people who inject drugs.

Cannabis policy and UN treaties

 

Another example is the lack of EU engagement in the debate about global cannabis policy developments, the result of the absence of a common EU position on cannabis and huge national policy variations. Demonstrating an ostrich-like denial regarding cannabis policy developments in the Americas but also at local levels within the EU, the EU common position for the UNGASS underscores the need to “maintain a strong and unequivocal commitment to the UN conventions” and that there is “sufficient scope and flexibility within the provisions of the UN Conventions to accommodate a wide range of approaches to drug policy”. In addition, the issue of drug control is a low political priority as the EU currently has it hands full with the refugee crisis and existential threats around the euro and the future of European integration.

A game-changing difference between this UNGASS and the preceding ones is the fact that the position of the US has fundamentally changed. No longer among the hardliners, the US has acknowledged, both at the UN but also more recently domestically, that the over-reliance on incarceration has failed. In August 2013, US Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences were ‘draconian’ and that too many Americans had been imprisoned for too long for no good law enforcement justification. He made it clear that the status quo was unsustainable and damaging. In 2015, President Obama began a process to commute the sentences of around 6,000 federal drug offenders. In early 2016 the congressional task force created to examine overcrowding in the federal prison system, recommended the repeal of federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences. Different legislative initiatives have been tabled, including the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would cut many mandatory minimums for drug offences in half.

The domino effect of cannabis regulation at state level makes the US less sure-footed of condemning other countries for not stringently adhering to a zero-tolerance approach. Cannabis regulation for recreational use is outside of the scope of the current UN treaty framework for drugs, creating a significant problem for the US since it undermines its credibility to continue defending the conventions as they stand. The big question is whether this will lead to the US accepting more flexibility in policy areas that have been explored elsewhere. These include initiatives such as decriminalisation, drug consumption rooms or the regulation of coca in Bolivia, all policy options that the US currently opposes.

UNGASS outcomes: change of course

 

The past several years have seen significant changes in the global drug policy landscape representing a trend towards more humane and proportional responses based on health, human rights and development principles. To some extent, the UNGASS will acknowledge those advances and thereby consolidate the significant change of course that is happening in various regions of the world. Perhaps the most significant advance will be on the issue of access to controlled medicines – an area that has long been de-prioritised in favour of a focus on repressive, law enforcement-led approaches to reduce the illicit drug trade. Most drugs included in the schedules of the UN conventions also have important medical purposes, and several appear on the WHO “List of Essential Medicines”.  However, the availability of opiate painkillers like morphine for example, has been dramatically low in most developing countries due to overly strict regulations reflecting over-riding concerns about diversion and addiction rather than a need to ensure access to pain relief.

Unfortunately, other areas of progress remain stilted. Russia, alongside several Asian and Middle Eastern countries, has played hardball in the negotiations, effectively putting the brakes on the shifting discourse. The negotiations are driven by consensus, making it unlikely that contested policies in the field of harm reduction, or reforms like decriminalisation, despite being widely accepted and propounded by all relevant UN agencies, will be explicitly recommended in the UNGASS outcome document. Likewise, a clear condemnation of the death penalty for drug offences is probably going to be blocked by a small group of countries. The prophecy that allowing the CND to take full control over the UNGASS preparations would undermine progress towards a more system-wide coherent UN drugs policy seems to be being borne out. Negotiations about the UNGASS outcomes have taken place mostly in ‘informal’ sessions in Vienna, dominated by a minority of member states and from which civil society is excluded from participating or even observing.

For the General Assembly, an obvious priority for this UNGASS would be how to align UN drug policy with the recently adopted new global framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but negotiations in Vienna carry on as if they are negotiating another CND resolution. Submissions from other member states, UN agencies and civil society calling for a recognition of the failure of repressive responses and highlighting the need to connect the drugs issue with the agreed UN priorities for the future of the planet have so far not been reflected in successive drafts of the UNGASS outcome document.  The general tone of these drafts is very much ‘business-as-usual’.

At present, few countries are willing to openly acknowledge the existence of structural deficiencies with regard to UN system-wide coherence, the institutional architecture and the legal treaty framework. No easy solutions are available for reforming the foundations of the global control system and consensus will be hard to find, but a continued denial of the reality of the on-going policy trends and the resulting tensions with the treaty system will not make them disappear. In fact, to do so will hinder the much-needed evolution of the UN drug control system and its ability to adapt to the realities of today. Towards this end, it could be helpful if the UNGASS outcome leads to the convening of an advisory group or an expert panel to think through different scenarios for the future evolution of the system, especially in the lead up to the next important moment in 2019 when member states will have to agree a new global action plan on drugs, hopefully more in line with the broader set of UN priority goals for the next decade.

Although it is clear that the so-called ‘Vienna consensus’ has been breaking apart for some time and there is a growing desire to find viable policy alternatives to repression and punishment, there are still powerful countries and entrenched bureaucracies that are staunchly opposed to any kind of reform. The divisions between member states but also between UN agencies on this issue have become too visible to ignore and the UNGASS is a perfect opportunity for an honest assessment of the performance of the international drug control system and the options for a change of course.

Given the high human cost of the damaging approaches pursued to date, many people around the world have high hopes that governments will not squander this opportunity. And yet, to what extent the UNGASS can really live up to these hopes remains to be seen. The latest dynamics in Vienna do not bode well, as bureaucratic machinations, political complacency and exclusion seem to rule the process. The lack of vision, inclusivity and commitment to finding new solutions to many of the challenges that remain must be strongly condemned, especially given the urgency expressed by those countries that called for this moment in the first place.

This article was written by Ann Fordham of the International Drug Policy Consortium and Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute. It is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

Chronicle AM: British Lib Dems Adopt Marijuana Legalization, Seattle Eyes Safe Injection Site, More... (3/14/16)

Britain's Liberal Democrats become the first UK political party to formally embrace marijuana legalization, a bill to recriminalize public pot smoking in Maryland advances, a Seattle task force is taking a serious look at supervised injection facilities, and more.

Massachusetts legalizers roll out a St. Patrick's Day-themed ad.
Marijuana Policy

Maryland House Panel Okays Making Public Pot Smoking a Crime. The House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill to make it a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine to use marijuana in public places. That measure is House Bill 777. The committee also killed a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would have made marijuana use a right.

Massachusetts Hospital Association Opposes Legalization. The association's board of directors voted unanimously against legalizing marijuana, citing public health and safety concerns. Top elected officials of both parties, including Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Attorney General Maura Healey (D), and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) have also come out against legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama CBD Cannabis Oil Bill to Get Hearing Wednesday.  "Leni's Law," House Bill 61, will get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would allow for the use of CBD under a physician's care for the treatment of debilitating medical conditions. Two years ago, the legislature passed a CBD bill, but it didn't allow for any use outside of a University of Alabama study.

Michigan Dispensary Raids Spark Protests. Nearly a hundred people took to the streets outside the Michigan State Police Gaylord Post Sunday to protest raids against 10 Oswego County dispensaries two days earlier. The Straits Area Narcotic Enforcement (SANE) team led the raids, which were the second such law enforcement assault on patient access in the area in the past year.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Political Party Formed. Cornhusker activists tired of waiting for the legislature to act have formed a political party, Legal Marijuana Now Nebraska, and are preparing a signature drive to put medical marijuana to the voters. The will need to gather 6,500 valid voter signatures by August 1 to qualify for the November ballot.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Eyes Supervised Injection Facility. The newly-formed Seattle-King County heroin task force is look at a safe injection site as one way of addressing heroin use in the area. King County Sheriff John Urquhart said he is "keeping an open mind."

International

British Liberal Democrats Formally Adopt Marijuana Legalization Platform. During its spring conference over the weekend, the Liberal Democratic Party formally adopted marijuana legalization and a regulated marijuana market. The party envisions single-purpose stores to sell marijuana. The Lib Dems become the first political party in Britain to embrace legalization.

The Colombian Defense Minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, said last Friday that the government is concerned over an increase in coca crops. Villegas conceded that there was a 40% increase between 2013 and 2014, and that there was another significant increase between 2014 and 2015. He blamed the increased profitability of the drug trade thanks to a Colombian currency devaluation, and he blamed the FARC for encouraging peasants to grow coca in the hopes of receiving development aid down the road.

Open Letter in Advance of the UNGASS Calls for Obama to Go Bold

With the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs at UN headquarters in New York City just a little more than a month away, more than 230 civil rights, health, faith-based, and other organizations sent a letter to President Obama Thursday urging him to use the UNGASS on Drugs to make an international push for a fundamental shift in drug policy away from criminalization and toward public health and human rights approaches.

UN headquarters, New York City (Creative Commons)
The signatories form a broad range of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, AIDS United, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the World Hepatitis C Council, as well as dozens of drug reform and harm reduction nonprofits.

The signatories also include NGOs from around the world, from Accion Semilla Bolivia to the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network. As with the domestic sign-ons, the international groups include dozens of drug reform and harm reduction organizations.

All the signatories are united in calling for the US and President Obama to take "a stronger US stance" in areas like human rights, public health, and development and urging the US to promote the initial steps the UN can take in reforming the international drug conventions that form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime.

The letter urges the administration to call on the UN to appoint an "Expert Advisory Group," whose mandate would be to study tensions faced by the international drug control regime today, and to recommend options for moving forward. Groups argue that the current US stance toward marijuana legalization and international treaties, which relies in part on continued federal prohibition, is "likely to face shrinking credibility internationally as legalization spreads to more states."

"US agencies have played an important role promoting positive reforms like alternatives to incarceration and people-centered public health drug policies," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, who coordinated the sign-on letter. "Unfortunately, the current US UNGASS stance avoids engaging with a number of contested human rights issues, such as the death penalty for nonviolent drug offenses, and punts on the obvious treaty questions that legalization raises. We think this is unfortunate at a time when real strides are being made in reforming our domestic policies, partly because of President Obama's vision for criminal justice reform. We think the administration has viable options available to take further productive steps on global drug policy too."

The letter calls on the Obama administration to:

  • Acknowledge the ramifications of recent drug reforms, such as marijuana legalization in Uruguay and some US states.
  • Stand up for human rights by calling for an end to the death penalty for drug offenses, reducing racial disparities in drug law enforcement, and respecting indigenous traditions.
  • Craft a people-centered approach to drug policy by explicitly adopting harm reduction practices, such as syringe exchanges, and rejecting the criminalization of peasant farmers and the eradication of their drug crops in favor of sustainable development.
  • Take a stronger stance on criminal justice reforms by moving toward drug decriminalization, urging sentencing reforms around the globe, and treating pregnant women who use drugs as patients, not criminals.
  • Work toward a more open dialog by having key documents finalized at the UNGASS rather than at closed sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna and taking a more inclusive posture toward NGOS and civil society.

We will see next month how much Obama is listening.

Chronicle AM: US Signals Flexibility on International Drug Reforms, Senate Set to Approve CARA, More... (3/9/16)

In the run-up to UNGASS, the US is signalling some flexibility if other countries want to decriminalize drugs, the Senate is poised to pass a bill to deal with heroin and prescription opiate use, crackdowns could be coming for unpermitted dispensaries in Los Angeles and San Diego, and more.

State Department's William Brownfield signals "flexibility" on other countries' drug reform efforts. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Criminal Law Committee voted Tuesday to advance a decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2228, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago). The bill would drop criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of pot, but also set a limit at which someone can be prosecuted for drugged driving at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. A decrim bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R); this one attempts to address his concerns by lowering the amount decriminalized, increasing the fine from $100 to $200, and by lowering the nanogram limit.

Colorado Springs Wants Its Cannabis Social Clubs to Go Away. The city council voted Tuesday night to ban "cannabis consumption clubs" despite overwhelming public support for them at the council before the vote was taken. But it isn't going to happen overnight. The council gave the clubs eight years to shut down. In the meantime, they will have to be licensed by the city and pay for the privilege of doing so.

Medical Marijuana

Los Angeles County to Crack Down on Illegal Dispensaries. The county supervisors voted Tuesday to crack down on dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The county will create a "Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team" to shut down and prosecute the unpermitted operations, which have been banned since 2011.

San Diego Licensed Dispensaries Call for Crackdown on Unlicensed Ones. The Association of Cannabis Professionals, which represents licensed dispensaries, is calling on the city to shut down dispensaries operating without a license. There are an estimated 30 unpermitted dispensaries in the city, and the seven licensed ones are claiming they can't compete because of the increased costs they bear to get and stay legal. "The City of San Diego spent nearly four years developing regulations, and our members spent nearly two years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, to meet the conditions needed to obtain their permits from the City of San Diego,” says Association President Chris Siegel. “But despite having jumped through all of these hoops and costs, in order to do things right, the City continues to allow unpermitted dispensaries to operate with impunity."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate About to Pass Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Senators voted 83-6 to advance the bill Monday, setting the stage for a final vote sometime this week. The bill, S 524, is sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and has 42 cosponsors. It would provide support drug treatment, education, and prevention initiatives, and expanded prescription drug monitoring programs.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Senate Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. The Senate voted 48-0 Tuesday to approve Senate File 2218, which would allow police, fire departments, EMS programs and others to carry and use naloxone (Narcan), the opioid overdose reversal drug. The bill now goes to the House

International

Top State Department Official Gives Green Light for Other Countries to Decriminalize Drugs. William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), told reporters at the United Nations Tuesday that it was less concerned with how countries attempted to deal with drug problems than with reducing the harms from drug use. "The issue is not precisely whether a government has chosen to decriminalize or not to decriminalize," Brownfield remarked. "It is whether the government is working cooperatively to reduce the harm of a product. A nation can reach its own determination," he added, suggesting that countries should feel free to consider removing penalties for drug use.

Chronicle AM: UK Lib Dems Call for Marijuana Legalization, MD Harm Reduction Bills Get Hearing, More... (3/8/16)

Massachusetts lawmakers have problems with pot legalization, a Utah medical marijuana bill gets gutted, a Florida medical marijuana bill goes to the governor, groundbreaking harm reduction bills get a hearing in Maryland, Britain's Liberal Democrats call for pot legalization, and more.

Britain's third political party calls for marijuana legalization.
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Illinois Not Quite There Yet on Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for legalization at 45%, with 51% opposed. Medical marijuana does much better, with 82% in favor.

Massachusetts Senate Committee Issues Report on Dangers of Marijuana Legalization. A day after legalization got a raucous hearing at the state house, the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana issued a report saying it had "serious concerns about the prospect of legalizing marijuana for recreational use and sale" in the state. Legalization could make it easier for children to get access to the plant and more difficult for law enforcement trying to enforce impaired driving laws. The report calls for setting a legal driving limit for THC levels in the blood, requiring health risk warnings on marijuana products, and barring home cultivation, among other recommendations.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate Monday approved House Bill 307, which would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Utah House Committee Kills Broad Medical Marijuana Bill, Tries to Merge It With Another One. The House Health and Human Services Committee effectively killed Senate Bill 73, backed by medical marijuana supporters, then tried to blend in some of its provisions into Senate Bill 89, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana products, but would also impose stricter regulations on its use. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), sponsor of SB 73, said the compromise wasn't good enough. "It's like trying to put live organs in a cadaver and expect some kind of good outcome. It is fundamentally, functionally constructed to fail," Madsen said. "It's entirely possible they wanted it to fail all along. I don't think it's going to come close to meeting any of the needs for the people. It was a placebo bill from the beginning and was intended to torpedo my bill." Medical marijuana activists will now most likely move forward with a threatened initiative.

Virginia Lawmakers Approve CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House Monday passed Senate Bill 701, which would allow the cultivation and use of two cannabinoids—CBD and THC-A—for patients suffering from severe epilepsy. The measure has already passed the Senate and now heads the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Harm Reduction

Maryland Hearing Today on Groundbreaking Harm Reduction Bill Package. The House of Delegates is today holding hearings on two bills from Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) that are part of paradigm-shifting, four-bill harm reduction package. House Bill 1212 would allow for supervised consumption rooms, while House Bill 1267 would take initial steps toward enacting a pilot project in heroin and other opioid maintenance therapy.

International

British Liberal Democrats Call for Marijuana Legalization. In a report issued today, A Framework for a Regulated Cannabis Market in the UK, Britain's third largest political party called for legalizing marijuana and said it would be a billion dollar a year industry in the United Kingdom.  

Chronicle AM: Iran to Hang 100 Drug Prisoners, Boston Safe Space for Heroin Users Coming, More... (3/7/16)

Iran is reportedly about to execute a hundred drug offenders, Florida's Volusia County becomes the latest locale to decriminalize pot in the Sunshine State, Oregon's governor signs pot bills into law, New Mexico's governor signs a naloxone (Narcan) bill into law, and more. 

Iran is preparing to hang a hundred drug prisoners. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Legislator's Speech Kills West Virginia Bill to Increase Marijuana Sentences. Delegate Bill Flanigan (R-Morgantown) took to the House floor last week to explain how medical marijuana helped him deal with cancer, and immediately after his speech, the House voted 59-40 to kill House Bill 4576. The bill would have increased penalties for bringing drugs, including marijuana, into the state. The bill would have increased the mandatory minimum sentence for importing marijuana from one to five years and increased the maximum sentence from five to 15 years.

Florida's Volusia County the Latest to Decriminalize. Following the path of counties and municipalities in South Florida and the Tampa Bay area, Volusia County has become the first in Central Florida to decriminalize small-time pot possession. The county council voted unanimously to grant police discretion to ticket people arrested with 20 grams or less instead of arresting them. The ordinance will take effect April 1 and cover unincorporated Volusia, including the beaches, which are under county control.

Oregon Governor Signs Marijuana Bills. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law two bills that adjust the state's legal marijuana program, Senate Bill 1598 and House Bill 4014. The former makes it easier for some medical marijuana growers to enter the legal marijuana market by removing some bureaucratic requirements, while the latter removes a two-year residency requirement for industry participants.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Second Chance. State officials will recheck the validity of signatures on the New Approach South Dakota medical marijuana initiative after proponents officially challenged an earlier count that found they came up short on signatures.  Last month, state officials disqualified the initiative after a 5% random sample found that nearly half of them were invalid. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said last Friday that her office will conduct a new 5% random sampling "in order to maintain confidence in the petition process." It's still a long shot—the group gathered 16,543 raw signatures and needs 13,871 to qualify for the ballot. That means if even 20% of the raw signatures get thrown out—not an at all unusual event—the initiative effort will fail.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Senate Unanimously Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bills. The Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 1044, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but tightens procedural and evidentiary requirements for law enforcement. Companion legislation, House Bill 889, has passed all committees and now awaits a House floor vote. The two bills are identical and will head for the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R) if the House bill passes.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Governor Signs Opioid Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 277, sponsored by Rep. Terry McMillan (R-Las Cruces). The new law allows for the possession, distribution, and storage of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan®) and removes fears of civil liability for people using it to save lives. It has an emergency clause, which means it goes into effect immediately.

Boston to Set Up Safe Space for Heroin Users. It sounds pretty much like a supervised injection facility without the injecting. The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program plans to open this month a room with a nurse, some soft chairs, and basic life-saving equipment for heroin users to sit and chill under medical supervision after injecting elsewhere. "It’s not a place where people would be injecting," the group's medical director, Jessie Gaeta said. "But it’s a place where people would come if they’re high and they need a safe place to be that’s not a street corner, and not a bathroom by themselves, where they’re at high risk of dying if they do overdose."

International

Iran Set to Execute Another 100 Prisoners for Drug Crimes. The Norway-based Iran Human Rights Groups said last Friday that sources in and out of Ghezel Hessar prison have confirmed that around a hundred prisoners' death sentences had been reviewed and approved by the country's Islamic Revolutionary Court, and that the inmates have been told they should prepare for death. The group estimates that Iran has hung more than 1,800 people for drug offenses in the past five years.

Chronicle AM: INCB Rejects Drug War, ME Pot Legalization Init Rejected, More... (3/2/16)

The International Narcotics Control Board takes a surprising stand, Maine's pot legalization initiative hits an unexpected roadblock, Denver NORML files a pot social club initiative, a Florida needle exchange bill heads to the governor's desk, and more.

INCB head Werner Sipp: "The conventions never called for a war on drugs." (incb.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Says Legalization Initiative Short on Signatures, Campaign Strongly Disagrees. The secretary of state's office today rejected the legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, saying it had failed to hand in a sufficient number of valid voter signatures. The group handed in more than 99,000 signatures and only needed 61,000 valid ones to qualify for the November ballot, but the state rejected more than 48,000 signatures, and now the campaign is crying foul. "Based on documents they have provided, it appears that more than 17,000 valid signatures from registered Maine voters were excluded from the count because the signature of a single notary — whose notary commission has not expired — did not exactly match the signature the state has on file for that notary," MPP Maine political director David Boyer said in a written statement. "We are exploring all legal means available to appeal this determination and we sincerely hope that 17,000-plus Maine citizens will not be disenfranchised due to a handwriting technicality."

Mississippi House Rejects Legalization. Offered unexpectedly as an amendment to a drug penalties bill, House Bill 701, a bid to legalize marijuana went down 90-29 Tuesday. Lawmakers said it was the first time in decades, and possibly ever, that the House had voted on marijuana legalization.

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. Some 62% of adults polled in a new WMUR Granite State survey favor legalizing marijuana, and 72% of those surveyed said they would approve of selling it in licensed retail outlets.

Denver NORML Files Marijuana Social Club Initiative. The group today submitted an initiative to legalize marijuana consumption clubs and special events. "Denver residents and visitors alike need places other than private homes to legally and responsibly enjoy legal marijuana with other adults," said Jordan Person, executive director of Denver NORML. "This submission to city council is the first step. We’ll get feedback from the city, finalize the language, then start gathering signatures to put it on the ballot," Person said.

Heroin

Maine Bill to Refelonize Heroin Possession Advances. Last year, legislators voted to make small-time heroin possession a misdemeanor; this year, they are on a path to reverse themselves. On Monday, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved LD 1554, which would let prosecutes charge anyone possessing heroin, meth, or more than 14 grams of cocaine with a felony. The bill is supported by the administration of Gov. Paul Le Page (R).

Harm Reduction

Florida Needle Exchange Bill Heads for Governor's Desk. The House today approved Senate Bill 242, which authorizes the creation of pilot program to establish needle exchange programs in Miami-Dade County.  The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R).

International

INCB Rejects War on Drugs. In its

released today, the International Narcotics Control Board criticized militaristic approaches toward drugs and said excessive punishments of drug users run counter to UN treaties. "As the Board has stated on numerous occasions, the international drug control conventions do not require the incarceration of drug users," wrote the 13 medical and legal experts who make up the board. "The conventions never called for a war on drugs," added INCB President Werner Sipp.

Chronicle AM: PR Governor Says Legalize It, WY Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Signed, More... (3/1/16)

Puerto Rico's governor says legalize it, Wyoming's effort to felonize marijuana edibles dies, MPP rolls out its Ohio medical marijuana initiative, and more. 

Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Puerto Rico Governor Calls for Pot Legalization. Outgoing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla called for marijuana legalization as he gave his last public address as governor Monday. He said doing so would lower both crime and hypocrisy. He said that at the least, legislators should approve a 2013 bill to decriminalize pot possession.

Wyoming Edibles Bill Dies as Lawmakers Tussle Over Making Possession a Felony. A Senate-passed bill, Senate File 96, that made it a felony to possess more than three ounces of marijuana edibles died Monday after failing to advance before a legislative deadline. The House Judiciary Committee last week stripped out the felony provision, but legislative squabbling left the bill dead. The bill was deemed necessary after a pair of state judges ruled that the state's marijuana laws did not apply to edibles. "There really is concern that if you overreach, you can turn activity that was lawful in one state into a felony on this side of the border, and while you may feel that’s the right way, you want to be careful before you undertake to put people in prison for that type of activity, explained Senate Majority Leader Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie). 

Medical Marijuana

MPP Rolls Out Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has rolled out its proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana. The proposal calls for 15 large-scale grow operations and an unlimited number of smaller grows, with five types of business licenses for growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Personal medical marijuana grows would not need to be licensed.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Texas Tegna poll suggests Texans are ready to move beyond the limited legalization of CBD cannabis oil and go for full-blown medical marijuana. The poll found that 71% supported expanding the program, with only 19% opposed.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Sued Over Asset Forfeiture Fund Disbursements. The Institute for Justice has sued the state to try to force it to enforce its own asset forfeiture laws. They require that proceeds from seizures go to a schools fund, but that hasn't been happening. Instead, police and prosecutors have been keeping the proceeds for themselves.

Wyoming Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture reform, but on Monday he found an asset forfeiture bill he could get behind. Mead signed into law Senate File 46, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but imposes tighter rules on it. Now, people whose property is seized will get a probable cause hearing within 30 days, with a judge deciding whether to proceed with forfeiture. If property owners can prove they are innocent, the state will have to reimburse their legal costs.

Harm Reduction

Oregon Legislature Unanimously Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. Following in the footsteps of the House, the Senate Monday unanimously approved House Bill 4124, which allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone (Narcan®) without a prescription. The bill also expands the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so that emergency room physicians will be able to access the database.

Law Enforcement

Judge Denies Federal Government's Motion to Unlock iPhone in Drug Case. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in Brooklyn, New York, has denied a government motion to compel Apple to help it unlock an iPhone in a drug case. "Ultimately, the question to be answered in this matter, and in others like it across the country, is not whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come," the ruling says. "For the reasons set forth above, I conclude that it does not. The government's motion is denied." The Justice Department said it would ask Orenstein to review his decision in coming days.

International

Myanmar Christian Anti-Drug Vigilantes Retreat. The Pat Jasan movement, which had attempted to destroy opium crops in Kachin state, has abandoned its efforts after dozens of its members were attacked last week. Some 30 vigilantes were injured in grenade and gunfire attacks by unidentified assailants as they tried to clear poppy fields. 

Chronicle AM: VT Senate Gives First Approval of Legalization Bill, CT MedMJ Expansion, More... (2/24/16)

Marijuana legalization advances in Vermont; medical marijuana advances in Connecticut, Australia, and Canada; Eric Holder says it's time to reschedule marijuana, Obama says restricting pain pills won't solve the opioid crisis, and more.

Busy, busy in New England. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Another Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has again rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, citing ambiguities in the text. The Arkansas Cannabis Amendment, filed by Mary Berry, was rejected the first time earlier this month.

Vermont Senate Approves Legalization in Preliminary Vote. The Senate voted 16-13 to approve Senate Bill 241, which would regulate, tax, and legalize marijuana. The bill, which is supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), faces one more Senate vote before heading to the House. That vote is expected to come tomorrow.

Minneapolis City Council Takes Up Decriminalization. The council will decide this week whether small-time marijuana possession should be a misdemeanor or a petty misdemeanor under city ordinance. The current ordinance makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, jail time, and a criminal record. That's tougher than state law, which makes it a petty misdemeanor, which is punishable only by a fine and carries to criminal record.

Medical Marijuana

Former Attorney General Eric Holder Now Supports Rescheduling Marijuana. In an interview with PBS, Holder signaled newfound support for rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana. It's not something he acted on while in office, but he now says: "I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate."

Connecticut Legislators Expand Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana. The legislature's regulation review committee Tuesday approved expanding the state's program by adding six new qualifying conditions: ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease; ulcerative colitis; sickle cell disease; severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; complex regional pain syndrome; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, which is recurring back pain after surgery. No other approval is required since these were regulatory, not legislative, changes. The changes will go into effect in 30 days.

Heroin and Opiates

Obama Says Restricting Opiate Prescriptions Won't Solve Crisis. At the National Governors' Conference last weekend, the governors recommended limiting the number of opioid pain relievers doctors can prescribe, but President Obama wasn't buying that. "If we go to doctors right now and say 'Don't overprescribe' without providing some mechanisms for people in these communities to deal with the pain that they have or the issues that they have, then we're not going to solve the problem, because the pain is real, the mental illness is real," Obama said in a meeting with governors Monday. "In some cases, addiction is already there."

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Unveils Comprehensive Drug Policy Plan. At a press conference today, Ithaca officials unveiled a comprehensive plan to deal with drug use from a public health perspective with a strong harm reduction component. The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy, calls for the creation of a Vancouver-style Four Pillars (prevention, treatment, harm reduction, law enforcement) approach to the city's problems, particularly with heroin and opioid drug use. The plan recommends allowing supervised injection facilities and heroin maintenance, among other proposals.

International

Canadian Federal Judge Throws Out Ban on Patient Medical Marijuana Grows. A Vancouver-based federal judge ruled Wednesday that Health Canada regulations restricting patient medical marijuana grows violating charter rights and thus have no force and effect. But Judge Michael Phelan also gave the government six months to come up with new rules. In the meantime, an injunction allowing thousands of patients to grow their own remains in effect.

Australian Parliament Approves Medical Marijuana. Medical marijuana cleared the upper house Wednesday, clearing the way for its use Down Under. But several steps remain to be taken before a program gets up and running.

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