Harm Reduction

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Chronicle AM -- February 17, 2014

Olympic drug testers back off on marijuana, a surprise marijuana vote in New Mexico, a bad medical marijuana bill in Michigan, NYPD's most sued cops are all narcs, a new South Australian law criminalizes some speech about synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

You don't even want to talk about synthetic stimulants now in South Australia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Senate Committee Votes to Remove Marijuana from Schedule I. In a surprise move, the Senate Judiciary Committee Saturday voted to remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances. The move came in the form of an amendment by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) to a synthetic cannabinoids ban bill, Senate Bill 127. The bill goes now to the full Senate.

Poll Finds Majority Support for Legalization in New York. A new Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that New Yorkers support the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana 57% to 39%, while 45% of those voters say marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and 36% say it's less dangerous. The poll also found whopping 88% support for medical marijuana. Click on the poll link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Landlords to Prohibit Patient Use on Private Property. A bill that would allow Michigan landlords to ban the use, possession, or cultivation on private property is set for a committee hearing this week. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sens. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and James Marleau (R-Lake Orion), gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon. Foes called the bill "hostile" and "unnecessary."

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drug Ban Bill Passes Alabama Senate. A bill that would expand Alabama's ban on new synthetic drugs passed the Senate last Thursday and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-3rd District), would add additional synthetic cannabinoids and other analogues to the ban. Next stop is the House Judiciary Committee.

(See the international section below for another synthetic drugs item.)

Law Enforcement

Meet NYPD's Most Sued Cops -- They're All Narcs. The New York Daily News reveals that 55 NYPD officers have been sued 10 times or more at a cost to the city of over $6 million. The Daily News then profiled the four officers with the most lawsuits filed against them. All four are narcotics officers. And for some reason, all four are still on the job.

Senators Still Looking for Answers on Customs Searches of Domestic Private Aircraft. It took holding up the nomination of current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to head Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but a pair of US senators finally got a response from CBP to their months-old question about how and why the border protection agency was stopping and searching private aircraft that had never left the US. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jim Risch (R-ID) put the hold on the nomination, and while CBP has responded, they say they are still not satisfied with the response and sent a February 12 letter requesting a briefing and additional written responses from DHS. Click on the title link to get all the details.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Sentencing Reform Initiative Cleared for Circulation. A sentencing reform initiative whose proponents are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdown has been approved for signature gathering. The initiative would require misdemeanor sentences instead of felonies for a number of petty crimes, including certain drug possession offenses. It would also require resentencing for people currently serving felony sentences for those offenses. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures before the end of spring to qualify for the November ballot.

International

Olympics Drug Testers Raise Permissible Levels for Marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has raised the permissible level of marijuana in athletes' urine from 15 nanograms per millileter to 150 nanograms. Although WADA considers marijuana to be a performance enhancing drug, it also conceded that it also "is a socially more or less an accepted drug being used in social context" and raised the threshold accordingly. "That's a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter and that was agreed upon as the best way to proceed with this particular issue," Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, told reporters Saturday in Sochi. "There is a big debate on it."

Harsh New Synthetic Drug Laws Now in Effect in South Australia. New laws that heighten criminal penalties for selling or manufacturing synthetic stimulant drugs went into effect across South Australia today. In addition to increased prison sentences, the Controlled Substances (Offences) Amendment Bill 2013 also outlaws the "promotion" of synthetic drugs or causing another person to believe they caused effect similar to an illegal drug or similar to a legal stimulant. Those speech-crime offenses are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Bermuda. Members of the opposition People's National Party filed a marijuana decriminalization bill Friday. The Decriminalization of Cannabis Act would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to half an ounce, but Attorney General Mark Pettingill seemed quite perturbed by it, accusing the PNP of coming "swashbuckling in" with a "very badly thought out" bill.

Norway Approves Use of Naloxone for Overdose Reversal. Norway has Europe's worst overdose rate, and now the Scandinavian country is preparing a pilot program that will offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in its two most populous cities, Oslo and Bergen, later this year. Since 2002, about 240 people have died each year in Norway from heroin overdoses, more than have died from traffic accidents.

Vancouver Clinic Seeks Federal Approval for Long-Running Safe Injection Site. The Dr. Peter Center, which has quietly provided supervised injection services for its clients since 2002, is now seeking a formal exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be able to do so legally. The move, which comes in the wake of a 2011 Canadian Supreme Court decision stopping the federal government from shutting down the Insite supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside, has the support of the city and provincial governments.

Chronicle AM -- February 13, 2014

A bill has been filed to stop forcing the drug czar to oppose drug legalization, CBD medical marijuana bills continue to get attention, and there are big doings south of the border, and more. Let's get to it:

Russell Brand helped push British petition over the top. (flickr.com/photos/evarinaldiphotography/)
Drug Legalization

Congressman Steven Cohen Files Bill to Let Drug Czar Deal Honestly with Drug Legalization. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) is required by law to oppose legalization of any Schedule I substance and prohibited from studying it. Now, Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) has filed a bill, the Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act (H.R. 4046), that would strip that language from the drug czar's enabling legislation, the ONDCP Reauthorization Act of 1998.

Marijuana Policy

High Times, Westword Sue Colorado Over Marijuana Advertising Restrictions. Marijuana magazine High Times and Denver alternative weekly Westword filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday challenging Colorado's restrictions on advertising for legal marijuana. The state's rules allow pot businesses to advertise only in adult-oriented publications for which "no more than 30% of the publication's readership is reasonably expected to be under 21." The lawsuit argues that the restrictions are an unconstitutional contravention of free speech.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Coming. House Judiciary Committee Chair Edith Ajello and Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Josh Miller announced Wednesday they will file a bill to legalize marijuana for adults and set up a system of taxation and regulation for marijuana commerce. The effort is backed by Regulate Rhode Island and the Marijuana Policy Project.

Hawaii Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing Today. Three Senate committees are holding a joint hearing today on two decriminalization bills, Senate Bill 2358 and Senate Bill 2733, and one bill, Senate Bill 2402, a bill that would take away protections for patients who possess and use marijuana concentrates.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Rally Set for Friday in Topeka. Supporters of a long-stalled medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 9, will rally at the Kansas State Capitol Rotunda Friday morning and lobby legislators after that. The effort is organized by Kansas for Change. Click on the title link for more details.

Hundreds Pack Oklahoma Capitol for CBD Medical Marijuana Hearing. Demonstrators called for marijuana legalization outside as hundreds of people jammed into the state capitol for a hearing on CBD medical marijuana. Dramatic and moving testimony was heard from family members of children suffering seizure disorders who might be helped by access to CBD cannabis oils.

Wisconsin Lawmakers Hold Hearing on CBD Medical Marijuana. Wisconsin legislators Wednesday heard from families of children with seizure disorders, who pleaded with them to pass a pending CBD medical marijuana bill.

Harm Reduction

Cincinnati Gets Its First Needle Exchange Program. The first needle exchange program in the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region is open for business. The Cincinnati Exchange Program becomes the third in Ohio, with others already operating in Cleveland and Portsmouth. The needle exchanges have been proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne infectious diseases.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Database Bill Wins Missouri House Vote. A bill that would establish a prescription drug database has won a vote in the House, but senators, citing privacy concerns, said there is little chance of it moving forward in their chamber. The bill would create an electronic database managed by the state health department that would share information about prescriptions, patients, and doctors. The bill is House Bill 1133.

International

Mexico City Decriminalization, Regulation Bill and Mexican National Drug Reform Bill Introduced Today. In Mexico City, legislators for the federal district introduced a bill to decriminalize the possession of up to five grams of marijuana and remove the option of incarceration for possession of small amounts of other drugs. The bill would also allow for limited regulated marijuana sales. The second, national, bill would reschedule marijuana and allow for its medical use. Look for a Chronicle feature article on this soon.

Dark Web Drug Sales Site Busted. German and Dutch authorities have arrested five men in a sting directed at an internet drug sales portal. The men were connected to Black Market Reloaded and its successor web site, Utopia. Undercover police purchased drugs and weapons through the web sites, they said, and seized computers, hard drives, USB sticks, and a Bitcoin wallet containing $680,000 worth of the electronic currency.

More Than 100,000 Sign British Petition for Review of Drug Laws. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas set up an online petition urging the British government to order a cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment of British drug laws within the next year. It has now achieved the benchmark of 100,000 signatures, which means it must be addressed by the Backbench Business Committee. Sign-ons accelerated after actor and comedian Russell Brand joined with the online campaign group Avaaz to encourage its 1.1 million members to sign up.

Chronicle AM -- February 12, 2014

Overdose prevention is big news today as the drug czar chimes in in favor, more than a dozen congressmen call on Obama to re- or de-schedule marijuana, the Italian Supreme Court undoes a bad drug law, and more. Let's get to it:

Eighteen Congressmen Call for Marijuana Rescheduling or Descheduling. In a Wednesday letter to the White House, 18 congressmen urged President Obama to tell Attorney General Holder to ease up on marijuana. "We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter," said the letter signed by 17 Democrats and one Republican. The letter's lead author is Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Texas Governor Candidate Wendy Davis Says She Would Consider Decriminalization, Supports Medical Marijuana. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis told the Dallas Morning News editorial board she would consider decriminalizing marijuana possession and she supports medical marijuana. "We as a state need to think about the cost of that incarceration and, obviously, the cost to the taxpayers as a consequence of it, and whether we're really solving any problem for the state by virtue of incarcerations for small amounts of marijuana possession," Davis said. "I personally believe that medical marijuana should be allowed for. Certainly as governor I think it's important to be deferential to whether the state of Texas feels that it's ready for that."

Pennsylvania Governor Candidate Allyson Schwartz Calls for Decriminalization, Supports Medical Marijuana. Leading contender for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination US Rep. Allyson Schwartz told the Philadelphia Weekly Monday she favors decriminalization and medical marijuana. "I do believe that marijuana is over-criminalized. And what we should do is decriminalize possession," she said. She also said she would sign a pending medical marijuana bill. "If it came to my desk, I would be supportive," she said.

New Mexico Senate Rules Committee Stalls Marijuana Legalization Resolution. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernallillo) saw his Senate Joint Resolution 10 stalled on a tie vote in the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday. The bill would have legalized possession for those 21 and over and set up a regulated system of marijuana commerce.

New Mexico House Committee Approves Study of Legalization Effects. A measure that asks the Legislative Finance Committee to study the effects of marijuana legalization in other states passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Tuesday. House Memorial 38, filed by Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces), should now be headed for a House floor vote.

Arizona Decriminalization Bill for Small-Time Possession With Intent Filed. Rep. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) has introduced a bill that decriminalizes possession with intent to sell of less than an ounce of pot, make possession of less than two pounds with intent to sell a petty offense, and make possession of more than two pounds with intent to sell a misdemeanor. The measure would also decriminalize growing if the yield is less than two pounds. The bill is House Bill 2474; it has been assigned to the House Judiciary and Rules committees.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Oklahoma City. Supporters of medical marijuana led by Oklahoma NORML rallied at Oklahoma State Capitol today, and also did lobbying and training.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar Calls for Overdose Antidote Drug to Be More Widely Available. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) called Tuesday for making the overdose antidote drug naloxone (Narcan) more widely available. "The Obama Administration is encouraging first responders to carry the overdose-reversal drug naloxone," ONDCP said in a blog post. "When administered quickly and effectively, naloxone immediately restores breathing to a victim in the throes of an opioid overdose. Because police are often the first on the scene of an overdose, the administration strongly encourages local law enforcement agencies to train and equip their personnel with this lifesaving drug… Used in concert with "Good Samaritan" laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose, it can and will save lives."

Boston Mayor Calls for All First Responders to Carry Overdose Antidote. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh Tuesday responded to a spike in drug overdoses in the city by calling on all first responders to carry naloxone (Narcan), a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses. Both heroin and prescription opioid overdoses have jumped since 2009. Walsh announced a series of community workshops on the issue.

Indianapolis Police to Carry Overdose Antidote. Beginning next month, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police will begin a pilot program where police officers are trained in the use of and will carry with them naloxone (Narcan) to reverse overdoses. Heroin overdose deaths have doubled in the city since 2011.

Maine Governor Opposes Bill to Increase Access to Overdose Antidote. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) opposes a bill to make the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) more widely available, saying it would encourage drug use. The sponsor of the bill, Legislative Document 1209, Rep. Sara Gideon (D), said the governor's health policy advisor told her he would oppose the bill. "His main objection is his belief -- and I have to emphasize 'his belief' because there is no evidence that supports this at all -- his belief that increasing the availability of Narcan or naloxone will lead the drug user or drug abuser to have this feeling of invincibility," Gideon said. The Tea Party Republican governor last year vetoed bills to increase naloxone availability and create a Good Samaritan 911 law. Fatal heroin overdoses in the state quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.

Drugged Driving

New Mexico Drugged Driving Bill Advances. A drugged driving bill passed out of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee Tuesday. House Bill 190, filed by Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Albuquerque), would make driving with any detectable level of controlled substances, including marijuana and prescribed drugs evidence of driving under the influence of drugs. Such evidence would not automatically guarantee a conviction, but could be used to shore up prosecutions. The bill ran into opposition from, among others, the Drug Policy Alliance, which said it was likely to entrap regular users of marijuana or medical marijuana. The bill now moves to the House Judiciary Committee.

Synthetic Drugs

Missouri Synthetic Drugs Bill Advances. A bill that adds several specific substances to the state's list of banned synthetic cannabinoids advanced on a voice vote in the House Tuesday. House Bill 1051 is designed "basically to stay ahead of or try to keep up with new chemicals as they come out," said bill sponsor Rep. Shawn Rhoads (R-West Plains). The bill needs one more House vote before moving to the Senate.

International

Italian Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Equating Marijuana With Heroin. The Italian Supreme Court Tuesday struck down a 2006 law that removed the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs, stiffening prison sentences for marijuana and hash offenders, and filling the country's prisons with low-level pot offenders. The expectation is that thousands of them will soon be freed.

Groups Call for UN to Freeze Vietnam Anti-Drug Aid Over Death Penalty. Harm Reduction International and the anti-death penalty groups Reprieve and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have called on the United Nations to freeze anti-drug aid for Vietnam after it sentencing 30 people to die for heroin trafficking. In a letter to the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), they said they had raised concern for several years about UN support for countries that impose the death penalty for drug offenses and that UNODC had internal human rights guidance that required it "to cease support for a country if it is feared the support may facilitate executions." UNODC had not replied as of Wednesday afternoon.

Marijuana Seeds Dropped from Slovak Controlled Substances List, New Drugs Added. President Ivan Gasparovic Tuesday signed legislation that will drop marijuana seeds from the list of illegal drugs in Slovakia because they do not contain cannabinoids. But the updated list will now include eight new drugs, including buphedrone, desoxypipradrol and 4-methylamphetamine, and it down-schedules GHB to allow doctors to prescribe drugs containing it.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stuff ought to be legalized, Trebach said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those studies carry a lesson, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York City, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 11, 2014

California's narcs are whining about Obama's marijuana remarks, Coloradans seem happy with legalization, a Good Samaritan overdose bill is filed in Maryland, an Israeli newspaper talks pot policy, and a Colombian FARC representative lays out the guerrilla's drug proposals, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plants. The FARC has plans for them. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization More Popular Than Ever in Colorado. A year after marijuana possession became legal in the state and a month after retail marijuana sales began, Coloradans are more supportive than legalization than ever, according to a new poll. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday had support for legalization at 58%, three points higher than 55% who actually voted for it in November 2012. And 73% said they wouldn't mind if their neighbors grew marijuana in their homes.

California Narcs Unhappy With Obama Marijuana Comments. California's narcs are displeased with President Obama's recent remarks suggesting that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol. In an open letter Monday, the California Narcotics Officers' Association took "strong issue" with the president's statements and warned that marijuana poses "significant risks to public health." The full text of the letter is at the link.

Wyoming Activists "Walk for Weed" at State Capitol. Several dozen marijuana legalization activists demonstrated at the state capitol in Cheyenne Monday armed with signs reading "Legalize, Not Legal Lies" and "Turning a Red State Green in 2016." The protest was an action by Wyoming NORML, which aims to put a legalization initiative on the ballot then.

North Carolina Legislator Vows to Introduce Legalization Measure. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) said Monday he will introduce a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment when the legislature reconvenes in May. "It's an inevitable thing," he said. "Trying to stop that movement reminds me of somebody marching out to the beach, holding up their hand and saying the tide will not rise."

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Bills to Fold Medical Marijuana into Legal Marijuana System Moving. A pair of state Senate bills that would end collective gardens for medical marijuana patients advanced last Friday, while a House bill that would reduce the amount of medicine and the number of plants patients or caregivers can possess moved on Monday. Senate Bill 5887 and Senate Bill 6178 each passed 6-1 in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor on Friday. Both were second substitute versions. House Bill 2149 passed out of the House Appropriations Committee Monday.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Needs Revisions, Sponsor Says. After a three-hour committee hearing Monday, state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the sponsor of the CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 885, said it needed significant revisions before it could advance in the House. The hearing included searing testimony from parents of children suffering seizures, but also from physicians who said the use of CBD cannabis oils needed more study. Another hearing is set for Thursday.

Drug Testing

Illinois Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients, General Assembly Candidates Filed. A bill that would require candidates for the state House and Senate to undergo drug testing and bar them from running if they test positive has been filed in Illinois. Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Forsythe) said he introduced House Bill 5292 with the political candidate provision because he thinks elected officials should be held to the same standards as food stamp recipients. The bill also calls for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of food stamp recipients. Requiring drug tests of candidates for office, and requiring drug tests of public benefits recipients without individualized suspicion, have both been held unconstitutional by the federal courts.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Good Samaritan 911 Overdose Prevention Bill Proposed. Delegate Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore) today proposed a bill that would offer limited immunity for nonviolent drug possession charges if that person contacts police or emergency personnel for reports of an overdose. "While I don't condone illegal drug or alcohol use or abuse, we should make sure overdose victims are brought to safety and not allow them die out of fear of being arrested," said Cardin in a statement. "There is strong evidence that overdose victims and their friends would often rather let someone die than call emergency personnel. This should never happen. This law is a common sense way to literally save thousands of lives." The bill was not yet on the legislative web site as of Tuesday afternoon.

International

In-Depth Interview with FARC Representative on Colombian Guerrilla Group's Drug Policy Proposals. The Voice of Russia has recorded an extensive interview with FARC peace delegation member Laura Villa on the FARC's drug policy proposals, which begin from the premise that drug prohibition has failed. FARC policies call for respect for the coca leaf, decriminalization of the coca crop (in the context of land reform), a public health approach to drug consumption, as well as demilitarization, an end to aerial eradication, and compensation for victims of eradication. The entire interview is quite illuminating and worth the read.

Israel Hayom Debates Marijuana Legalization. Editors and contributors to Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, debated marijuana legalization in the Holy Land. Check out the debate by clicking on the link.

Chronicle AM -- February 7, 2014

Marijuana and medical marijuana dominate the drug policy news again today, the Maryland Senate votes to ban Everclear, meth and prescription pills continue to draw legislative attention, and Schapelle Corby will soon be freed from an Indonesian jail, and more. Let's get to it:

Schapelle Corby will soon walk out of an Indonesian jail.
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Senate Committee Considers Legalization Bill Today. The Senate Rules Committee was expected to consider a marijuana legalization bill today. The bill is Senate Joint Resolution 10, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque). It would create a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana, which, if approved by the legislature, would then have to be approved by voters in a referendum.

Arizona Legalization Bill Introduced.Sen. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) has introduced House Bill 2558, which would allow adults to use, possess, and cultivate small amounts of marijuana, and set up a system to tax and regulate marijuana commerce.

Oregon Bill Would Allow Gun License Despite Marijuana Conviction. Oregon law currently allow people with marijuana possession convictions to obtain a concealed hand gun permit, but a new bill, House Bill 4068 would expand that protection to include people busted in other states, and perhaps, people busted before 1973. The bill got a hearing Wednesday. It is supported by the Oregon State Sheriff's Association, which called it "an issue of fundamental fairness."

Joe Biden Reiterates Obama Administration Marijuana Policy. While the Obama administration thinks cracking down on marijuana is a waste of resources, it doesn't favor legalizing it, either, Vice President Biden told Time magazine Thursday. "I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources," Biden said. "That's different than [legalization.] Our policy for our administration is still not legalization, and that is and continues to be our policy."

Massachusetts Poll Has Slight Majority for Legalization. A new Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll has support for marijuana legalization in the Bay State at 53%, with 37% opposed and 10% undecided.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan High Court Rules for Medical Marijuana. In a bellwether case, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Thursday that cities and counties cannot pass ordinances that conflict with the state's five-year-old Medical Marihuana Act. The ruling came in Ter Beek v. the City of Wyoming. A number of cities had attempted to ban medical marijuana activities, but the ruling says they cannot do that, although they can regulate them.

Maine Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearings. Medical marijuana bills are getting attention in Augusta. Legislative Document 1674, which would expand prohibitions on the use of pesticides in cultivation to include patients growing for themselves, got a hearing Thursday. Legislative Document 1597, which would give government officials access to any medical marijuana grow, is set for a hearing next Thursday. The industry group Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine thinks the latter bill is too broad. Legislative Document 1739 would create additional regulations and is set for a hearing next Tuesday. Click on the title link for more hearing information.

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) has filed a bill to allow for low-THC, high-CBD strains of marijuana to be used for medical purposes. The bill is House Bill 843.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing Monday. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for patients suffering from certain types of seizures will get a hearing Monday. House Bill 885, sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), will get a hearing at the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Hemp

President Obama Signs Farms Bill With Hemp Amendment. President Obama Friday signed into law the omnibus farm bill, which includes a hemp amendment allowing for research pilot projects in states that have approved them.

Hemp Bill Moving in Washington State. A bill that would authorize Washington State University to study the feasibility and value of a hemp industry in the state is on the move. House Bill 1888 passed out of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government & Information Technology Thursday and now heads for the Ways and Means Committee. The just-passed federal farm bill includes a provision allowing for hemp research in states that have approved it.

Alcohol

Maryland Senate Passes Ban on Everclear. The Maryland Senate this approved a bill that would ban the sale of any alcohol product at or above 190 proof, or 95% ethyl alcohol. The bill is Senate Bill 75, and supporters said the ban would cut down on binge drinking and date rape, but opponents called it a "feel good" move. Similar legislation has twice previously passed the Senate, only to die in the House, but this year it has the backing of Del. Charles Barkley (D-Montgomery), chair of the Economic Matters subcommittee on alcohol, which increases its chances of getting a floor vote.

Prescription Drugs

South Carolina Bill Would Increase Penalties for Pill Trafficking, Set Them By Pill Quantity. A bill backed by Lt. Gov Glenn McConnell (R) and aimed at what he called "a criminal cancer that will affect the health of seniors" would increase penalties for prescription drug trafficking and set penalties based on the number of pills seized -- not the weight of the drugs. Possession of 600 or more prescription pills would garner a mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentence. Senate Bill 1012 would also make having multiple prescriptions for the same drug evidence of possession with intent to distribute.

Methamphetamine

Michigan Bill Would Bar Drug Felons From Buying Pseudoephedrine. A bill that would bar people with felony drug convictions from purchasing products containing pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical for meth, got a hearing Wednesday in the House Criminal Justice Committee. House Bill 5088 was introduced by Rep. John Kivela (D-Marquette). Two related bills, House Bill 5089 and House Bill 5090 were also discussed. They address "smurfing."

Harm Reduction

Needle Exchange Reform Bill Moving in Maryland. The state Senate Thursday approved a bill to undo a restriction in existing state law that prevents injection drug users from picking up more clean needles at the Baltimore needle exchange than they turn in. The Senate approved Senate Bill 263 by an overwhelming 39-5 vote. The measure now heads to the House.

International

Schapelle Corby Wins Parole in Indonesia. Indonesian authorities announced Friday that Schapelle Corby, an Australian woman whose case made international headlines when she was convicted for smuggling nine pounds of marijuana into Bali in 2005, has been paroled. It's not clear yet when she will actually walk out of prison in Bali. She had been sentenced to 20 years in what many Australians considered a set-up.

Smart Needle Exchange Reform Bill Moving in Maryland

The Maryland Senate today moved to undo a restriction in existing state law that prevents injection drug users from picking up more clean needles at the Baltimore needle exchange than they turn in.

The Senate approved Senate Bill 263 by an overwhelming 39-5 vote. The measure now heads to the House.

The bill doesn't include a specific limit on the number of needles can pick up at one time, but one of the bill's supporters, Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell (D-Baltimore), said 50 might be a good number, and that the bill may be amended to get specific.

The bill is supported by the entire Baltimore Senate delegation as well as the city of Baltimore.  The health department there says the city's needle exchange program serves about 2,500 people a year and exchanges about 200 needles for each one.

Needle exchanges are a proven means of reducing the transmission of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne illnesses among injection drug users.

Good on the Maryland Senate for moving to get rid of this mindless restriction.

Location: 
Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 3, 2014

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

Methamphetamine

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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

Could Different Drug Policies Have Saved Philip Seymour Hoffman?

The tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman yesterday has prompted expressions of grief and of praise for his talent. It also, naturally, has prompted discussions of addiction, the impact of pain pill prescriptions on the addicted, even of pain pill restrictions causing more people to turn to heroin.

Philip Seymour Hoffman at the 81st Academy Awards (courtesy Chrisa Hickey, flickr.com/photos/chrisahickey/, via wikimedia.org)
While the latter raises the question about whether different drug policies could make things safer or less damaging or risky for heroin addicts, I haven't heard that question directly raised in the media. Although we don't know how Hoffman would have fared under a different system -- a system that had more options available, we do have information from places that do offer more options, and they are worth examining.

One of those options is heroin maintenance programs (also known now as heroin assisted treatment, or HAT). The most famous such program operated in Liverpool, England, before the conservative Thatcher government, encouraged by the Reagan administration (so we heard), shut it down. But HAT programs current operate in Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Montreal. Patients in such programs receive a supply of pharmaceutically-produced heroin from a clinic (for free, though one can infer similar benefits if the heroin were merely cheap). They regularly access health services as a part of their participation. Those who need to inject the drug to relieve their cravings receive instruction on how to do so without damaging their veins, and heroin is made available in other forms as well.

A 2009 paper by leading drug policy researcher Peter Reuter, written for The Abell Foundation in Baltimore, reviewed research done in three of those countries. According to Reuter, Switzerland found a decrease in criminal involvement from 70% of the patients down to 10% after 18 months; and an increase in employment, from 14% to 32%. The health safety results were particularly impressive, including decreased contact with the street drug scene, and with very few adverse events or safety issues.

Many of those findings relate more to indigent addicts than they would to a famous actor. But the final point seems key, very few "adverse events" (e.g. overdoses and so forth) or safety issues, in any of the programs. Again, we don't know how Hoffman would have fared if he had entered a heroin maintenance program instead of buying it on the street. For that matter, we don't know if under legalization, broad or just for the addicted, whether Hoffman would have accessed such services in time, or chose to access them at all. But we know that many people do access these services in the countries that offer them, and that very few of the patients enrolled suffer overdose.

More generally, by prohibiting heroin, even for people who are already addicted to it, we prevent a whole class of possible approaches from every being taken to try to help people -- a whole set of options that people with substance abuse problems might be able to use to manage their problems -- to literally save their lives.

In the meanwhile, there are things to do that are legal even now, at least in a few states that have moved forward with them, with no federal laws standing in the way. These are Good Samaritan policies, that protect people from criminal liability when they seek help in an overdose situation; and use of the antidote medication for heroin overdoses, Naloxone. Meghan Ralston wrote about these in an oped yesterday.

We can also improve the debate. It's not enough to talk about the challenges of addiction and the risk of relapse people can face their entire lives, important as that is. It's a good start that people are starting to recognize the unintended consequences of the pain pill crackdown. But that isn't enough either. It's also important to take the next logical step in the argument, and rethink prohibition.

Chronicle AM -- January 31, 2014

The president makes some delphic comments on marijuana policy, some of his congressional critics get ready to go after him for such comments next week, Dutch cities want legal marijuana growing, the Welsh government funds a harm reduction drug testing program, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Don't know what's in your drugs? The Welsh government wants to help.
In CNN Interview, Obama Punts on Rescheduling, Hints Support for Decriminalization. In an interview with CNN released today, President Obama said rescheduling marijuana was a job for Congress [Editor's Note: The executive branch can also reschedule it, according to statute] and that he considered the criminalization of personal use his main concern, although he also worried about the impact of commercialization.

House Government Oversight Committee to Hold Hearing on Marijuana Policy Next Week. Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the committee, said he will hold a hearing next Tuesday to examine what he called the Obama administration's "schizophrenic" position on marijuana laws. "The purpose of the hearing is to try to sort out the increasingly schizophrenic federal policy we have, because the DEA administrator was overhead denouncing what the president said," Mica said Friday. "We have states that are enacting laws -- municipalities that are considering it -- that are in conflict with federal law." There could be more hearings to come after that, he added.

Baltimore Police Commissioner No Fan of Legalization. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in a radio interview on Thursday evening expressed doubt that marijuana should be legalized. "We already have a city with a high addiction -- what would that do to the city of Baltimore?" Batts said. He also linked marijuana to homicides in the city, although the killings he described were a function of black market drug sales. "When you're calling your weed dealer or drug dealer, and you show up with money and you get robbed and it turns into a shooting, that's what we're seeing."

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Names Recipients of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses. The Department of Public Health Friday announced the names of the first 20 dispensary applicants who will be awarded licenses to to open dispensaries. An additional 15 will be forthcoming.

Drug Testing

Judge Reinstates Delaware Valley (PA) School District Drug Testing Program. A Pike County district judge has lifted a temporary injunction barring random, suspicionless drug testing for students who drive to school or participate in extracurricular activities. The parents of a 12-year-old female student who faced drug testing if she wanted to join the scrapbooking club and the ACLU had challenged the program in 2011 and won the injunction, but Judge Joseph Kameen ruled earlier this month that the policy was constitutional under state law. It is unclear if the ACLU of Pennsylvania is done with this case.

Harm Reduction

Opioid Overdose Prevention Bill Introduced in New York. State Sens. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) and Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) this week filed a bill, Senate Bill 6744/Assembly Bill 8637, that would help prevent accidental opioid overdoses by expanding access to the opioid antidote naloxone. The legislation would dramatically increase the accessibility of the life-saving reversal tool by allowing authorized health care professionals to issue standing orders, or non-patient specific prescriptions, to certified training programs that would in turn train individuals on the signs of overdose and provide them with the naloxone kits. By expanding naloxone distribution, this legislation will help reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug overdoses.

International

Welsh Government Funds Program to Test Drugs for Public. Public Health Wales has set up the Wedinos Project (Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances Project) to identify what drugs are in circulation there and use that information for harm reduction purposes. Samples are sent to the Wedinos laboratory in Cardiff anonymously and the test results posted online, identified by a reference number. The service is open to the public. "It's essential intelligence for our health workers, for our substance misuse workers, for the police, for young people and their families. By providing timely and accurate information this service can save lives," explained Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford. This is the first government-funded program of its type in the United Kingdom.

Dutch Cities Call for Legal Marijuana Cultivation; Government Says No. Eight of the Netherlands' 10 largest cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, signed a joint manifesto Friday calling for the creation of "a national system of certified and regulated cannabis cultivation." Another 25 municipal councils also signed on. While the Netherlands allows for the sale of marijuana through its famous cannabis coffee shops, growing marijuana remains illegal. "We want cannabis cultivation to be regulated so the national market is manageable and more transparent, and to decrease the influence of organized crime," said the manifesto. Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten rejected the proposals: "I really don't think this is the solution," the Liberal minister told Dutch public television. "Mayors just have to learn to live with it," he said.

Marijuana Growing Courses Underway in Uruguay. Uruguay's National Cannabis Federation has launched special training courses on cultivation of the popular plant, local media reported. Some 50 would-be growers are currently enrolled.

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