Harm Reduction

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There's More to Colorado Than Marijuana [FEATURE]

Colorado has certainly garnered a lot of attention since voters there decided to legalize marijuana in the 2012 election, but when it comes to drug reform, there's a lot more going on in the Rocky Mountain State than just buds, blunts, and bongs. In the past few years, Colorado has taken significant steps toward more enlightened drug policies, and with the powerful coalitions that have emerged to push the agenda, more is likely to come.

Passed last year while all the attention was on the legislature's race to get marijuana commerce regulations passed, the single most significant piece of broader drug reform legislation was Senate Bill 250, which aims to rein in and redirect corrections spending by reducing the number of drug offenders in prison.

The bill creates a separate sentencing system for drug offenders and allows people convicted of some felony drug charges to be sentenced to probation and community-based sentencing and see that felony charge changed to a misdemeanor conviction upon completion of probation. It allow provides that savings from the sentencing changes be plowed back into drug treatment.

The bill didn't come out of nowhere. It was the outgrowth of a 2008 law that created the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. That panel brought together in one effort the heads of all the relevant state agencies as they grappled with how to reduce recidivism and put a brake on prison spending. It also provided an opportunity for groups like the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) to start confronting the commission with research-based evidence about what does and doesn't work.

"There is a lot of good evidence-based practice that shows what we did in the past didn't work, and a lot of it had to do with national attention," said Pam Clifton, communications coordinator for the CCJRC. "People were asking 'How come half your people are going back to prison?' Well, we didn't have funding for treatment in Colorado. If you didn't have any money, there wasn't any place for you to go. Another problem was helping people on the front end. How can we be more proactive with people on probation? The recession gave us a little bit of leverage."

But to get sentencing and drug reforms passed required not just a commission to come up with best policies and practices, but a political leadership that was willing to act. That came in 2008, when Colorado turned from red to blue, with a new Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, and Democrats in control of the legislature.

"When Bill Owens (R) was governor, he wasn't going to let anything happen," said Clifton. "But with the commission, a lot of conversations got started and we were able to educate about why change was needed, so when we had a change in leadership, there was a mandate from the commission to get good legislation passed. A lot of the recommendations the commission made went directly to the legislature, and when a bill showed up from the commission, it had a better opportunity to survive the process."

And while, as noted above, the legislature has passed other reforms, Senate Bill 250 was the biggie.

"That was the landmark legislation that really changes things," said Clifton. "This was the whole state -- prosecutors, defense counsel, the commission, us -- coming together and agreeing it was the right approach."

The bill only went into effect last October, so its results remain to be seen. But advocates are confident it has not only changed the conversation about drugs and sentencing, but that it will pay off in terms of fewer prisoners doing less time at less cost to the state -- and with less harm to the futures of drug offenders in the state.

Even the prisons are scenic in Colorado, although it is hoped that fewer prisoners will be forced to enjoy the view soon. (CDOC)
"It's too early to tell what impact Senate Bill 250 will have," said Art Way, Colorado manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It was definitely a step in the right direction, though. It shrank the number of felony degrees for drug charges from six to four, and now, many low-level drug felonies can wobble down to misdemeanors thanks to that bill. It's not true defelonization of use and possession, but it still gives defendants some opportunities to avoid the label of felons."

And the CCJRC deserves some major credit, he said.

"The CCJRC has been doing great work in the past decade revealing that we are on an unsustainable path," said Way. "The Department of Corrections budget was only increasing year after year, and they were able to make this a fiscal argument as well as a human argument. They've been at the forefront here."

Another front where Colorado is forging ahead is harm reduction. Needle exchange programs were legalized in 2010 and there are now six across the state, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law in 2012, and a law allowing friends and family members of injection drug users to carry and administer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) passed last year.

Activists have also managed to push through laws exempting needle exchange participants from the state's drug paraphernalia laws, and in Denver, an ordinance last year allowed the first mobile needle exchange in the state.

"We've been really excited, not only about all these programs, but also about getting these policy wins," said Lisa Raville of the Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center. "Every time we go to the capitol, we've been winning. The legislature is very excited about harm reduction."

After passing Senate Bill 250, this year was relatively quiet on the sentencing and drug reform front. There are a number of reasons for that, some of them having to do with gauging public (and legislative) attitudes in the wake of a well-publicized violent crime, the killing of state prison chief Tom Clements by a parolee.

"Our corrections director was murdered last spring, and that caused a lot of ripples and made people at the capitol freak out a bit, so we wanted to tread lightly," said Clifton. "And things are really tricky in Colorado now," she added. "Elections are coming up, and everyone's concerned about what color we're going to be come November. Our elected officials are all being very cautious right now."

Like the CCJC, the harm reductionists were quiet in the legislature this year. It was a time for solidifying gains and getting previous victories implemented, Raville said.

Harm reduction measures in place in Colorado include needle exchanges and overdose reversal drug access. (wikimedia.org)
"This is an election year, and we knew they would be playing defense at the capitol," she said. "We decided this year would be all about promoting harm reduction policies and procedures. When we got those laws passed, we assumed that the legislature and the courts would implement them, but they didn't, so we spent the first six months promoting implementation, working with the legislature, as well as working with doctors and pharmacies so they know about these new laws."

But that doesn't mean the Harm Reduction Action Center is giving up on the legislature.

"Depending on how the election goes, our goal next year is total syringe decriminalization," said Raville. "We have the exemption for needle exchange participants, but there are still folks who won't ever access a needle exchange program, and we want them exempt as well. Now, you can get eight to 15 days in jail for every syringe, clean or used."

Raville pointed to the success of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition in getting a similar measure passed last year in the last year in getting a similar measure passed in the Tar Heel State. That partial decriminalization bill allows people carrying needles to avoid arrest if they inform officers they are carrying them.

"Robert Childs and the NCHRC got that passed with the support of law enforcement, who didn't want to get pricked," she said. "That's inspired us to work closely with the Denver Police Department. We have two officers on our advisory board."

"We have an overdose issue here in Colorado," Raville noted. "ODs have tripled in the past 10 years, and we have a fatal overdose every day and a half in the state. Not many doctors are prescribing naloxone, but we've had 92 overdose reversals so far. And a couple of hospitals in Denver are discharging overdose patients with a prescription for naloxone. We're trying to make that the standard for hospitals across the state."

While it was relatively quiet this year in the legislature, activists had to play defense on one set of bills and managed to kill them. That was a pair of bills to amend the civil code for child neglect to explicitly include marijuana use as an indicator, even though the state has legalized both medical and recreational marijuana use and possession.

"Stopping that bill was our top concern this year," said Way. "We worried that amending the civil code the way those bills tried to do would simply help law enforcement during drug investigations by leveraging parental rights. This wasn't a public health approach; it was a law enforcement bill couched as a public health and child protection bill," he said.

"The bill's fiscal notes only involving increasing bed space for what they expected to an influx of people put in jail," he noted. "There was nothing about access to treatment or reunification with kids. It was a standard, punitive drug war approach to a public health issue, and we were able to kill it for the second year in a row."

The CCJRC, for its part, is continuing to push for reform. While it wasn't ready to share its strategic planning for the near future, Clifton did say that the group is working around implementation of the Affordable Care Act's provisions requiring insurance companies to cover drug treatment.

"We've convened a stakeholder group from around the state -- health care and criminal justice people -- to make sure they knew each other as a step toward successfully implementing the ACA, getting more people in treatment, and reducing the prison population. We're teaching people how to navigate the system and teaching the system how to help people navigate it," she said.

And while sentencing reform and harm reduction efforts in Colorado haven't, for the most part, been about marijuana, the whole opening on marijuana has given political and social space to drug reform efforts that go beyond pot.

"The conversation about marijuana has absolutely helped," said Raville. "We legalized it and the sky didn't fall. This has helped normalize pot and normalize drug use more broadly. And it's been a good opportunity to talk to people about how voting matters."

"Marijuana reform has helped legislators understand what we mean by a public health approach," said Way. "We hope to now be able to address drug policy on a broader level with the legislature."

But much of that will depend on what the makeup of the legislature looks like after November. Still, Colorado has shown what some persistence, some coalition-building, and some science, evidence, and compassion can accomplish.

CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 22, 2014

A new poll suggests Vermont is ready to legalize it, and so is the mayor of Rome, a San Francisco crack pipe exchange is set to expand, a West Virginia county's latest grand jury indictments shine a light on drug war in the Appalachians, Bermuda marijuana growers want an emergency exemption for medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Bermuda-grown cannabis indica await patients there. (Alan Gordon)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Poll Has 57% Support for Legalization, Taxation, and Regulation. A new poll from the Castleton Polling Institute has 57% of respondents saying they would support legalizing marijuana for adults, taxing it, and regulating it like alcohol. Only 34% were opposed. The poll has +/- 4% margin of error. The Vermont legislature approved a bill in April that includes an amendment initiating a study to evaluate the potential impact of making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is expected to sign it into law.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Legislator Files Bill for Medical Marijuana Referendum. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) has filed a measure, House Bill 1161, that, if approved, would put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana to treat specified medical conditions. Alexander had filed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it went nowhere in the legislature. The new bill would have to get super-majorities in both chambers of the legislature before it could go to the voters.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco's Crack Pipe Exchange Program to Expand. A crack pipe exchange program operated by volunteers from the Urban Survivors Union, a drug users' rights group, is set to expand even though the city won't condone or fund the program. Volunteers have been distributing about 50 clean crack pipes a week in the Tenderloin, SOMA, and Polk Gulch neighborhoods, even though city officials say there is no evidence it is an effective harm reduction measure. Seattle is the only other city in the country with a similar program.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. Rep. David Price (D-NC) has become the latest representative to endorse the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 (House Resolution 3382). The bill would reduce some drug mandatory minimums, allow judges greater leeway to sentence beneath the mandatory minimum, and allow for reduced sentences for crack offenders whose offense took place before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Price is the 32nd cosponsor and the second this week.

Law Enforcement

In One West Virginia County, Drugs Dominate Grand Jury Indictments. Holy hydrocodone, Batman! The Fayette County grand jury in West Virginia has just released its May batch of bills of indictment, and 71 out 101 of them were for drugs and related charges. There are a whole lot of "conspiracy" and "possession with intent to distribute" charges, too. The indictments don't specify which drugs were at play, but there are a bunch of "obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, or forgery" charges as well, and a handful of meth lab charges. Click on the link for the whole list.

International

Mayor of Rome Says Legalize It. Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said Wednesday he supports legalizing marijuana in Italy. "I am in favor of the possibility of deregulating cannabis for medical or personal use," he told the 8th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy. "In 2011, more than one million plants were confiscated in our country compared to 73,000 in France," Marino continued. "Organized crime still manages large portions of international traffic and there are enough reasons to reopen the debate today in Italy. We live in a time in which reform for drug laws is necessary on an international and national level. For Italy I personally have a very clear idea of what needs to be done: the decriminalization of marijuana should be considered a starting point because the years of prohibition have not brought any results to prevent the dramatic increase in the use of drugs. In addition, new forms of legalization could be experimented with in medicine for people's health but also to target organized crime." Marino's comments come just weeks after the Italian parliament approved a new law amending the country's drug laws and treating marijuana as a "soft drug" with reduced penalties.

Portugal Soon to Get First Safe Injection Site. The Lisbon city council has approved the location for what would be Portugal's first "assisted consumption room" for drug users. Portugal approved safe injection sites several years ago, but left implementation up to local councils. None had moved to do so until now.

Bermuda Marijuana Growers Seek Emergency Amnesty for Medical Grows, Offer Up Over 50 Locally Available Varieties. Bermuda attorney and marijuana reform activist Alan Gordon, speaking on behalf of a collective of nearly two dozen Bermuda marijuana growers, called today for the government to act immediately to allow for the use of medical marijuana, as called for in last month's Cannabis Reform Collaboration report. "There is only one way to allow the immediate medical cannabis called for by the CRC Report," Gordon said. "We need to just do it instead of just shuffling paperwork. Eighty small medical grade cannabis trees are available to start, and over 50 medical cannabis strains currently on-island." Click on the title link to read more.

NORML Canada Conference This Weekend in Toronto. NORML Canada is holding its annual conference this weekend in Toronto. Click on the link for the details.

Indonesia's New Drug Treatment Over Prison Scheme Faces Challenges. In another excellent analysis from Asiancorrespondent.com, Patrick Tibke looks at Indonesia's progressive new guidelines for the "Processing of Drug Addicts and Drug Abusers into Rehabilitation Centers" and warns of the obstacles ahead in actually implementing such reforms. As he notes, the move was not new legislation, but simply gives a push to the country's 2009 Narcotics Law, which first allowed for the rehabilitation of drug users instead of their incarceration. Whether and how this will actually be implemented remains to be seen. It's a good, thorough read; click on the link for the whole thing.

Chronicle AM -- May 15, 2014

An evangelical pollster has support for marijuana legalization at 58% (but not among Christians), the Senate Minority Leader takes on the DEA over hemp, a California defelonization sentencing initiative hands in signatures, we have a fascinating look at meth culture in Tehran, and more. Let's get to it:

When Mitch McConnell is criticizing the DEA, you know you're living in a different century. (senate.gov)
Evangelical Pollster Finds Majority for Legalization, But Not Among Practicing Christians. A new poll conducted by the evangelical Christian polling firm the Barna Group finds that marijuana legalization is supported by 58% of respondents nationwide. But when it comes to "practicing Christians" (people who attended church in the past month), only 32% of evangelicals, 39% of Catholics, and 45% of mainstream Protestants favored legalization. Still, those numbers are trending up. "There is a clear trend toward greater cultural acceptance of recreational marijuana, even among many practicing Christians. National surveys are a great way to find out what people think and how their perspectives have changed over time. But why those changes are happening is more difficult to pin down through conventional polling," said a Barna spokesman. "What we can conclude is that America continues to shift from a culture that values abstinence to one that focuses on experience. Marijuana use fits within a larger trend of liberalizing views and behaviors when it comes to activities like gambling, pre-marital or extra-marital sex, and drinking. As attitudes toward temptations shift, Americans increasingly define the 'pursuit of happiness' to include personally invigorating or even escapist experiences." There's a lot more demographic information at the link, too.

Missouri "Decriminalizes" Marijuana Possession. A new sentencing reform law that has now gone into effect without the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon (R) eliminates the possibility of jail time for the possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less. Senate Bill 491 also reduces sentences for the sale and cultivation of marijuana, including changing current law to allow probation or parole for third offenders. But it doesn't go into effect until January 2017, the "no jail" provision only applies to first offenders, and it's still a criminal misdemeanor, with all the related consequences. Still, the Marijuana Policy Project is calling Missouri the 19th decrim state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana, and Now. State Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) has added an amendment to the Senate budget released last week that would impose a 6.25% sales tax on medical marijuana. He said he wanted it done quickly before there is any organized opposition. Health care goods and services and prescription drugs are generally exempted from the sales tax under state law. But Joyce said at least 10 other medical marijuana states impose sales taxes on it, including neighboring Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.

Rhode Island Health Department Falling Way Behind on Patient Applications. The state Health Department is eight weeks backlogged in handling patient medical marijuana applications. Patients aren't happy. They're supposed to be automatically approved after 15 days, but the department says it is understaffed and overwhelmed, and it didn't anticipate the volume of applications.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Moving Toward Passage. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD marijuana extracts for patients suffering severe epilepsy appears headed for passage. House Bill 4803 has already passed the House and was approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee today. It should get a final floor vote next week.

Hemp

Mitch McConnell Rips DEA over Kentucky Hemp Seed Fiasco. The state of Kentucky has already filed a lawsuit against the DEA over its cat and mouse games surrounding the state's effort to import 250 pounds of Italian hemp seeds for use in research projects okayed by an amendment to this year's omnibus farm bill. Now, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who just happens to be from Kentucky, has weighed in. "It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds," McConnell told Politico last night.

Prescription Drugs

New Oklahoma Law Requires That Names of Overdose Victims Be Reported to Narcs. Under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Mary Fallin (R), the state medical examiner is required to report the names of overdose victims to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The stated purpose is to use the information to more closely monitor the state's prescription drug issue and to identify "problem" prescribers. Senate Bill 1183 is part of a broader legislative effort supported by Fallin to tackle non-medical prescription drug use. But the heart of that plan, language that would create a statewide prescription monitoring system and require doctors to check patients' drug histories before writing new prescriptions for opioids and other dangerous drugs, remains stalled as legislators argue over details.

Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bill Heading for Passage. A bill that bans new synthetic drugs not approved by the FDA and that have effects similar to Schedule I or II controlled substances passed the House Wednesday and now heads to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass. House File 2446 also gives the state Board of Pharmacy emergency regulatory power to stop shops from selling any newer new synthetics.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Lawmakers Want to Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws. The state legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee Tuesday voted to order staff to draft two bills to reform the state's asset forfeiture laws. One bill would eliminate civil asset forfeiture and would allow police to seize property only when someone has been convicted of a crime. The second bill would keep civil forfeiture, but would create a higher standard of proof before allowing assets to be seized. That bill would also require that most proceeds of seizures go into a general account at the state attorney general's office instead of being returned to the seizing agency.

Harm Reduction

Delaware Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill that would make the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) available without a prescription to anyone who completes a training program passed the Senate Health and Social Services Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 219 now heads for the Senate floor.

Sentencing Reform

California Defelonization Sentencing Initiative Hands in Signatures. Campaigners for an initiative that would make certain felony drug and other crimes misdemeanors has handed in signatures. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act initiative handed in more than 638,000 signatures earlier this month; it needs 504,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Of signatures checked so far, the validity rate is 78%. The measure's proponents are San Francisco DA George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne.

International

Tunisia's Prime Minister Says Marijuana Laws Are Too Harsh. Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said at a press conference Wednesday that his country's tough penalties for marijuana possession are "out of sync" with changing times. Possession can currently earn you up to five years in prison, but Jomaa vowed to "amend the law to adapt it to the new reality" in Tunisia, which overthrew its old regime in the most successful of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Iran Breaks Bad as Crystal Meth Arrives. The Guardian has a lengthy analysis of the rise of methamphetamine in Iran, and particularly in its capital city, Tehran. Meth is exploding there, according to the piece's author, Ramita Navai, author of the newly released "City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran." It's a very interesting read. Click on the link for the whole thing.

Chronicle AM -- May 12, 2014

Elderly senators grumble about new-fangled rules allowing legal marijuana businesses to use the financial system, there are more legalization polls, an Oklahoma US Senate candidate is talking marijuana reform, there is medical marijuana initiative news, Minnesota passes asset forfeiture reform and the governor signs it, and more. Let's get to it:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) is running for the US Senate and talking marijuana reform. (oksenate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Try to Thwart Normalized Marijuana Banking. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) aren't happy with the Obama administration's efforts to find a way to let marijuana businesses in states where it is legal have access to the financial system. They sent a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) complaining about the guidance it was offering banks "on providing financial services for drug traffickers," in Grassley's words. FinCen responded here, but that wasn't good enough for the crusty drug warriors. Now, Grassley has responded to the response, maintaining that "unless federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal" and that "FinCEN's guidance to financial institutions is absolutely contrary to the mission of the agency." Click on the title link to read the rest.

Connecticut Poll Has 52% for Legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 52% among Connecticut voters, who also said overwhelmingly that alcohol was a bigger health problem than pot. A whopping 80% of voters under 30 supported legalization. Voters also supported having medical marijuana dispensaries in their towns by a margin of more than two-to-one. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2012.

New Mexico Poll Has Only 40% for Legalization, But… an Albuquerque Journal flash poll had support for marijuana legalization at 40%, with 47% opposed. The poll only asked only if marijuana should be legalized, however, without specifying what legalization might look like. A poll done last year for the Drug Policy Alliance got 53% support for legalization when it asked whether marijuana should be legalized for adults so that it could be taxed and regulated, like alcohol, with restrictions on where it could be bought and consumed.

Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues Top $20 Million So Far This Year. The state Department of Revenue released figures last Thursday showing that revenues from adult and medical marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees were at nearly $22 million for the first three months of the year. The state reported that March adult marijuana sales hit $19 million, up $5 million over February, while medical marijuana sales were about $34 million.

Push Underway to Decriminalize Toledo. A petition drive is underway for a municipal initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession in the Northwest Ohio city. The initiative is sponsored by the Toledo NORML chapter, which says it has already collected 2,800 signatures. It needs 3,800 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Oklahoma's Leading Democratic US Senate Candidate Pushes Marijuana Law Reform. State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City), the leading candidate for the state's Democratic Party US Senate nomination, is the author of repeated failed medical marijuana bills in the state legislature and is currently working to get a legalization initiative on the November ballot. A Democrat winning a Senate seat in Oklahoma is a long shot, but Johnson says she hopes marijuana will drive voters to the polls. "This whole issue, to me, is not about smoking marijuana. It's about criminalizing it. That's where these young people stand to be hurt the most. They get that," said Johnson. "Unless we change who's voting, things will stay the same," she said. "It's time to send a message -- not only to the policymakers... but to the people -- that we can change this." You can do that by putting marijuana on the ballot, she said.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Says He Will Sign House Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) sent a letter Friday to lawmakers saying he could sign the medical marijuana bill passed by the House. Senate File 2470 was filed by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) after her earlier, full-fledged medical marijuana bill, House File 1818 was blocked by law enforcement and the governor. A stronger bill, Senate File 1641, has passed the Senate, but Dayton didn't say he could sign that one. Now, the Senate must accept the House version or try to reach a compromise in conference committee.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign in Midst of Signature-Gathering. The Ohio Rights Group is leading a signature-gathering campaign to put a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative on the November ballot. They need to collect 385,000 valid voter signatures by July 5. They had 50,000 signatures on March 1 and haven't reported any more recent figures, but the campaign has been ramping up this month.

Arkansas Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has once again rejected the proposed wording for a medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Medical Cannabis. This is about the sixth time he has rejected proposals from the group. Meanwhile, another initiative, this one from Arkansans for Compassionate Care, is in the signature-gathering phase. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act needs some 65,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) signed into law Senate File 874, which forces authorities to actually convict someone of a criminal offense or get a guilty plea before seizing his property. The bill also forces the government to prove the property was the instrument or proceeds of crime. Previously, it had been up to the victim of the seizure to prove it was not connected to crimes.

Drug Testing

Federal Judge Rejects City of Key West Prospective Employee Drug Testing. A US district court judge has ruled that Key West's policy of drug-testing prospective employees is illegal. The ACLU of Florida had brought suit on behalf of a woman who was offered a job as the city's recycling coordinator, but had the job offer rescinded after she refused a drug test. The city failed to demonstrate "a special need or important government interest which justifies the policy's Fourth Amendment intrusion," Judge James Lawrence King held. And while the city argued that the tests should be allowed because job applicants were forewarned, King wasn't buying it. The law doesn't allow a government entity "to violate a person's rights under the Fourth Amendment so long as prior notice of the impending violation is given," he ruled.

International

Heroin Maintenance Coming to Norway? The Norwegian city of Bergen has proposed undertaking a program of heroin maintenance, or heroin-assisted treatment (HAT). Norway has long been skeptical of opioid maintenance therapies, allowing the use of methadone only in 1998. Dr. Ola Josendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital proposed HAT clinical trials in December, but the national health minister rejected them. Now, however, the Labor Party, the largest bloc in parliament, is in favor, so it could happen. Stay tuned.

Bermuda Cannabis Reform Collaborative Says Decriminalize It. A panel tasked with examining Bermuda's marijuana laws issued its report last Friday, and it calling for the decriminalization of small-time pot possession, allowing people to grow a small number of plants, and allowing the medical use of the plant on the island. Marijuana prohibition is not working, the report said.

Mexico's Plan to Demobilize Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Hits Snags. Anti-cartel vigilantes in the state of Michoacan were supposed to begin laying down their arms and integrating into a new rural police force Saturday, but The Washington Post reports that the process isn't exactly going smoothly. The vigilante groups formed more than a year ago with an apparent wink and nod from the government and managed to drive the Knights Templar cartel out of parts of the state, but now, the government fears they may get out of control. Click the link for a full report.

(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.)

Tennessee's Scary New Law Criminalizing Drug-Using Pregnant Women [FEATURE]

When -- despite the objections of medical groups, reproductive health advocates, and even the drug czar's office -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1391 late last month, the Volunteer State became the first in the nation to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes. Other states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, have used fetal harm laws to charge drug-using pregnant women, but Tennessee is the first to explicitly criminalize drug use during pregnancy.

Passed in the midst of rising concern over prescription drug and heroin abuse and aimed, its proponents said, at protecting babies, the law allows women to be criminally charged with an "assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug or for criminal homicide if her child dies as a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant."

Felony assault can earn you up to 15 years in prison in Tennessee. And while some prosecutors have said they will only file misdemeanor charges, that's not written into the law.

Proponents cited recent reports that the number of babies being born addicted to drugs is on the rise. Such infants are diagnosed as having Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to opiates in the womb.

"Over the past decade, we have seen a nearly ten-fold rise in the incidence of babies born with NAS in Tennessee," the state Department of Health reported. Infants with NAS stay in the hospital longer than other babies and they may have serious medical and social problems."

But the state Health Department notwithstanding, experts in the field say that NAS doesn't actually have long-term effects, it's not accurate to call newborn infants "addicted," and that misrepresenting matters by vilifying pregnant women isn't helpful. In fact, more than 40 of them said so in an open letter last month.

More generally, leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association reject the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women who use drugs. The groups mentioned above and many others said so in this 2011 document.

A coalition of medical, public health, women's rights, and social justice groups worked to oppose the bill as it made its way through the legislature, and then to convince Gov. Haslam to kill it. A petition with over 11,000 signatures urging him to veto the bill went to his office late last month. More than two dozen organizations devoted to ensuring families have access to health care likewise urged a veto, as did the American Association of Pediatrics, the National Perinatal Association, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policy.

Even acting drug czar Michael Botticelli raised a warning flag.

"Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said during a visit to Nashville as the governor pondered. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease. What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders."

But none of that mattered. On April 29, Haslam signed the bill into law.

"In reviewing this bill, I have had extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials," Haslam said in a statement. "The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs."

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement in response to the signing. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

The statewide coalition Healthy and Free Tennessee also lambasted the new law.

"We are very sorry to see that Governor Haslam let an opportunity to do the right thing slip through his fingers," said Rebecca Terrell, the group's chairwoman."The experts could not have been clearer: this law is bad for babies and bad for Tennessee."

"This law says that women are to be held criminally accountable for the outcomes of their pregnancies," said Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which was part of the coalition fighting the new law. "It essentially creates a system of separate and unequal rights. Drug ingestion is not a crime in Tennessee, just possession, and now, only pregnant women are criminalized for ingesting. They can be surveilled and punished by the state in ways different from other people. The law also treats fertilized eggs or fetuses as if they were people independent of the pregnant woman," she told the Chronicle.

Gov. Bill Haslam (tn.gov)
"It's the wrong response to the problem of addiction," said Diaz-Tello. "It's a health problem that is not responsive to threats and punishment. What kind of society do we want to be? Do we want to punish the people most in need of help and support? These are women largely living in poverty, women of color, who are already made vulnerable by our social policies, and now we hold them solely responsible without looking at society and what else is going on leading to pregnancy among addicted people and this horrible punitive response."

Even framing the issue as "pregnant women taking drugs" is somewhat misleading, said Diaz-Tello.

"We often make the mistake of thinking of people using drugs during pregnancy as pregnant women who became addicted to drugs when it should be the other way around," she said. "The reasons for addiction are complex and often gender-based. Women who have experienced violence and trauma are often self-medicating, and there is a lot of unresolved pain and trauma out there. And half the pregnancies in our country are unintended, which disproportionately affects women on the margins. It's not like someone wakes up pregnant one day and decides they want to do drugs."

The law will not operate in a vacuum. Tennessee is one of those states that has refused to expand Medicaid and has rejected the Affordable Care Act. It is more difficult for poor women there to get access to health care services, including drug treatment, but now it will be easier to prosecute them.

"This is definitely for the most part going to affect poor, marginalized, predominantly rural women," said Cherisse Scott, founder of SisterReach, a Memphis-based group working for reproductive justice for women and girls in the city and the Mid-South area. "That's because of the many barriers they face. Many rural areas just don't have the facilities to offer help to these women."

Scott also bemoaned the criminalization of pregnant women who use drugs under the law, a process of stigmatization and punishment only made more severe for women lacking resources.

"Low income women, women of color, already have issues navigating the court system, and many don't have any kind of support system," she said. "When their children are taken, they don't have the resources to get them back. And the other piece of this is that jails aren't hospitals or treatment centers. They don't offer women an opportunity to be properly rehabilitated from drug use."

And then there's the aftermath of a criminal conviction.

"If you look at this through the lens of racial and reproductive justice, how does a woman with this on her record bounce back, how does she get a job? With a criminal background, she will be further locked out," said Scott. "These are the kinds of barriers and issues that will ultimately hurt the mothers of Tennessee. We can't support legislation that uses criminalization as a means of rehabilitating people," she told the Chronicle.

"Our lawmakers had good intentions, but they didn't think it through," said Scott. "They seem to be very ready to separate mothers and children as a way of helping, and we don't see it like that, especially when there are rehab programs that keep mother and children together."

The new law is also generating alarm with advocates for people who use opioid maintenance therapy to deal with opiate addictions. Methadone and buprenorphine maintenance are the gold standard for treating pregnant women addicted to narcotics. While state health officials have said they interpret the law to mean that a pregnant woman on methadone maintenance would not be in violation of it, there is no language in it that explicitly says that.

"I asked the governor to veto the bill because that exclusion wasn't made," said Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence. "The real question is whether some representative for the attorney general's office or a DA or child protection services interprets it that way. This is a potential problem. When you're talking about child protection, it's not unusual for a judge or child protection worker to say to a pregnant mom 'You can't be on methadone.' I hope this law will not be used as a method of forcing maintained patients out of care."

While babies born to opiate-addicted women can suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawals, they can be treated for that, mainly by slowly tapering the dose of opiates. But, Parrino said, not all pregnant mothers on methadone maintenance have babies with the syndrome, and consequences for fetuses can be serious if mothers are forced off opiates during their pregnancies.

"What happens to a fetus if you force mom to end her medication?" he asked. "In the first trimester, a sudden decrease can be harmful to the fetus. There could be spontaneous abortion. It's in the literature. That's why laws like this raise concerns in people who have some knowledge about how pregnant women are treated."

Parrino, too, saw race a playing a role, but in an unexpected way.

"What I am seeing for the first time in 30 years is a real interest by elected officials, many US senators and governors and legislators, who can't wrap their heads around why white teens and 20-somethings from middle class families in the suburbs and rural areas are shooting heroin," Parrino observed. "Those elected officials are right to be worried. This legislation in Tennessee is a result of those dynamics."

While the law may have been passed with the best motives, "the problem is the criminalization aspect," said Parrino. "Even if it can be explained as having a reasonably good intention of getting pregnant women not to use drugs and go to treatment, you are unwittingly subverting that goal by saying that being in methadone maintenance might be seen as not complete treatment. That uncertainty is creating anxiety."

The new law is set to go into effect on July 1, but efforts are already underway to block it and, barring that, to mitigate its effects.

"We're still trying to figure out the best plan of action," Scott said. "We want to figure out the best way to support women who are going to be victims of this policy. At the grass roots level, that means education, awareness, getting the word out through rehab centers to let the women know this is coming. Then we have to figure out what is the legal strategy to try to change this law. We're working on it."

"We're thinking about a legal challenge, especially on constitutional grounds," said Diaz-Tello. "We have worked with public defenders in Tennessee and other states on challenging similar laws on constitutional grounds. There's also the possibility of an affirmative suit to get the law enjoined. It would be ideal to stop this law before anyone gets arrested under it."

Barring the successful blocking of the law, drug-addicted pregnant women in Tennessee will face the tender mercies of the criminal justice system. But not all of them, of course.

"Race and class plays a role as always," said Scott. "Poor mothers go to jail; mothers with access to more resources may not be penalized at all. Women who have access to health care and can afford private prenatal care and treatment will get treatment; women who have no alternative but public aid or a public health clinic will be disproportionately impacted as always. Nothing's changed as far as race and class."

TN
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 9, 2014

House Republicans were "concerned" about DC's decrim at a hearing this morning, an Oregon poll shows a majority for legalization, harm reduction measures move in three states, an Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative is about to start signature-gathering, and more. Let's get to it:

Overdose prevention measures move in three states. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

House Panels Debates DC Decriminalization Law. Republican members of a House Oversight subcommittee sharply questioned the District's move to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Friday but did not indicate they would move to overturn the legislation passed by District lawmakers this spring. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), the panel's chair, said he was "not here to negate District law" but doubted whether the city's law would address its stated goal of reducing racial disparities in marijuana arrests. The hearing came amid warnings that it could be a first step toward Congress overturning the measure. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) told the committee it was inappropriate for the House to hold a hearing on only the District's laws when "18 states have decriminalized marijuana, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana and two states have legalized marijuana. She told The Washington Post in an interview she doubted Republicans would move directly to overturn the law. Click on the link to get more flavor of the hearing.

Oregon Poll Has 54% for Marijuana Legalization. In what is moderately cheery news for Oregon marijuana initiative organizers, a new OPB has support for legalization at 54%. Two different initiative campaigns are in the signature-gathering phase, so voters could have the chance to vote twice to legalize it. This is only moderately cheery news because initiative experts like to see support at 60% or higher at the beginning of a campaign, and because the poll's +/- 4.9% margin of error could mean support is really only at 50%. Still, the trend seems to be in the right direction. The last poll from OPB that asked about legalization a year and a half ago only had support at 43%.

New York City Pot Arrests Drop, But Only Moderately. Minor marijuana arrests in New York City have plunged in recent years amid questions about police tactics. But new statistics show the arrests dropped more modestly in the first three months of a new mayoral administration that has pledged to reduce them. Arrests for the lowest-level marijuana crime fell 34% in the first quarter of 2013 -- and 9% in the first quarter of this year, to roughly 7,000, according to state Division of Criminal Justice Services data obtained by The Associated Press. Both comparisons are to the same period in the previous years. Drug reform activists said this year's numbers show that problematic police practices continue despite new Mayor Bill DeBlasio's criticism of high marijuana arrest numbers.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Will Start Signature Gathering May 18. The Oklahoma Compassionate Cannabis Campaign will begin signature-gathering for its medical marijuana initiative on May 18. The campaign needs 155,216 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Study Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill that would fund a study on the therapeutic effects of marijuana was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday. Senate File 2470 was filed by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) after her earlier, full-fledged medical marijuana bill, House File 1818 was blocked by law enforcement and the governor. It now goes to the House floor. Meanwhile, Senate File 1641, the companion to Melin's earlier bill, remains alive in the Senate.

Harm Reduction

California Overdose Antidote Bill Passes Assembly. A bill to expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) unanimously passed the Assembly Thursday. Assembly Bill 1535 would permit pharmacists to furnish the lifesaving drug to family members; people who may be in contact with a person at risk of an opiate overdose; or to the patient requesting it, pursuant to guidelines to be developed by the state's boards of pharmacy and medicine. It also ensures proper education and training for both the pharmacists and the consumers. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Louisiana Overdose Antidote Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A state Senate panel gave quick approval Wednesday to legislation that would allow first responders to provide a life-saving drug to those overdosing on heroin. House Bill 754 would give law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel the authority to administer a drug that reverses the effects of heroin during an overdose. The Health and Welfare Committee sent the measure to the Senate floor for debate.

Minnesota Legislature Approves Overdose Antidote, Good Samaritan Bill. Both the House and the Senate voted Wednesday to approve a measure allowing first responders, law enforcement and some nonmedical professionals to administer a drug that can counteract the effects of a heroin overdose and also provides immunity to users who call 911 in the event of an overdose. House File 2307 now awaits the signature of Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL).

Foreign Policy

GOP Bill Would Define Hezbollah as Global Drug Kingpin. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) has introduced a bill aimed at weakening the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. "The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (House Resolution 4411) broadens financial sanctions against the group, targets its propaganda television station al-Manar, and urges the president to define Hezbollah as a 'global drug kingpin,' giving the administration another weapon to cripple Hezbollah's operations. The bill also codifies into law the policy of the United States to prevent Hezbollah's global logistics and financial network from operating," Meadows wrote in a press release. The measure has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs and Financial Services committees.

Chronicle AM -- May 8, 2014

Another poll has marijuana legalization at the tipping point, a Colorado bill to form credit co-ops for pot businesses passes, an Illinois bill to let kids with epilepsy use medical marijuana is moving, a New York naloxone bill passes, Pittsburgh needle exchanges get some breathing room, and more. Let's get to it:

Pittsburgh needle exchanges get some breathing room. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Fairleigh Dickinson Poll Has 50% Support for Legalization. A new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University has support for marijuana legalization at 50% nationwide. By a ratio of 2-to-1, Democrats (63%) favor legalization more than Republicans (32%), with independents (58%) more closely aligned with Democrats. Young people also are far more supportive of legalization, with 65% of the millennial generation and over half of Gen Xers (56%) in favor, compared with fewer than half (48%) of baby boomers and around a third (36%) of the World War II generation. "Democrats see getting high as a lifestyle choice, whereas Republicans are more likely to understand it through the prism of morality and social deviance," political science professor and poll director Krista Jenkins told the Associated Press. "However, the age differences we're seeing suggest that legal [marijuana] smoking in the future is more a question of 'when' rather than 'if.'"

Colorado Legislature Passes Marijuana Credit Co-op Bill. Legislation to create a state-backed credit co-op to provide banking services to Colorado's all-cash marijuana industry is on its way to the governor's desk. House Bill 1398, after a battle over whether or not to allow hemp businesses to take part, passed the full House on a 33-31 final vote after lawmakers there ended a standoff between various factions and the Capitol's two chambers by signing off on Senate changes to the bill, including allowing the inclusion of hemp businesses.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Bill to Allow Children With Epilepsy to Use Medical Marijuana Wins Committee Vote. A measure that would allow children with epilepsy to use medical marijuana is moving. The House Rules Committee approved Senate Bill 2636 Wednesday on a 15-0 vote. The legislation would add epilepsy to the list of treatable diseases in the state's medical cannabis pilot program. It would also allow children with epilepsy to use medical cannabis. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads for a House floor vote.

Drugged Driving

Michigan Drugged Driving Bills to Drop Roadside Saliva Tests. A provision pending in a pair of bills in the Michigan legislature that would let police give roadside saliva tests to drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs will be removed from the legislation today, according to a cosponsor of the bill. Critics including researchers said the tests are inaccurate and could lead to inappropriate arrests of medical marijuana patients. Republican state Rep. Mike Callton said he plans to introduce an amendment removing the saliva testing provision at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday. The bills are House Bill 5384 and House Bill 5385.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Tries Again to Drug Test All Welfare Recipients. Gov. Rick Scott (R) is at it again. Weeks after the Supreme Court refused to hear his argument for why all state employees should have to pee in cups, Scott has filed a new brief in appellate court asking to re-argue his right to drug-test all welfare recipients in Florida. The plan was originally halted by court order in October 2011 while the ACLU challenged it, and the US District Court threw out the rule in December 2013 based on the arguments of a Navy veteran who said it violated his right against unreasonable search and seizure. But now Scott is back in appeals court, arguing in the new brief that there is a "demonstrated problem with drug use" among welfare recipients. Except there isn't: More than 4,000 people were tested while the program was in place, and a grand total of 108 failed. That's less than 3%.

Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Medical Society Warns Don't Forget Pain Patients in Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse. Policymakers "need to balance the needs of legitimate patients with pain, against the dangers to the public of opiates being in circulation," the Massachusetts Medical Society said in a statement delivered to the state's Senate Special Committee on Drug Abuse and Treatment Options Tuesday. "It is critical that we not forget the needs of our patients in pain to comprehensive medical care that effectively helps them to have the best quality of life that their disease or diagnosis will allow," the doctors' group emphasized.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Mass Drug Sweeps Continue. Authorities are conducting a narcotics blitz and warrant sweep Thursday afternoon on the city's west side as part of the eighth and latest high-profile police raid. They're part of an ongoing police offensive called Operation Restore Order. In March, two crime-ridden neighborhoods were flooded as part of Operation Restore Order March Madness, which targeted problematic areas in the Ninth and Sixth precincts, on the city's east and west sides, respectively. The first Operation Restore Order raid came in November, when officers flooded the high-crime Colony Arms Apartments on Jefferson. Since then, there have been raids of the Martin Luther King Apartments, a 1.2 square-mile area of the west side known for heavy drug dealing, and warrant sweeps in the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Ninth Precincts. It's not clear yet whether order has actually been restored.

Harm Reduction

New York Bill to Expand Overdose Reversal Drug Access to Friends, Family Members Passes Legislature. State lawmakers have passed a bill expanding access to the drug naloxone (Narcan), which can reverse an overdose of opioids such as heroin and morphine. Assembly Bill 8637 would allow health care professionals and pharmacies to distribute Narcan, without a prescription, to at-risk people and those who know them. It was unclear late Wednesday whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to sign the bill into law.

Pittsburgh Needle Exchanges Get Some Breathing Room. The Allegheny County Board of Health unanimously passed a motion that will lift location restrictions for needle exchange programs within the city of Pittsburgh. The previous regulation banned needle exchanges within 1,500 feet of schools, daycare centers and drug treatment centers. But that proved far too restrictive for the densely populated city of Pittsburgh, where needle exchanges would have few places to operate. The motion passed today would lift that restriction, though city council would still have to approve new needle exchange locations. The location restriction remains the same in the rest of the county.

International

US Will Cut Off Anti-Drug Assistance to Ecuador. The United States will end decades of anti-drug trafficking assistance to Ecuador this month, pulling its staff from the INL office in the South American nation, a top official said Wednesday. "I am quite prepared to acknowledge right now the INL section, which has been in Ecuador now for more than 30 years, is also going to close up shop," Ambassador William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), told a congressional hearing. Brownfield said the move was a reflection of the level of cooperation the United States has right now from Ecuador.

South Australian Politicians Compete to See Who Can Be Toughest on Drugs. It seems so last century, but "tough on drugs" is the stance of the day in South Australia. Opposition politicians are seeking a three-strikes policy under which repeat drug offenders would not be offered diversion to counseling, while state Attorney General John Rau is renewing his own push to crack down on serious drug offenders, including measures to strip them of their assets regardless of whether they were proceeds of crime. Legislation is pending.

Chief Minister Says Isle of Man Should Consider Marijuana Decriminalization. The Chief Minister of the Isle of Man has said the island should consider decriminalizing cannabis. Allan Bell's comments followed a presentation on the island given by former Westminster drug policy advisor David Nutt, whom the Labor government fired after he criticized its move to increase penalties. Bell praised Nutt's "fresh perspective," saying "there is a consensus developing internationally now that the old-style war on drugs has failed miserably and there needs to be a new approach." Bell cited marijuana legalization in the US and Uruguay as examples of nations taking a positive approach to drug policy.

London School of Economics Report Calls for New Approaches to Drug Policy

A report from the London School of Economics released Monday night outlines the enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage from the war on drugs and calls for new, evidence-based approaches to drug use and the drug trade.

The report, Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, has chapters authored by leading drug policy experts from around the world and has been signed onto by five Nobel Prize-winning economists, as well as political figures including British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former US Secretary of State George Schultz, and former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Dr. Javier Solana, among other luminaries.

"It is time to end the 'war on drugs' and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis," the report says forthrightly. "The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global 'war on drugs' strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage. These include mass incarceration in the US, highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication and the propagation of systematic human rights abuses around the world."

The stark prohibitionist approach to drug control has been a flop even by its own measures, the report found.

"The strategy has failed based on its own terms," it noted. "Evidence shows that drug prices have been declining while purity has been increasing. This has been despite drastic increases in global enforcement spending. Continuing to spend vast resources on punitive enforcement-led policies, generally at the expense of proven public health policies, can no longer be justified."

The report chided the United Nations for its continued adherence to such failed policies and urged it to accept experimentation while emphasizing public health and human rights.

"The United Nations has for too long tried to enforce a repressive, 'one-size-fits-all' approach," the report concluded. "It must now take the lead in advocating a new cooperative international framework based on the fundamental acceptance that different policies will work for different countries and regions. This new global drug strategy should be based on principles of public health, harm reduction, illicit market impact reduction, expanded access to essential medicines, minimization of problematic consumption, rigorously monitored regulatory experimentation and an unwavering commitment to principles of human rights."

"The drug war's failure has been recognized by public health professionals, security experts, human rights authorities and now some of the world's most respected economists," said John Collins, coordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project. "Leaders need to recognize that toeing the line on current drug control strategies comes with extraordinary human and financial costs to their citizens and economies."

"Repressive drug laws cost governments billions of dollars and result in horrible epidemics of infectious diseases and serious human rights abuses," said Dr. Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, the director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program, which hosted a launch event for the report at the LSE Monday night. "We know the terrible costs of failed strategies and what can be gained from smarter approaches."

More fuel for the fire as an increasingly broad-based global movement for drug reform takes aim at the UN and its 2016 General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs.

London
United Kingdom

Chronicle AM -- May 2, 2014

Washington state should see marijuana retail stores open in July after license lottery winners were announced, limited CBD medical marijuana bills continue to move, a Washington state family of patients faces a federal trial, and the OAS wraps up its drug meeting in Washington, DC. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Cannabis Credit Union Bill Modified Into Study Bill. A bill to create credit union-style financial institutions to handle money for the state's marijuana industry has been turned into a study bill. House Bill 14-1398 was amended in the House Finance Committee Thursday evening. Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) said he offered the amendment because he didn't feel comfortable approving a first-in-the-nation policy on short notice as the legislative session winds down. The session ends next week.

Colorado Bill to Seal Criminal Records for Minor Marijuana Convictions Fails. A bill to seal criminal records for some minor marijuana convictions died in a Senate committee Thursday. Senate Bill 14-218 was defeated in the Appropriation Committee after having been amended to apply only to crimes that were considered petty offenses before legalization. Advocates had hoped the bill could open the door to a broader sealing of marijuana-related convictions.

Washington State Announces Winners of Marijuana Store Lottery. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has announced the winners of the lottery for marijuana retail licenses. Some 334 stores will be licensed, but there were 1,174 applicants; thus, the lottery system. Some jurisdictions with little or no competition didn't require lottery participation, but most had multiple applications for the same spot. The board says it expects to start issuing retail licenses no later than the first week of July, so stores could be open there by the end of that month.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Legislature Approves Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill; Governor Says He Will Sign It. In something of a surprise move, the House yesterday approved a bill allowing the use of CBD cannabis oil for epilepsy. Senate Bill 1030 then went back to the Senate today, which approved it on the final day of the legislative session. Gov. Rick Scott (R) surprised supporters and told reporters late Thursday that if they pass it, he will sign it.

Latest Version of Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Bans Smoking It. The Senate Finance Committee has approved a medical marijuana bill, but one that doesn't allow patients to smoke it. Senate File 1641 would allow patients to use a vaporizer in non-public places, though. Sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) said he reluctantly included the smoking prohibition to appease opponents. Meanwhile, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, House File 1818, Rep. Carly Marlin (DFL-Hibbing) has now modified her bill to make it a limited clinical trial bill. It would also prohibit smoking. Medical marijuana advocates are split on the move, with some saying they feel betrayed. Minnesota is proving an awfully tough nut to crack when it comes to medical marijuana.

More Than Half of Oregon Cities and Counties Have Dispensary Moratoriums. The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday released a list of local governments that have imposed moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries. According to the state, 131 cities and 25 counties enacted moratoriums on dispensaries. Oregon has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties. Oregon passed a law regulating dispensaries, but localities could enact moratoriums until yesterday. Those moratoriums can only extend through May 2015.

Pennsylvania Governor Now Supports Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill.Gov. Tom Corbett (R) remains opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use but now makes one exception: the use of a marijuana extract to treat severe seizures in children, his office said Thursday. Corbett's office first confirmed to The Associated Press that the Republican governor had met with several parents to tell them in person about his decision. The move came a day before patients and their families had vowed to stage at a sit-in at his office.

Washington State Family of Medical Marijuana Patients Fights Federal Drug Trafficking Charges, Faces Decades in Prison. A Kettle Falls family and a close friend are being tried as drug traffickers by federal prosecutors, even though they were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws and even though they don't appear to meet Justice Department criteria for prosecution. Larry Harvey, his wife, their son and his wife, and a family friend have refused plea offers that would have seen them sent to prison and are now preparing for trial. The Huffington Post has an extensive report; just click on the link.

Harm Reduction

Missouri Legislature Passes Bill to Provide Overdose Reversal Drug to Police and First Responders. The legislature Wednesday night gave final approval to House Bill 2040, which will allow police and emergency first responders to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). No word on if the governor intends to sign the bill into law.

International

OAS Drug Commission Concludes Biannual Conference. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded on Thursday its 55th Regular Session with a review of current drug policies in the hemisphere, in compliance with the mandate that the hemispheric institution received from the leaders of the region at the Summit of the Americas in 2012. Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza highlighted the contributions that the hemispheric institution has made to the global drug problem, and called both the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas (Analytical Report and Scenarios Report), and the Declaration of Antigua Guatemala adopted by all Member States of the OAS at the 2013 General Assembly in in Guatemala, that calls for a Special General Assembly focused on the discussion of the issue, "substantial contributions to the discussions on this topic that are being developed around the world." Insulza added that the conclusions of the Special General Assembly that the OAS will hold on the world drug problem in September in Guatemala "will surely represent a major contribution to the debate on drug policy that the United Nations will undertake in 2016."

Chronicle AM -- April 29, 2014

Pressure builds for marijuana legalization in Illinois, a California medical marijuana patient is bumped off the liver transplant list, the drug czar's office slams the idea of criminalizing drug use by pregnant women, and the founder of the Pirate Party has some choice words on drug policy. And more. Let's get to it:

The founder of Sweden's Pirate Party has some choice words about Swedish drug policies.
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Lawmakers Call for Legalization. Three Chicago-area Democratic state legislators and a Cook County commissioner held a press conference Monday to call for the decriminalization of marijuana possession, to be followed by complete legalization. The three reps are Mike Zalewski, Kelly Cassidy, and Christian Mitchell, ahd the commissioner is John Fritchey. They have not filed any legislation, but want fellow Democrats in the General Assembly to green-light a task force to study the issue.

Coloradans Still Favor Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that Colorado voters support their legalization law, with 54% in favor. Only two demographic groups -- Republicans and voters over 65 -- thought it was a bad idea; in all other demographic groups, there was majority support. A majority of respondents also agreed that driving has not become more dangerous and that legalization would save money in the criminal justice system. Only 15% of respondents said they had bought pot since it has been legalized.

Hawaii THC Ministry's Roger Christie Gets Five Years in Prison; Already Served Four Awaiting Trial. A Big Island man who openly used his ministry to promote marijuana use was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison for having 300 pot plants as part of a distribution ring. Roger Christie, founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, also known as the THC Ministry, has served nearly four years in federal detention. Based on how credit for time served is calculated, he could be released in a month or two. A federal grand jury indicted the Christies and 12 others on marijuana trafficking counts after a 2010 raid of the ministry. Christie has been in federal detention since, while his wife has been free on bail. Christie and his wife had tried to fight the charges on religious freedom grounds, but lost in the courts. They then pleaded guilty.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Passes Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday approved a bill that allows low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to be used by patients suffering seizure disorders. Senate Bill 1030, also known as the Charlotte's Web bill after a certain high-CBD strain, now heads to the House, where its fate remains uncertain as leaders there raise questions about whether an extract could be made safe enough to distribute.

Minnesota Senate Committee Approves Compromise Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. Senate File 1641 now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Wednesday hearing. Companion legislation has also moved in the House.

Colorado Bill to Make PTSD as Qualifying Medical Condition Killed in House Committee Vote. A bill that would have added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of 'debilitating medical conditions' that qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation was killed in committee Monday. House Bill 14-1364 failed to pass the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a move decried by the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's insane that in a state with legal marijuana veterans don't have the same right as anyone else over 21 -- especially considering how many lives are at stake," said Art Way, senior Colorado policy manager for the group. "No veteran should have to risk benefits or feel stigmatized when they use medical marijuana."

California Patient Denied Liver Transplant Over Marijuana; Sign the Petition Here. Stanford University Medical Center has removed Hep C and cirrhosis sufferer Richard Hawthorne from its list of people in line to get liver transplants because he uses medical marijuana to alleviate his symptoms. Stanford removed Richard from the list based on "national standards." It said: "The national protocols include factors that may lead to disqualification, which include both use of drugs and alcohol." Hawthorne uses medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. There were only 333 signatures on the petition to get him reinstated at press time. Click on the link to add yours.

Prescription Opiates

New York Lawmakers Introduce Package of Bills Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates. New York lawmakers have introduced a set of bills to help fight heroin with tougher penalties for dealers, more funding for overdose-reversal drugs and increased better coverage for treatment. The six bills would increase penalties for selling opioids -- a class of drugs including heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone -- that result in death; equip first responders with overdose-reversal drugs; require health insurance providers to cover rehab programs and anti-addiction medication; create a public service announcement targeted at teenagers; and provide rehabilitation in communities.

Reproductive Rights

Drug Czar's Office Slams Tennessee Bill Criminalizing Drug Use by Pregnant Women. As Gov. Bill Haslam (R) ponders whether to sign a recently passed bill criminalizing drug use by pregnant women, acting Office of National Drug Control Policy head Michael Botticelli visited the state to say it was a bad idea. "Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease." The proposal has garnered national attention and vocal state and nationwide opposition from constitutional and reproductive rights groups. More than 10,500 people signed a petition asking for the governor's veto. Today is Haslam's deadline to act.

International

Tory Think Tank Urges British Conservatives to Decriminalize Drugs, Embrace Marijuana Reform. The Conservative Party think tank Bright Blue has issued a series of policy proposals to reinvigorate Conservative electoral support, including abandoning the war on drugs and embracing at least partial marijuana legalization. While the proposal is unlikely to find favor with Home Secretary Theresa May and others on the Tory right it does reflect a growing international trend following the legalization of marijuana in some US states. The Liberal Democrats have already said they will set up a Royal Commission to overhaul Britain's drugs rules and some within Labor would back a similar approach.

Pirate Party Head Admits Drug Use, Tells Sweden to "Get Real" About Drug Policy. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party, has been identified as one of eight European Parliament candidates who have tried drugs. He is unapologetic: "No, I haven't 'tried' drugs. I have 'used' drugs, and enjoyed it. That's the whole damn point," he wrote. "The Swedish elitist debate is seriously deranged on these issues -- to start getting realistic, we must first acknowledge that people are using drugs because they enjoy doing so. It's really no difference from enjoying a glass of wine or a fine cognac. Or for that matter, a cup of coffee, which is a very common drug that was once banned in Sweden as -- wait for it -- a 'gateway drug to heavier abuse'. Yes, you read that right." The Pirate Party aims to decriminalize the personal use of controlled substances as well as the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. "This is a very firm anchor in our civil liberties platform," he said. The Pirate Party earned 7.1% of the vote in the 2009 European elections. It was founded amid the debate about illegal downloading of film and music. It initially focused on promoting looser copyright laws and restrictions on the authorities' powers to snoop on computer users. The party now campaigns on a wide range of issues.

Uruguayans Still Oppose Marijuana Legalization Law, But Want to Give It a Chance. A new poll from CIFRA finds that 64% still oppose the country's legalization law, basically unchanged from 65% against it before the law was passed last year. But a narrow majority, 51%, said "it is better to wait until the bill is in effect to see if it truly works before rejecting it." Meanwhile, 46% of respondents want the bill "abrogated immediately."

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