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Chronicle AM -- April 4, 2014

Cops like to say they don't make the laws; they merely enforce them, but that wasn't exactly the case today in Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington, DC. Plus, decrim has a last hurrah in Maryland, an Alabama welfare drug testing bill passes, Vermont moves against the new pain reliever Zohydro, and more. Let's get to it:

Politicians worry about the dangers of Zohydro, but they have little to say about its benefits.
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Legislators Try to Revive Decriminalization Bill Today. An effort was underway in Annapolis Friday to revive a decriminalization bill just days after it was scuttled in committee. The effort to revive House Bill 879 is being led by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who will try to amend the bill on the House floor. It was turned from a decriminalization bill to a study bill earlier this week in the House Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by reform foe Rep. Joe Vallario (D-Prince Georges).

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Derailed. Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has pulled his measure to soften marijuana penalties from consideration in the House Criminal Justice Committee after testimony by the head of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association. Association executive director Michael Ranatza said sheriffs fear the bill, House Bill 14, could lead to decriminalization of marijuana. Louisiana has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country.

Oregon State Police Withdraw from Anti-Marijuana Summit. The Oregon State Police have withdrawn from an anti-marijuana conference scheduled for later this month after the police superintendent learned the event is closed to the public. OSP was listed as a cosponsor of the summit, which includes sheriffs from Malheur and Yamhill counties, a Medford police official and law enforcement officials from Colorado, Washington and Arizona, as well as anti-drug reform groups such as Drug Watch International, Save Our Society from Drugs, and the Drug Free America Foundation.

Medical Marijuana

Ammiano Reintroduces California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) has reintroduced his medical marijuana regulation bill. The new bill is Assembly Bill 1894. The previous version, Assembly Bill 604 had been pending in the Senate. The major change is the addition of language authorizing limited local transaction and use taxes.

Connecticut Picks Locations for Six Dispensaries. Locations for Connecticut's six medical marijuana dispensaries have been selected, the state Consumer Protection Commissioner said Thursday. The facilities in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor and Uncasville were authorized by the state's medical marijuana program to dispense Connecticut-produced marijuana products.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Says Texas Can't Make Drug Tests a Condition for Receiving Unemployment Benefits. The US Labor Department has ruled that Texas cannot enforce a law passed by the Legislature in 2013 which makes passing a drug test a requirement for some workers to get and keep unemployment compensation benefits. The law was watered down by the legislature to cover only people who are in professions where drug testing is a requirement, like truck driving and nursing. The feds say the law as it is written is too vague and it is unclear exactly what workers will qualify.

Alabama Legislature Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The legislature has approved a bill that would require welfare applicants who have a drug conviction in the last five years to undergo drug testing before receiving benefits. People could keep their benefits after one positive drug test. After a second positive, the person would be ineligible for one year. The recipient would be permanently ineligible after a third positive drug test. Senate Bill 63 now goes to the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley (R).

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Innovative New Device to Reverse Opiate Overdose. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Evzio, a handheld device containing naloxone, designed for lay people to use outside of hospital settings. When activated, the device will give verbal instructions about how to use Evzio to deliver the medication.

Prescription Opiates

Vermont Issues Emergency Rules to Restrict Access to Zohydro. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and state officials announced Thursday that Vermont is moving to restrict access to the new opiate pain reliever Zohydro, the first single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for patients in the US. New emergency rules require that prescribers of Zohydro conduct a thorough medical evaluation and risk assessment. This is only the latest move against Zohydro, which was approved by the FDA last fall -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) banned it outright earlier this week and a handful of congressmen have called for the FDA to reverse its decision. But Zohydro's maker, Zogenix, said the drug is no more potent than other hydrocodone medications. The company also says it has set up a board of experts to guard against abuse of the drug and that its sales representatives are not being paid based on the volume of sales, but rather on their efforts to ensure prescribers, pharmacists and patients are educated to understand the risks and benefits of extended-release opioids Politicians have been quick to raise the alarm about possible increases in addiction and overdose deaths with Zohydro, but they haven't been nearly as quick to talk about its usefulness in addressing the needs of legitimate pain patients.

Sentencing

Who Wants to Kill Sentencing Reform? No Surprises Here. The Huffington Post reports that law enforcement groups including the National Sheriffs' Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Major County Sheriffs' Association are quietly trying to kill a bipartisan bill that would roll back tough mandatory sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses under legislation passed during the height of America's drug war three decades ago. The bill is the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. Click the title link for the full story.

New Report Shows Failure of Connecticut's Sentencing Enhancement Drug Free Zones. A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that Connecticut's 1,500-foot sentencing enhancement zones are so pervasive that they blanket almost all urban areas, creating an "urban penalty" that increases the sentence imposed for a given offense simply because it was committed in a city rather than in a town. The report recommends the sentencing enhancement zones be shrunk to 100 feet. This would allow the law to actually create the specially protected places as intended. Connecticut Senate Bill 259, which just passed out of the Judiciary Committee, takes a similar approach and would decrease that size to 200 feet. The report is Reaching too far: How Connecticut's large sentencing enhancement zones miss the mark." You can read it by clicking on the title link.

Chronicle AM -- April 2, 2014

A new Pew Research poll has some surprising and heartening results, Madison (WI) says legalize it, Wisconsin passes a CBD medical marijuana bill, misbehaving cops get noticed, the Russians are griping about the Aghan poppy crop again, and more. Let's get to it:

Aghanistan opium poppy field (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin, Voters Say Legalize It. Voters in Dane County approved a non-binding advisory referendum calling on legislators to legalize marijuana in the land of the Cheese Heads. The referendum passed with 64.5% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate General Laws Committee heard testimony on a medical marijuana bill Tuesday, but took no action. The measure, Senate Bill 951, is not expected to pass this session.

Wisconsin CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Legislature. The Wisconsin legislature has approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. Assembly Bill 726 passed the Senate Tuesday, the last day of the legislative session. It had already passed the Assembly.

Drug Policy

Pew Poll Finds Tectonic Shift Underway on Drug Policy. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that the public is ready for a truce in America's long-running drug war. Two-thirds favored treatment over jail for heroin and cocaine users and strong majorities said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana. Click on the link for full poll results, or read our feature story on it in this issue.

Prescription Drugs

US Senator Calls on DEA to Implement Prescription Drug Take Back Program. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to press the DEA to implement a 2010 law based on bipartisan legislation she sponsored. The law expands drug take back programs. "Prescription drug abuse has reached crisis levels and is leading to a spike in heroin abuse as well, and we should spare no effort to reverse this deadly trend," Klobuchar said. "My drug take back law will help keep drugs out of the wrong hands and prevent prescription drug abuse as well as heroin abuse. The Administration needs to implement this common sense law so that we can give families new tools to help fight this devastating epidemic." No word yet on any DEA response.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Occupy Activists Given Drugs By Cops Can Sue, Judge Rules. In a bizarre story out of Minneapolis, a federal judge has ruled that Occupy activists plied with marijuana by Minnesota police doing a drug identification training exercise during the protests can sue. Law enforcement agencies that employed the officers involved had filed a motion to throw out the case, but US District Court Judge John Tunheim rejected the motion, noting that "in light of the clear prohibition on providing illicit drugs to citizens," the agencies "are not entitled to the protection of qualified immunity." Click on the link for all the weird details.

Lawsuit Charges Corruption, Harassment Among Alabama Narcs. A former Walker County deputy who worked for the department's Narcotics Enforcement Team before he was fired has filed a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff charging he was fired for cooperating in an FBI investigation of his boss, who killed himself after stealing drug money to pay personal bills and support his mistress. Click on the link for all the sordid details.

International

Russian Drug Czar Charges NATO Doesn't Care About Afghan Drug Production. NATO's decision to phase out cooperation with Russia in training anti-drug officers for Afghanistan reveals the alliance's unwillingness to really combat drug production in this country, Viktor Ivanov, the chief of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, told Interfax on Wednesday. "This is not surprising. What could you have expected from NATO?" Ivanov said. "NATO has long been pursuing a policy aimed at the presence of its military component in Afghanistan. Now they are pulling out of this country, leaving massive drug production there," Ivanov said. Afghanistan accounts for nearly 90% of the world's illicit opium production, according to the UN.

Chronicle AM -- April 1, 2014

No April Fools' stories here -- the mayor of Washington really did sign a decriminalization bill, the Kentucky legislature really did pass a CBD medical marijuana bill, the US government really won't help Honduras shoot down drug planes, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray signed the marijuana decriminalization bill already passed by the city council Monday. It's still not quite a done deal, though; it must still get past the Congress, which has 60 days to stop it. We will have a feature story on the signing later today.

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative is Back and Seeking Signatures Again. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which failed to meet a signature-gathering deadline earlier this year, has been re-filed and is again seeking to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The followers of legendary activist Jack Herer have tried each election cycle for years to qualify, but have never managed to do it. They need slightly more than half a million signatures by August.

Medical Marijuana

The Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics to be Held May 8-10; Registration Now in Progress. The medical marijuana organization Patients Out of Time and the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine are sponsoring the conference on the state of the art (and science) on medical marijuana in Portland, Oregon. Click on the link for all the details.

Arizona State Senator Blocks Funding for Long-Sought Medical Marijuana Research. Supporters of medical marijuana research are trying to put state Sen. Kimberly Yee in the hot seat because the Senate Education Committee chairwoman is blocking a bill that would allow monies collected under the state's medical marijuana program to be used to help fund an approved trial of medical marijuana for treating PTSD in veterans. The bill is House Bill 2333, which has already passed the House. A demonstration is set for tomorrow in Phoenix. Click on the title link for more details.

Kentucky Legislature Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday gave final approval to a bill that would allow research hospitals to prescribe CBD cannabis oil to children with seizures. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

Medical Marijuana Dropped from New York State Budget. On Saturday, Governor Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Co-Presidents Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein announced that they had reached a budget agreement, but the deal excluded a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. The Assembly had included the proposal as part of their one-house budget bill, but the Senate and governor refused to include the bill in the final budget. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, has bipartisan support in the Senate, and is supported by a super-majority of New York voters. But Senate leaders have refused to let the bill come up for a vote.

Oregon Health Authority Rethinks, Revises Rules to Allow Edibles, But. The Oregon Health Authority on Monday issued revised rules for marijuana-infused products, allowing the sale of baked goods and other sweets but banning marijuana-laced sweets "attractive to minors." The authority had recently issued draft rules banning edibles, but backed off in the face of strong opposition.

Puerto Rico Senate Debating Medical Marijuana. The Puerto Rican Senate is currently discussing the legalization of marjhuana for medical use and its cultivation. Advocates of the move argue legalization will dramatically cut crime and legal costs on the Caribbean Island. Click on the link for more details.

Prescription Drugs

Congressman Wants to Ban Zohydro. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch has filed a bill that would ban Zohydro, the powerful opioid pain reliever recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The bill is House Resolution 4241. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-VA).

Law Enforcement

Portland, Oregon, Commissioner Wants to Slash Dope Squad Funding. Portland Commissioner Steve Novick is working to convince his colleagues to cut half of the money budgeted for Portland Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Division, arguing that other city services demand higher priority -- such as disaster preparedness and pedestrian safety. He argues that the division is engaged in a "failed 40-year effort to interrupt the supply of drugs." He makes his case before the commission today.

International

US Won't Help Honduras Shoot Down Suspected Drug Planes. The US will no longer provide radar information that could help the Honduran government shoot down suspected drug planes, US embassy officials in Tegucigalpa confirmed Monday. Honduras passed a law in January that allows military force against suspected drug planes if approved by the Honduran defense secretary.

Britain to Set Drugged Driving Per Se Standards. The British government is about to set drugged driving standards for a number of substances, some legal and some not. These are not "zero tolerance" standards, but will allow drivers to have small amounts of the substances in their blood without triggering drugged driving charges. Click on the link to see the limits for various substances.

Chronicle AM -- March 27, 2014

No marijuana legalization in New Hampshire this year, neurologists recommend cannabis oil for MS, New Mexico pharmacists will start prescribing naloxone, Russian-US drug cooperation is at risk over the Crimea crisis, and more. Let's get to it:

Coat of arms for the Russian Federal Drug Control Service. It's getting the cold shoulder from the US these days. (kremlin.ru)
Marijuana Policy

California PPIC Poll Has Support for Legalization at 53%. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll has support for marijuana legalization at 53% among registered voters, with 60% of independents and 57% of Democrats in favor. On the other hand, 62% of Republicans were opposed.

New Hampshire House Kills Legalization Bill. A bill to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire died in the House yesterday on a 192-140 vote. The House had passed the bill once in January, but support has eroded since then. The measure was House Bill 492.

Medical Marijuana

California Supreme Court Ruling Upholds Local Cultivation Bans. The state Supreme Court Wednesday denied review of an appellate court decision upholding the rights of local governments to completely ban personal cultivation by medical marijuana patients. The ruling came in a lawsuit sponsored by California NORML, which had asked the high court to "depublish" the decision. "We are deeply disappointed by the court's decision," said CANORML Director and Prop 215 coauthor Dale Gieringer, "They have effectively undermined Prop. 215's stated purpose 'to ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.'"

American Academy of Neurology Recommends Cannabis Oil for Multiple Sclerosis. The American Academy of Neurology is recommending oral cannabis extract to help ease spasticity symptoms and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis, along with other therapies, in new evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) recommendations. Click on the link for more details.

Kentucky CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House. The House voted 98-0 Wednesday to approve a bill allowing the use of high CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children. Senate Bill 124 has already passed the Senate, but must return there for approval of minor changes made in the House version of the bill.

Heroin

Kentucky Heroin Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill that would address heroin use with a combination of increased penalties for trafficking and harm reduction measures for users squeaked through the House Judiciary Committee on a one-vote margin. But Senate Bill 5 faces an uncertain future; civil libertarians oppose some law enforcement provisions, while some elected officials oppose some harm reduction provisions.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Pharmacists to Start Prescribing Overdose Reversal Drug. New Mexico pharmacists are the first in the nation to be certified to prescribe the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). The first batch of 60 pharmacists have been trained and certified by the state Health Department. New Mexico law allows pharmacists to prescribe certain drugs.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Drug Sweep Nets Arrests, Not Many Drugs. Yesterday's sweep of poor Detroit neighborhoods, the most recent in a series of mass drug sweeps, yielded 44 felony and 19 misdemeanor arrests, two grams of cocaine, three grams of heroin, 25 pounds of marijuana, 4,000 prescription pills, $14,500 in cash, and about two dozen illegal weapons. Similar raids in November, December, and February have netted similar results.

International

US Drug Official Rejects Invitation from Russian Counterpart. Deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Michael Botticelli has rejected an invitation to meet on drug issues in Moscow, citing the ongoing Crimea crisis. "Given the continued violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine by Russia, we are suspending some bilateral discussions with the Russian Federation, including this one," Rafael Lemaitre, ONDCP communications director, told Itar-Tass news agency. Russian Federal Drug Control Service chief Viktor Ivanov is one of the Russia political figures sanctioned by the US as a result of the Crimea conflict.

International Ibogaine Providers Conference in South Africa in May. The 4th International Ibogaine Provider's Conference will take place between May 7 and 10 in Durban, South Africa. Discussions will cover a broad spectrum of topics, from developments in research, treatment protocol, and legislation. The featured topic of interest for the conference will be the sustainability of tabernanthe iboga, the implications of ibogaine treatment on regional practices in Africa, and ways that international collaborations can help to ease the effects of demand on iboga's availability. Click on the link for more details and registration information.

Chronicle AM -- March 25, 2014

Richard Branson speaks out on California drug policy reforms, a leading anti-drug group gives up the ghost on fighting marijuana legalization, the Canadian government is under attack from a couple of directions, and more. Let's get to it:

Richard Branson speaks out again on drug policy reform (David Shankbone/wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Drugfree.org Gives Up on Anti-Marijuana Ad Campaign. The people who brought you "this is your brain on drugs" and similar anti-drug advertising campaigns have given up on fighting marijuana legalization. Formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the group and its CEO, Steve Pasierb, say they have rejected a request to launch a campaign against marijuana legalization because legalization "is happening in America." Here is the interview in Advertising Age where Pasierb speaks out.

Colorado Supreme Court Says Lawyers Can Work With Marijuana Businesses. The Colorado Supreme Court approved a rule change Monday that will eliminate the threat of ethics sanctions against attorneys who work with marijuana businesses. Lawyers "may assist a client in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions and the statutes, regulations, orders, and other state and local provisions implementing them," Chief Justice Nancy Rice wrote in the updated rule.

Delaware Poll Has Majority for Legalization, Two-Thirds for Decriminalization. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that a narrow majority (51%) support legalizing marijuana, while an overwhelming majority (68%) support decriminalization of the possession of small amounts.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Has Hearing Today. A bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana gets a hearing today in the House Restorative Justice Committee. The measure, House Bill 5708, was introduced by Rep. Kelley Cassidy (D-Chicago).

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill to legalize a special strain of low-dose medical marijuana passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Monday. Senate Bill 1030, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would only allow patients to use extracts containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.5% THC. The House companion bill, House Bill 843, differs in several ways. The two measures would have to be reconciled if both pass their respective chambers.

Illinois Bill to Add Seizure Disorders Gets Hearing Today. A bill that would add seizure disorders to the list of diseases and conditions for which medical marijuana is approved gets a hearing today in the Senate Public Health Committee. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), Senate Bill 2636 will be supported in committee by testimony from Kurt Florian, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Chicago, as well as a family practitioner and parents of two children suffering from seizure disorders.

Drug Policy

Richard Branson Op-Ed Urges Support for California Drug Reforms. Virgin Airlines head and Global Drug Policy Commission member Richard Branson has penned an op-ed calling for support of an initiative campaign to decriminalize drug possession in California. Click on the title link to read the op-ed. Branson is also appearing this afternoon at an event in San Francisco, where Sundog Pictures will hold a special screening of its drug war documentary "Breaking the Taboo." That's at 5:30 pm at the New People Cinema on Post Street.

Law Enforcement

Pennsylvania Man Sues Philly Narcs for 13 Years of False Imprisonment. Philadelphia resident Kareem Torain has filed a lawsuit against a trio of current and former Philadephia narcotics officers, in which he claims they falsified evidence that led to him being convicted on drug charges and spending 13 years in prison. In addition to the individual narc, the lawsuit also targets the city of Philadelphia for "systemic deficiencies and deliberate indifference" that "have caused police officers, including defendant police Officers Monaghan and Reynolds, and former police Officer Walker in this case, to believe that they can violate the rights of citizens, with impunity, including the use of fraud and falsehood, without fear that their actions will be investigated." In recent years scores of drug cases have been dismissed by Philadelphia courts, and several lawsuits have been filed, claiming that narcotics officers routinely planted evidence and lied in court to secure convictions.

International

Russian Drug Czar Calls for New Plan to Combat Afghan Drug Threat. Viktor Ivanov, head of the Russian anti-drug agency, has called for the UN Security Council to address "planet scale" drug production in Afghanistan and for interested countries to create a global alliance for alternative development in Afghanistan through "forced industrialization." Ivanov is one of the Russian political leaders sanctioned as a result of the Crimea crisis, and last week, he suggested that the US was using the crisis to deliberately destroy the international anti-drug cooperation in order to hide its responsibility for the drug crisis in Afghanistan.

Canada Blocked Support for Harm Reduction at UN CND Meeting, Observers Say. Canadian diplomats in Vienna for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting blocked harm reduction health approaches abroad that are widely practiced at home, said Canadian Drug Policy Coalition director Donald MacPherson, who attended the conference. "Historically, Canada had been a leader in this area," MacPherson noted. "A substantial amount of the scientific research validating harm reduction measures was done right here in Vancouver, and we've implemented quite robust harm reduction policies at the provincial level across Canada. It's hypocritical for us to oppose adoption of these strategies internationally, especially since this is a matter of life and death in many countries with high levels of injection drug use and HIV." Similarly, Richard Elliot, executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, described the position adopted by Canada in Vienna as "profoundly stupid."

Canada Court Hearing Request for Injunction to Allow Prescription Heroin This Week. The Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society and Providence Health Care will be in court this week to argue that participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness) should receive an exemption from recent amendments to federal drug laws that prohibit doctors from prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective. Pivot is representing five patients whose condition improved while in the SALOME study, operated by Providence Health, and who can no longer access the treatment now that their time in the study is over. Click on the link for more details.

Mexican Lawmakers Hit DC, NYC to Discuss Their Marijuana Reform Proposals. Legislators from the Mexican Congress and the Mexico City Assembly will be in Washington, DC, and New York City to discuss the bills they introduced to decriminalize the consumption and purchase of marijuana for personal use in Mexico City and to legalize medical marijuana countrywide. Mexico City Senator Mario Delgado and Mexico City Assembly member Vidal Llerenas, both from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), will be in DC on March 24 and 25 and in NY on March 26 to discuss the aims of the marijuana reform proposals in Mexico. Click on the link for more details.

Chronicle AM -- March 18, 2014

Federal drug prosecutions are declining, marijuana legalization moves forward in the Northeast, Pennsylvania counties pay for taking babies away from mothers over false positive drug tests, and more. Let's get to it:

Declining federal drug prosecutions could have an impact here. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Moves Forward. A bill to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol has passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee after the committee adopted an amendment to simplify the tax structure and improve regulations. House Bill 492 then got a "no pass" from the committee, but now goes to the House floor for a second vote. The House already approved the bill in January, after overturning a similarly negative recommendation from the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. If it passes the House again, it then goes to the Senate.

New Jersey Legalization Initiative Bill Introduced. Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Plains) have introduced Assembly Bill 2842, a bill that, if approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, would put the decision on whether to legalize marijuana in the hands of the voters. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and related paraphernalia. It does not address taxation or allow for commercial sales.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland House Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state. House Bill 1321 now moves to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania County Pays for Taking Baby from Birth Mother Over False Positive Drug Test. Lawrence County Children and Youth Services has settled, for $160,000, a lawsuit filed by a woman whose child was taken away following a false positive opiate test apparently caused by pasta salad. It's not the first time, either. Last July, Jameson Hospital and Lawrence County Children and Youth Services agreed to pay $143,500 to settle a similar lawsuit filed by a woman whose infant was taken by a false positive drug test apparently caused by consumption of a poppy seed bagel. A third local case is also pending. Last week, another woman Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, saying a false positive drug test apparently spurred by poppy seeds in farmer's market bread resulted in an Allegheny County Children Youth and Families investigation of her family.

Drug Policy

Maine Hearing Sees Criticism of Governor's Law Enforcement-Heavy Drug Policy. The legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Monday heard strong criticism of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) recently announced plan to address drug problems in the state by ratcheting up law enforcement. Throughout the hearing on Legislative Document 1811, speakers also highlighted the need to balance new enforcement with drug treatment programs and additional funding for the state's corrections system.

Law Enforcement

Federal Drug Prosecutions Declining. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports that the monthly count of federal prosecutions for narcotics/drugs offenses has reached its lowest level since May 2000. The latest available data from the Justice Department show there were 1,487 new prosecutions in this category in January 2014, down 7.8% from the previous month and down 11.5% from the year before. The number observed during the most recent six month period appears to be the lowest seen since the end of the Reagan Administration.

New Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bills Moving. Bills that would grant the Board of Pharmacy the cease and desist authority to prevent the sale of synthetic drugs are moving forward in the Minnesota Legislature. House File 2446 has passed two committees and is now being heard in the Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee In the Senate, a companion bill was heard in the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee and passed on a voice vote. It now moves on to the Judiciary Committee.

International

Mexican Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Now Complain Government is Persecuting Them. Vigilante groups in the western state of Michoacan who rose up against the Knights Templar cartel with the tacit approval of the Mexican government now say they are being persecuted not only by criminals, but also by the government. The vigilantes complained publicly Sunday, a day after the Mexican government said it was going to "put a stop" to them. The government had bruited plans to fold them into a rural security force, but now no longer seems to need them.

Chronicle AM -- March 17, 2014

Alaska state agencies complain that legalization will cost money (and they want some of it), Vermont cops complain the governor is soft on pot, federal prosecutors complain about reforming mandatory minimums, and more. Let's get to it:

What will keep this Rasta smiling? Jamaican ganja farmers have some ideas. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative Dead for 2014. The number of active marijuana legalization initiatives in California has dropped to one after the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative failed to qualify for the ballot by its signature-gathering deadline. That leaves only the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act, which, barring a miracle, isn't going to make the ballot, either. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures by April 18, but only has 10,000. The big money is waiting for 2016 in California.

FBI Refuses to Do Washington State Marijuana Industry Background Checks. The FBI is refusing to do criminal history background checks on people applying for legal marijuana licenses in Washington state, even though it has done such checks in Colorado. The agency has balked for the past year at requests from state officials, and refused to tell the Associated Press why. The state has issued three licenses so far; for those, they relied on background checks by the Washington State Patrol, which would catch in-state criminal convictions, but might miss out-of-state ones.

Alaska Agencies Claim Legalization Will Cost Millions. In a new report, Alaska state agencies said that if the marijuana legalization initiative passes there, it will cost the state between $3.7 million and $7 million to implement and enforce the new law. Included in that figure are law enforcement requests for "at least three additional Alaska State Trooper positions to target the illegal diversion and exportation of marijuana lawfully cultivated in Alaska" and nearly $1.5 million for a media campaign to warn of stoned driving and training for troopers to recognize when a driver is high. The report doesn't address increased tax revenues from legalization.

Vermont Cops Accuse Governor of Being Soft on Pot. The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, Vermont Sheriffs Association and the Vermont Police Association said in a press release Friday that they are united against efforts for marijuana legalization and that, while they have previously expressed concern about Gov. Peter Shumlin's (D) "tolerance of marijuana," their concerns had been ignored. They also called marijuana "a gateway drug."

Washington Legislature Approves Sale of Hash and Hash Oil. The state legislature has approved a bill that would legalize the sale of hashish and hash oil at state-licensed marijuana retail outlets.House Bill 2304 now goes to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

Medical Marijuana

HHS Gives Go-Ahead for MAPS PTSD Research Study. The federal Department of Health and Human Services granted permission Thursday for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to purchase research-grade marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for its planned study of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD. MAPS notes that this is the first time in the 22 years it has been trying to start marijuana drug research that it has actually won permission to purchase marijuana from NIDA. It's not quite a done deal yet, though; the DEA still as to approve. MAPS said it was "optimistic" DEA would do so.

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Initiative. A University of North Florida poll released Monday has the state's medical marijuana amendment initiative well-positioned to win in November. The initiative has already qualified for the ballot. The poll had 74% of registered voters planning to vote for it. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% approval to pass.

Iowa Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 81%. In a new Quinnipiac Poll, 81% of Iowa voters said they would support "allowing adults in Iowa to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it." Even among Republicans, 68% agreed. That's in sharp contrast to a recent Iowa Poll that had only 59% supporting "legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes."

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Wants No Jobless Benefits for Fired Medical Marijuana Users. Michigan's leading business group is urging the state appeals court to rule out jobless benefits for people who are fired for using medical marijuana. The move comes as the court weighs the cases of people who sought benefits after being fired for using medical marijuana. Lower court judges have ruled in favor of the workers, who argued that they shouldn't be denied benefits after losing their jobs for using marijuana legally under state law.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Has 15% of Necessary Signatures. A signature-gathering campaign to put medical marijuana on the November ballot has collected about 15% of the signatures needed to qualify, Arkansans for Compassionate Care said on Thursday. The initiative is one of two gathering signatures this year. It has until July 7 to hand in 62,000 qualified signatures, and has about 10,000 so far.

Nevada Board of Health Approves Dispensary Regulations. The Board of Health gave its approval Friday to rules to regulate new dispensaries. The next and final step is approval by a legislative commission on March 28. A 2013 law allowing dispensaries goes into effect April 1. But even then, there will be a 45-day notice announcing the date applications will be accepted. Once the application period opens, there will only be a 10-day window for accepting them. After the application period closes, the state must make a decision on each application within 90 days of receiving it. And then dispensaries have to grow their supply. Maybe by year's end…

Drug Policy

House Passes Bill to Force President to Enforce Federal Drug Laws. The Republican-controlled US House last week passed the Enforce the Law Act (House Resolution 4138), which would allow Congress to sue the president for failing to execute federal laws. While the bill is a broad attack on the Obama administration, one key supporter, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), singled out the "selective non-enforcement" of part of the Controlled Substance Act in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states as a major concern. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the bill was "dead on arrival" in the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Nevada County Settles Up in Interstate-80 Cash Seizure Cases. Humboldt County, Nevada, where sheriff's deputies developed a habit of stopping travelers on I-80 and seizing their cash through threats of arrest or impoundment even though no drugs were found, has settled a lawsuit over the practice. Two men from whom thousands of dollars were taken sued and have won their money back and attorneys' fees. The county District Attorney's Office also said Friday it had launched an internal review of the county's "forfeiture program," but that it had seen no evidence of illegal stops or other wrongdoing on the part of Sheriff Ed Kilgore or his deputies. The lawsuits claimed the cash seizures were part of a pattern of stopping drivers for speeding as a pretext for drug busts in violation of the Constitution.

Illinois Bill to Ban Kratom Filed. Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) has filed a bill to outlaw kratom, a Southeast Asian herb with psychoactive properties. The plant is not banned federally, although the DEA has it on its list of "drugs of concern." Indiana is the only state so far to have criminalized it, designating its active ingredients as controlled substances. The Illinois bill is House Bill 5526.

Sentencing

Some Federal Prosecutors Oppose Eliminating Mandatory Minimums. Attorney General Holder's move to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for most drug offenders is running into flak from some prosecutors, The Washington Post reported Thursday. They complained that "tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command." The prosecutors spoke out at a hearing of the US Sentencing Commission where Holder endorsed changing federal sentencing guidelines to reduce drug sentences in most cases.

International

NGOs to Address Inter-American Human Rights Commission on Drug Policy and Human Rights. For the first time, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has granted an audience to hemispheric civil society groups to address the impact of the war on drugs on human rights in the Americas. The audience will take place in Washington, DC, on March 25. Click on the link to see the impressive list of organizations that will participate.

Jamaican Rastas Want Legal Marijuana Monopoly. The newly formed Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association said licenses to grow and sell marijuana upon legalization should be limited to Rastafarians and other poor people, who have been victimized for decades for cultivating the herb. "We will not stand by and watch anybody outside of Rastafari and grassroots people take over this product. And we make no apology," association President Ras Iyah V declared during his address at the launch of the organisation at the MXIII Lawn in Negril on Sunday night. "We are saying this loud and clear to the Government, we are saying it to society, and we are saying it to the international community. Otherwise, we will take to the streets and turn Jamaica upside down -- and we make no apology. Because we not going take baton lick and brutality and all of a sudden now when the legalization aspect come, a some rich people come tek it ova -- people who used to scoff and scorn at the very mention of the herb name ganja," he added. "The WHGFA's objectives are to make sure that those who have paid the price -- who have been going to jail, going to prison, getting the baton licks, who have been planting the herb and it get cut down by police and soldiers, and yet have been persistent with this product -- that the rights of these individuals are protected."

Mexico Moves to Rein In Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Leery of having created a Frankenstein monster, Mexican authorities moved last week to put anti-cartel vigilante groups on notice that their illegal tactics will no longer be tolerated. Locals who saw the vigilantes as saviors from cartel extortion and threats now complain of similar behavior from the vigilantes, and the government says it now no longer needs them. Several vigilante leaders have been arrested on murder and other charges.

Medical Marijuana Update

Marijuana and epilepsy are in the news, Sanjay Gupta strikes again, and state houses across the country are grappling with medical marijuana and CBD bills. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, GW Pharmaceuticals announced that the FDA had granted orphan drug designation to a cannabis-based drug developed to treat childhood-onset epilepsy, The drug, called Epidiolex, contains a highly purified, plant-derived form of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana that doesn't produce the "high" sensation associated with THC, the plant's main psychoactive ingredient. CBD has long been used as a treatment for Dravet syndrome, a rare and severe form of epilepsy in children, and GW Pharmaceuticals sees Epidiolex as useful in treating both Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), another rare form of childhood epilepsy.

On Tuesday, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta aired a new special on medical marijuana. The special, Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports was preceded by an op-ed in which Gupta "doubled down" on his support for medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, the AHP released a scientific review on epilepsy. The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia released Cannabis in the Treatment of Epilepsy, which compiles much of the leading and historical research on epilepsy and cannabis (medical marijuana) for use by scientists, physicians, patients, and parents, as well as those producing and manufacturing it for treatment.

Alabama

On Tuesday, a revised CBD Medical Marijuana bill passed the state Senate. The bill, Senate Bill 174 was revised by its sponsors so that the University of Alabama-Birmingham could conduct a research study. It now moves to the House.

California

On Monday, the LA city attorney said 100 dispensaries had been shuttered since the city started enforcing new rules restricting them. City Attorney Mike Feuer said that besides enforcing the rules, the city had also successfully fended off legal challenges. The city attorney said he couldn't say how many marijuana dispensaries are now open in Los Angeles, since there is no permitting process for the shops. Before the measure passed last spring, police estimated roughly 700 dispensaries were operating, though others pegged the number far higher.

On Tuesday, a bill to further restrict dispensary locations died in committee. The measure, Assembly Bill 1588, would have widened "dispensary free" zone around schools from 600 feet to 1,000 feet, but was been blocked in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) said Tuesday. Conway is the author of the bill in question.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA and LAPD raided and closed four dispensaries. They hit the Black Rose dispensary in Fairfax, Downtown Medical Caregivers off Main Street, Washington and Western Medical Group in Harvard Heights, Herbman in Exposition Park and two homes in Beverly Hills. The same person owns all the dispensaries, the DEA said.

Also on Tuesday, Los Angeles reported it had collected $1.6 million in taxes from dispensaries for 2013.

Also on Tuesday, the San Diego city council gave final approval to medical marijuana regulations. Under the ordinances, dispensary operators must get conditional-use permit from the city -- which will be good for five years -- and an annual public safety permit from the San Diego Police Department. Collectives may not be within 1,000 feet of public parks, churches, child care centers, playgrounds, residential care facilities, schools and other dispensaries, and not be within 100 feet of residential zones. Dispensaries also are barred from having on-site medical professionals -- a law intended to prevent such businesses from becoming "one-stop shops." This should mark an end to a three-year battle that began after the council passed more restrictive regulations in 2011.

On Wednesday, San Bernardino SWAT teams raided two dispensaries. Little more is known at this point.

Michigan

Last Friday, state regulators recommended added PTSD as a qualifying condition. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel appointed by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has decided to recommend that the department add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. It is now up to Steve Arwood, Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, to accept or reject the recommendation.

On Tuesday, a pair of medical marijuana bills got a hearing. Two bills that would legalize the manufacture and sale of medical marijuana-infused products such as brownies and oils and permit communities to allow and regulate marijuana dispensaries in their towns got a hearing in the Senate Government Operations Committee hearing Tuesday, but no vote. Committee chair and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) is not expected to schedule another hearing for at least a couple of weeks. The bills are House Bill 5104 and House Bill 4271.

Also on Tuesday, the Howell city council approved a dispensary moratorium. Council members said they were waiting for clarity from the state legislature.

New Hampshire

On Friday, the House passed a medical marijuana home cultivation bill. The measure, House Bill 1622, would allow patients and/or caregivers to grow up to two plants until dispensaries open near their residences. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

New Jersey

Last Friday, the health department said it would not consider expanding its qualifying disease list until 2015. The state's medical marijuana law, signed four years ago, required the health department to consider adding new diseases requested by the public after it submitted two annual reports, beginning in 2011, charting the program's progress. But it is too soon to add more illnesses and place greater demands on the program, Health Department Commissioner Mary O'Dowd's spokeswoman Donna Leusner said.

New York

On Monday, Assembly Democrats rolled a medical marijuana bill into this week's budget proposal. The move is designed to get some traction for medical marijuana, which has been stymied for years in the state Senate.

Oregon

Last Thursday, the Medford city council voted for a moratorium on dispensaries. But it will take another vote, on a second reading of the bill, to enact it formally. The city argues that despite state action, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Last fall, it revoked the business license of Mary Jane's Attic and Mary Jane's Basement, located in a shopping center.

Last Friday, the Senate gave final approval to the statewide dispensary regulation bill. The final version of the bill gives local governments the ability to ban dispensaries, but only for one year. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), who has not said whether he will sign it.

On Tuesday, state officials said 281 dispensaries began the process of registering with the state. A new law, passed in 2013, directed the Oregon Health Authority to create a registry of medical marijuana facilities. Those facilities must follow security and testing rules and they have to carefully track the marijuana coming in and out of their stores. The state, meanwhile, has two regulators who will inspect the establishments annually.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a CBD medical marijuana bill won a House committee vote. The bill calls for clinical trials of a CBD-based drug and would also allow doctors to prescribe CBD oil pharmaceuticals, although it's unclear whether all doctors would be able to do so.

Utah

On Tuesday, the state Senate passed a CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill would allow compassionate use of non-intoxicating cannabis oil by Utahns with untreatable epilepsy. It passed the Senate by a wide margin, despite reservations some senators have about the oil's safety and long term benefits. House Bill 105 now goes back to the House, which had already passed it, but now must sign off on changes in the Senate version.

Vermont

On Wednesday, the state Senate passed a medical marijuana expansion bill. The bill lifts the 1,000-patient cap on the state's dispensaries and authorizes two more dispensaries. Senate Bill 247 now heads to the House.

Washington

On Saturday, the state Senate approved a bill regulating dispensaries as part of an effort to roll the medical marijuana system into the state's new legal marijuana system. The current unregulated dispensaries would have to close or obtain a state license by September 2015. The bill also allows patients to grow their own, but reduced the amount they can grow and possess. Senate Bill 5887 now goes to the House. The legislative session ends this week.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM -- March 11, 2014

The District of Columbia could legalize marijuana at the ballot box this year, Dr. Sanjay Gupta doubles down on his support for medical marijuana with a new CNN special tonight, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week in Vienna is attracting a lot of attention, and more. Let's get to it:

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta "doubles down" on his support for medical marijuana. (via Share Bear on Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The District of Columbia Board of Elections announced this morning that it had approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature-gathering. That means voters in the nation's capital could vote to free the weed in November. Now, the DC Cannabis Campaign must gather some 25,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But first, the Board of Elections must finalize the language for the measure. It has 20 days to do so.

Colorado Takes in $2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month of Legalization. The state of Colorado collected $2.01 million in retail marijuana sales and excise taxes in January, the first month of legal sales, the Department of Revenue reported Monday.

Missouri Legalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana in the Show-Me State got a hearing in the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee Monday. House Bill 1659, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), got a mixed reception in the hearing, with GOP lawmakers expressing skepticism. The committee took no vote and offered no timetable for further action.

Louisiana Marijuana Reform Advocates Rally on Capitol Steps in Baton Rouge. Although there is no legalization bill filed in Louisiana, legalization advocates rallied at the state capitol Monday to get their voices heard. The event was organized by Legalize Louisiana, which seeks to "decriminalize, legalize, and regulate marijuana" in the Bayou State. Although there is no legalization bill this year, there are bills to decriminalize and to allow for medical marijuana.

Legalization Would Be a "Terrible Mistake," Says NYPD Commissioner. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday it would be a 'terrible mistake' to legalize marijuana and predicted problems for states that go that course. But he did say he supported medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dr. Sanjay Gupta Doubles Down for Medical Marijuana; Special Airs Tonight. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who first saw the light on medical marijuana a few months ago, has reiterated his support for the herb's medicinal uses and will air a new special on the topic, Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports," at 10 p.m. ET on tonight.

In New Crackdown, Los Angeles Shutters A Hundred Dispensaries. More than 100 dispensaries have shut down since Los Angeles started enforcing new rules restricting them, City Atty. Mike Feuer announced Monday. In addition to the rules prompting scores of closures, Feuer said city lawyers had successfully fended off a host of legal challenges. In one closely watched case, they prevented a dispensary from opening in Mar Vista, securing a permanent injunction before it could set up shop.

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Stalled By Cops. A key lawmaker said Tuesday she doesn't see a path forward for legalizing medical marijuana after talks with law enforcement hit a standstill. Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) said she had conceded to virtually all demands from law enforcement over the weekend but was still unable to get their support for her bill, House File 1818. Melin said she had no choice but to postpone a House committee hearing that would have been lawmakers' second look at the issue. "Law enforcement won't support any bill that would result in helping any patients," Melin said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The governor has to get involved."

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Passes Senate Committee. A bill that would require food stamp recipients suspected of drug use to pass a drug test to receive benefits narrowly passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has already passed the House. It's not clear if it now goes to another committee or to a Senate floor vote.

Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Senator Manchin Joins Call to Overturn FDA Approval of Zohydro. US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has joined the call for the FDA to overturn its recent approval of Zohydro, a single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for people suffering from chronic pain. It is the first ever single-ingredient drug to be approved by the FDA. Manchion joins Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and a number of legislators, prosecutors, and medical groups seeking to reverse the decision. But the FDA and the drug's manufacturer say the drug is needed to treat chronic pain.

Drug Use

RAND Corporation Report Reviews Past Decade's Drug Use. A new report from the RAND Corporation, What America's Drug Users Spend on Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010, pegs spending on illicit drugs at $100 billion a year. It also notes that from 2000 to 2010, the amount people spent on cocaine dropped by half from $55 billion to $28 billion, reflecting dramatic decreases in the availability of cocaine after 2006: from approximately 300 pure metric tons in 2000 to about 150 pure metric tons in 2010.

International

UN Drugs Meeting Opens after Historic Reforms Shatter Consensus on Drug Control System. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) opens its annual meeting this week after a year of historic reforms. This year’s meeting—which is taking place Vienna from March 13-21—is expected to be unusually contentious after a monumental 2013-2014. Unprecedented reforms have shaken the foundations of global drugs policy and set the stage for an explosive international debate. For live updates, check out the CND Blog.

Report Finds UN Stuck in Denial Over Marijuana Regulation. A new report from the Transnational Institute and the Global Drug Policy Observatory has been released in the run-up to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week. The report, The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition: the History of Cannabis in the UN drug control system and options for reform, unveils the long and little-known history of cannabis regulation from the late 19th century when it was widely used for medical, ceremonial and social purposes to the post-WWII period when US pressure and a potent mix of moralistic rhetoric and unreliable scientific data succeeded in categorising cannabis as a drug with 'particularly dangerous properties' on a par with heroin in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It also brings the history up-to-date with more recent developments as an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime's strictures through 'soft defections', such as turning a blind eye, decriminalization, coffee shops, cannabis social clubs and generous medical marijuana schemes. These have stretched the legal flexibility of the conventions to sometimes questionable limits. The report outlines specific options for reform and assesses their potential for success. These options include: WHO review and modification of cannabis scheduling; state parties amending the treaties; modifying the conventions 'inter se', e.g. between specific states only; or denunciation of the treaty and re-accession with a reservation (carried out recently by Bolivia in order to defend indigenous rights and the use of coca leaf in its natural form).

ENCOD Calls for UN to End the Drug War. The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) will use the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week to call on the UN to end the war on drugs. A delegation of five Encod members will join the debate inside the UN: Urki Goñi, chairman of Cannabis Social Club Urjogaberdea in the Basque Country, Spain, Doug Fine, author of 'Hemp Bound' and 'Too High To Fail: Cannabis & the New Green Economic Revolution', Dionisio Nuñez, Bolivian ex-minister of coca affairs, Janko Belin, Encod chairman and Joep Oomen, Encod coordinator. On Friday March 14 one of them will deliver a speech to the plenary meeting. ENCOD will also be reporting nightly from the sessions later this week on the ENCOD web site.

Legalization Won't Solve World's Drug Problem, UN Drug Chief Says.Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters Monday that while it is up to member states to decide "what needs to be done," legalization ain't it. "As the head of UNODC, I have to say that legalization is not a solution to the (world's) drug problem," Fedotov said. "It is very hard to say that this law (adopted by Uruguay's parliament) is fully in line with legal provisions of the drug control conventions," he added.

UN Drug Chief Praises Iran Drug Fight Despite Executions. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said Monday that Iran's anti-drug efforts were "very impressive" and that Iran "takes a very active role to fight against illicit drugs" even though human rights and harm reduction groups have criticized its frequent resort to the death penalty for drug offenders. Still, he added that UNODC opposes the death penalty and that he planned to raise the issue with Iranian leaders during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna this week.

Responding to Holder on Heroin, Reformers Call for a Health Direction [FEATURE]

US Attorney General Eric Holder had heroin on his mind Monday, using his weekly video message and an accompanying press release to draw attention to rising heroin overdose deaths and vowing to combat the problem with a combination of law enforcement, treatment, prevention, and harm reduction measures. Drug reformers generally responded positively, but called on the Obama administration to seek comprehensive, science- and health-based solutions instead of engaging in more drug war.

Attorney General Holder takes on heroin (usdoj.gov)
"Addiction to heroin and other opiates -- including certain prescription pain-killers -- is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life -- and all too often, with deadly results. Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45%," Holder said. "Scientific studies, federal, state and local investigations, addiction treatment providers, and victims reveal that the cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse. The transition to -- and increase in -- heroin abuse is a sad but not unpredictable symptom of the significant increase in prescription drug abuse we've seen over the past decade."

What Holder didn't mention is that the rise in prescription pain pill misuse is tied to a massive increase in prescribing opioids for pain in the past decade. A study published last fall found that between 2000 and 2010, the amount of opioids prescribed for non-cancer pain had nearly doubled, and that during the same period, the percentage of people complaining of pain who received prescriptions for opioids jumped from 11% to nearly 20%. But reining in prescriptions generally isn't the answer either.

But at the same time, a 2011 Institute of Medicine report found that while "opioid prescriptions for chronic non-cancer pain [in the US] have increased sharply… 29% of primary care physicians and 16% of pain specialists report they prescribe opioids less often than they think appropriate because of concerns about regulatory repercussions."

As the IOM report noted, having more opioid prescriptions doesn't necessarily mean that "patients who really need opioids [are] able to get them." Opioid misuse and under-use of opioids for pain treatment when they are needed are problems that coexist in society. Pain pill crackdowns have also been found to result in increased use of street heroin, as a Washington Post article last week reports -- two additional reasons advocates prefer public health approaches to heroin more than law enforcement -- and why great care should be taken with the law enforcement measures.

"It's clear that opiate addiction is an urgent -- and growing -- public health crisis. And that's why Justice Department officials, including the DEA, and other key federal, state, and local leaders, are fighting back aggressively," Holder continued. "Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both."

Holder pointed to DEA efforts to prevent diversion of pharmaceutical pain-relievers to non-medical users, mentioning investigations of doctors, pharmacists, and distributors.

"With DEA as our lead agency, we have adopted a strategy to attack all levels of the supply chain to prevent pharmaceutical controlled substances from getting into the hands of non-medical users," Holder said.

Cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Holder also pointed out that DEA had opened some 4,500 heroin investigations since 2011 and promising more to come.

But, as Holder noted, "enforcement alone won't solve the problem," so the administration is working with civil society and law enforcement "to increase our support for education, prevention, and treatment."

And although he didn't use the words "harm reduction," Holder is also calling for some harm reduction measures. He urged law enforcement and medical first responders to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) and signaled support for "911 Good Samaritan" laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose.

Holder got restrained plaudits from drug reformers for his small steps toward harm reduction measures, but they called for a more comprehensive approach.

"Preventing fatal overdose requires a comprehensive solution," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While naloxone is an absolutely critical component, we need a scientific, health-based approach to truly address the roots of the problem. This includes improving access to effective, non-coercive drug treatment for everyone who wants it, as well as improving access to medication-assisted treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine."

Naloxone (Narcan) can reverse opiate overdoses (wikimedia.org)
Ralston also added that just making naloxone available to cops and EMTs wasn't good enough. Friends and family members, not "first responders," are most often the people who encounter others in the throes of life-threatening overdoses.

"While we applaud Attorney General Holder's clear support for expanding access to naloxone, particularly among law enforcement and 'first responders,' we urge him to clarify that he supports naloxone access for anyone who may be the first person to discover an opiate overdose in progress," she said.

But Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs, applauded the move, which could help soften reflexive law enforcement opposition to carrying the overdose antidote, an attitude reflected in the the International Association of Chiefs of Police's opposition to all harm reduction measures.

"Police may not be the first to embrace change, but we are slowly evolving," said Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.). "We cannot arrest our way out of a public health problem, and it's clear that the Attorney General is beginning to understand that and to embrace the role of harm reduction in reducing death, disease and addiction in our communities. We still have a long way to go, but this is a good sign."

The idea is "a no-brainer," according to executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.). "It is simply immoral not to support something proven to save lives for political reasons," Franklin added. "Yes, police send a message when they choose not to carry naloxone. But that message is not 'don't do drugs,' it's 'if you make the wrong decisions in your life, we don't care about you.' That offends me both as a former cop and as a human being."

The nuanced pushback to Holder's law enforcement/prevention/treatment/hint of harm reduction approach is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Decriminalizing and destigmatizing now illicit drug use, as has been the case in Portugal, is an obvious next step, and removing the question of drugs from the purview of the criminal justice system altogether would be even better. Still, that a sitting attorney general is calling for treatment and harm reduction as well as law enforcement is a good thing, and for reformers to be calling him on not going far enough is a good thing, too.

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