Overdose Prevention

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Chronicle AM -- February 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

Drugged Driving

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

Synthetic Drugs

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stuff ought to be legalized, Trebach said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those studies carry a lesson, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York City, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Drug Testing

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

Could Different Drug Policies Have Saved Philip Seymour Hoffman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- January 31, 2014

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Testing

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- January 24, 2014

Bills are popping at state houses across the land, pot politics continues hot and heavy, world leaders have harsh words for prohibition at Davos, and much, much more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Touts Decriminalization, States' Rights. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, said he believes states should have the right to legalize marijuana and that he would move Texas toward decriminalization.

MPP Petitions Obama to Deschedule Marijuana. The Marijuana Policy Project Wednesday unveiled a Change.org petition asking the Obama administration to deschedule -- not reschedule -- marijuana The petition had nearly 36,000 signatures by Friday afternoon; it needs 50,000 to be addressed by the White House.

Hawaii House Majority Floor Leader Introduces Marijuana Export Bill. House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Rida Cabanilla Thursday introduced House Bill 2124, which would put the state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and Department of Agriculture in charge of a working group that would outline a plan to legalize the cultivation of marijuana in Hawaii for sale and export to foreign jurisdictions where marijuana is legal.

Rep. Jared Polis Invites Obama, Harry Reid to Check Out Legal Marijuana in Colorado. Colorado US Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) Thursday sent a letter to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) inviting them to come see how Colorado is implementing marijuana legalization. In the letter, Polis wrote that he was"confident that when you see Colorado's work to implement the law while protecting children and raising revenue for our schools firsthand, we can begin to make similar efforts on a federal level."

Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Candidate Says Legalize Marijuana. Former state Department of Environmental Protection head John Hanger, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, called for marijuana legalization at a campaign forum Wednesday night at Lehigh University. "This issue is moving and Democrats better get on board or we'll lose this election to Tom Corbett because people will not come out and vote," Hanger said. "We must expand the voting population." None of the other five Democratic candidates took a stand on the issue.

DC Council to Vote on Decriminalization Bill February 4. The District of Columbia city council will vote on a bill to decriminalize marijuana during its February 4 meeting. It is expected to pass, but may see some amendments during consideration. A legalization bill is also pending before the council, and activists are also leading an effort to legalize through the initiative process.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Valid Signatures to Qualify for Ballot. The Florida Department of Elections reported today that the Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions initiative has more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.The department reported more than 710,000 valid signatures; 683,000 were needed. The initiative campaign earlier said it had gathered more than 1.1 million raw signatures. It still must win approval by the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by April 1.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Polling at 65%. A new Public Policy Polling survey has support for the Florida medical marijuana initiative at 65%, with only 23% opposed. The initiative will require the votes of 60% of voters to pass because it is a constitutional amendment, as opposed to a statutory initiative.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Delegate Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) and nine cosponsors Thursday filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 4264. This is the fourth consecutive year Manypenny has filed such a bill.

Oregon Bill Would Let Localities Regulate, Ban Medical Marijuana Facilities. A bill that would allow local governments to regulate or ban dispensaries or grow ops will be heard by the legislature next month. Senate Bill 1531, sponsored by state Sens. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rod Monroe (D-Portland), was filed at the request of the Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities. The bill is a response to legislation last year that created statewide dispensary regulation and left regulation in the hands of the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania Nurses Endorse Medical Marijuana Bill. The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association Thursday became the first medical professional group in the state to publicly support a pending medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1182. The bill gets a hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee Tuesday.

Vermont Bill Would Ease Limits on Dispensaries. A bill introduced earlier this month would ease the rules for dispensaries. Senate Bill 247 would remove the 1,000-patient cap on the number of patients dispensaries can see, remove the cap limiting dispensaries to four, allow patients to grow their own, and allow for delivery services. The bill is now before the Senate Committee on Government Operations.

Louisiana Gov. Jindal Says Medical Marijuana Okay if Tightly Regulated. Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, said Wednesday night that he supports making medical marijuana available if it is tightly controlled. "I continue to be opposed to legalization of marijuana," Jindal said as he fielded questions Wednesday during an event at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. "When it comes to medical marijuana… if there is a legitimate medical need, I'd certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that."

Hemp

Virginia Hemp Advocates Meet, Look Ahead. The Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition met Thursday in Harrisonburg to watch a film and plan how to advance the cause in the Old Dominion. They said they are considering proposing a bill for the next general assembly session.

Heroin

Ohio Attorney General Creates Special Heroin Unit. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) announced Wednesday the creation of an investigative unit in his office to combat heroin trafficking and use. The Heroin Unit will include investigators, lawyers, and drug abuse awareness specialists, and will work with local leaders and law enforcement. DeWine is allocating $1 million for the unit. The move comes as the state's heroin overdose toll more than doubled between 2010 and 2012. [But will it accomplish its goal, better than other such programs have in the past? California's naloxone bill would be a better idea for Ohio, too.]

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would require welfare recipients to be screened for drug use and subjected to drug testing if they are likely drug users passed a House committee on an 8-4 vote Wednesday.

Harm Reduction

California Bill Would Expand Pharmacy Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has introduced Assembly Bill 1535, which would allow pharmacists to provide the overdose reversal drug naloxone to drug users, friends, and family members. "California's overdose crisis remains one of the state's most serious health problems," Bloom said. "Pharmacists are highly trained, highly trusted healthcare professionals. This bill makes it easier for them to help prevent a fatal drug overdose."

International

World Leaders Offer Harsh Assessment of Drug War at Davos. Global leaders gathered for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called drug prohibition a failure and said world leaders need to consider alternatives. "It's been a disaster and has inflicted enormous harm," said former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "My country has suffered probably the most from the war on drugs. We need to find more efficient ways to combat it," added Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia. "People are being given enormous prison terms just for use. There has got to be a better way than ruining so many people's lives," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said.

Human Rights Watch Makes Case for Drug Reform in 2014 Annual Report. Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2014 and included in it a special essay (click on the title link) on a human rights approach to drug control. The group is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession, finding alternatives to the criminalization of drug markets, and the primacy of human rights considerations in drug treatment.

Dark Web Drug Buyers and Sellers Can Now Use DarkList. A dark web web site that reappeared Wednesday is designed to serve as a directory of underground drug dealers operating dark web drug marketplaces, such as Silk Road 2.0, Agora, The Marketplace, Blue Sky, and others. DarkList says it will help customers connect with preferred dealers. "Let's face it -- buying and selling anonymously on the Dark Web is currently in a volatile state," reads the tagline on the site's homepage. "We built this directory so that you can always have a way to stay in contact with those you love."

Bulgaria Moving Backward on Drug Policy, NGOs Warn. Bulgaria's draft penal code, which has already won initial cabinet approval, includes mandatory prison sentences for any drug possession offense, and that is drawing sharp criticism from drug policy and human rights groups. "With these new proposals, Bulgaria is traveling in the opposite direction to what most other countries are doing," said Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). "They are going backwards, while the rest of Europe is modernizing their drug laws and implementing health-based approaches to drugs -- policies that support, rather than punish, people who use drugs."

Bermuda Marijuana Policy Debate Continues to Roil. Activist and attorney Alan Gordon continues to successfully stir the pot in the island nation's marijuana policy debate. On Wednesday, he sent an open letter to Governor George Fergusson asking him to clarify whether Government House would seek to block marijuana legalization legislation. Click on the link to read the letter.

Chronicle AM -- January 21, 2014

The war on weed may be beginning to wheeze toward its end, a researcher reports, and legislators continue to introduce bills to help it on its way. Meanwhile, harm reduction down South gets some attention, a bad bill targets medical marijuana-using parents in Michigan, and Bermuda gets a decrim bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Intensity of Marijuana Enforcement Declining, Keith Humphreys Says. Academic marijuana policy watcher and addiction specialist Keith Humphreys reports that even though marijuana use is up -- measured by total days of use nationwide -- the intensity of enforcement -- measured by overall arrests divided by total days of use -- is down by as much as 40%. Humphries attributes it to decriminalization and medical marijuana, but also notes that such policy changes often merely formalize what is already occurring on the ground.

Texas Legislature Will Be Faced With Marijuana Reform Bills Again This Year. Two Democratic Texas legislators say they will reintroduce marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana bills that have gone nowhere in past sessions. Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston) will try for a fourth time to get a bill to decriminalize the possession of under two ounces passed, while Rep. Eliot Naishtat (D-Austin) will try for the seventh time to get his medical marijuana bill to a House floor vote.

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in Oklahoma. State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) has pre-filed a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2116. The bill would legalize possession of up to an ounce and allow for the regulation and taxation of marijuana commerce. The legislative session begins February 3. Here's what she's up against: Mark Woodward, with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, said, "I've seen it wreck more lives than any other drug."

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Targets Patients Who Are Parents. Republican state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Rapids) has introduced a bill designed to make it easier for the state to remove children from the homes of parents who are medical marijuana patients. Senate Bill 736 would allow judges to inspect parents' medical records to see if medical marijuana use is "appropriate" and, if the judge decides it is not, to order the parent to stop using marijuana or designate him or her an unfit parent. Jones said he introduced the bill after hearing complaints from judges. "They want it clarified that they do have the power, as judges, to consider whether or not there's medical marijuana in the home and that there will be access to children and problems," he said.

Meetings on Hawaii Medical Marijuana Law Coming to Hilo, Pahoa. The Drug Policy Action Group and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii are holding meetings later this month in Hilo and Pahoa to provide information and get public input on what's right and what's wrong with the state's medical marijuana law, as well as discussing broader marijuana policy reform. Click on the link for details.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition OD Prevention Program Gets Noticed. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) was crucial in getting comprehensive drug overdose prevention laws passed in Raleigh last year, and now they are getting both results and national notice. Click on the title link to read more and see video from CNN and Fox News Charlotte about the laws and the successful use of naloxone to reverse an overdose.

International

Bermuda Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. A senator from the opposition People's National Party (PNP) has filed a marijuana decriminalization bill in Bermuda. The bill would remove all criminal penalties and sanctions for possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana or hashish. At a Tuesday press conference, bill sponsor Sen. Marc Daniels said, "There appears to be a tidal wave of change taking place with our neighbors to our West and South regarding cannabis and cannabis usage. Some US States are making cannabis legal for both medicinal purposes as well as recreational use. The question is whether Bermuda wants to wait until all of our neighbors make changes, or will we be bold enough to chart a new destiny and seek new ways of generating revenue; perhaps with an influx of tourists and/or from local taxes and license fees. The possibilities are endless if we only dare to be different and seize the moment as opposed to playing catch up.'

Obama Marijuana Remarks Spur Finnish Debate. President Obama's weekend remarks on marijuana are spurring debate on marijuana law reform in Finland. "The USA is the number one country in the war on drugs, so if it begins legalizing the use of marijuana, it will surely have a major effect on Europe," sociologist Jussi Perala said. "Making marijuana legal in Finland is utopic, but at some stage something should happen about it. In Finland, harsh punishment can be meted out merely for the intention to use drugs," he said.

Chronicle AM -- January 17, 2014

Washington's attorney general has dealt a body blow to the statewide legalization of marijuana commerce there, medical marijuana continues to keep state legislatures busy, a New Mexico town and county pay out big time for a horrid anal search, heroin legislation is moving in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Washington Attorney General Rules Localities Can Ban Marijuana Businesses. In a formal opinion released Thursday, the Washington attorney general's office held that "Initiative 502 as drafted and presented to the voters does not prevent local governments from regulating or banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions." The ACLU of Washington said the attorney general's opinion is mistaken and it "will go to court if necessary" to see it overturned, while the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 said that the "opinion would be a disappointment to the majority of voters who approved the law."

Marijuana Reforms Will Be on the Legislative Agenda in Louisiana Again This Year. State Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has already introduced House Bill 14, which would dramatically lessen the state's draconian marijuana penalties, and further-reaching bills could be forthcoming. The Badon bill passed the House last year before dying in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill to Get Hearing This Month. State Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Chuck McIlhinney (R) said Thursday he had scheduled a public hearing for January 28 on a medical marijuana bill introduced this week. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, is cosponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R).

Hawaii House Speaker Says State Needs Dispensaries. House Speaker Joe Souki said Wednesday that the lack of places for medical marijuana patients to obtain their medicine was "a gap in the law" that needs to be addressed. That patients can use medical marijuana but have no place to obtain it is "an anomaly," he said. Addressing dispensaries is a "humanitarian" issue, he added.

Utah Poll Finds Narrow Majority for Medical Marijuana. A new Salt Lake Tribune poll has 51% of Utahns supporting medical marijuana, but 67% opposing decriminalization or legalization.

Georgia Poll Finds Narrow Majority for Medical Marijuana. A new InsiderAdvantage poll has 51% of Georgians supporting medical marijuana "in very specific instances, such as in a liquid form to reduce seizures from young children." Some 27% were opposed, and 22% undecided. "The key here is that any legislation must be on a limited basis. That said, Republicans and Democrats both support this legislation by well over 50 percent, while independent voters are close to a majority as well," said Matt Towery, president of InsiderAdvantage and a former legislator.

Heroin

Kentucky Senate Approves Bill to Reduce Overdose Deaths, Increase Trafficking Penalties. The state Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 5, which would create more treatment beds for heroin users and lengthen prison sentences for heroin and methamphetamine traffickers. A similar version of the bill passed the Republican-led Senate last year, but stalled in the Democratic-led House. The bill would require the state Medicaid program to cover several inpatient and outpatient treatment options for people addicted to opiates, including heroin and prescription painkillers. It also would divert some of the state's hoped-for savings from a 2011 prison sentencing reform package to expand treatment programs. But the bill would also stiffen penalties for people convicted of trafficking in larger quantities of heroin, methamphetamines or both, requiring them to serve at least half of their prison sentences before they are eligible for shock probation or parole.

Search and Seizure

New Mexico Town, County Pay Out Big Time for Forced Anal Searches of Drug Suspect. A Deming, New Mexico, man who was subjected to a hospital anal exam involving three enemas, a colonoscopy, and being forced to defecate in front of police and medical personnel in a fruitless search for drugs will get $1.6 million in damages in a settlement from Deming and Hidalgo County. David Eckert will most likely win additional damages from a local hospital where doctors agreed to perform the exam.

Sentencing

Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections Funded in Federal Spending Bill. The omnibus federal spending bill filed this week and expected to pass quickly includes $1 million to establish the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, an independent, bipartisan grouping that will examine a number of challenges facing the federal correctional system, including overcrowding and ways to minimize growth, violence behind bars, rehabilitation, and reentry. Colson was a Nixon administration official jailed in the Watergate scandal who became a prison reformer in the wake of that experience.

International

Spurred by Attorney, Bermuda's Medical Marijuana Debate Heats Up. Attorney Alan Gordon's online petition to have the Bermudan government allow emergency access to medical marijuana for cancer patients has spurred considerable notice on the island, with National Security Minister Michael Dunkley and Gordon publicly clashing over the law and whether Dunkley can act. Click on the link to see Dunkley's comments and Gordon's well-publicized written response.

Vietnam Sentences Three Drug Offenders to Death; Iran Executes Six. And the resort to the death penalty against drug offenders continues. According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, three Vietnamese men charged with heroin trafficking got death sentences, while Iran, the world's leading drug offender execution, hung another six.

Chronicle AM -- January 16, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears poised to qualify for the ballot (if it survives a challenge in the state Supreme Court), a new poll finds the country evenly split on marijuana legalization, Afghanistan was on the agenda in the Senate yesterday, and more. Let's get to it:

harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

ABC News/Washington Post Poll Has Americans Split on Marijuana. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 49%, with 48% opposed. The poll is in the same ballpark as other polls since the November 2012 elections, where support for legalization has ranged between 45% and 58%. Click on the link to see full poll results.

DEA Operations Chief Bemoans Marijuana Legalization Trend. DEA operations chief James Capra told a Senate committee Wednesday that marijuana legalization at the state level was "reckless and irresponsible" and could lead to dire consequences. "It scares us," Capra said, responding to a question. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again." [Editor's Note: No country had legalized marijuana until Uruguay did late last year, and that hasn't gone into effect yet. If Capra is referring to Amsterdam, where sales are tolerated, if not technically legal, cannabis coffee shops are now in their fourth decade of existence, and the problems associated with them are relatively trivial.] "There are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks," he continued. "The idea somehow people in our country have that this is somehow good for us as a nation is wrong. It's a bad thing. This is a bad experiment. It's going to cost us in terms of social costs."

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Petitions Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Wednesday that 13 marijuana legalization initiatives had been approved for signature-gathering. The bakers' dozen initiatives are all variations on a theme: legalize and regulate marijuana in Missouri. They were submitted by Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets, the chairman of the activist group Show-Me Cannabis. To make the November 2014 ballot, organizers must gather 157,778 valid voter signatures for at least one of them by May 4.

Maryland Coalition to Legalize Marijuana Launched. Maryland legislators Thursday launched an effort to get a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Control Act of 2014, passed this year. They were joined at a press conference by members of the newly formed Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, which includes the ACLU of Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Maryland League of Women Voters, the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Maryland NAACP.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Campaign Has Gathered 1.1 Million Signatures. The folks behind the Florida medical marijuana initiative, United For Care/Patients United for Freedom, announced Wednesday night that they had gathered 1.1 million signatures, nearly half a million more than needed to qualify for the ballot. While all the signatures haven't been validated yet, organizers are now confident they will pass that hurdle. Now, they have to wait and see if the state Supreme Court is going to allow the effort to move ahead.

Washington Patients, Advocates Speak Out Against Bill That Would Gut Medical Marijuana System. The House Health Committee got an earful from medical marijuana advocates at a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 2149, which would eliminate cultivation cooperatives (and thus, dispensaries) by 2020 and reduce the amount of marijuana patients could possess and the number of plants they could grow. The bill mirrors many of the recommendations of the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 marijuana legalization.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Introduced. State Sen. Richard Young (D-Milltown) has introduced Senate Bill 357, which would allow the Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp growing and production. The bill requires the department to get necessary approvals from the federal government, which has yet to approve any such production anywhere in the US.

Illinois Hemp Bill Seeks New Life in 2014. State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin (D-Chicago) introduced a hemp bill, House Bill 2668, last year, but it has languished in committee despite picking up some bipartisan support. He said Wednesday that he was cautiously optimistic that opposition may be softening, and the bill could move this year.

Heroin

Maine Heroin Deaths Up Fourfold from 2011 to 2012. The number of heroin overdose deaths in Maine quadrupled between 2011 and 2012, according to numbers released by state officials Wednesday. Officials said the increase was due to tightening restrictions on the use of prescription opiates, a cheap heroin supply, and, possibly, cuts in MaineCare. But while the increase was dramatic, the 28 heroin overdose deaths reported in 2012 is well below the 2005 peak of 43. In the years between 2005 and 2011, heroin deaths declined steadily.

Heroin Prevention Bill Package Passes Wisconsin Assembly. The State Assembly Wednesday passed the HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education) package of four bills designed to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the state. Sponsored by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), one bill would allow anyone to use naloxone to reverse overdoses, another would grant legal immunity to drug users who call for help in an overdose emergency, a third would allow communities to establish prescription drug drop-off points, and the fourth would require people to show ID when picking up prescription drugs. The naloxone and legal immunity bills are Assembly Bill 446 and Assembly Bill 447. The package now moves to the Senate.

Kratom

Oklahoma Wants to Ban Kratom, But Meets Resistance. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics wants to ban the Southeast Asian herb kratom, which it calls "the legal form of heroin," but kratom fans are responding with dismay and disputing the narcs' assessment. Kratom is not a controlled substance under federal law, but narc Mark Woodward said he planned to ban it until it is federally proven to have medical benefits. Kratom users have started a petition to challenge efforts to ban Kratom.

Drug Courts

Study Finds Drug Courts Ignore Science When it Comes to Opiate Substitution Therapies. A small study of drug courts in New York state finds that their skeptical approach to opiate substitution therapies (OST), such as methadone and buprenorphine, can be a barrier to successful treatment. "Many courts do not respect medical consensus on scientifically sound treatment standards. Some courts included OST as part of court-mandated treatment options, while others allowed OST for a court-defined period of time as a bridge to abstinence. Still others showed intolerance and even disdain for anything having to do with methadone and buprenorphine, or -- as with the drug court in Albany County -- refused outright to admit people on methadone or buprenorphine treatment," the authors wrote. "Ordering people who are dependent on opioids to get off their prescribed methadone or buprenorphine medicines can force patients to seek out and become dependent on other opioids like prescription analgesics. Addiction to prescription opioids has been recognized as a priority problem by U.S. policy-makers, but drug courts may be exacerbating it."

Search and Seizure

ACLU Sues Border Patrol Over Interior Border Check Point Searches. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the Border Patrol, claiming its agent routinely violate the constitutional rights of local residents by stopping and searching them at interior checkpoints on highways near the border. In a 1976 ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled that immigration checkpoints were permissible if the stops were brief, involved "a limited enquiry into residence status," and a visual inspection of the exterior of the vehicle. "But that's not what's happening here," said ACLU attorney James Duff Lyall in Tucson. He said the cases mentioned in the lawsuit provide strong indications that the Border Patrol is using the checkpoints for general crime control, "which the courts have said is not acceptable for a checkpoint. The same thing is happening over and over again to many border residents," Lyall said. "They're going on fishing expeditions where there's no reasonable suspicion."

International

Afghan Drug Situation "Dire," Federal Auditor Tells Senators."The situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday. Poppy cultivation is at record levels and the drug trade now accounts for 15% of Afghan GDP, Sopko said.

US to Help Afghanistan With Drug Problem, State Department Official Tells Senators. At the same hearing mentioned in the story above, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") William Brownfield vowed the US would remain committed to helping Afghanistan fight drug production and trafficking even after US and NATO troops pull out at the end of this year. "We will continue to ensure our counternarcotics programs are well integrated with broader US efforts, including assistance programs aimed at supporting a vibrant legal economy," he testified Wednesday. "The expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs is one of the most significant factors putting the entire US and international donor investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk," he said.

Chronicle AM -- January 13, 2014

Marijuana legalization is one step closer in the nation's capital, even Georgia Republican legislators are getting on the medical marijuana bandwagon, Syria's civil war is being fueled by speed, and more. Let's get to it:

Captagon, Middle Eastern speed. Just what every brutal civil war needs. (wikimedia.org)
DC Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Marijuana legalization activists filed an initiative with city officials last Friday to legalize the possession of up to two ounces and three plants by adults. Look for a Chronicle feature article on this later this week.

St. Louis Mayor Ask Residents to Weigh In on Marijuana Policy. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (D) is asking residents what they think about marijuana legalization. His web site has the poll online (click the link above). The poll comes as activists organized as Show-Me Cannabis Regulation beat the bushes statewide in an effort to get legalization on the ballot in Missouri.

Maine US Senate Candidate Supports Legalizing Marijuana. Democratic Party US Senate candidate Shenna Bellow is making marijuana legalization a key plank in her platform. A former director of the ACLU of Maine, Bellow calls herself a progressive and a libertarian, and also supports bold action on climate change, less government surveillance, and raising the minimum wage. She also said she envisioned herself as a Senate leader on marijuana reform.

Maryland Republican State Senator to Cosponsor Legalization Bill. State Sen. Allen Kittleman (R-Howard) said last Friday he will cosponsor a marijuana legalization bill. The bill's other sponsor is Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), but neither has actually filed the bill yet, according to the legislature's web site.

Dane County, Wisconsin, to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Referendum. Dane County (Madison) supervisors voted last Thursday to put an advisory referendum asking "Should the state government enact legislation legalizing marijuana?" on the spring ballot. In 2010, Dane County voters approved a medical marijuana advisory referendum with 75% of the vote. The spring election is set for April 1.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Albany. Saying Gov. Cuomo's move last week to institute a limited medical marijuana program doesn't go nearly far enough, medical marijuana supporters rallied in Albany Monday to urge the state Senate and the governor to pass comprehensive pending legislation.

Medical Marijuana Business Conference in Oregon Later This Month. As Oregon prepares to enter the dispensary era, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference will be held January 30 and 31 to discuss issues surrounding dispensaries, ranging from banking problems to licensing and beyond. Click on the link for more details.

Georgia Republican Legislators Signal Openness to Medical Marijuana. Last Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) called for hearings on medical marijuana. Two days later, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said he was open to the idea. The moves come after local activists with the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform, and Education (Georgia CARE) met with state officials about the issue. Peachtree NORML has also been working the issue there.

Drug Testing

Texas Unemployment Beneficiary Drug Screening Delayed. Texans applying for unemployment benefits were supposed to start being screened for evidence of drug use beginning February 1, but that isn't going to happen just yet. The Texas Workforce Commission, which is charged with implementing the law, says the US Labor Department has not provided guidance on who should be screened. The state was able to implement the law requiring screening of first-time applicants in some professions, Senate Bill 21, after Congress passed a law allowing states to drug test people receiving unemployment benefits, but the Labor Department has yet to outline which occupations fall within the parameters of the federal law.

Alabama State Senator Will File Welfare Drug Testing Bill. State Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) says he will sponsor legislation requiring drug testing of some welfare recipients. Pittman wants anyone convicted of a drug offense within the last five years to have to undergo a drug test. A similar Pittman bill got through the Senate last year, only to die without a vote in the House. While Pittman said he filed the bill already, it hasn't appeared on the state legislative web site. The Alabama legislative session begins tomorrow.

Tennessee Nurses Sue Over Drug Test Strip Searches. Four Nashville nurses who say they were forced to remove all their clothing and submit to drug tests after hospital officials said drugs were missing are now suing St. Thomas Hickman Hospital. No drugs were found and none of the nurses tested positive for drugs. Now, each is seeking $75,000 in damages. Click on the link for the gory details.

Harm Reduction

Wisconsin Naloxone Pilot Program Getting Underway. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has selected 47 state agencies to participate in a one-year pilot program allowing all emergency medical responders to administer the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Some emergency personnel are already authorized to use naloxone, and is it being used with increasing frequency, from 2,900 times in 2010 to 3,700 in 2012.

Methamphetamine

Tennessee Controller Issues Report on Meth. The Tennessee Controller's Offices of Research and Education Accountability have issued an updated report on meth production that finds that two popular methods for curbing production have not been proven effective. Those measures are the electronic tracking of cold medication purchases, which has not resulted in a decline in the number of home meth labs in the state, and requiring prescriptions to purchase cold medicines, which has been associated in declines in some states, but other states have shown declines without imposing such laws. Click the link to read the report.

International

Speed Use, Production Cranking Up Amidst Syrian Civil War. Syria has become a major amphetamine exporter and consumer, Reuters reported Sunday. The county's brutal civil war is fueling demand, and the central government's loss of control over vast swathes of the country is creating opportunity for producers. The speed in question is Captagon, whose active ingredient, fenethylline, is metabolized by the body into the stimulants amphetamine and theophylline. Production has moved out of Lebanon and Turkey and into war-torn Syria, the report said. Captagon is a favored black market stimulant throughout the Middle East.

Fight Between Vigilantes and Knights Templar Cartel Continues in Mexico's Michoacan. Hundreds of armed vigilantes took over the Knights Templar Cartel stronghold of Nueva Italia Sunday. The vigilantes say they formed because the state and federal governments were not protecting their communities from the drug traffickers. Since the new year began, the vigilantes have taken over several other communities on the outskirts of Apatzingan, which is considered the Knights' stronghold. On Friday, masked men set fire to city hall there and burned and looted several local shops. The governor said he had asked for additional federal forces.

Second Singapore Drug Trafficker Escapes Death Sentence. Last week, the Singapore High Court resentenced a man to life imprisonment instead of death for a drug trafficking offense. The man, Subashkaran Pragasam, becomes the second person to escape the gallows since Singapore reformed its Misuse of Drugs Act in 2012 to allow judges to avoid a mandatory death sentence if the offender was low-level and cooperated with police.

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