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Chronicle AM -- March 10, 2014

California's Democrats endorse marijuana legalization, Caricom gets ready to talk marijuana, Attorney General Holder calls for expanded access to naloxone to prevent overdose deaths, legislatures in the Pacific Northwest make moves on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Caribbean leaders are discussing ganja this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rep. Jared Polis Introduces Federal Marijuana Impaired Driving Bill. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), a supporter of marijuana legalization, has introduced the Limiting Unsafe Cannabis-Impaired Driving (LUCID) Act, which would expand the federal definition of an impaired driver to include those impaired by marijuana use. The bill is not yet available online, and the devil is in the details. Stay tuned.

California Democratic Party Endorses Legalization. The California Democratic Party voted Sunday to include in its platform a plank "to support the legalization, regulation and taxation of pot in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol."

Support for Legalization at CPAC. Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington included many supporters of marijuana legalization, according to both a Huffington Post informal survey and a CPAC straw poll, which had 62% saying legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Program Won't Consider Adding New Conditions Until 2015. A Health Department spokesperson said late last week that the state's medical marijuana program will not consider expanding the list of conditions covered under state law until next year. That would appear to contradict the law, which 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. It also required the health department to produce a biennial report in 2012 and every two years after assessing whether there were enough growers to meet demand. But the Chris Christie administration didn't issue any reports at all until late last month, and now says it is too soon to add more illnesses.

Washington Senate Votes to Regulate Medical Marijuana. Legislation that would essentially fold the state's existing medical marijuana program into the I-502 legalization framework passed the Senate Saturday. Senate Bill 5887 would require dispensaries to be licensed under the legalization format. Patients could get their medicine there or grow their own, and they could voluntarily register with the state to get a partial tax break and buy greater quantities than allowed under general legalization. The measure now goes to the House, which has already passed a bill that requires mandatory patient registration. The session ends this week.

New York Assembly Democrats Roll Medical Marijuana Bill into Budget Proposal. In a bid to finally get medical marijuana through the legislature, Assembly Democrats have folded a bill to do that into this week's budget proposal. The bill resembles the Compassionate Care Act introduced by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), but is not identical to it.

Harm Reduction

Holder Calls Heroin ODs "Urgent Public Health Crisis," Calls for Expanded Naloxone Access. US Attorney General Eric Holder Monday said the Justice Department was stepping up efforts to slow the increase in heroin overdose deaths. As part of that effort, he reiterated the administration's call for more law enforcement agencies to be equipped with the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan).

Methamphetamine

Pseudoephedrine Restriction Bill Introduced in Missouri House. Reps. Stanley Cox (R-118) and Kenneth Wilson (R-12) have filed a bill that lowers limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine-based medicines that people can purchase each month, sets an annual limit on purchase amounts, lowers the amount people can legally possess, and requires a prescription for anyone with a felony drug offense. House Bill 1787 is similar to legislation filed earlier this year in the Senate. That bill, Senate Bill 625, is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

International

LEAP Proposes Amendment to UN Drug Treaties. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has proposed an amendment to the UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. The amendment seeks to "eliminate the criminalization-oriented drug policy paradigm and replace it with a health, harm reduction, and human rights-oriented policy." The proposed amendment is accompanied by a letter to world leaders from LEAP executive director Neill Franklin. Read the amendment by clicking on the title link and sign onto it at the MoveOn.org link here.

Caricom Leaders to Debate Marijuana Legalization This Week. Leaders of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade bloc will discuss a preliminary report on decriminalizing marijuana and exploring its medicinal uses at a two-day summit beginning today on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The summit comes on the heels of a research report released last week by Caricom researchers that found such moves could help the region's sluggish economy.

Mexico Kills La Familia Cartel Leader -- Again. Mexican authorities are reporting that that they killed Nazario "El Mas Loco" (The Craziest One) Moreno in a shootout in Michoacan Sunday. The funny thing is that Moreno, one time leader of the La Familia Cartel, was also reported killed by authorities in December 2010. But his body was never found, and now government spokesmen say he was still alive and was acting as head of La Familia's replacement, the Knights Templar Cartel.

"The New Jim Crow" Author Michelle Alexander Talks Race and Drug War [FEATURE]

On Thursday, Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling and galvanizing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sat down with poet/activist Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance to discuss the book's impact and where we go from here.

Michelle Alexander (wikimedia.org)
The New Jim Crow has been a phenomenon. Spending nearly 80 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, it brought to the forefront a national conversation about why the United States had become the world's largest incarcerator, with 2.2 million in prison or jail and 7.7 million under control of the criminal justice system, and African American boys and men -- and now women -- making up a disproportionate number of those imprisoned. Alexander identified failed drug war policies as the primary driver of those numbers, and called for a greater challenge to them by key civil rights leaders.

It's now been nearly four years since The New Jim Crow first appeared. Some things have changed -- federal sentencing reforms, marijuana legalization in two states -- but many others haven't. Alexander and Bandele discuss what has changed, what hasn't, and what needs to, raising serious questions about the path we've been down and providing suggestions about new directions.

Audio of the conversation is online here, and a transcript follows here:

Asha Bandele: The US has 5% of the world's population, but has 25% of the world's incarcerated population, and the biggest policy cause is the failed drug war. How has the landscape changed in the last four years since The New Jim Crow came out?

Michelle Alexander: The landscape absolutely has changed in profound ways. When writing this book, I was feeling incredibly frustrated by the failure of many civil rights organizations and leaders to make the war on drugs a critical priority in their organization and also by the failure of many of my progressive friends and allies to awaken to the magnitude of the harm caused by the war on drugs and mass incarceration. At the same time, not so long ago, I didn't understand the horror of the drug war myself, I failed to connect the dots and understand the ways these systems of racial and social control are born and reborn.

But over last few years, I couldn't be more pleased with reception. Many people warned me that civil rights organizations could be defensive or angered by criticisms in the book, but they've done nothing but respond with enthusiasm and some real self-reflection.

There is absolutely an awakening taking place. It's important to understand that this didn't start with my book -- Angela Davis coined the term "prison industrial complex" years ago; Mumia Abu-Jamal was writing from prison about mass incarceration and our racialized prison state. Many, many advocates have been doing this work and connecting the dots for far longer than I have. I wanted to lend more credibility and support for the work that so many have been doing for some, but that has been marginalized.

I am optimistic, but at the same time, I see real reasons for concern. There are important victories in legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in Holder speaking out against mandatory minimums and felon disenfranchisement, in politicians across the country raising concerns about the size of the prison state for the first time in 40 years, but much of the dialog is still driven by fiscal concerns rather than genuine concern for the people and communities most impacted, the families destroyed. We haven't yet really had the kind of conversation we must have as a nation if we are going to do more than tinker with the machine and break our habit of creating mass incarceration in America.

Asha Bandele: Obama has his My Brother's Keeper initiative directed at black boys falling behind. A lot of this is driven by having families and communities disrupted by the drug war. Obama nodded at the structural racism that dismembers communities, but he said it was a moral failing. He's addressed race the least of any modern American president. Your thoughts?

Michelle Alexander: I'm glad that Obama is shining a spotlight on the real crisis facing black communities today, in particular black boys and young men, and he's right to draw attention to it and elevate it, but I worry that the initiative is based more in rhetoric than in a meaningful commitment to addressing the structures and institutions that have created these conditions in our communities. There is a commitment to studying the problem and identifying programs that work to keep black kids in school and out of jail, and there is an aspect that seeks to engage foundations and corporations, but there is nothing in the initiative that offers any kind of policy change from the government or any government funding of any kind to support these desperately needed programs.

There is an implicit assumption that we just need to find what works to lift people up by their bootstraps, without acknowledging that we're waging a war on these communities we claim to be so concerned about. The initiative itself reflects this common narrative that suggests the reasons why there are so many poor people of color trapped at the bottom -- bad schools, poverty, broken homes. And if we encourage people to stay in school and get and stay married, then the whole problem of mass incarceration will no longer be of any real concern.

But I've come to believe we have it backwards. These communities are poor and have failing schools and broken homes not because of their personal failings, but because we've declared war on them, spent billions building prisons while allowing schools to fail, targeted children in these communities, stopping, searching, frisking them -- and the first arrest is typically for some nonviolent minor drug offense, which occurs with equal frequency in middle class white neighborhoods but typically goes ignored. We saddle them with criminal records, jail them, then release them to a parallel universe where they are discriminated against for the rest of their lives, locked into permanent second-class status.

We've done this in the communities most in need our support and economic investment. Rather than providing meaningful support to these families and communities where the jobs have gone overseas and they are struggling to move from an industrial-based economy to a global one, we have declared war on them. We have stood back and said "What is wrong with them?" The more pressing question is "What is wrong with us?"

Asha Bandele: During the Great Depression, FDR had the New Deal, but now it seem like there is no social commitment at the highest levels of government. And we see things like Eric Holder and Rand Paul standing together to end mandatory minimums. Is this an unholy alliance?

Michelle Alexander: We have to be very clear that so much of the progress being made on drug policy reflects the fact that we are at a time when politicians are highly motivated to downsize prisons because we can't afford the massive prison state without raising taxes on the predominantly white middle class. This is the first time in 40 years we've been willing to have a serious conversation about prison downsizing.

But I'm deeply concerned about us doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This movement to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs is about breaking the habit of forming caste-like systems and creating a new ethic of care and concern for each of us, this idea that each of us has basic human rights. That is the ultimate goal of this movement. The real issue that lies at the core of every caste system ever created is the devaluing of human beings.

If we're going to do this just to save some cash, we haven't woken up to the magnitude of the harm. If we are not willing to have a searching conversation about how we got to this place, how we are able to lock up millions of people, we will find ourselves either still having a slightly downsized mass incarceration system or some new system of racial control because we will have not learned the core lesson our racial history is trying to teach us. We have to learn to care for them, the Other, the ghetto dwellers we demonize.

Temporary, fleeting political alliances with politicians who may have no real interest in communities of color is problematic. We need to stay focused on doing the right things for the right reasons, and not count as victories battles won when the real lessons have not been learned.

Asha Bandele: Portugal decriminalized all drugs and drug use has remained flat, overdoses been cut by a third, HIV cut by two-thirds. What can we learn from taking a public health approach and its fundamental rejection of stigma?

Michelle Alexander: Portugal is an excellent example of how it is possible to reduce addiction and abuse and drug related crime in a non-punitive manner without filling prisons and jails. Supposedly, we criminalize drugs because we are so concerned about the harm they cause people, but we wind up inflicting far more pain and suffering than the substances themselves. What are we doing really when we criminalize drugs is not criminalizing substances, but people.

I support a wholesale shift to a public health model for dealing with drug addiction and abuse. How would we treat people abusing if we really cared about them? Would we put them in a cage, saddle them with criminal records that will force them into legal discrimination the rest of their lives? I support the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. If you possess a substance, we should help you get education and support, not demonize, shame, and punish you for the rest of your life.

I'm thrilled that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana and DC has decriminalized it -- these are critically important steps in shifting from a purely punitive approach. But there are warning flags. I flick on the news, and I see images of people using marijuana and trying to run legitimate businesses, and they're almost all white. When we thought of them as black or brown, we had a purely punitive approach. Also, it seems like its exclusively white men being interviewed as wanting to start marijuana businesses and make a lot of money selling marijuana.

I have to say the image doesn't sit right. Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for doing the same thing. As we talk about legalization, we have to also be willing to talk about reparations for the war on drugs, as in how do we repair the harm caused.

With regard to Iraq, Colin Powell said "If you break it, you own it," but we haven't learned that basic lesson from our own racial history. We set the slaves free with nothing, and after Reconstruction, a new caste system arose, Jim Crow. A movement arose and we stopped Jim Crow, but we got no reparations after the waging of a brutal war on poor communities of color that decimated families and fanned the violence it was supposed to address.

Do we simply say "We're done now, let's move on" and white men can make money? This time, we have to get it right; we have to tell the whole truth, we have to repair the harm done. It's not enough to just stop. Enormous harm had been done; we have to repair those communities.

Chronicle AM -- March 7, 2014

Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill has passed the legislature with only temporary local bans allowed, more CBD medical marijuana bills are moving, an Indiana hemp bill has passed the legislature, and more. Let's get to it:

Yours truly with Peruvian coca farmer. The government wants to eradicate his crop. (Phil Smith/stopthedrugwar.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Cops Want Marijuana Tax Dollars Because…. Colorado police chiefs have written a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) asking for a bigger cut of marijuana tax revenues. "Many of our local law enforcement agencies have diverted staff from other operations into marijuana enforcement, leaving gaps in other service areas as a direct result of marijuana legalization," according to the letter from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. They claim they need more money to learn how to spot stoned drivers, to pay for "oral fluid testing" at DUI stops, and to create a database of marijuana-related crime.

Maryland Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a decriminalization bill on a 8-3 vote Friday. Senate Bill 364, cosponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard), would replace criminal penalties for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana with a $100 fine, similar to a parking ticket. It would also make penalties for minors the same as those for underage possession of alcohol. Under current Maryland law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Puerto Rico Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Approval Looming. Bills that would decriminalize small-time pot possession (Senate Bill 517) and allow for medical marijuana (House Bill 1362) in Puerto Rico are due for debate soon and are expected to pass. The decrim bill has already passed the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Home Grow Bill Passes House. The House Friday approved a bill that would allow patients to grow their medicine while waiting for the state to develop regulations for dispensaries and commercial medical marijuana cultivation. House Bill 1622 now heads for the state Senate.

Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel Recommends PTSD as 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. If he does, Michigan will become the 8th state to allow marijuana for the treatment of PTSD.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Panel. A bill that would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for epileptic seizures passed a House subcommittee Thursday. House Bill 4803, sponsored by Rep. Jenny Horne (R-Summerville), calls for clinical trials of a CBD-based drug, but very few can participate in such trials, Hilton said. While the bill would also allow doctors to prescribe CBD oil pharmaceuticals, it's unclear whether all doctors would be able to do so.

Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Stalls in Senate. A bill that would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for treatment of seizure disorders hit a roadblock as the Senate adjourned Thursday before taking it up. Senate Bill 174 could still get a hearing next week, though.

California Dispensary Limits Bill Gets Hearing Next Week. A bill that would expand the minimum distance of dispensaries or collectives from schools to 1,000 feet (up from 600 feet under current law) is set for a hearing next week. Assembly Bill 1588 will go before the Assembly Public Safety Committee Wednesday. It is opposed by Cal NORML.

Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Passes With Only Temporary Local Bans Allowed. The Oregon Senate Friday gave final approval to a statewide dispensary regulation bill after the House approved compromise language that would allow localities to issue moratoria on dispensaries, but only for a year while they figure out how to regulate them. Senate Bill 1531 now heads to the governor's desk.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Goes to Governor. A bill that would license Indiana farmers to grow hemp has been approved by the legislature. Senate Bill 357 passed the Senate unanimously last month and passed the House 93-4 earlier this week. Because it was amended in the House, the Senate needed to approve the changes. It has now done so, and the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Mike Pence (R).

Harm Reduction

Transnational Institute Releases Paper on Cocaine Harm Reduction. The Transnational Institute has released the latest paper in its Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies. The paper, Cocaine: Toward a Self-Regulation Model -- New Developments in Harm Reduction, argues that most cocaine users do not "escalate toward addiction," but instead self-regulate their use, and that drug treatment programs stressing the disease model of addiction should be replaced by programs that empower users and their ability to self-regulate.

Federal Overdose Prevention Bill Reintroduced. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and 18 cosponsors reintroduced the Stop Overdose Stat Act (House Resolution 4169) Friday in a bid to reduce the toll of fatal drug overdoses. It would provide federal support for overdose prevention programs run by community agencies and municipal, state and tribal governments. The bill is supported by the American Medical Association, the Trust for America's Health, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Harm Reduction Coalition.

Law Enforcement

Press Conference Monday to Promote New Jersey Bail Reform. The Assembly Judiciary Committee is set to hear a bail reform bill Monday morning, but before that happens, supporters of the legislation will hold a statehouse news conference will faith leaders. Click on the link for more details. A number of bail bills have been filed; it's not clear which one(s) will be heard.

International

Italian Government Won't Challenge Abruzzo Law Allowing Medical Marijuana. The Italian government has decided not to challenge a regional law that would permit the supply of cannabis-based prescription drugs in Abruzzo, government sources said. The decision would open the door for legal marijuana use for therapeutic purposes in the central Italian region. The case refers to a law passed this past January. The area has been on the vanguard of cannabis legislation in Italy for years.

Peru Will Spend $300 Million to Eradicate Coca Crops. Peru's government has reaffirmed its pledge to meet a coca eradication target set at 30,000 hectares by allocating US $300 million for boosting ongoing efforts to tackle drug trafficking, Peruvian Prime Minister, Rene Cornejo, said on Thursday. Cornejo's remarks came during the signing ceremony of a financing agreement with the European Union to support the country's National Anti-Drug Strategy. Peru is once again the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, after losing that title to Colombia late in the last century.

Israeli Health Ministry Approves Medical Marijuana for Epileptic Kids. The Health Ministry has decided to approve the use of medical marijuana for children suffering from extreme cases of epilepsy, but only if other drugs are ineffective or less effective. It's not clear if only high-CBD cannabis oils are approved, but the exception for epilepsy is only for kids. The ministry also added fibromyalgia to the list of approved diseases and conditions.

Chronicle AM -- March 3, 2014

DC should decriminalize tomorrow, New Mexico looks to expand its medical marijuana program, harm reduction bills move in a couple of states, Mexican police repress a pro-El Chapo demonstration, and more. Let's get to it:

The shrine to narco-saint Jesus Malverde in Culiacan. (Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle, 2008)
Marijuana Policy

DC Decriminalization Bill Expected to Get Final Vote Tomorrow. The District of Columbia city council is expected to give final approval tomorrow to a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, with a $25 fine. It has the support of eight of 13 council members, so it should be a done deal, but stay tuned tomorrow.

Legalization Bill Introduced in Florida. State Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Orlando) has introduced a legalization bill in the Sunshine State. Senate Bill 1562 was filed Friday. The proposal comes as Florida voters prepare to cast ballots in November on legalizing medical marijuana. Also, lawmakers are considering proposals to legalize a marijuana extract that can help some children who have a form of epilepsy and suffer from severe seizures.

Medical Marijuana

California Statewide Regulation Bill Has Support of Cops, Cities. For the first time, California law enforcement and local government associations are backing legislation to regulate the medical marijuana industry. The California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California cities are supporting Senate Bill 1262, filed by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), but the bill is opposed by friends of medical marijuana, who object to its provisions setting limits on doctors who recommend it.

New Jersey Annual Medical Marijuana Reports Out. The state Department of Health has released the 2013 Annual Report and the 2013 Biennial Report on the status of the state's medical marijuana program. The state has 1,585 active registered patients, 121 active registered caregivers, and six registered dispensaries. Both reports are at the link.

Massachusetts Caregiver Flouts Regs, Grows for More than One Patient. Longtime Bay State marijuana activist Bill Downing has gone public with his flouting of the state's medical marijuana regulations. He says he is providing medical marijuana to some 350 patients, but state regulations say he can be a caregiver for only one. Downing says it's the regulations that are in conflict with the state's medical marijuana law, not him. "The regulation violates the statute. The statute allows for caregiving. The regulation does not," he said. And the state Health Department knows what he is up to, he added.

New Mexico to Address Medical Marijuana Shortage, Adds New Conditions. Acknowledging that a shortage of medical marijuana exists in the state, the Department of Health Friday proposed increasing the number of plants and seedlings that licensed producers can grow and opening the application process to allow more producers to apply for licenses. There are only 23 licensed producers in the state, and demand is rising. Under the proposals announced Friday, producers would be able to boost their crop from a total of 150 plants and seedlings to as many as 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings. The state would also be looking to add another 12 producers to the list. The number of patients in the state jumped to more than 10,000 last year, an increase of 1,200 over the previous year. The department also announced it was adding Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases to the list of qualifying conditions to get into the program.

Solid Majority Favors Medical Marijuana in Iowa Poll. Nearly six out of 10 Iowans (59%) support legalizing medical marijuana, according to the latest Iowa Poll. But only 28% support legalization. Medical marijuana bills are introduced in the legislature every year, but have yet to go anywhere.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Moving in Ohio. A bill that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) remains alive after the House voted to concur in changes made to it in the Senate. Substitute House Bill 170, sponsored by Rep. Terry Boose (R-Norwalk) has an emergency clause and will go into effect immediately upon signature by Gov. John Kasich (R).

Good Samaritan 911 Bill Moving in Georgia. A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution on drug charges for people who seek emergency treatment for drug overdose victims has passed the House. House Bill 965, also known as the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law, now awaits action in the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill Gets Hearing in Maryland. A bill that would require police to report the type of property seized, the crime with which it is supposedly linked, and the disposition of any related criminal cases has been heard in the Maryland Senate. Senate Bill 468, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Shank (R-Washington County), got a hearing last week in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but no vote was taken.

International

Mexican Police Arrest 40 in Pro-El Chapo Guzman Demonstration in Culiacan. Police in Culiacan, Sinaloa, arrested about 40 people Sunday who were planning to demonstrate in support of captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. About 150 supporters had gathered at the shrine to Jesus Malverde, informal patron saint of drug traffickers, in Culiacan, and about 40 were arrested when they refused to disperse. Some shouted "Long live Chapo." More than a thousand people marched for Guzman in Culiacan last week, and police wanted to prevent a repeat of signs of public support.

Drug Reformers Head to New Zealand for Conference on Regulating Legal Highs. Drug reformers from around the globe are heading to Auckland later this month to discuss the Psychoactive Substances Act and advocate further drug reform. The Pathway to Reform conference will take place on March 20.

Conservative Norwegian MP Charged in Hash Scandal Case. Erik Skutle, the Conservative Party member of parliament who took Prime Minister Erna Solberg's seat when she took the leadership position, has been charged with hashish use in a case that has embarrassed his "zero tolerance" political party. He was charged Thursday, a day after he publicly proposed decriminalizing cannabis possession as the scandal emerged. But it looks like he will retain his seat in parliament.

Chronicle AM -- February 24, 2014

Marijuana politics continues to dominate the drug news, but meanwhile, the FDA has banned its first tobacco product, the DEA wants you to snitch out pain pill abusers, Delaware makes diverting a pain pill a felony -- and speaking of Delaware and diversion, someone has been diverting Oxycontin from the medical examiner's office, and more. Let's get to it:

Indian-style "bidi" cigarettes -- been banned by the FDA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bankers Still Leery Over Doing Marijuana Business. Although the federal government has issued new guidelines designed to ease their fears, financial institutions need to be convinced that they will not be prosecuted should they open accounts for marijuana businesses. "As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions," said Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association. While he appreciates the effort by the feds, "that doesn't alter the underlying challenge for banks," he added.

Governors Not Too Keen on Legalization. The nation's governors gathered for the National Governors' Association meeting over the weekend, and they were generally not eager to follow Colorado and Washington down the path toward legalization. They worried about the kids and public safety, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) counseled them to go slow.

Zero Tolerance DUID Bill Introduced in California. Assemblymen Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable amount of THC in one's blood. The bill is Assembly Bill 2500. Correa introduced a similar measure last year, but it was defeated.

Forty Maine Lawmakers Urge Consideration of Marijuana Legalization. On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee. The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana. "All options should be on the table," Rep. Russell stated in the memo. "In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use."

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in Florida. Rep. Randolph Bracy (D-Orange County) last Thursday introduced a legalization bill, House Bill 1039. No word yet on where it's headed.

Maryland Marijuana Reform Measures Get Hearings Tuesday. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold hearings on a legalization bill and a decriminalization bill Tuesday. The legalization bill is Senate Bill 658, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery). The decriminalization bill is Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Plurality for Legalization. A new Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization at 49%, with 43% opposed. Of those opposed, 48% support decriminalization. That means support for decrim is over 70%.

Medical Marijuana

Big Majority for Medical Marijuana in Ohio. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 87% in the Buckeye State.

Utah CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee. A bill that would allow children with epilepsy to use high-CBD cannabis oil passed the House Law Enforcement Committee on an 8-2 vote last Thursday. House Bill 105 now heads to the House floor.

Prescription Drugs

Delaware Law Makes Taking Your Brother's Pain Pills a Felony. A bill drafted by state Attorney General Beau Biden in a bid to stop illegal prescription drug use makes it a felony for a family member or health care professional to divert prescription medications. Offenders will also be placed on a scarlet letter list, the Adult Abuse Registry. House Bill 154 was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell (D) last week.

Law Enforcement

Missing Dope Scandal at Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. Drugs sent to the Medical Examiner's Office for testing between 2010 and 2012 have gone missing, sometimes replaced with fakes, investigators said Saturday. At least 15 drug cases have been flagged as having tainted or missing evidence, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg. Almost all of the cases involve Oxycontin. The Medical Examiner's Office has quit doing drug analysis for the time being as the investigation continues.

Jury Awards $2.3 Million to Family of Georgia Pastor Killed By Narcs. A federal jury has awarded $2.3 million to the wife of Jonathan Ayers, a Georgia pastor gunned down by plainclothes narcotics officers as he attempted to flee from them at a gas station. They were investigating a woman who had allegedly sold $50 worth of cocaine, and saw her in his car. The narcs jumped out at Ayers and he attempted to flee, slightly striking one of them. They then shot him nine times, killing him. Read Radley Balko's complete piece at the link above to get all the hideous details.

DEA Wants You to Rat Out Suspected Pain Pill Abusers. The DEA is rolling out a new text-messaging system to report illegal prescription drug use and sales. Pilot programs are underway in Philadelphia and Georgia. The federal agency is also distributing pamphlets to 1,200 Atlanta-area pharmacies to encourage the use of the reporting system.

Tobacco

FDA Bans First Tobacco Product. For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used its regulatory powers to ban a tobacco product. The agency moved against "bidis," a style of cigarette from India. Banned are Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone, which are manufactured by Jash International. FDA used its authority under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to ban them as "not substantially equivalent" to tobacco products sold as of February 15, 2007.

Harm Reduction

Georgia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. A 911 Good Samaritan bill (House Bill 965) and a naloxone access bill (House Bill 966) are moving in the legislature. The former passed out of the House Rules Committee Monday and is set for a floor vote tomorrow, while the later goes before the Rules Committee tomorrow. It's time to call your representatives, says Georgia Overdose Prevention.

Buffalo Police to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in Buffalo, New York, are the latest law enforcement personnel to begin carrying naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, with them in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. "We've seen a nationwide epidemic of heroin overdoses. It's hitting Buffalo. It's hitting the suburbs," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. "Basically, if somebody's overdosing, this could save their life."

International

Italian Harm Reductionists Call for Thorough Review of Drug Policies. The Italian Harm Reduction Association (ITARDD) issued an open letter Monday calling on politicians and the state to engage in a national dialogue about drug policy that includes harm reduction. The group also called for control over drug policy to be taken from the Anti-Drug Policy Department and be put in the hands of the health and welfare ministries.

Belgian Socialists Adopt Marijuana Legalization Plank. The Belgian socialist party SP.A (the Flemish socialist party) narrowly adopted a proposal by its Young Socialist section to legalize marijuana. The move came at the party's congress in Brussels, ahead of elections set for May 25.

Jamaica Governing Party Legislative Leader Hints Decriminalization is Coming. Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Phillip Paulwell signaled that decriminalization is coming to Jamaica this year. "It is my view that decriminalization of the weed will become a reality this (calendar) year, arising from the parliamentary debate and the support by the majority of the members, I believe it will be approved this year." But legalization is out of the question for now, he added.

Chronicle AM -- February 21, 2014

Marijuana legalization in the District of Columbia hits a bump, the Epilepsy Foundation comes out for medical marijuana, India passes landmark access to pain medication legislation, and more. Let's get to it:

"Big Plans, Little Brains." Canada's criminally cretinous Trailer Park Boys fight marijuana legalization in their latest flick.
Marijuana Policy

DC's Top Lawyer Says Proposed Legalization Ordinance Can't Go to Voters. District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan issued a formal opinion yesterday saying the proposed DC marijuana legalization initiative should not go before the voters because it violates federal law. His opinion is not binding, but carries weight with the Board of Elections, which meets on the issue next Tuesday. Initiative backers are scrambling to see if they can't fix the language in question before then.

New Mexico House Approves Study of Legalization Effects. The state House late Wednesday passed a nonbinding memorial (bill) that calls for studying the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. Under the measure, the Legislative Finance Committee would conduct the study and report its findings later this year. The committee will be looking specifically at state revenue and agricultural production levels as well as addiction rates and the availability of law enforcement resources. The bill is House Memorial 38.

Medical Marijuana

Epilepsy Foundation Calls for Access to Medical Marijuana, Tells DEA to Back Off. "The Epilepsy Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana. Nothing should stand in the way of patients gaining access to potentially life-saving treatment," said Epilepsy Foundation President and CEO Philip M. Gattone and Epilepsy Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Warren Lammert. "If a patient and their healthcare professionals feel that the potential benefits of medical marijuana for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then families need to have that legal option now -- not in five years or ten years. For people living with severe uncontrolled epilepsy, time is not on their side." The foundation said it was moved to act after getting repeated inquiries about the use of medical marijuana, especially high CBD cannabis oils. It also urged the DEA to get out of the way. Click on the link to read the press release.

New Jersey Patients Air Grievances Before Assembly Committee. Medical marijuana patients and advocates got a chance to lay out their problems with the state's medical marijuana program Thursday at a hearing of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee. Click on the link to get all the details.

Maryland Medical Marijuana Program Still 18 Months Away, Official Says. Dr. Paul Davies, head of the commission set up to oversee the implementation of a medical marijuana program told lawmakers Thursday that the initiative is at least 18 months away from offering pain relief to the first patients. And that's the best-case scenario.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone (Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug) Bills Move in Ohio, Wisconsin. Bills that would expand access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) are moving in Ohio and Wisconsin. The Christian Science Monitor mentions these bills in a broader article on states moving to respond opioid overdoses. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

International

India's Rajya Sabha Passes Bill to Increase Access to Opiate Pain Medications. India's parliament has passed a bill that will ease access to opiate pain medications. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2014, was passed by the Rajya Sabha, or upper house Friday. It had passed the Lok Sabha, or lower house, the day before. The law will bring relief to thousands of cancer patients in the country who use opiates for acute and chronic pain relief. It had been pushed by the Indian Association for Palliative Care, among other groups.

Canadian Pro-Legalization Group Seeks Candidates to Support in Next Year's Elections. A new organization, Legalize Canada, has popped-up with the intent of "supporting strong and vocal pro-legalization candidates for public office" in the 2015 federal election. The group said it had identified 95 to 100 ridings (legislative districts) out of 338 in the country where support for legalization could be a critical, election-winning issue. The group says it is aiming for a $7 million budget.

Canada's Trailer Park Boys Say Don't Legalize It. Canada's cult TV and movie phenomenon, Trailer Park Boys, is back with a new sequel, Trailer Park Boys 3: Don't Legalize It. Ricky, Julian, Bubbles, and the rest of the crew have too much invested in their latest criminal pot growing scheme to put up with legal weed.

Seven Killed in Philippines Drug Raid. Philippines anti-drug police killed seven suspected drug dealers and arrested several more in a Friday raid on the outskirts of Davao City. "They put up a fight and were killed in the process," Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said here when asked about the deaths. Duterte has long been suspected of being behind extrajudicial killings in Davao City, an accusation the Aquino administration ally has repeatedly denied.

Chronicle AM -- February 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Synthetic Drugs

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

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- February 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.

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