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Press Release: Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act Introduced Yesterday in Congress

[Courtesy of Americans for Safe Access] For Immediate Release: April 18, 2008 Contact: ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson (510) 388-0546 Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act Introduced Yesterday in Congress HR 5842 would reschedule marijuana for medical use, end federal interference in state laws Washington, D.C. -- Congressional Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the "Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act," HR 5842, yesterday, a bill co-sponsored by Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Ron Paul (R-TX). The act would change federal policy on medical marijuana in a number of ways. Specifically, HR 5842 would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug, which cannot be prescribed, to a Schedule II drug, which would recognize the medical value of marijuana and create a regulatory framework for the FDA to begin a drug approval process for marijuana. The act would also prevent interference by the federal government in any local or state run medical marijuana program. Similar versions of HR 5842 have been introduced in prior Congressional terms, but have never made it out of committee. "It's time that the federal government take this issue seriously," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a nationwide medical marijuana advocacy group working with Mr. Frank and other Members of Congress to change federal policy. "By disregarding marijuana's medical efficacy, and undermining efforts to implement state laws, the federal government is willfully placing hundreds of thousands of sick Americans in harms way." In addition to rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), HR 5842 would provide protection from the CSA and the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) for qualified patients and caregivers in states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Specifically, the act prevents the CSA and FDCA from prohibiting or restricting: (1) a physician from prescribing or recommending marijuana for medical use, (2) an individual from obtaining, possessing, transporting within their state, manufacturing, or using marijuana in accordance with their state law, (3) an individual authorized under State law from obtaining, possessing, transporting within their state, or manufacturing marijuana on behalf of an authorized patient, or (4) an entity authorized under local or State law to distribute medical marijuana to authorized patients from obtaining, possessing, or distributing marijuana to such authorized patients. In December, U.S. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers stated publicly his concern about the tactics being used by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and promised oversight hearings. Since then, several California mayors have written to Conyers expressing their support for hearings, including the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, West Hollywood, and Santa Cruz. Opposition to federal interference in state medical marijuana laws has also come from multiple city councils, members of the California Board of Equalization and the state legislature, as well as New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Further information: Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, HR 5842: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/HR5842.pdf ASA Fact Sheet on the Escalation of Harmful DEA Tactics: http://americansforsafeaccessnow.org/downloads/dea_escalation.pdf December 2007 Statement by House Judiciary Chair John Conyers: http://judiciary.house.gov/newscenter.aspx?A=889 Letter from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to Conyers: http://www.americansforsafeaccessnow.org/downloads/Newsom_Letter_to_Cony... Letter from NM Governor Richardson to President GW Bush: http://safeaccessnow.org/downloads/richardson_letter.pdf # # #
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Washington, DC
United States

Press Release: Congressman Frank Introduces Federal Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

[Courtesy of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy] For Immediate Release: April 17, 2008 Contact: Whitney A. Taylor, (617) 901-7765 Congressman Frank Introduces Federal Marijuana Decriminalization Bill CSMP Applauds Effort and Symmetry with Proposed Statewide Ballot Initiative Boston, April 17 — The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) today applauded U.S. Rep. Barney Frank's (D-4th MA) introduction of federal marijuana decriminalization legislation that parallels CSMP's statewide effort to create sound marijuana policies. Last month Frank announced his intention to reform smalltime marijuana penalties – a position shared by the majority of Massachusetts voters – during an appearance on HBO’s "Real Time with Bill Maher." Following through with that commitment, today Frank introduced "The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008" — which would change federal law to remove federal penalties for the personal possession of up to 100 grams and not-for-profit transfer of up to 28.3 grams of marijuana, and make public consumption of marijuana punishable by a $100 fine. "The Massachusetts Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy is proud to be moving forward on the state level to create a sound marijuana policy while Congressman Frank tackles this issue in the nation’s capital," said Whitney A. Taylor, CSMP campaign manager. "The people of Massachusetts are ready for a proven, practical marijuana policy, which is reflected in the efforts of both Congressman Frank and CSMP." While not as far reaching as Frank's proposal to change federal law, CSMP's initiative will greatly reduce the human and financial costs of current laws by creating a civil penalty system for possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana. According to Harvard economist Dr. Jeff Miron, Massachusetts’ taxpayers spend $29.5 million a year just to arrest and book offenders who possess about 28 grams or less of marijuana. This arrest can result in up to six months in jail and a $500 fine, but more costly is the creation of a criminal record — or CORI — for these offenders. A CORI can essentially mean a lifetime of punishment, making an individual ineligible for student loans, creating barriers to employment, and banning smalltime marijuana violators from many housing opportunities, Taylor said. Last year, over 7,500 Bay Staters received a CORI and endless barriers to a successful life for personal possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. "This commonsense approach to marijuana possession will create huge savings, both human and financial," Taylor said. "Thousands of individuals will be able to move on to lead productive lives, while over $29 million a year can stay in local community coffers — it is a win-win for Massachusetts." ###
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Boston, MA
United States

Press Release: Barney Frank Introduces Bold Reform of Federal Marijuana Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: APRIL 17, 2008

Barney Frank Introduces Bold Reform of Federal Marijuana Laws MPP Praises Bill as "Major Step Toward Sanity"

CONTACT: Dan Bernath, MPP assistant director of communications, 202-462-5747 ext. 115

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Officials of the Marijuana Policy Project praised the "Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008," introduced today by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), as an important step toward bringing federal law into line with scientific fact, practical reality and public opinion.

    "Congressman Frank's bill represents a major step toward sanity in federal marijuana policy," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "The decades-long federal war on marijuana protects no one and in fact has ruined countless lives. Most Americans do not believe that simple possession of a small amount of marijuana should be a criminal matter, and it's time Congress listened to the voters."

    Frank's bill would remove federal criminal penalties for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana and the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana. It would not change marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, and would not change federal laws prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana, sale of marijuana for profit, or import or export of marijuana. It also would not affect any state or local marijuana laws or regulations.

    An October 2005 Gallup poll found that 55 percent of voters believe "possession of small amounts of marijuana ... should not be treated as a criminal offense," while only 43 percent believed marijuana possession should be a criminal matter. Eleven states treat possession of a small amount of marijuana as a relatively minor offense – often a civil infraction rather than a criminal offense – that generally does not involve arrest and jail. In Alaska, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in the home is legal, protected by the right to privacy guaranteed by the state constitution.

    "In fact, federal prosecution of individuals for possession of a small amount of marijuana is extremely rare," said Houston. "Congressman Frank's bill would bring federal law into line with this reality, as well as with the undisputable scientific fact that marijuana is far safer than legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol."

    With more than 23,000 members and 180,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

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United States

Bill introduced in Congress to decriminalize marijuana!

[Courtesy of Marijuana Policy Project] 

Today, a bill to eliminate all federal penalties for marijuana possession was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Would you please take one minute to ask your U.S. representative to support this bill? MPP’s easy online action system makes it simple — just enter your name and contact info and we'll do the rest.

"The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008," introduced by Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would eliminate the threat of arrest and prison for the possession of up to 3.5 ounces of marijuana and/or the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana. It would not affect federal laws prohibiting selling marijuana for profit, importing and exporting marijuana, or cultivating marijuana.  It also would not affect any state or local laws and regulations.

Because almost all marijuana arrests are made by local and state police, the primary impact of this federal bill is twofold:  First, it would offer protection to people who are apprehended with marijuana in federal buildings or on federal land (such as national parks); and, second, the bill sends a message to state governments that the federal government is now open to the notion of states reducing their marijuana penalties, too.

This historic legislation comes 36 years after the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse made a similar recommendation to President Richard Nixon, suggesting that he decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

MPP has worked closely with Congressman Frank’s staff over the last year, helping to craft the legislation and build political support for the proposal on Capitol Hill.

Now that the bill has been introduced, members of Congress need to hear from their constituents who want to see it passed. It takes only a minute or two to use MPP’s online action system to send a quick note to your member of the House.

Thanks so much for your help.

Sincerely,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Marijuana: Barney Frank Introduces Federal Decriminalization Bill

Last month, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) announced he would file a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession at the federal level. Wednesday, Frank followed through, introducing the "The Personal Use of Marijuana By Responsible Adults Act of 2008," which would set a maximum $100 fine under federal law for possession or not-for-profit transfer of less than 100 grams of marijuana.

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Barney Frank
Frank did not comment publicly this week on the proposed legislation, but in a statement last month on his marijuana legislation, Frank said it was a waste of federal time and resources to prosecute minor marijuana offenses.

"I think it is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime behavior the government does not seriously wish to prosecute," he said. "For highly-trained federal law enforcement agents to spend time prosecuting people for smoking marijuana is a diversion of scarce resources from their job of protecting public safety."

Marijuana laws should be left to the states, he suggested. "The norm in America is for the states to decide whether particular behaviors should be made criminal. To make the smoking of marijuana one of those extremely rare instances of federal crime -- to make a 'federal case' out of it -- is wholly disproportionate to the activity involved. We do not have federal criminal prohibitions against drinking alcoholic beverages, and there are generally no criminal penalties for the use of tobacco at the state and federal levels for adults. There is no rational argument for treating marijuana so differently from these other substances."

Even if the Frank bill were to pass, which seems unlikely any time in the near future, it would have limited impact on the 800,000-plus marijuana arrests each year since the vast majority of them are made by state and local law enforcement. But it would send a very strong signal to the states that the federal government no longer considered pot-smoking a serious problem worthy of the criminal justice system.

Barney Frank Introduces Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Via MPP (sorry no link):
"The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008," introduced by Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would eliminate the threat of arrest and prison for the possession of up to 3.5 ounces of marijuana and/or the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana. It would not affect federal laws prohibiting selling marijuana for profit, importing and exporting marijuana, or cultivating marijuana. It also would not affect any state or local laws and regulations.

Because almost all marijuana arrests are made by local and state police, the primary impact of this federal bill is twofold: First, it would offer protection to people who are apprehended with marijuana in federal buildings or on federal land (such as national parks); and, second, the bill sends a message to state governments that the federal government is now open to the notion of states reducing their marijuana penalties, too.

This historic legislation comes 36 years after the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse made a similar recommendation to President Richard Nixon, suggesting that he decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
Congress can send the right message by passing this bill and demonstrating its commitment to defending individual freedom, while focusing federal law-enforcement resources on real crimes. As Barney Frank argues:
"I do not believe that the federal government should treat adults who choose to smoke marijuana as criminals. Federal law enforcement is a serious business, and we should be concentrating our efforts in this regard on measures that truly protect the public."
Despite bi-partisan co-sponsorship (Ron Paul, of course), I'm kinda not expecting this thing to become law anytime soon, but it will be fun to see who our friends are. Any debate over the bill will just reveal the idiocy of those in Congress who want federal law enforcement agents busting hippies for half-eighths, instead of defending the homeland from terrorists, zombies, and dancing libertarians.

Let it be known that one can stand for sensible drug policy without being voted out of Congress.
Location: 
United States

Marijuana: Barney Frank to Introduce Federal Decriminalization Bill

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) used a Friday night appearance on the HBO program "Real Time," hosted by Bill Maher, to announce that he planned to file a federal bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana this week. Frank, who has long been a supporter of marijuana law reform, said that federal law unfairly targets medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal. He also argued that decisions about whether to make marijuana illegal should be left up to the states.

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Barney Frank
Asked by Maher as to why he would push a pot decriminalization bill now, Frank said the American public has already decided that personal use of marijuana is not a problem. "I now think it's time for the politicians to catch up to the public," Frank said. "The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly. I'm going to call it the 'Make Room for Serious Criminals' bill."

Elaborating on his TV remarks in a Sunday interview with the Associated Press, the Massachusetts congressman said elected officials are lagging behind public opinion on the issue. "Do you really think people should be prosecuted for smoking marijuana? I don't think most people agree with that. It's one area where the public is ahead of the elected officials," Frank said. "It does not appear to me to be a law that society is serious about."

He seemed particularly irked by DEA raids and federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers in California. "I don't think smoking marijuana should be a federal case," he said. "There's no federal law against mugging."

A dozen states have already decriminalized marijuana possession, with the New Hampshire House voting to approve such a measure last week. But the Granite State bill is opposed by state Senate leaders and the governor.

Rep. Frank's bill had not appeared on the Congressional web site as of Thursday afternoon.

Law Enforcement: Senate Votes to Restore Byrne Drug Task Force Funding Program

The US Senate voted last Friday to restore funding to the federal grant program that pays for the multi-jurisdictional state and local anti-drug task forces that roam the land enforcing the drug laws. The Bush administration's Fiscal Year 2009 budget had zeroed out appropriations for the program, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program.

Funded at $520 million in Fiscal Year 2007, the two-decade old program that allows states to supplement their anti-drug spending with federal tax dollars was already down substantially from previous funding levels. For the past three years, as a cost-cutting move, the Bush administration has tried to zero it out completely, but that has proven extremely unpopular with Congress. In December, as it sought to pass the FY 2008 budget, the House voted to fund the block grant portion of the program at $600 million and the Senate at $660 million, but in last-minute budget negotiations, the White House insisted the funding be cut.

For FY 2009, the Bush administration again zeroed out appropriations for the JAG program, instead allocating $200 million for a combined federal grants program. But it is up against a powerful law enforcement lobby that has mobilized to restore funding. Democrat politicians eager to appear "tough on crime" have been especially vulnerable to such appeals.

It was two Democrats, Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Diane Feinstein of California, along with Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who cosponsored an amendment to the 2009 budget that would fund the Byrne JAG program at $906 million, far above the levels of recent years.

"Day in and day out, communities depend on our law enforcement professionals to keep them safe and be fully prepared to respond in emergencies," Feingold said. "The dedicated service they provide cannot happen without support from the federal government. We must provide adequate funding for successful programs like the COPS program and the Byrne program in order to provide the tools, technology, and training our law enforcement professionals need to protect our communities," he said.

"Unfortunately, the president's proposal to cut funding for these successful crime-fighting programs is nothing new," Feingold said. "Congress has rightly rejected the President's cuts to these programs in the past, and I'm working with my colleagues to include this critical funding in the 2009 budget."

Despite the demagoguery and the Senate vote, a reinvigorated Byrne JAG grant program is not yet a done deal. The House must also vote to approve funding, and if the White House follows the direction it has taken in recent years, it will once again oppose any expansive new funding -- as it successfully did in December.

Drug Overdose Deaths Are Going Through the Roof -- Is Anybody Watching?

According to a little noticed January report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drug overdoses killed more than 33,000 people in 2005, the last year for which firm data are available. That makes drug overdose the second leading cause of accidental death, behind only motor vehicle accidents (43,667) and ahead of firearms deaths (30,694).

What's more disturbing is that the 2005 figures are only the latest in such a seemingly inexorable increase in overdose deaths that the eras of the 1970s heroin epidemic and the 1980s crack wave pale in comparison. According to the CDC, some 10,000 died of overdoses in 1990; by 1999, that number had hit 20,000; and in the six years between then and 2005, it increased by more than 60%.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/naloxone.jpg
naloxone, the opiate overdose antidote
"The death toll is equivalent to a hundred 757s crashing and killing everybody on board every year, but this doesn't make the news," said Dan Bigg of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, a harm reduction organization providing needle exchange and other services to drug users. "So many people have died, and we just don't care."

Fortunately, some people care. Harm reductionists like Bigg, some public health officials, and a handful of epidemiologists, including those at the CDC, have been watching the up-trend with increasing concern, and some drug policy reform organizations are devoting some energy to measures that could bring those numbers down.

But as youth sociologist and long-time critic of the drug policy establishment's overweening fascination with teen drug use Mike Males noted back in February, the official and press response to the CDC report has been "utter silence." That's because the wrong people are dying, Males argued: "Erupting drug abuse centered in middle-aged America is killing tens of thousands and hospitalizing hundreds of thousands every year, destroying families and communities, subjecting hundreds of thousands of children to abuse and neglect and packing foster care systems to unmanageable peaks, fostering gun violence among inner-city drug dealers, inciting an epidemic of middle-aged crime and imprisonment costing Americans tens of billions of dollars annually, and now creating a spin-off drug abuse epidemic among teens and young adults. Yet, because today's drug epidemic is mainly white middle-aged adults -- a powerful population that is "not supposed to abuse drugs" -- the media and officials can't talk about it. The rigid media and official rule: Drugs can ONLY be discussed as crises of youth and minorities."

The numbers are there to back up Males' point. Not only are Americans dying of drug overdoses in numbers never seen before, it is the middle-aged -- not the young -- who are doing most of the dying. And they are not, for the most part, overdosing on heroin or cocaine, but on Oxycontin, Lorcet, and other opioids created for pain control but often diverted into the lucrative black market created by prohibition.

Back in October, CDC epidemiologist Leonard Paulozzi gave Congress a foretaste of what the January report held. Drug death "rates are currently more than twice what they were during the peak years of crack cocaine mortality in the early 1990s, and four to five times higher than the rates during the year of heroin mortality peak in 1975," he said in testimony before the House Oversight and Investigations Committee.

"Mortality statistics suggest that these deaths are largely due to the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs," Paulozzi continued. "Such statistics are backed up by studies of the records of state medical examiners. Such studies consistently report that a high percentage of people who die of prescription drug overdoses have a history of substance abuse."

But there is more to it than a mere correlation between increases in the prescribing and abuse of opioid pain relievers and a rising death rate, said Dr. Alex Kral, director of the Urban Health Program for RTI International, a large nonprofit health organization. Kral, who has been doing epidemiological research on opioid overdoses for 15 years, said there are a variety of factors at work.

"There hasn't been a big increase in heroin use," he said. "What's changed has been prescription opiate drug use. Oxycontin is probably a big part of the answer. The pharmaceutical companies have come up with good and highly useful versions of opioids, but they have also been diverted and used in illicit ways in epidemic fashion for the past 15 years."

But Kral also pointed the finger at the resort to mass imprisonment and forced treatment of drug offenders as a contributing factor. "What happens is that people who are opiate users go into prison or jail and they get off the drug, but when they come out and start using again, they use at the same levels as before, and they don't have the same kind of tolerance. We know that recent release from jail or prison is a big risk factor for overdose," he said.

"The last piece of the puzzle is drug treatment," Kral said. "Besides the tolerance problems for people who have been abstaining in treatment, there has been an increase in the use of methadone and buprenorphine, which is a good thing, but people are managing to overdose on those as well."

There are means of reducing the death toll, said a variety of harm reductionists, and the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) was mentioned by all of them. Naloxone is a big part of the answer, said the Chicago Recovery Alliance's Bigg. "It's been around for 40 years, it's a pure antidote, and it has no side effects. It consistently reverses overdoses via intramuscular injection; it's very simple to administer. If people have naloxone, it becomes much, much easier to avoid overdose deaths."

"Naloxone should be made available over the counter without a prescription," said Bigg. "In the meantime, every time a physician prescribes opioids, he should also prescribe naloxone."

"For a couple of years now, we've been talking about trying to get naloxone reclassified so it's available over the counter or maybe prescribed by a pharmacist," said Hilary McQuie, Western director for the Harm Reduction Coalition. "The problem is that you don't just need congressional activity, you also need to deal with the FDA process, and it's hard to find anyone in the activist community who understands that process."

Harm reductionists also have to grapple with the changing face of drug overdoses. "We're used to dealing with injection drug users," McQuie admitted, "and nobody really has a good initiative for dealing with prescription drug users. In our lobbying meetings about the federal needle exchange funding ban, we've started to talk about this, specifically about getting naloxone out there."

But while the overdose epidemic weighs heavily on the movement, no one wants to spend money to bring the numbers down. "This is a very big issue, it's very present for harm reduction workers," said McQuie. "But we haven't done a lot of press on it because there is no funding for overdose prevention. We have a very good program in San Francisco to train residential hotel managers and drug users at needle exchanges. It's very cheap; it only cost $70,000, including naloxone. But we can't get funders interested in this. We write grants to do this sort of work around the state, and we never get any money."

Perversely, the Office of National Drug Control Policy also opposes making naloxone widely available -- on the grounds that it is a moral hazard. "First of all, I don't agree with giving an opioid antidote to non-medical professionals. That's No. 1," ONDCP's Deputy Director of Demand Reduction Bertha Madras said in January. "I just don't think that's good public health policy."

But even worse, Madras argued that availability of naloxone could encourage drug users to keep using because they would be less afraid of overdoses. And besides, Madras, continued, overdosing may be just what the doctor ordered for drug users. "Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services," Madras said.

"The drug czar's office argues that if you take away the potential consequences, in this case, a fatal overdose, you facilitate the use, but betting someone's life on that is just cruel and bizarre," snorted Bigg.

RTI's Kral noted that there are now 44 naloxone programs run by community groups across the country. "It would be wonderful if there were more of them, because they are staving off a lot of deaths, but they are controversial. The ONDCP says they condone drug use, but you can't rehabilitate a dead drug user."

While battles over naloxone access continue, said Bigg, there are other things that can be done. "We need to engage people, and that means overcoming shame," said Bigg. "Every couple of months, I get a call from a family that has lost a member to drugs and I ask them if they're willing to come forward and talk to reporters to stop it from happening again, and they say 'let me think about it,' and I never hear from them again.

Another means of reducing the death toll would be to start local organizations of people whose friends or family members have died or are still using and at risk. "We could call them 'First Things First,' as in first, let's keep our folks alive," he suggested.

"When people found out naloxone is out there, that it's this medicine that has no ill effects -- it has no effect at all unless you're using opioids -- and that it can't be abused, and that their family member could have had it and still be alive, that's a hard thing to realize," said Bigg. "Everyone who has lost a loved one wants him back, and to think he could still be alive today if there were naloxone is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow."

Despite the apparent low profile of drug policy reform groups, they, too, have been fighting on the overdose front. "We worked to pass groundbreaking overdose prevention bills in California and New Mexico," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We're working to advance overdose prevention bills in Maryland and New Jersey. We had a bill in 2006 in Congress that would have created a federal grant program for overdose prevention," he said, pointedly adding that not a single federal dollar goes to overdose prevention. "We've tried to introduce that in the new Congress but can't find someone to take a lead. To be frank, few politicians care about this issue. Their staff care even less."

A massive public education campaign is needed, said Piper, adding that DPA is working on a report on this very topic that should appear in a few weeks.

In the meantime, while politicians and drug war bureaucrats avert their gaze and deep-pocketed potential donors keep their purses tightly closed, while the nation worries about baseball players on steroids and teenagers smoking pot, the bodies pile up like cordwood.

Prisoner Re-Entry: Congress Passes Second Chance Act, Bill Goes to President Bush

Three years after it was first introduced, the Senate Tuesday evening passed the Second Chance Act, a measure aimed at reducing prison populations and corrections costs by reducing the recidivism rate among people released from prison. The bill would provide federal funding to develop programs dealing with job training, substance abuse, family stability, and for employers who hire former prisoners.

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overcrowded prison dorm, California
Nearly 700,000 people a year are released from state and federal prisons, according to Justice Department statistics. If drug offenders, who make up about one-quarter of the prison population, are released in roughly the same proportion, that means about 175,000 drug offenders will benefit from the program each year.

Currently, an estimated two-thirds of released prisoners will find themselves in trouble with the law at some point in the future. The bill is designed to reduce that percentage.

Although the bill had passed the House in November, it had been stalled ever since by a legislative "hold" put on it by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who had expressed a number of concerns about it, including some on the cost and effectiveness of the program. He lifted his "hold" Monday night. On Tuesday, it passed both the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Senate floor vote by unanimous consent.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill shortly.

The bill will provide about $360 million for re-entry services in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. In addition to services already mentioned, the bill provides for assistance to newly released prisoners in obtaining proper identification and mandates that the federal Bureau of Prisons provide prisoners with adequate supplies of their medications upon their release.

Passage of the bill should stimulate a broader discussion of sentencing and alternatives to incarceration, said Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), one of the bill's main architects. "We add this up and the impact will be far greater than just the amount of money that gets appropriated. We know it's not a panacea," he said. "It's not close to any kind of panacea but our hope is this becomes a sort of trigger for a great deal of additional action."

There was bipartisan support for the bill, with conservative Republicans like Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback joining with Democrats to win passage. "I am very pleased that my Senate colleagues were able to pass legislation that will help combat the high rates of prisoner recidivism in America," said Brownback, who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. "Everybody -- the ex-offender, the ex-offender's family, and society at large -- benefits from programs that equip prisoners with the proper tools to successfully reintegrate into life outside of the prison walls. I am hopeful that with this legislation we will begin to see tangible results as governments and nonprofit organizations work together to help ex-offenders."

"It is vitally important that we do everything we can to ensure that, when people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society, so we can start to reverse the dangerous cycles of recidivism and violence," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), another co-sponsor. "I hope that the Second Chance Act will help us begin to break that cycle."

"The Second Chance Act will provide an opportunity for realistic rehabilitation for the more than 650,000 inmates who return to their communities each year," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), another co-sponsor. "The bill's focus on education, job training, and substance abuse treatment is essential to decreasing the nationwide recidivism rate of 66%."

Now, if Congress would only do something about keeping drug offenders out of prison in the first place.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School

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