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A Maryland Lawmaker's Paradigm-Shifting Approach to the Heroin and Pain Pill Crisis [FEATURE]

With nearly 47,000 Americans dying of drug overdoses in 2014 -- more than from gunshots or car crashes -- the problem of heroin and prescription opioid (pain pill) addiction is getting well-deserved attention. From community town halls to state capitals, as well as in Congress and on the rival presidential campaigns, the crisis is spawning demands for solutions.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/dan-morhaim-180px.jpg
Dan Morhaim
The response, in general, has been more sympathetic than to earlier waves of hard drug use, such as heroin in the 1960s or crack cocaine in the 1980s, which brought down the harsh drug war policies of Nixon and Reagan. Now, there are more calls for drug treatment than for further law enforcement crackdowns, police departments are carrying overdose reversal drugs, and public health agencies are taking on a more prominent role.

But addicts continue to be arrested, with all the deleterious consequences that entails, and, when it comes to policy, the problem of addiction remains largely in the realm of criminal justice. Harm reduction practices proven in other parts of the world improve both the lives of drug users and those of the communities they live in continue to be shunted aside in the US.

That could change in at least one state. Veteran Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) has just introduced a paradigm-shifting package of bills that would begin to move the state's posture toward drug use from prohibition to public health and harm reduction. Morhaim, a practicing physician with three decades of frontline hospital ERs, brings to his approach a vision formed by that experience.

If enacted, Morhaim's package would mark a radical, but commonsensical, humane, and scientifically-supported shift in Maryland's drug policies. Here's what it includes:

  • Emergency Room Treatment on Demand. House Bill 908 provides treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings. The bill requires acute care hospitals to have a counselor available or on-call at all times and specified arrangements for transferring patients to appropriate treatment settings. Addicted patients make up a large percentage of uninsured visits to ERs, making them an ideal place for initial therapeutic contact.
  • Safe Consumption Sites. House Bill 1212 allows individuals to use drugs in approved facilities while supervised by trained staff who also provide sterile equipment, monitor the person for overdose and offer treatment referrals. Similar on-going programs in Australia, Canada, and several European countries have eliminated overdose deaths, reduced the spread of disease, and provided points of accessto the most hard-to-reach drug users.
  • Drug Decriminalization. House Bill 1219 decriminalizes the possession and use of small quantities of drugs: one gram of meth or heroin, two grams of cocaine, 10 hits of MDMA, 150 micrograms of LSD. The object is to keep otherwise non-criminal drug users out of the criminal justice system, saving resources and avoiding saddling more residents with criminal records.
  • Heroin Maintenance. House Bill 1267 allows a four-year pilot study of "poly-morphone assisted treatment" with pharmaceutical grade opioids, including heroin, to treat under medical supervision a small number of hardcore users who have proven resistant to other forms of treatment. Ongoing heroin maintenance programs in several European countries have been shown to reduce illegal drug use, decrease crime, reduce the black market for heroin, and lead to less chaotic lives for their participants.

The package didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Morhaim's experiences in the ER, where he dealt not only with direct consequences of drug use -- overdoses, infections -- but also direct consequences of drug prohibition -- old women injured in muggings for black market drug money, the toll of dead and wounded in black market drug turf battles -- colored his approach.

"I'm a physician, not a prosecuting attorney," Morhaim told the Chronicle. "I come at this from a public health perspective. We talk about 'surges' to fight this and that, but what we haven't had in this country is a surge in the public health approach, real, substantive public health. This is different, and some will see it as controversial, but I'm comfortable with that. This is something that's really corroding the heart and soul of our society."

He wasn't alone.

"I've had a lot of conversations, and my district has generally been very supportive of these kind of innovative things. No negative feedback. There's a broad consensus that the war on drugs is a failure," Morhaim said. "People are really cognizant of that. And I'm an Emergency Room physician at a Level II trauma center, I've also done healthcare for the homeless. I've been on the front lines, seen the carnage, the death, the violence, and the way this affects the families, and I'm speaking from true experience, and people respect that."

Not only did Morhaim have support in his community, he had support from a strong group of advocates and experts.

"As things were coming to a head, Delegate Morhaim reached out to us at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)," said DPA staff attorney Lindsay LaSalle, who was involved in developing the proposals. "He said he felt like he could offer progressive solutions to the crisis and he wanted our subject matter expertise to help develop those proposals."

DPA, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), whose executive director, Neill Franklin, is a former Baltimore police officer, and the Open Society Foundations joined with academics, lawyers, doctors, and harm reductionists to develop and refine the policy proposals that became the bill package. Local institutions of higher learning, including the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University, had academics involved in the effort as well.

Passing the bills won't be easy, and it's not likely to happen this year, but Morhaim and his supporters are playing to win in the not-too-distant future.

"Dan is currently on the second year of a four year term," LaSalle said. "These bills were introduced strategically this term with the understanding that it would be a year of educating colleagues and generating positive media coverage. This is always a long game; we don't expect passage this year, but we hope to gain traction on one or more of these in the next two or three years."

"I've been in the legislature a long time, and I've learned you just have to be persistent, you listen and address concerns, maybe you accept an amendment to a bill," Morhaim said.

He pointed to the successful effort to get medical marijuana through the legislature.

"On that, people had suggestions, and we said let's fix it in the bill," he recalled. "Law enforcement didn't oppose it because I sat down and worked with them."

He also recalled legislative battles he had fought -- and won -- around smoking in restaurants and the use of safety seats for children.

"Banning smoking in restaurants seemed impossible in 1995, but now it's commonplace," he said. "The same with kids safety seats. Both of those were hard-fought on the political level, but when we talk to people, we can convince them. These things take time, but when you recognize what's not working, then you can explore what is. People are looking for answers."

Although Morhaim's package of bills is the most comprehensive, explicit harm reduction interventions are being considered in other places, too. California will see a safe consumption site bill introduced next week, and activists and officials in a number of cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle are laying the groundwork for such facilities at the local level.

"We're getting traction on these issues," said LaSalle. "Nevada was the first state with a heroin-assisted treatment bill, and while it didn't get out of committee, we had robust hearings, with international experts. And that California bill will be moving forward this session. Drug treatment and harm reduction don't always go hand in hand, but in this case the treatment community is cosponsoring or officially supporting safe consumption sites."

Meanwhile, some states are moving in the opposite direction. In Maine, the administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul Le Page (R) is seeking to reverse a law passed last year that defelonized drug possession. (The rambunctious Republican has also called for guillotining drug dealers, blamed black drug dealers for impregnating white Maine girls, and called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers.) And next door in New Hampshire, the attorney general wants to start charging heroin suppliers with murder in the event of fatal overdoses. Prosecutors in other states have also dusted off long-unused statutes to bring murder or manslaughter charges.

"We need to ask those people why they're doubling down on a failed policy," said LaSalle. "Why would this work now when it's just more of the same that's been in place for four decades, and now we have use and overdoses and Hep C increasing."

"I understand the impulse to 'Do Something!' in response, and because criminalization has been our go-to response, it seems logical that increasing penalties or prosecutions is a way to solve the problem, but we know, we have shown, that it is not. It's frustrating."

It can be worse than frustrating, too, LaSalle noted.

"Using murder charges as a whipping stick in the case of overdoses is really counterproductive," she said. "If the goal is to reduce overdoses, this is going to reduce the likelihood of anyone calling 911. Maybe they shared their stash, and if they could face murder charges, they now have a serious disincentive to call."

Clearly, the war on drugs is not over. But after half a century of relying predominantly on the forces of repression to deal with drug use, a new vision, both smarter and more humane, is emerging. Now comes the political fight to enact it.

Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Bill, ND Legalization Init, CA MedMJ Tax Bill, More... (2/11/16)

It's all marijuana news today, with a legalization bill filed in Connecticut, a legalization initiative filed in North Dakota, a medical marijuana tax bill filed in California, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) today introduced House Bill 5209, which would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana. Candelaria introduced a similar bill last year that went nowhere. "I'm going to be pushing very hard," Candelaria said. "I'm going to be engaging my leadership in conversation to at least allow a public hearing." Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said the same day he could only support medical marijuana. "That's as far as I'm comfortable going," the governor said.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Effort Gets Underway. A group of Libertarian-leaning North Dakotans filed a petition with the Secretary of State's office Wednesday seeking to put legalization on the ballot this year. The initiative would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana, and it would bar the state from requiring a license to do so. If approved, the group will have until July 11 to gather 13,452 valid voter signatures.

Vermont Police Dogs No Longer Trained to Sniff Out Pot. With an eye toward looming marijuana legalization, Vermont police are no longer training their dogs to recognize the smell of marijuana. "The class that is going through right now is not being trained to alert on marijuana odor," said Robert Ryan, head of K-9 training at the Vermont Police Academy. "We started talking about it last year and we made the decision for this class not to do marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Elizabeth Warren Calls on CDC to Look at Marijuana as Response to Opioid Use. In a letter sent Monday, the Massachusetts Democratic senator asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research how medical and recreational marijuana might help alleviate the widespread use of opioids. She asked the agency "to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options," including marijuana. She also asked the CDC to collaborate with other federal agencies to research "the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths."

California Bill Would Impose 15% Tax on Medical Marijuana Sales. State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 987, which would impose the tax. "We made a commitment last year as we were working through the huge undertaking of setting statewide regulations for medical marijuana that we would follow up on a statewide excise tax," Senator McGuire said. "This needed revenue will make our communities stronger by focusing on the impacts of cultivation and use of marijuana, including funding local law enforcement and neighborhood improvement programs, state parks, drug and alcohol treatment and environmental rehabilitation." The new tax is expected to bring in more than $100 million a year in new revenues.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana bills are moving in Florida and Utah, and new bills are popping up as state legislatures get down to business.

Alabama

Last Thursday, a bill to expand access to CBD cannabis oil was introduced. Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison County) has introducedHouse Bill 61, which would expand access to CBD beyond a limited study program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The new bill would allow parents with a valid recommendation for CBD cannabis oil to possess it in the state.

Delaware

Last Thursday, a bill to allow CBD cannabinoid oil use by kids in school was introduced. Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) has filed Senate Bill 181, which would allow authorized caregivers to possess and administer CBD cannabis oil to pupils in school as needed.

Florida

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill reemerged. A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana has come out of hibernation in the House. After months on the sidelines, the bill, House Bill 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on a 9-2 vote. It now needs one more committee vote before heading for the House floor.

Iowa

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. State Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) filed a bill that would make it legal to grow medical marijuana, produce CBD cannabis oil, and create dispensaries. The bill is not yet on the legislative website. Republican lawmakers last year killed similar legislation.

South Dakota

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana initiative failed to make the ballot. A proposed initiative from New Approach South Dakota has come up short on signatures and will not qualify for the November ballot. The group needed nearly 14,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, but, based on a sampling of 5% of the 16,000 signatures handed it, state officials said only slightly more than half were valid, leaving the group with only 9,000 valid signatures. New Approach South Dakota has 30 days to challenge the findings.

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. State Sen. Angie Buhl O'Donnell has filed Senate Bill 167, which would legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons. The bill was filed one day after the deadline for filing new bills, but lawmakers agreed to waive the rules after state officials rejected a medical marijuana initiative for lack of valid signatures.

Utah

Last Friday, medical marijuana and CBD cannabis oil bills were on the move. Two medical marijuana-related bills are headed for the Senate floor after winning committee votes. Senate Bill 73, filed by Rep. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), would allow whole plant medical marijuana, while Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would expand on CBD cannabis legislation passed last year.

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

Chronicle AM: Historic Federal Drug Budget, 2015 CO MJ Sales Nearly $1 Billion, More... (2/10/16)

A marijuana legalizer wins a presidential election primary, Western states take up marijuana issues, the Obama administration balances demand and supply anti-drug spending in a historic first, and more.

Colorado sold nearly a billion in buds (and edibles) last year. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalizer Wins New Hampshire Democratic Primary. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) swept to victory in neighboring New Hampshire's Democratic election primary, defeating presumed frontrunner Hillary Clinton with 60% of the vote to Clinton's 39%. Sanders becomes the first presidential primary candidate to win a state while supporting marijuana legalization, a sign of the times.

Colorado Marijuana Sales at Almost a Billion Dollars Last Year. Medical and adult marijuana sales in the state totaled $996,184,788 last year, the Department of Revenue reported Tuesday. Those sales generated $135 million in taxes and fees for the state.

New Mexico Bill for Legalization Initiative Advances. If approved by the legislature, the measure would allow voters to vote in November on a constitutional amendment legalizing and regulating marijuana. The bill, SJR 6, sponsored by Sen. Geraldo Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque), was approved by the Senate Rules Committee today.

Oregon Bill to Let Out of State Investors Join Pot Businesses Advances. The bill, House Bill 4014, removes the two-year residency requirement for license applicants included in a law passed last year by the Legislature. The measure won a committee vote today and now heads for a House floor vote.

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have decriminalized small-time pot possession in the Cowboy State died in the House Tuesday. The measure, House Bill 3, filed by Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) died on a 21-37 vote. This is the third straight year decrim bills have been filed and then killed in the legislature.

Drug Policy

White House Drug Budget Makes History By Equalizing Demand and Supply Funding Levels. For the first time since the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), the proposed federal anti-drug budget balances spending on law enforcement and interdiction (supply) with spending on treatment and prevention (demand). The White House budget request released today seeks $15.8 billion for treatment and prevention and $15.3 billion for law enforcement, domestic and overseas. "The President's 2017 Budget calls for our country's largest investment in treating and preventing substance use disorders in history," said Michael Botticelli, Director of ONDCP. "By funding public health and public safety efforts at near-identical levels, this budget demonstrates the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to a balanced approach to drug policy. The Budget recognizes how important it is to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services so we can prevent youth substance use, provide treatment to those in need, and sustain long-term recovery."

International

Macedonia Medical Marijuana Measure Wins Committee Vote. The parliament's Health Committee Tuesday approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that would allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. The change is being proposed by the Ministry of Health, which said: "The need to change this law comes from the requests of patients who want to have the option to use naturally derived cannabis products, under strict supervision. The amendments would allow patients to have access to strictly controlled products, improving on the current situation when some patients use unverified products without any supervision regarding the dosage," the ministry said.

New Cartel Emerges in Mexico's Michoacan. Police in Michoacan have detained a dozen people carrying banners proclaiming the emergence of a new criminal enterprise in the state. The banners announced the appearance of the New Family cartel, whose name suggests it is a successor to the Family Michoacana cartel. That gang was displaced by the Knights Templars in 2010, who were in turn displaced by armed vigilantes backed by the Mexican state in 2013. The banners announced that the New Family would "clean up" people who supported the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has been moving into the state. "All those who contribute to this scum will be punished," the banner reportedly proclaims.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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.)

Chronicle AM: WVA Welfare Drug Test Bill Advances, ME Voters Want Drug Decrim, More... (2/9/16)

Medical marijuana bills get filed not only in Iowa, but also Australia and Greece, a new poll shows enlightened drug policy attitudes among Maine voters, Republican US senators hold competing events for and against sentencing reform legislation, and more.

Medical marijuana is seeing action at statehouses in the US and in foreign capitals. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Reemerges. A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana has come out of hibernation in the House. After months on the sidelines, the bill, House Bill 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday on a 9-2 vote. It now needs one more committee vote before heading for the House floor.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) Tuesday filed a bill that would make it legal to grow medical marijuana, produce CBD cannabis oil, and create dispensaries. The bill is not yet on the legislative website. Republican lawmakers last year killed similar legislation.

Drug Policy

Maine Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Not Punitive Drug Policies, Poll Finds. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of voters support decriminalizing drug possession, according to a new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. More than seven out of 10 (71%) said substantially reducing incarceration rates was important to them. The poll comes as the state's Tea Party governor, Paul Le Page (R), is pushing legislation that would roll back reforms passed last year that make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

West Virginia Senate Passes Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate overwhelmingly (32-2) approved Senate Bill 6, which would create a three-year pilot program to drug test applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if state employees have "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs. "Reasonable suspicion" can be triggered by applicants demonstrating "qualities indicative of substance abuse" or having been arrested on a drug charge in the past five years. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Bill Would Let Users Turn in Drugs Without Fear of Punishment. Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester) has filed a bill that would allow addicts seeking treatment to turn in unwanted drugs without the threat of prosecution. A person "who, in good faith, enters a police station and seeks assistance or treatment for a drug-related addiction, or is the subject of a good faith request for such assistance or treatment, shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance" if the evidence for such a charge was gained as a result of seeking treatment. The bill is before the Joint Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Republican Senators and Law Enforcement Leaders Rally for Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) joined law enforcement leaders today for a Capitol Hill briefing in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123). The briefing, supported by Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, comes the same day two other Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, hosted an event to oppose the bill.

International

Australian Government Files Medical Marijuana Legislation. The federal government today filed legislation to allow the cultivation of marijuana for medical or scientific purposes. The bill would create a national scheme to regulate cultivation for such purposes.

Greek Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Bill. Twenty members of the governing Syriza Party Monday filed legislation to legalize marijuana for medical and pharmaceutical purposes. "The proven beneficial effect in cases of especially dangerous diseases, such as glaucoma, cancer, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, malignancies make the legalization of cannabis as medicine -- already used in many developed countries -- imperative. The criminalization of cannabis use has resulted in leading many patients and their families to acquire cannabis through illegal channels, something that entails substantial loss of revenue for the State, organized crime activities and pushing patients to resort illegal activities," the lawmakers argued.

Could Kratom Be a Better Choice for Heroin and Pain Pill Users? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The Southeast Asian herb is now available powdered...
A Southeast Asian herb is gaining popularity among addicted heroin and prescription opiate users, pain sufferers, and hipsters looking for a nice buzz, and it's legal -- at least for now. It's usually consumed as a tea, and is now available at non-alcohol kratom bars in several states, as well as in powdered from in specialty shops and on the Internet.

It is regulated as an herbal supplement, not a controlled substance, but it is coming under some scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators. The FDA banned its import in 2014, and the DEA has it listed as a drug of concern, but has not moved to criminalize it. It is illegal in four states, though -- Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming -- and similar laws are now being proposed in Florida and New Jersey.

The stuff is called kratom, and was traditionally used in Thailand and Malaysia to help endure physical labor, relieve pain, and stop diarrhea. It was also good for relieving the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

That's because its active ingredients activate the same opioid receptors heroin and prescription pain pills do. And it behaves like an opiate -- with a couple of exceptions, one interesting and one quite important.

...or it can be brewed into a tea. (wikimedia.org)
Like other opiates, it relieves pain, slows bowel activity, produces euphoric feelings, and creates physical addiction and a whithdrawal syndrome. But unlike other opiates, it causes a pleasant, caffeine-type buzz in small doses. More significantly, it is apparently very difficult -- if not impossible -- to overdose on. The few deaths where kratom is implicated include poly-drug use, or as in a case reported by the New York Times, suicide by a young kratom user who was also being treated for depression.

"Direct kratom overdoses from the life-threatening respiratory depression that usually occurs with opioid overdoses have not been reported," says Oliver Grundmann, clinical associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Florida, told journalist Maia Szalavitz at Vice. Grundmann should know; he just reviewed the research on kratom for the International Journal of Legal Medicine.

"It's a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it, Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a co-author of several scientific articles on kratom, told the Times. "Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware -- potentially you're at just as much risk" as with an opiate.

Well, except for that whole fatal overdose thing. And like the kratom high, the physical dependence appears much milder.

Szalavitz consulted Mark Swogger, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who with his colleagues analyzed 161 "experience reports" posted by kratom users on the drug information site Erowid.org for a recent study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that kratom has at least some addiction potential. The data is fairly strong on that and our study also found that people are reporting addiction," but "overall, we found that it's really mild compared to opioid addiction and it didn't seem to last as long."

About one in six of the users reported nausea or stomach pain and 6% actually vomited. There have been a handful of other handful of reports of liver problems.

All this makes kratom something like opium's mild-mannered little sister. And that is apparently something a lot of people are looking for.

One of them was Susan Ash, 46, who told the Times she began taking kratom while being treated for dependence on prescription pain relievers and now takes a small dose daily to ease chronic pain and depression.

She was so impressed with the results that last year, she founded the American Kratom Association to represent consumers. The group now has more than 2,000 members and lobbies against bills to ban the herb.

"We know from all our experiences that kratom has the potential to be a wonderful medicine," she said. "We're all experiencing that it's changing our lives. We do agree that more science is needed to actually prove this potential that we know it has."

Yes, more science is needed, and kratom does have its disaffected users, as the Times was quick to dig up, but so far, it looks like we have a drug like opium, but with attenuated effects. If people are taking kratom to get off heroin or prescription pills or to treat pain or just to get a nice buzz, and they're not overdosing by the tens of thousands, as they are with the opiates, that would seem like an overall good thing. If we want to reduce harm from heroin and prescription opiates, kratom should be studied and, perhaps, embraced, not proscribed.

Chronicle AM: Fed Bill Would Allow MJ Ad Mailings, Far-Reaching MD Bills Filed, More... (2/5/16)

Oregon's federal representatives fight to protect marijuana advertising, medical marijuana and CBD bills are moving in the states, a Maryland delegates files bills for drug treatment on demand, supervised injection sites, opiate maintenance (including heroin), and drug decriminalization -- quite a package! -- and more.

A Maryland bill could lead to the first supervised injection facility in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Federal Reps File Bill to Allow Published Marijuana Ads. Responding to warnings from the US Postal Service that mailing newspapers or magazines with marijuana advertising is prohibited even in states where it is legal, Oregon's two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have joined with two Democratic House members, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, to file the Marijuana Advertising in Legal States (MAILS) Act (HR 4467). The bill would reverse the USPS policy. "Federal agencies must respect the decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state," Wyden said. "Our bill updates the federal approach to marijuana, ending the threat to news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana businesses in Oregon and other states where voters also have freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Michigan Legalization Campaign Getting Close to Signature Goal. The MILegalize campaign says it has already collected some 240,000 raw signatures and is seeking another 100,000 to ensure a comfortable cushion for invalidated signatures. The state requires 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Bill Would Expand Access to CBD Cannabis Oil. Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison County) has introduced House Bill 61, which would expand access to CBD beyond a limited study program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The new bill would allow parents with a valid recommendation for CBD cannabis oil to possess it in the state.

Delaware Bill Would Allow CBD Cannabis Oil for Kids in Schools. Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) has filed Senate Bill 181, which would allow authorized caregivers to possess and administer CBD cannabis oil to pupils in school as needed.

Utah Medical Marijuana, CBD Cannabis Oil Bills Move. Two medical marijuana-related bills are headed for the Senate floor after winning committee votes. Senate Bill 73, filed by Rep. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), would allow whole plant medical marijuana, while Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would expand on CBD cannabis legislation passed last year.

Kratom

Florida Bill to Ban Kratom Advances. A bill that would ban the increasing popular Southeast Asian herb, which some are using as an alternative to opiates or as a means to withdraw from them, has passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The bill, House Bill 73, would make possession of kratom a misdemeanor. A similar measure seeking to make possession a felony failed last year.

New Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill to Toughen Penalties for New Synthetic Drugs Advances. A bill that would increase penalties for possessing or selling new synthetic drugs has passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill is House Bill 66.

Drug Policy

Maryland Bill Package Attempts Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization, Harm Reduction Approach. A set of four bills being filed today would upend the way the state deals with drug use and related problems. One bill would provide for drug treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings, a second bill would allow for safe injection facilities (there are currently none in the US), a third bill would allow for opiate maintenance therapy, including with heroin, and a fourth bill would decriminalize the use and possession of personal use quantities of illicit drugs. The package is being sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County).

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Repeal Welfare Drug Testing Law. Since Utah approved a welfare drug testing law, only 47 applicants out of nearly 14,000 have tested positive for drugs. That's enough for Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) to call for an end to the program. Her House Bill 172 would do just that. It is currently before the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.

Chronicle AM: MJ Arrests Plummet in NYC & Jamaica, ME May Refelonize Drug Possession, More... (1/4/16)

What a difference a policy change makes! After decrim in Jamaica and actually enforcing decrim in New York City, marijuana arrests plummet in both places, a bill to cut pot penalties advances in Kansas, a bill to refelonize hard drug possession is in play in Maine, and more.

Jamaican ganja decriminalization has seen marijuana arrests plummet. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Senate Approves Cutting Marijuana Penalties. The state Senate Wednesday voted 38-1 to approve House Bill 2049, which lowers marijuana possession penalties. The bill moves first time pot possession from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor and it moves second-time pot possession from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor. The Senate rejected an effort by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) to decriminalize marijuana possession.

New York City Marijuana Possession Arrests Plummet. Marijuana possession arrests in the city hit their lowest level in 20 years last year, according to new data released by the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Some 16,590 people were arrested for pot possession last year, down 42% from the year before and down a whopping 67% from 2011, when more than 50,000 people were arrested. While the arrests are down dramatically, what has not changed is the racial disparity in arrests: 88% of those arrested were black or Latino.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Bill to Kill Medical Marijuana Decision Deadline. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Wednesday signed Assembly Bill 21, which will give cities and counties more time to develop local rules for commercial medical marijuana cultivation. An error in last year's statewide medical marijuana regulation bill had imposed a March 1 deadline for localities to act or they would lose control over regulating the grows to the state. More than a hundred cities and counties banned commercial cultivation in recent months as the deadline loomed.

Sentencing

Maine Officials Argue for Refelonizing Drug Possession. State Attorney General Janet Mills Wednesday asked lawmakers to approve a bill, LD 1554, that would refelonize the possession of hard drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. The legislature last year made first-time drug possession a misdemeanor when the defendant had no previous convictions, but Mills and other administration officials argued that without the threat of a felony conviction and sentence (up to five years)) hanging over their heads, drug users could not be forced into drug treatment. " A felony charge brings with it the possibility of a significant period of probation … along with a long sentence hanging over the person," Mills said. "That kind of potential sentence gives the person an incentive to get into treatment and to demonstrate their commitment to recovery." But Mills is getting pushback from lawmakers. Another working session on the bill is set for next week.

International

Marijuana Legalization Could Cut Mexican Cartel Revenues By One-Quarter, Report Says. Mexico supplies between 30% and 50% of the pot consumed in the US, with the drug cartels raking in between one and two billion dollars a year, but that figure could be cut by up to 26% if legalization proceeds apace in the US, according to a report from the Instituto Belisario Dominguez for the Mexican Senate as it debates marijuana policy this spring. Legalization in Mexico itself "could benefit Mexico because that would increase the financial damage to the cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel."

Jamaica Ganja Arrests Plummet After Decriminalization. National Security Minister Peter Bunning said Tuesday that police have arrested 14,000 fewer people for marijuana possession since the government decriminalized it last year. He pointed out that arrests have serious consequences, including not being able to get a visa to visit the US and problems with finding employment.

Medical Marijuana Update

No new qualifying conditions for Illinois, Puerto Rico adopts medical marijuana regs, a New York state senator files a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

Illinois

Last Friday, the state refused to expand the list of qualifying medical conditions. The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will not allow patients suffering from eight conditions to use medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health announced last Friday that no new conditions would be added despite pleas from patients, advocates, and medical marijuana business owners. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois issued a statement calling the decision "a gross injustice to patients."

New Hampshire

On Monday, a patient who sued the state over medical marijuana access died. Linda Horan, who sued the state in November to issue her a medical marijuana card so she could get her medicine in Maine because New Hampshire dispensaries hadn't opened, died Monday at age 64. The ailing labor leader won her lawsuit and was able to procure medical marijuana out of state, but succumbed to cancer. The court ruling applied only to Horan, but days after the ruling, the states began sending out ID cards to patients.

New York

Last Friday, a medical marijuana expansion bill was filed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, last Friday filed a bill that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Puerto Rico

Last Thursday, the commonwealth adopted medical marijuana regulations. The island dependency's Health Department has adopted a regulation to allow for the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana. The regulation does not allow smoking it. The department said it will implement a seed-to-sale tracking system and award licenses to doctors and companies that want to grow and manufacture medical marijuana projects. The system should be in place by year's end.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the governor announced a plan to impose hefty plant taxes on patients and caregivers. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has introduced a medical marijuana reform plan that would impose a $150 per plant tax on plants grown by patients and a $350 per plant tax on plants grown by caregivers. The governor says this will help the state raise $8.4 million in new tax revenues. But that tax is based on the administration's position that each plant is worth $17,000, which is nowhere near the case. Patient advocates are not happy.

Wyoming

On Monday, activists said the medical marijuana initiative won't make the ballot. A spokesman for Wyoming NORML, which organized the campaign, said Monday that the group had only managed to gather some 7,000 raw signatures ahead of next week's deadline and will fall far short of the more than 25,000 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. The group will try again in 2018, it said.

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

Chronicle AM: DC Council Backs Away From Pot Club Ban, RI Gov Wants Patient Tax, More... (2/3/16)

The idea of marijuana social clubs in the nation's capital remains alive, Rhode Island patients face the prospect of seeing their plants taxed, there are medical marijuana advances in Australia and Poland, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Backs Away from Pot Social Club Ban. The District of Columbia city council today voted to halt consideration of legislation that would permanently ban adult consumption of marijuana outside the home, and instead moved forward with the creation of a task force to explore the establishment of regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana in the District. Last week, the council passed an emergency ban on social clubs and it was supposed to make that ban permanent today, but backed off in the face of strong public pressure. Instead, it voted to establish a task force to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Governor Wants to Impose Hefty Plant Tax on Patients, Caregivers. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has introduced a medical marijuana reform plan that would impose a $150 per plant tax on plants grown by patients and a $350 per plant tax on plants grown by caregivers. The governor says this will help the state raise $8.4 million in new tax revenues. But that tax is based on the administration's position that each plant is worth $17,000, which is nowhere near the case. Patient advocates are not happy.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Bill Would Make It a Crime to Cheat a Drug Test. State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) has introduced a bill that would criminalize the possession, sale, or advertising of chemicals used to create synthetic urine to defeat drug tests. Under current state law, workers can be fired for cheating on drug tests, but face no criminal penalty. The bill would make using synthetic urine to cheat a drug test a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail for users and up to 90 days in jail for sellers or manufacturers. Fourteen other states have similar laws.

International

Human Rights Watch Condemns Tunisia's Drug Laws. The group issued a report this week singling out Law 52, which is says requires courts to impose "cruel, disproportionate, and counterproductive" sentences on drug offenders. The law requires a mandatory minimum one year jail sentence for any illegal drug possession, including marijuana.

Australian State Run Synthetic CBD Trials on Children With Epilepsy. The Victoria state government has authorized a study on 10 children as part of an effort to understand the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on children with epilepsy. The trial is set to get underway in Melbourne this month. The state government has kicked in $150,000 for the trial.

Polish Rapper Files Medical Marijuana Bill. The pioneering Polish rapper known as Liroy is now Polish Member of Parliament Piotr Liroy-Marzec, and on Monday, he presented a draft bill to legalize medical marijuana in the East European country. "This draft crowns everything I've said over the years, especially during the election campaign," said Liroy-Marzec. "I promised people I met who were ill that I would do everything possible to table this draft," he said.

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