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Chronicle AM -- May 20, 2014

The organized opposition in Alaska gets a donation, medical marijuana is finally moving in the New York Senate, the Fair Sentencing Act picks up another sponsor, there's more violence in Mexico, and more meth in Asia, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Group Opposed to Legalization Initiative Gets First Big Contribution. The organized opposition to Alaska's marijuana legalization initiative has received its first large cash donation. The group Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2 received $25,000 from the Chenaga Corporation, an Alaska Native company. No word on how the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska is doing on fundraising, but it is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Wyoming Legislator Campaigns for Reelection on Marijuana Legalization Platform. Rep. James Byrd (D-Laramie) is seeking a fourth term in the state legislature, and he said in an interview Monday that marijuana legalization, jobs, and education would be some of his leading priorities if he is reelected. This year, Byrd authored a bill to decriminalize possession in the Cowboy State. It was defeated, but he is carrying on unabashed.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Finally Moving in Senate; Wins Committee Vote. The state Senate Health Committee today narrowly approved Senate Bill 4406, the Compassionate Care Act. Similar bills have been approved by the Assembly in recent years, but this marks the first time the Senate has taken up the issue. If allowed to the Senate floor for a vote, the bill is expected to pass.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. And then there were 31; 19 Democrats and 12 Republicans. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA). The bill, House Resolution 3382, would reduce some mandatory minimum drug sentences, allow judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum in some circumstances, and allow people sentenced under old crack cocaine laws to be resentenced. The bill has been stalled in a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee since January.

Law Enforcement

NSA, DEA "Blurring the Lines" Between War on Drugs and War on Terror. The latest article based on leaked documents from Edward Snowden, published by Glenn Greenwald and crew, shows how the NSA and the DEA have merged the war on drugs and the war on terror since the 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, DC. The story details how the NSA recorded "virtually every" cell phone call in the Bahamas using a DEA "backdoor" to get into the Bahamian phone networks. The authors worry that if the NSA is using intelligence gained under the guise of fighting the war on drugs for counter-terrorism or other spying purposes, it could endanger the cooperation of host countries.

International

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) to Hold Briefing on Drug Policy in Latin America. There will be a briefing on the current state of drug policy in Latin America and potential implications for US policy hosted by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) at the Congressional Meeting Room South at 10:00am, Thursday, May 29. The panelists are Ambassador Paul Simons, executive director of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the OAS; John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy and the Andes at the Washington Office on Latin America; and Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. For more information, contact Caitie Whelan in Rep. Farr's office.

More Drug War Violence in Mexico's Northeast. Another seven bodies have been discovered in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, which is undergoing a renewed surge of violence as competing cartels fight with each other and the security services. The four men and three women were found Sunday night in an abandoned car in the port city of Tampico. More than a hundred people have been killed in the drug wars in Tamaulipas in the past month, and the federal government announced last week that it is stepping up operations in the state.

More Meth, More New Synthetics as Asia Becomes World's Largest Stimulant Market, UN Report Says. Asia is the world's largest market for stimulants, with methamphetamine seizures there tripling to at least 36 tons over the past five years, according to a new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The report, the Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment 2014, also found that new synthetic drugs -- or New Psychoactive Substances (NSPs) in UN-speak -- are expanding rapidly as well, and are often found in substances marketed as traditional amphetamines or Amphetamine Type Substances (ATSs).

(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.)

Chronicle AM -- May 19, 2014

The feds will still arrest you for marijuana possession on their property in DC even though the city has decriminalized, Chicago cops will still arrest you for possession even though they could just give you a ticket, decrim initiatives are coming to Kansas cities, Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, Mexico doesn't want to legalize it, and more. Let's get to it:

The Taliban's Pakistani cousins are financing operations by taxing the drug trade, a new report says. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC US Attorney Will Still Prosecute Marijuana Possession on Federal Property. No matter that the District of Columbia has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The office of the US Attorney for the District says anyone caught with pot on federal property could still be prosecuted under federal law, but that decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. "Individuals arrested for merely possessing, but not using, less than one ounce of marijuana on federal property would be presented to our office for potential prosecution under federal law," said William Miller, public information officer for the DC US attorney. "We will assess each case on an individualized basis, weighing all available information and evidence, consistent with Justice Department enforcement priorities and the need to use our limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats to public safety. We rely heavily on diversion programs in our local marijuana prosecutions, and would likely do the same with respect to federal offenses."

Despite Ticketing Ordinance, Chicago Cops Still Arresting People for Pot Possession. A 2012 Chicago ordinance allows police to ticket small-time marijuana possession offenders instead of arresting them, but the cops keep arresting people anyway, according to a study released today by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy. The study, "Patchwork Policy: An Evaluation of Arrests and Tickets for Marijuana Misdemeanors in Illinois," is available here. In Chicago, 93% of small-time pot possession violations resulted in arrest, not tickets, the study found. That's worse than other Illinois localities that have adopted similar measures. But the Chicago Police say implementing the new ordinance is slow and that the number of people arrested for misdemeanor possession dropped by 5,000 between 2011 and 2013.

Marco Rubio Says No Responsible Way to Smoke Pot. In an interview airing today, junior Florida senator and possible Republican 2016 presidential candidate Marco Rubio refused to say whether he had ever used marijuana, came down in opposition to decriminalization, and said there was no "responsible" way to smoke pot. "I don't want my kids to smoke marijuana. And I don't want other people's kids to smoke marijuana. I don't think there is a responsible way to recreationally use marijuana," he said. "The bottom line is, I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that's legal is not good for the country," he said. "I understand there are people that have different views on it, but I feel strongly about that."

Decriminalization Initiative Campaigns Underway in Wichita, Other Kansas Cities. Kansas for Change, a group that seeks to legalize marijuana in the Jayhawk State, is taking aim this year at the state's largest city, among others. The group is now gathering signatures to put a decriminalization initiative before the Wichita city council. If the group can gather 4,300 signatures, the council must either approve the measure or put it before the voters. Similar petition drives are also ongoing in Emporia, Lawrence, Salina, Topeka, and Wyandotte County (Kansas City, KS).

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Legislature Passes Compromise Medical Marijuana bill, Governor Will Sign It. Minnesota is set to become the 22nd medical marijuana state after the state House and Senate gave final approval Friday to compromise legislation that will provide some patients access to medical marijuana, but not allow them to smoke it. Patients are allowed to use it in the form of liquids, pills, and oils, including those produced from whole plant extracts, as well as through vaporization, but cannot use it in its standard form of buds. Two marijuana product manufacturers will be registered by the state, with eight distribution centers, and only pharmacists will be allowed to dispense it.

Drug Policy

The Incredible Whiteness of Drug Policy Reform. Celebrity Stoner's Steve Bloom has held up a mirror to the face of the American drug reform movement and is blinded by the white. Responding to a critique of marijuana reform groups from Drug Policy Alliance board member Dr. Carl Hart that "their rank and file to their advisory boards consists almost exclusively of white, privileged and devoted marijuana smokers," Bloom decided to take a look. He surveyed seven major reform groups and found that of 325 staff and board members, only 19 were black, 12 were Latino, and nine were Asian. The movement does a bit better on gender, with 101 women. Click on the link for all the details.

International

Mexico Poll Finds Little Support for Marijuana Legalization. A poll commissioned by the Mexican congress's lower house as it ponders marijuana reform legislation has found little popular support for it. The survey carried out by the chambers Center for Social Studies and Public Opinion found that 70% opposed legalization, with only 20% in favor. And nearly 62% said legalizing marijuana would have no or little impact on drug trafficking and associated crime and violence. Click on the link for more details.

Jamaica Religious Figure Gives Blessing to Marijuana Sector. The Rev. Rennard White, president of the Missionary Church Association and vice-president of the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance, has said that marijuana can be a panacea for Jamaica's economic problems. "I hope the ganja industry will come of age and be properly treated with so we can reap the maximum benefit with minimum loss," White told congregants at the Covenant Moravian Church Sunday. His remarks were greeted "with thunderous applause."

US Says it Welcomes Progress in Colombia Peace Talks. After the Colombian government and the guerrillas of the FARC announced agreement on drug issues Friday, the State Department has now responded. "The United States welcomes the announcement of further progress in efforts to achieve the peace the Colombian people deserve through negotiations," Secretary of State Kerry said in a statement. "Resolving the question of narcotics production and trafficking is central to achieving that peace. We congratulate president Santos and the Colombian government for this advance," he added. Kerry went on to say that "Colombian government officials underlined the importance of maintaining both manual and aerial eradication capabilities," although the joint communique from the FARC and the Colombian government says that aerial eradication will only be a last resort conducted in conjunction with the wishes of local communities.

Pakistani Report Says Militants Being Financed By Taxing Drug Trade. A report prepared by Pakistani security services says militant groups based in the Kyhber Agency, the Frontier Region, and Peshawar are depending on a number of criminal activities, including taxing the drug trade from bordering Afghanistan, to finance their activities. One group even organizes a "hash fair" thrice a week in Orazkai Agency, the report said. But other than that, the groups rely on taxation and not direct involvement in the drug trade.

Chronicle AM -- May 16, 2014

The DEA is in the hot seat, it looks like Minnesota will be the next medical marijuana state (but they won't be able to smoke it), California could actually get around to regulating its dispensary system, California voters will vote on whether to drug test doctors (!), the Russians are snarking about Afghanistan, and more. Let's get to it:

DEA administrator Michele Leonhart may be approaching her "sell by" date, and so may the agency she heads. (doj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Grand Jury Investigating Northern California County's "Pay to Plead Down" Program for Marijuana Defendants. Critics of the Mendocino County program that offers pot defendants a chance to cop a plea to a lesser charge in exchange for "sizeable restitution payments" call it the "Mendo shakedown." Under the program, defendants agree to pay $50 for each plant seized and $500 per pound, typically in exchange for a misdemeanor plea. It has generated $3.7 million in payments to local law enforcement agencies, and supporters say it is a way to reduce the logjam of marijuana cases, not subject local growers to harsh sentences, and compensate police for their marijuana enforcement work. Now, a federal grand jury is looking into it. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has a lengthy report; click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bills Poised for Movement. Two bills seeking to bring some order to California's Wild West medical marijuana industry are set to move in coming days. Assembly Bill 1894, filed by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) could get a floor vote in the Assembly before month's end, which it must do to stay alive. In the Senate, a similar -- but not a companion -- bill will go the Appropriations Committee on Monday. Senate Bill 1262, filed by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), also must pass out of its chamber of origin by the end of the month or it dies, too.

Minnesota Will Get Medical Marijuana, But Not Buds. Under a compromise reached by lawmakers Thursday, Minnesotans will get a medical marijuana bill, but they won't be able to smoke their medicine. They can only use it in the form of liquids, pills, or oils, and they can vape, but not smoke it. Both houses had passed bills last week, with the House version being more restrictive. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Thursday he will sign the compromise measure. That would make Minnesota the 22nd medical marijuana state.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill to Get Senate Committee Vote Tuesday. The long-stalled effort to pass a medical marijuana bill in the Empire State could take a big step forward Tuesday. That's when the Senate Health Committee will take up Senate Bill 4406. The Health Committee is only the first stop in the Senate, though; it must then pass the Senate Finance Committee before going to a Senate floor vote.

New York Republican Files No Smoking Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana, but bar "delivery through smoking." The bill is Senate Bill 7509, and it could signal a possible compromise that Senate Republicans could get behind.

Oregon Circuit Court Judge Rules State Medical Marijuana Law Conflicts With Federal Law; Is Unenforceable. In a case involving the right of the city of Medford to revoke the business license of a dispensary, a Jackson County circuit court judge has ruled that the state's Oregon Medical Marijuana Act is "unenforceable" because it conflicts with federal law. Expect the decision to be appealed.

Drug Policy

DEA Head Chastened After Being Taken to the Woodshed Over Sentencing Remarks. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart's lack of support for Obama administration mandatory minimum sentencing reforms at a congressional hearing last month got her a good talking to from her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, The Huffington Post reports. She's been off the reservation on other issues as well, especially around the administration's relatively enlightened approach to marijuana policy, and just this week, her agency has been messing with Kentucky's effort to do legal hemp research. But it was her refusal to endorse changes in mandatory minimums that got her sent to the boss's office. Now, the DEA says Leonhart "supports the Attorney General's sentencing reform initiative."

Drug Policy Expert Mark Kleiman Says It May Be Time to Do Away With DEA. In the same Huffington Post piece cited above, drug policy expert and current advisor to the state of Washington on marijuana legalization implementation Mark Kleiman said that while, in the past, he opposed dissolving the DEA and splitting its function, he is changing his tune. "Any DEA administrator feels an organizational imperative to support the existing drug laws and sentencing structure, even when doing so means opposing the purposes of the attorney general and the president, as we see currently," Kleiman said. "So I'd be inclined to reconsider my former opposition to merging the DEA" and perhaps the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, into the FBI. "That would allow the combined agency to turn the skills and aggression of today's DEA agents against gun traffickers, cigarette smugglers, and purveyors of political violence."

Drug Policy Alliance Calls for DEA Head to Resign. The Drug Policy Alliance has had enough of DEA head Michele Leonhart. Today, Bill Piper, the group's head of national affairs, called on her to resign. "For months Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart has openly rebuked the drug policy reform policies of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama with one embarrassing statement after another," he wrote. "Now she is picking a fight with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Y) and other members of Congress over hemp. Meanwhile the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation into multiple scandals plaguing the agency. It is clear that Leonhart lacks the ability to lead and should resign. Activists are using the Twitter hashtag #FireLeonhart." There's much more at the link.

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug and Alcohol Test Doctors Qualifies for November Ballot. An initiative that would require drug and alcohol testing of doctors and the reporting of a positive result to the state medical board has qualified for the November ballot. The Secretary of State's office announced yesterday that the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014 would also require that doctors be suspended pending investigation of a positive test and that the board take disciplinary action if the doctor was impaired while on duty. The measure also requires doctors to report other doctors they suspect of drug or alcohol impairment and requires health care practitioners to consult the state's prescription drug database before prescribing certain controlled substances.

Law Enforcement

No Drugs Found in Raid Where Texas SWAT Officer Was Killed. Oops. The pre-dawn, no-knock home invasion drug raid that ended up with one Killeen SWAT officer shot dead and three more wounded didn't find any drugs. Killeen Police Detective Charles Dinwiddie died trying to execute a search warrant after an informant said he had spotted "bags of cocaine" at the residence, but all the raiders came up with was a glass pipe. Dinwiddie is the second Texas law enforcement officer to die in a pre-dawn, no-knock drug raid in the past five months. A grand jury refused to indict the shooter in the first case. Stay tuned to see what happens in this one.

International

Russians Call for Single International Drug Office to Deal With Afghan Heroin. Viktor Ivanov, Russia's chief anti-drug official, said Thursday that all of the various international efforts to stifle the Afghan drug trade should be merged into a single, internationally-supervised office. "We suggest the creation of an international headquarters or an office for combating the planetary center of drug production in Afghanistan. The goal of the HQ would be to consolidate the currently separate anti-narcotic programs in Afghanistan and to create an effective, internationally-supervised mechanism to eradicate drug production," Ivanov said. He also implicitly criticized the US and the West for letting opium cultivation get out of control while NATO forces occupied the country. The effort had been "a fiasco," he said. Ivanov is among the Russian officials sanctioned by Washington in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Lebanese Cannabis Farmers Benefiting from Syrian Conflict. Lebanese security forces are too busy dealing with the Syrian civil war raging on the country's border to pay much attention to a reviving cannabis industry in the Bekaa Valley, The Financial Times reports. Lebanese security forces quit raiding the Bekaa's pot farms two years ago, fearful of creating more unrest, and last year the crop brought in an estimated profit of $175 million to $200 million. "You couldn't make this kind of money growing gold," one farmer laughed. While some Lebanese politicians, including Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, have called for legalizing the crop, the farmers don't agree. The profits are too good, they said.

Four Mexican Soldiers Killed in Apparent Cartel Attack in Jalisco. Four soldiers were killed in the western state of Jalisco earlier this week when the military truck they were riding in was attacked in Guachinango, about 80 miles from the state capital of Guadalajara. The attackers crashed a pick-up truck into the army vehicle, setting it ablaze, then opened fire. Investigators suspect the attack was staged by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is in a turf war with the Knights Templars cartel in neighboring Michoacan. There are accusations that New Generation has allied itself with some of the vigilantes fighting the Knights Templar.

Saudi Arabia to Drug Test All Public Employees. Newly recruited teachers are first in line, but all public employees of the Saudi state are going to be drug tested, according to local media reports. The move is intended to "counter the increasing abuse of narcotics in the country's public service," the reports said.

Chronicle AM -- May 15, 2014

An evangelical pollster has support for marijuana legalization at 58% (but not among Christians), the Senate Minority Leader takes on the DEA over hemp, a California defelonization sentencing initiative hands in signatures, we have a fascinating look at meth culture in Tehran, and more. Let's get to it:

When Mitch McConnell is criticizing the DEA, you know you're living in a different century. (senate.gov)
Evangelical Pollster Finds Majority for Legalization, But Not Among Practicing Christians. A new poll conducted by the evangelical Christian polling firm the Barna Group finds that marijuana legalization is supported by 58% of respondents nationwide. But when it comes to "practicing Christians" (people who attended church in the past month), only 32% of evangelicals, 39% of Catholics, and 45% of mainstream Protestants favored legalization. Still, those numbers are trending up. "There is a clear trend toward greater cultural acceptance of recreational marijuana, even among many practicing Christians. National surveys are a great way to find out what people think and how their perspectives have changed over time. But why those changes are happening is more difficult to pin down through conventional polling," said a Barna spokesman. "What we can conclude is that America continues to shift from a culture that values abstinence to one that focuses on experience. Marijuana use fits within a larger trend of liberalizing views and behaviors when it comes to activities like gambling, pre-marital or extra-marital sex, and drinking. As attitudes toward temptations shift, Americans increasingly define the 'pursuit of happiness' to include personally invigorating or even escapist experiences." There's a lot more demographic information at the link, too.

Missouri "Decriminalizes" Marijuana Possession. A new sentencing reform law that has now gone into effect without the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon (R) eliminates the possibility of jail time for the possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less. Senate Bill 491 also reduces sentences for the sale and cultivation of marijuana, including changing current law to allow probation or parole for third offenders. But it doesn't go into effect until January 2017, the "no jail" provision only applies to first offenders, and it's still a criminal misdemeanor, with all the related consequences. Still, the Marijuana Policy Project is calling Missouri the 19th decrim state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana, and Now. State Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) has added an amendment to the Senate budget released last week that would impose a 6.25% sales tax on medical marijuana. He said he wanted it done quickly before there is any organized opposition. Health care goods and services and prescription drugs are generally exempted from the sales tax under state law. But Joyce said at least 10 other medical marijuana states impose sales taxes on it, including neighboring Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.

Rhode Island Health Department Falling Way Behind on Patient Applications. The state Health Department is eight weeks backlogged in handling patient medical marijuana applications. Patients aren't happy. They're supposed to be automatically approved after 15 days, but the department says it is understaffed and overwhelmed, and it didn't anticipate the volume of applications.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Moving Toward Passage. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD marijuana extracts for patients suffering severe epilepsy appears headed for passage. House Bill 4803 has already passed the House and was approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee today. It should get a final floor vote next week.

Hemp

Mitch McConnell Rips DEA over Kentucky Hemp Seed Fiasco. The state of Kentucky has already filed a lawsuit against the DEA over its cat and mouse games surrounding the state's effort to import 250 pounds of Italian hemp seeds for use in research projects okayed by an amendment to this year's omnibus farm bill. Now, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who just happens to be from Kentucky, has weighed in. "It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds," McConnell told Politico last night.

Prescription Drugs

New Oklahoma Law Requires That Names of Overdose Victims Be Reported to Narcs. Under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Mary Fallin (R), the state medical examiner is required to report the names of overdose victims to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The stated purpose is to use the information to more closely monitor the state's prescription drug issue and to identify "problem" prescribers. Senate Bill 1183 is part of a broader legislative effort supported by Fallin to tackle non-medical prescription drug use. But the heart of that plan, language that would create a statewide prescription monitoring system and require doctors to check patients' drug histories before writing new prescriptions for opioids and other dangerous drugs, remains stalled as legislators argue over details.

Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bill Heading for Passage. A bill that bans new synthetic drugs not approved by the FDA and that have effects similar to Schedule I or II controlled substances passed the House Wednesday and now heads to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass. House File 2446 also gives the state Board of Pharmacy emergency regulatory power to stop shops from selling any newer new synthetics.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Lawmakers Want to Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws. The state legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee Tuesday voted to order staff to draft two bills to reform the state's asset forfeiture laws. One bill would eliminate civil asset forfeiture and would allow police to seize property only when someone has been convicted of a crime. The second bill would keep civil forfeiture, but would create a higher standard of proof before allowing assets to be seized. That bill would also require that most proceeds of seizures go into a general account at the state attorney general's office instead of being returned to the seizing agency.

Harm Reduction

Delaware Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill that would make the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) available without a prescription to anyone who completes a training program passed the Senate Health and Social Services Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 219 now heads for the Senate floor.

Sentencing Reform

California Defelonization Sentencing Initiative Hands in Signatures. Campaigners for an initiative that would make certain felony drug and other crimes misdemeanors has handed in signatures. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act initiative handed in more than 638,000 signatures earlier this month; it needs 504,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Of signatures checked so far, the validity rate is 78%. The measure's proponents are San Francisco DA George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne.

International

Tunisia's Prime Minister Says Marijuana Laws Are Too Harsh. Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said at a press conference Wednesday that his country's tough penalties for marijuana possession are "out of sync" with changing times. Possession can currently earn you up to five years in prison, but Jomaa vowed to "amend the law to adapt it to the new reality" in Tunisia, which overthrew its old regime in the most successful of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Iran Breaks Bad as Crystal Meth Arrives. The Guardian has a lengthy analysis of the rise of methamphetamine in Iran, and particularly in its capital city, Tehran. Meth is exploding there, according to the piece's author, Ramita Navai, author of the newly released "City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran." It's a very interesting read. Click on the link for the whole thing.

DEA Playing Games with Kentucky's Hemp Seeds -- State Sues

After being misled by the DEA about whether it would release imported heed seed destined for the state's hemp research projects, the state of Kentucky is now suing the federal anti-drug agency, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told The Huffington Post Wednesday.

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.org)
This comes just one day after Comer said the DEA told him the seeds would be released.

"I hated to do that, but we've been misled and it's obviously a stall tactic," Comer told HuffPost. "We have farmers who wanna grow it. We have processors who wanna process it. We have researchers who wanna research it. We bought and paid for the seeds," Comer said. "Here in Kentucky there's a desperate need to find an alternative to tobacco."

And the clock is ticking, with Mother Nature paying no attention to bureaucratic power plays. Hemp crops need to be in the ground this month for this year's season.

Research on hemp is now legal for state agriculture departments and universities in states that have passed laws allowing for it. A groundbreaking amendment allowing for the research was approved as part of the omnibus farm bill signed into law earlier this year. And Kentucky ordered 250 pounds of Italian hemp seed to do research this year.

But the DEA now says the state ag department must apply for a permit to import the seeds because they are a Schedule I controlled substance. That's a change of tune from the anti-drug agency.

"We were told yesterday in multiple phone calls that we wouldn't have to do this Schedule I import permit," senior Kentucky ag official Holly Harris VonLuehrte told HuffPost. She noted that agreeing to the DEA demand would be an implicit acceptance of the DEA's position that hemp is in fact a Schedule I drug.

"Industrial hemp is not a Schedule I controlled substance. We're not going to execute a document that violates federal and state law," she said.

The seeds are currently stuck in a US Customs warehouse in Louisville.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the sponsors of the hemp amendment to the farm bill, ridiculed the DEA's position.

"I think I have a copy of the Congressional Record lying around my office that shows that Congress just debated this issue and voted overwhelmingly to allow research institutions to grow and study industrial hemp," Blumenauer told HuffPost. "I'd send it over to the DEA, but I'm worried they would classify it as rolling papers and seize it. With every move, the DEA is showing that they are incredibly out of touch with mainstream America. We need serious self-evaluation and shakeup over there if they ever want to be taken seriously."

But the DEA may have managed to knock Kentucky's hemp research schedule back by a year.

Frankfort, KY
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 14, 2014

The NFL is about to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy, the DEA will unblock imported hemp seeds so Kentucky can do some research, Minnesota legislators try to reach a compromise on medical marijuana, the rate of prescription overdose deaths is up, and more. Let's get to it:

People are dying of prescription drug overdoses at a rate three times that of a decade ago, says the CDC. (wikimedia.org
Marijuana Policy

NORML PAC Endorses a Florida Congressional Candidate. NORML PAC, the campaign and lobbying arm of NORML, has endorsed Democrat Wes Neuman for Congress in Florida's 7th District. NORML says it believes "Wes will be a great champion for marijuana law reform in Washington, DC." Neumann says he will advocate for marijuana legalization.

NFL Reportedly Will Cut Marijuana Punishments. ESPN.com is reporting that when the NFL's new player drug policy is announced, punishments handed out for marijuana use will be reduced. ESPN also reported that the new drug policy will have a higher threshold for the amount of marijuana needed to trigger a positive test result. At least one current NFL player, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon, is facing a season-long suspension for running afoul of the league's marijuana policy. The NFL Players Association had suggested the league review its policy on marijuana and drug testing in general.

Medical Marijuana

Competing Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bills Head for Conference Committee. The state Senate voted Tuesday not to concur with the medical marijuana bill passed by the House, Senate File 2470, which is more narrowly tailored than the bill that has passed the Senate, Senate File 1641. That means a conference committee will have to try to hammer out an acceptable compromise.

Hemp

DEA Will Allow Hemp Seeds to Enter US for Kentucky Research Project. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Tuesday that the DEA will quit trying to block the import of Italian hemp seeds to Kentucky for research purposes now permitted under the hemp amendment to the recently passed omnibus farm bill. The seeds are being held by US Customs at a warehouse in Louisville. Cromer was ready to go to federal court today, if the DEA had not yielded. The state Agriculture Department and several universities are planning hemp research projects this year, but they need to get the seeds in the ground. The clock is ticking.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Drug Treatment Bill Being Debated Today. A bill that would ease access to drug treatment, by forcing insurance companies to cover treatment that's provided without prior authorization from them, is being heard in the state Senate today. The measure is Senate Bill 2133, which was developed by a special legislative committee on drug addiction. There are 37 amendments to get through, too.

Prescription Drugs

Rate of Prescription Drug Overdoses Increased More Than Threefold in a Decade, CDC Report Says. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Health, United States, 2013, finds that the rate of prescription drug overdose deaths in the US increased from 1.9 per 100,000 residents 15 and over in 1999-2000 to 6.6 per 100,000 in 2009-2010.

International

No Safe Injection Rooms for Brighton after UK Government Warns Health Workers of Risk of Arrest. Last year, the Independent Drugs Commission for Brighton and Hove suggested that Brighton and Hove establish drug consumption rooms, saying they could take drug use off the streets and reduce overdose deaths. But those plans have now been shelved after the Home Office warned that health workers working in such facilities might be subject to arrest. The idea also got a mixed reception from the public.

In Face of New Zealand's Renewed Ban on Synthetic Weed, Auckland Deputy Mayor Says Decriminalize the Real Thing. Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, who had previously opposed decriminalizing marijuana, has had a change of heart. She told an Auckland Council meeting Tuesday that it didn't make sense to regulate synthetic marijuana without considering safer alternatives -- like real marijuana.

Jamaica Marijuana Conference Coming Later This Month. The inaugural Jamaica Cannabis Conference is set for May 22-24 at the University of the West Indies campus in Mona. The theme is "Wake Up, Jamaica; Our Opportunities Are Slipping Away." Click on the link for more details.

Jamaican Musician and Poet Mutabaruka Tells Gambia to Legalize It. On a visit to Gambia to perform at the 11th annual International Roots Homecoming Festival, famed Jamaican poet and reggae singer Mutabaruka said Tuesday that Gambia should legalize marijuana and that "no youth should be in trouble over marijuana," citing the international movement toward marijuana legalization.

(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.)

Chronicle AM -- May 13, 2014

The DC marijuana legalization initiative picks up some welcomed support, there's a legal challenge to Washington state's ability to collect marijuana taxes, a Republican US senator talks drug reform and takes some jabs at Obama, fentanyl-laced heroin is killing people in Philadelphia, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Two Drug Reform Groups Get Behind DC Legalization Initiative. The Drug Policy Alliance has hired Dr. Malik Burnett as a full-time organizer in Washington, DC, to build support for Initiative 71, the DC marijuana legalization initiative. But his work in DC will also go beyond marijuana policy to include broader drug and social justice reform issues. Meanwhile, StoptheDrugWar.org (that's us) has endorsed the initiative and is seeking to deliver 5,000 of the 25,000 signatures needed. You can sign up to donate to our initiative effort here or sign up to volunteer here. Or click on the endorsement link for more information. Click the title link for more info about the DPA move.

Washington State Lawsuit Challenges State's Ability to Collect Marijuana Taxes. A Washington dispensary operator has filed a lawsuit attempting to stop the state from collecting taxes on marijuana sales. The operator, Martin Nickerson, is being prosecuted for the sale of medical marijuana he produced and argues that forcing him to pay taxes on his marijuana sales would violate his 5th Amendment right against self incrimination. He is represented by Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle marijuana and medical marijuana defense attorney and ardent foe of the I-502 legalization scheme. I-502's main proponent, Alison Holcomb, said she thinks the lawsuit has little chance of succeeding.

Ohio Supreme Court Forum to Discuss "Unintended Consequences" of Legalization Today. A discussion on "Marijuana Legalization and the Law of Unintended Consequences" moderated by state Supreme Court Justice Maureen O'Connor will take place today at 5:30pm at the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus. Panelists are Colorado Deputy Atttorney General David Blake, Ohio State law professor and Sentencing Law and Policy blog author Douglas Berman, and Marijuana Policy Project director of federal policies Dan Riffle. Questions can be submitted via Twitter using hashtag #OhioFOTL.

Illinois Drug Policy Consortium to Discuss New Marijuana Policy Report Monday. The IDPC will have a panel discussing its new report on marijuana policy, Patchwork Policy: An evaluation of arrests and tickets in Illinois, next Monday, the day it is released. Click on the link for more info, including time and location details.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Likely to Sign Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Terry Brandstad (R) told a news conference Monday he has consulted with the governors of other states that have passed limited CBD medical marijuana bills and he thinks Iowa can move forward without "unintended consequences." He gave the legislature credit for crafting a very tight bill. "I think it's important that we respond to legitimate concerns from the public but we also have to protect against unforeseen consequences. I think the legislature in this case has tried to do that. My inclination at this point is to say that I'm inclined to think that it's likely that I will sign it," he said. The bill is Senate File 2360.

Drug Policy

Republican Senator Rob Portman Talks Drug Reform. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is set to give a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, in which he will reportedly call for a reassessment of the decades long war on drugs. He will also reportedly criticize President Obama's plan to grant clemency to hundreds or thousands of convicted drug offenders, calling it a "band aid solution" that doesn't address deeper problems driving recidivism. He will also advocate for reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, which is aimed at reducing recidivism. Portman could have national ambitions in 2016.

Heroin

Fentanyl-Laced Heroin Killing People in Philly. At least 28 people in Philadelphia died from overdosing on fentany-laced heroin between March 3 and April 20, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability said Monday. The department is awaiting test results on seven more people. Fentanyl is a powerful narcotic many times more potent than heroin and is used to treat severe pain. An earlier wave of fentanyl-laced heroin killed 269 people in the city in 2006 and more than 2,000 people nationwide. The city health department has issued an alert.

International

Zetas Co-Founder Among Six Killed in Mexican Border Town Shootout. Gallando Mellado Cruz, one of the military deserters who helped found the gang of drug enforcers for the Gulf Cartel that morphed into the Zetas, was among six people killed in a gun battle between Mexican soldiers and cartel gunmen in the border town of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas. Four other cartel gunmen and one soldier also died. Tamaulipas was the scene of bloody infighting between the Zetas and the Gulf cartel before calming down somewhat in 2012, but fighting has broken out again in recent weeks.

Canada's Sensible BC Announces Future Plans. The Canadian marijuana law reform group Sensible BC, which managed to gather more than 200,000 signatures for a provincial referendum to stop arrests for pot possession in BC, but still failed to make the ballot, has announced it will hold off on another referendum campaign until after the federal election in October 2015. Then, if Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper wins reelection or if his replacement refuses to move forward on legalization, the group says it will launch a new referendum campaign in 2016. Until then, Sensible BC says it will focus on building its network and organization, keeping the issue alive in the media, and working on municipal elections coming in November.

Chronicle AM -- May 12, 2014

Elderly senators grumble about new-fangled rules allowing legal marijuana businesses to use the financial system, there are more legalization polls, an Oklahoma US Senate candidate is talking marijuana reform, there is medical marijuana initiative news, Minnesota passes asset forfeiture reform and the governor signs it, and more. Let's get to it:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) is running for the US Senate and talking marijuana reform. (oksenate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Try to Thwart Normalized Marijuana Banking. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) aren't happy with the Obama administration's efforts to find a way to let marijuana businesses in states where it is legal have access to the financial system. They sent a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) complaining about the guidance it was offering banks "on providing financial services for drug traffickers," in Grassley's words. FinCen responded here, but that wasn't good enough for the crusty drug warriors. Now, Grassley has responded to the response, maintaining that "unless federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal" and that "FinCEN's guidance to financial institutions is absolutely contrary to the mission of the agency." Click on the title link to read the rest.

Connecticut Poll Has 52% for Legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 52% among Connecticut voters, who also said overwhelmingly that alcohol was a bigger health problem than pot. A whopping 80% of voters under 30 supported legalization. Voters also supported having medical marijuana dispensaries in their towns by a margin of more than two-to-one. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2012.

New Mexico Poll Has Only 40% for Legalization, But… an Albuquerque Journal flash poll had support for marijuana legalization at 40%, with 47% opposed. The poll only asked only if marijuana should be legalized, however, without specifying what legalization might look like. A poll done last year for the Drug Policy Alliance got 53% support for legalization when it asked whether marijuana should be legalized for adults so that it could be taxed and regulated, like alcohol, with restrictions on where it could be bought and consumed.

Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues Top $20 Million So Far This Year. The state Department of Revenue released figures last Thursday showing that revenues from adult and medical marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees were at nearly $22 million for the first three months of the year. The state reported that March adult marijuana sales hit $19 million, up $5 million over February, while medical marijuana sales were about $34 million.

Push Underway to Decriminalize Toledo. A petition drive is underway for a municipal initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession in the Northwest Ohio city. The initiative is sponsored by the Toledo NORML chapter, which says it has already collected 2,800 signatures. It needs 3,800 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Oklahoma's Leading Democratic US Senate Candidate Pushes Marijuana Law Reform. State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City), the leading candidate for the state's Democratic Party US Senate nomination, is the author of repeated failed medical marijuana bills in the state legislature and is currently working to get a legalization initiative on the November ballot. A Democrat winning a Senate seat in Oklahoma is a long shot, but Johnson says she hopes marijuana will drive voters to the polls. "This whole issue, to me, is not about smoking marijuana. It's about criminalizing it. That's where these young people stand to be hurt the most. They get that," said Johnson. "Unless we change who's voting, things will stay the same," she said. "It's time to send a message -- not only to the policymakers... but to the people -- that we can change this." You can do that by putting marijuana on the ballot, she said.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Says He Will Sign House Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) sent a letter Friday to lawmakers saying he could sign the medical marijuana bill passed by the House. Senate File 2470 was filed by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) after her earlier, full-fledged medical marijuana bill, House File 1818 was blocked by law enforcement and the governor. A stronger bill, Senate File 1641, has passed the Senate, but Dayton didn't say he could sign that one. Now, the Senate must accept the House version or try to reach a compromise in conference committee.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign in Midst of Signature-Gathering. The Ohio Rights Group is leading a signature-gathering campaign to put a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative on the November ballot. They need to collect 385,000 valid voter signatures by July 5. They had 50,000 signatures on March 1 and haven't reported any more recent figures, but the campaign has been ramping up this month.

Arkansas Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has once again rejected the proposed wording for a medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Medical Cannabis. This is about the sixth time he has rejected proposals from the group. Meanwhile, another initiative, this one from Arkansans for Compassionate Care, is in the signature-gathering phase. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act needs some 65,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) signed into law Senate File 874, which forces authorities to actually convict someone of a criminal offense or get a guilty plea before seizing his property. The bill also forces the government to prove the property was the instrument or proceeds of crime. Previously, it had been up to the victim of the seizure to prove it was not connected to crimes.

Drug Testing

Federal Judge Rejects City of Key West Prospective Employee Drug Testing. A US district court judge has ruled that Key West's policy of drug-testing prospective employees is illegal. The ACLU of Florida had brought suit on behalf of a woman who was offered a job as the city's recycling coordinator, but had the job offer rescinded after she refused a drug test. The city failed to demonstrate "a special need or important government interest which justifies the policy's Fourth Amendment intrusion," Judge James Lawrence King held. And while the city argued that the tests should be allowed because job applicants were forewarned, King wasn't buying it. The law doesn't allow a government entity "to violate a person's rights under the Fourth Amendment so long as prior notice of the impending violation is given," he ruled.

International

Heroin Maintenance Coming to Norway? The Norwegian city of Bergen has proposed undertaking a program of heroin maintenance, or heroin-assisted treatment (HAT). Norway has long been skeptical of opioid maintenance therapies, allowing the use of methadone only in 1998. Dr. Ola Josendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital proposed HAT clinical trials in December, but the national health minister rejected them. Now, however, the Labor Party, the largest bloc in parliament, is in favor, so it could happen. Stay tuned.

Bermuda Cannabis Reform Collaborative Says Decriminalize It. A panel tasked with examining Bermuda's marijuana laws issued its report last Friday, and it calling for the decriminalization of small-time pot possession, allowing people to grow a small number of plants, and allowing the medical use of the plant on the island. Marijuana prohibition is not working, the report said.

Mexico's Plan to Demobilize Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Hits Snags. Anti-cartel vigilantes in the state of Michoacan were supposed to begin laying down their arms and integrating into a new rural police force Saturday, but The Washington Post reports that the process isn't exactly going smoothly. The vigilante groups formed more than a year ago with an apparent wink and nod from the government and managed to drive the Knights Templar cartel out of parts of the state, but now, the government fears they may get out of control. Click the link for a full report.

(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.)

GOP Congressman Threatens to Block DC Decrim Law

Even as the House held a first hearing on the District of Columbia's recently passed decriminalization law, at least one Republican congressman is threatening to file legislation to undo it. Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) told CQ Roll Call he plans to introduce a congressional resolution to overturn it.

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA). Maybe he should worry about Shreveport. (house.gov)
The hearing came in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Operations, chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-FL). Mica said his views on the issue were "evolving" and that he might hold additional hearings on the law.

Because Washington, DC, is a federal district, Congress has powers it can exercise over its governance. Under the law, Congress has 60 days to block the law from taking effect. That would require the approval of the House, the Senate, and the president.

Still, DC supporters and marijuana reform supporters are fighting back in an increasingly heated war of words.

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) scolded the subcommittee, saying it was inappropriate for the House to hold a hearing on only the District's law when "18 states have decriminalized marijuana, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana and two states have legalized marijuana."

"It's outrageous that Congress is trying to sabotage DC's success in ending marijuana arrests," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress should follow the lead of lawmakers in DC and reform federal marijuana laws."

The decrim bill (Council Bill 20-409) passed the council on a 10-1 vote and was signed by Mayor Vincent Gray prior to its transmission to Congress. It eliminates the threat of arrest for possessing marijuana and ensures that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing.

The legislation also prohibits law enforcement from using the smell of marijuana as grounds for stopping and searching a person. Instead of arresting people, the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it. It is widely viewed as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

"It is inexcusable that congressional time and resources are being spent to criticize local officials for eliminating racist and ineffective marijuana laws when large swaths of the American public support an end to marijuana prohibition," added Smith. "Members of Congress like Rep. John Fleming who say they are earnest about advancing public health and safety should take a hard look at the devastation wrought by marijuana prohibition."

If some Republican congressmembers are unhappy with DC's decrim bill, they are going to be in an absolute snit if and when District voters decide to outright legalize marijuana. The DC Cannabis Campaign legalization ballot initiative is in the signature-gathering phase right now and should easily qualify for the November ballot.

Washington, DC
United States

Tennessee's Scary New Law Criminalizing Drug-Using Pregnant Women [FEATURE]

When -- despite the objections of medical groups, reproductive health advocates, and even the drug czar's office -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1391 late last month, the Volunteer State became the first in the nation to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes. Other states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, have used fetal harm laws to charge drug-using pregnant women, but Tennessee is the first to explicitly criminalize drug use during pregnancy.

Passed in the midst of rising concern over prescription drug and heroin abuse and aimed, its proponents said, at protecting babies, the law allows women to be criminally charged with an "assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug or for criminal homicide if her child dies as a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant."

Felony assault can earn you up to 15 years in prison in Tennessee. And while some prosecutors have said they will only file misdemeanor charges, that's not written into the law.

Proponents cited recent reports that the number of babies being born addicted to drugs is on the rise. Such infants are diagnosed as having Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to opiates in the womb.

"Over the past decade, we have seen a nearly ten-fold rise in the incidence of babies born with NAS in Tennessee," the state Department of Health reported. Infants with NAS stay in the hospital longer than other babies and they may have serious medical and social problems."

But the state Health Department notwithstanding, experts in the field say that NAS doesn't actually have long-term effects, it's not accurate to call newborn infants "addicted," and that misrepresenting matters by vilifying pregnant women isn't helpful. In fact, more than 40 of them said so in an open letter last month.

More generally, leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association reject the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women who use drugs. The groups mentioned above and many others said so in this 2011 document.

A coalition of medical, public health, women's rights, and social justice groups worked to oppose the bill as it made its way through the legislature, and then to convince Gov. Haslam to kill it. A petition with over 11,000 signatures urging him to veto the bill went to his office late last month. More than two dozen organizations devoted to ensuring families have access to health care likewise urged a veto, as did the American Association of Pediatrics, the National Perinatal Association, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policy.

Even acting drug czar Michael Botticelli raised a warning flag.

"Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said during a visit to Nashville as the governor pondered. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease. What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders."

But none of that mattered. On April 29, Haslam signed the bill into law.

"In reviewing this bill, I have had extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials," Haslam said in a statement. "The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs."

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement in response to the signing. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

The statewide coalition Healthy and Free Tennessee also lambasted the new law.

"We are very sorry to see that Governor Haslam let an opportunity to do the right thing slip through his fingers," said Rebecca Terrell, the group's chairwoman."The experts could not have been clearer: this law is bad for babies and bad for Tennessee."

"This law says that women are to be held criminally accountable for the outcomes of their pregnancies," said Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which was part of the coalition fighting the new law. "It essentially creates a system of separate and unequal rights. Drug ingestion is not a crime in Tennessee, just possession, and now, only pregnant women are criminalized for ingesting. They can be surveilled and punished by the state in ways different from other people. The law also treats fertilized eggs or fetuses as if they were people independent of the pregnant woman," she told the Chronicle.

Gov. Bill Haslam (tn.gov)
"It's the wrong response to the problem of addiction," said Diaz-Tello. "It's a health problem that is not responsive to threats and punishment. What kind of society do we want to be? Do we want to punish the people most in need of help and support? These are women largely living in poverty, women of color, who are already made vulnerable by our social policies, and now we hold them solely responsible without looking at society and what else is going on leading to pregnancy among addicted people and this horrible punitive response."

Even framing the issue as "pregnant women taking drugs" is somewhat misleading, said Diaz-Tello.

"We often make the mistake of thinking of people using drugs during pregnancy as pregnant women who became addicted to drugs when it should be the other way around," she said. "The reasons for addiction are complex and often gender-based. Women who have experienced violence and trauma are often self-medicating, and there is a lot of unresolved pain and trauma out there. And half the pregnancies in our country are unintended, which disproportionately affects women on the margins. It's not like someone wakes up pregnant one day and decides they want to do drugs."

The law will not operate in a vacuum. Tennessee is one of those states that has refused to expand Medicaid and has rejected the Affordable Care Act. It is more difficult for poor women there to get access to health care services, including drug treatment, but now it will be easier to prosecute them.

"This is definitely for the most part going to affect poor, marginalized, predominantly rural women," said Cherisse Scott, founder of SisterReach, a Memphis-based group working for reproductive justice for women and girls in the city and the Mid-South area. "That's because of the many barriers they face. Many rural areas just don't have the facilities to offer help to these women."

Scott also bemoaned the criminalization of pregnant women who use drugs under the law, a process of stigmatization and punishment only made more severe for women lacking resources.

"Low income women, women of color, already have issues navigating the court system, and many don't have any kind of support system," she said. "When their children are taken, they don't have the resources to get them back. And the other piece of this is that jails aren't hospitals or treatment centers. They don't offer women an opportunity to be properly rehabilitated from drug use."

And then there's the aftermath of a criminal conviction.

"If you look at this through the lens of racial and reproductive justice, how does a woman with this on her record bounce back, how does she get a job? With a criminal background, she will be further locked out," said Scott. "These are the kinds of barriers and issues that will ultimately hurt the mothers of Tennessee. We can't support legislation that uses criminalization as a means of rehabilitating people," she told the Chronicle.

"Our lawmakers had good intentions, but they didn't think it through," said Scott. "They seem to be very ready to separate mothers and children as a way of helping, and we don't see it like that, especially when there are rehab programs that keep mother and children together."

The new law is also generating alarm with advocates for people who use opioid maintenance therapy to deal with opiate addictions. Methadone and buprenorphine maintenance are the gold standard for treating pregnant women addicted to narcotics. While state health officials have said they interpret the law to mean that a pregnant woman on methadone maintenance would not be in violation of it, there is no language in it that explicitly says that.

"I asked the governor to veto the bill because that exclusion wasn't made," said Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence. "The real question is whether some representative for the attorney general's office or a DA or child protection services interprets it that way. This is a potential problem. When you're talking about child protection, it's not unusual for a judge or child protection worker to say to a pregnant mom 'You can't be on methadone.' I hope this law will not be used as a method of forcing maintained patients out of care."

While babies born to opiate-addicted women can suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawals, they can be treated for that, mainly by slowly tapering the dose of opiates. But, Parrino said, not all pregnant mothers on methadone maintenance have babies with the syndrome, and consequences for fetuses can be serious if mothers are forced off opiates during their pregnancies.

"What happens to a fetus if you force mom to end her medication?" he asked. "In the first trimester, a sudden decrease can be harmful to the fetus. There could be spontaneous abortion. It's in the literature. That's why laws like this raise concerns in people who have some knowledge about how pregnant women are treated."

Parrino, too, saw race a playing a role, but in an unexpected way.

"What I am seeing for the first time in 30 years is a real interest by elected officials, many US senators and governors and legislators, who can't wrap their heads around why white teens and 20-somethings from middle class families in the suburbs and rural areas are shooting heroin," Parrino observed. "Those elected officials are right to be worried. This legislation in Tennessee is a result of those dynamics."

While the law may have been passed with the best motives, "the problem is the criminalization aspect," said Parrino. "Even if it can be explained as having a reasonably good intention of getting pregnant women not to use drugs and go to treatment, you are unwittingly subverting that goal by saying that being in methadone maintenance might be seen as not complete treatment. That uncertainty is creating anxiety."

The new law is set to go into effect on July 1, but efforts are already underway to block it and, barring that, to mitigate its effects.

"We're still trying to figure out the best plan of action," Scott said. "We want to figure out the best way to support women who are going to be victims of this policy. At the grass roots level, that means education, awareness, getting the word out through rehab centers to let the women know this is coming. Then we have to figure out what is the legal strategy to try to change this law. We're working on it."

"We're thinking about a legal challenge, especially on constitutional grounds," said Diaz-Tello. "We have worked with public defenders in Tennessee and other states on challenging similar laws on constitutional grounds. There's also the possibility of an affirmative suit to get the law enjoined. It would be ideal to stop this law before anyone gets arrested under it."

Barring the successful blocking of the law, drug-addicted pregnant women in Tennessee will face the tender mercies of the criminal justice system. But not all of them, of course.

"Race and class plays a role as always," said Scott. "Poor mothers go to jail; mothers with access to more resources may not be penalized at all. Women who have access to health care and can afford private prenatal care and treatment will get treatment; women who have no alternative but public aid or a public health clinic will be disproportionately impacted as always. Nothing's changed as far as race and class."

TN
United States

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