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California Malpractice Initiative Would Drug Test Doctors [FEATURE]

In California, an initiative designed to increase the caps on medical malpractice awards is catching the attention not only of powerful legal and medical interests, but also drug reformers. That's because, in what opponents call a cynical ploy, the malpractice initiative leads with a provision to impose drug testing on doctors.

Prop 46 would require the suspicionless drug testing of doctors. (wikimedia.org)
Proposition 46, whose controversial ballot title is "Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors, Medical Negligence Lawsuits. Initiative Statute," would, if passed, make California the first state in the nation to impose drug testing on doctors. According to a Ballotpedia summary, it would:

  • Increase the state's cap on non-economic damages that can be assessed in medical negligence lawsuits to over $1 million, from the current cap of $250,000.
  • Require drug and alcohol testing of doctors and reporting of positive tests to the California Medical Board.
  • Require the California Medical Board to suspend doctors pending investigation of positive tests and take disciplinary action if the doctor was found impaired while on duty.
  • Require health care practitioners to report any doctor suspected of drug or alcohol impairment or medical negligence.
  • Require health care practitioners to consult the state prescription drug history database before prescribing certain controlled substances.

The fight over Prop 46 is shaping up to be the most expensive initiative campaign ever, with rival groups having already raised nearly $70 million. The vast majority of that funding is coming from opponents of the initiative, primarily the very well-heeled state medical community. The No on 46 campaign committee alone has raised nearly $57 million to kill it.

The stakes are huge. Portrayed by supporters -- mainly trial lawyers -- as a boon to patients harmed by medical misconduct and hamstrung by state laws limiting malpractice awards, state analysts estimate that it could cost state health care programs "tens of millions to several hundred million dollars annually," while a legion of hospitals, health clinics, medical practices, and other health care professionals warn that Prop 46 would drive up health care costs across the board while primarily benefiting the bottom line of malpractice lawyers.

Law firms and attorneys' groups are the biggest backers of Prop 46, but they aren't the only ones. The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog is also backing it to the tune of more than $2 million, and has laid out some arguments in favor of it.

"According to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the country behind only heart disease and cancer. As many as 440,000 people die each year from preventable medical negligence. That's like a 747 crashing every 10 hours," the group said in a March flyer. "The California Medical Board estimates that almost one-in-five doctors (18%) suffer from drug and/or alcohol abuse at some point during their careers -- and leading medical safety experts have called for random drug testing to curb substance abuse and ensure patient safety."

In that same flyer, Consumer Watchdog also warned that "doctors are the biggest suppliers for chronic prescription drug abusers" and that "drug prescribed by doctors caused or contributed to nearly half of recent prescription drug overdose deaths in California." But such scary claims beg the question of who else would be expected to supply prescription drugs.

While lawyers and some consumer advocates are lining up to support Prop 46, it is also generating a huge and powerful group of opponents, including hundreds of medical groups, health care providers, hospitals, insurance companies, and clinics and private practices worried about rising malpractice insurance costs. It is also opposed by dozens of county medical associations, the state Chamber of Commerce and many local affiliates, along with more than a dozen labor unions.

The strange bedfellow opposition extends even further, with the state Republican Party, the state American Civil Liberties Union (and its local affiliates), and the California NAACP all among groups coming out against Prop 46. Also among its foes are most of the major newspapers in the state, which have thoroughly condemned it.

"If doctors are drug-addled, other doctors and nurses have a duty to report them," the Sacramento Bee editorialized. "If doctors make horrible mistakes during surgery, there might be cause for testing. But Proposition 46 would impose the insulting requirement of random testing on all doctors who have hospital privileges, and require that the Medical Board of California discipline any doctors whose tests are dirty. In its propaganda, Consumer Watchdog jokes about privacy concerns in a lowest-common-denominator video showing that other professionals must provide urine samples. Simply because laws allow for testing of some workers doesn't mean physicians' privacy should be trampled."

The conservative San Diego Tribune was similarly irked by the use of doctor drug testing as a come-on designed to induce voters to favor the initiative, calling it "a pathetic scam" in the title of its editorial.

"Plainly, the doctor drug-testing provision is 'the ultimate sweetener' designed to make this foul brew go down better. It wasn't a critic who used that term," the newspaper noted. "It was Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. Such an openly cynical attempt to manipulate voters shouldn't be rewarded. Vote no on Proposition 46."

The drug testing provision has also provoked opposition from the state's largest marijuana consumer organization, CA NORML, and the Drug Policy Forum of California, which urged supporters to vote no on Prop 46 in its 2014 Election Guide.

Anti-Prop 46 campaign poster (caphq.org)
"Drug testing is about marijuana," explained CA NORML head Dale Gieringer. "More than half the drug test positives out there are marijuana. This initiative deceitfully claims to be about alcohol and prescription drug abuse by doctors, but drug testing is almost useless with alcohol -- unless you're actually drunk at the time, I suppose -- and if you closely read the text of the initiative, you see that prescription drugs are perfectly excusable as long as the doctor has a prescription. So, there's a medical excuse for the prescription drugs mentioned in the ads, but not for medical marijuana, since the initiative only allows exemptions for prescribed controlled substances."

The drug testing regime proposed by the initiative is antiquated, too, Gieringer said.

"This thing is using urinalysis drug testing standards promulgated by the feds a generation ago," he pointed out. "The list of illegal drugs includes PCP -- yeah, that's a major problem, all those docs on PCP -- but doesn't include the new synthetics. And the list specifically includes marijuana metabolites, but not THC. That's because they're relying on urinalysis, which can't detect active THC, so only the inactive metabolite is being considered under this insidious proposition."

In other words, the drug tests wouldn't catch doctors with alcohol problems unless they were literally drinking on the job, would excuse the presence of prescription drugs if the doctor had a prescription, and wouldn't find doctors who were actually high on pot, but would find those who had used the substance days or weeks earlier. But it sounded good in focus groups.

"As we know, the drug testing provision was an afterthought," Gieringer said. "This is being done by trial lawyers, and the basic purpose is to heighten the limits on malpractice liability. But those focus groups showed everybody liked the idea of drug testing doctors."

The drug testing provision may indeed have been a sweetener designed to improve Prop 46's chances at the polls next month. But the well-funded and broad-based opposition campaign is taking its toll.

Although it polled well in a June Field poll, coming in with 58% support, support has declined since then. An August Field poll saw support plummet, with only 34% in favor, 37% opposed, and 29% undecided. But it isn't over until it's over. The number of undecideds less than a month out is big enough to swing the results either way.

The airwaves across California are already filled with Prop 46 campaign ads. We can only expect them to increase in the next few weeks as the deep-pocketed contenders throw everything they've got at the voters in the final days of campaigning.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: VT Pot Poll, OH College Student Athlete Drug Test Bill, Drugs and Pregnancy, More (10/10/14)

The legalization initiatives in DC and Oregon pick up endorsements, Colorado legal marijuana sales keep on increasing, a Vermont poll has a plurality for legalization, drug use among pregnant women is in the news, Mexico busts another cartel leader, and more. Let's get to it:

Gary Johnson's Our America Initiative endorses the DC legalization initiative. (ouramericainitiative.com)
Marijuana Policy

Gary Johnson Group Endorses DC Legalization Initiative. The Our America Initiative, a non-partisan group headed by former Republican New Mexico and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, has endorsed the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative. The Our America Initiative includes ending marijuana prohibition in its list of national projects, along with ending warrantless NSA spying, abolishing the IRS, and requiring presidential debates to include all viable candidates.

Oregon Social Workers Endorse Legalization Initiative. The Oregon chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has endorsed the Measure 91 legalization initiative. "We conclude that the measure's approach to marijuana use as a public health issue is more consistent with the social work profession's mandate, than Oregon's current treatment of non-medical marijuana use," the group said in a statement. Click on the title link for more.

Vermont Poll Finds Narrow Plurality of Voters Favoring Legalization. A WCAX TV poll found that 49% of respondents support marijuana legalization, with 43% opposed. The issue has polled better in previous polls, but those were polls of the general population -- not voters. Support is strongest among youthful respondents at 59%, but that is the age group least likely to vote.

Colorado Legal Marijuana Sales Up 10% in August. The state Department of Revenue reported Thursday that marijuana retailers sold $33 million in recreational weed last month, up 10% over the previous month. So far this year, marijuana sales (recreational and medical) have generated $45.2 in tax revenues.

Drug Testing

Ohio Bill Would Make College Athletes Take Mandatory Drug Tests. A bill filed Wednesday, House Bill 633, would make Ohio the first state in the nation to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of student athletes at public colleges and universities. The bill would require all athletes to be drug tested during an annual physical and before any championship games. Colleges and universities would also have to adopt policies to punish athletes caught using substances banned by the NCAA, including marijuana, but not alcohol. Rep. Peter Beck (R-Macon) said he doesn't believe there is a drug problem among college athletes, but he wants any using drugs to be found and placed in drug treatment. The state legislative session ends in December.

Pregnancy

Call for Justice Department to Renounce the Criminalization of Pregnancy. Some 48 reproductive justice, drug reform, women's rights, and civil liberties groups led by National Advocates for Pregnant Women have sent a letter to the Justice Department calling on Attorney General Holder to move away from policies that enhance criminal sentences for crimes committed while pregnant. The letter was inspired by the case of Tennessee woman Lucy Weld, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture meth and was hit with an additional six years in prison because she was pregnant when she committed the offense. The federal prosecutor in the case, US Attorney William Killian, used the case to "send a message" that he would seek sentencing enhancements in similar cases.

Growing Calls for Drug Testing of Pregnant Women. Faced with a growing number of infants born exposed to drugs while still in the womb, medical and other groups are increasingly calling for universal drug screening and/or drug testing of pregnant women. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials are calling for verbal drug screening followed by a drug test if necessary and agreed upon. The American Medical Association also endorses universal screening. But pregnant rights advocates argue that screening for drug use is more likely to lead to punishment or loss of custody rather than drug treatment. "Instead, what we see over and over again is that screening is used as a tool for reporting mothers to child welfare services and police enforcement," said Kylee Sunderlin of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "So even if the screening is universal, the reporting is not, which means that low-income women and women of color will continue to be vastly over-represented in punitive child welfare interventions and, in some states, arrests." Click the link for more details.

International

Mexico Nabs Another Cartel Capo. Mexican federal police Thursday arrested Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, reputed head of the Juarez cartel, in a "routine traffic stop" in Torreon. Carillo Fuentes is the brother of Amado Carillo Fuentes, who picked up the sobriquet "Lord of the Skies" for using jet liners to fly drug loads from South America to Mexico before his death in a botched cosmetic surgery operation in 1997. Vicente Carillo Fuentes is just the latest cartel leader busted or killed during the Pena Nieto presidency. Hector Beltran Leyva was captured just last week; Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was captured in February, Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino was captured in July 2013, and Gulf cartel head Jorge Eduardo Costilla was caught in September 2012.

Chronicle AM: Alaska Poll Battle, NE Anti-Heroin Campaign, NYC Psychedelic Conference, More (10/9/14)

Polls continue to split on the Alaska initiative, Illinoisans are lining up for medical marijuana, four Northeastern states unite to fight heroin, Canada's largest addiction center calls for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

heroin (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Polls Split on Alaska Initiative. The fate of Alaska's Measure 2 legalization initiative remains up in the air. Polls this week commissioned by the opposing sides had differing results. A Dittman Research poll sponsored by the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign has the measure losing 44% to 53%. But the Alaska Survey poll, in which the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol paid for a marijuana policy question to be asked, had the initiative winning 57% to 39%. Both polls claimed a +/- 4% margin of error, but even so, both of them can't be right. The split in polls has been evident throughout the campaign. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 6,000 Illinoisans Have Applied for Medical Marijuana Cards. The Department of Health reported Wednesday that some 6,300 state residents have applied for permission to use medical marijuana, with cancer, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries being the most common health conditions mentioned. But the department also noted that the vast majority of applications were incomplete; only 800 have submitted complete applications, which include a doctor certification form and background check information. People whose applications are incomplete will be notified and then will have 21 days to complete them.

Guam Election Commission Seeks to End Legal Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative Vote. The commission has asked the US District Court on the island territory to dismiss the petition for a writ blocking the vote filed by local attorney Howard Trapp. Trapp has argued that the legislature cannot send an initiative to the voters, but the Election Commission and the Guam Supreme Court have already rejected his claim.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Claims Marijuana Legalization Undermines Fight Against Opiates. In a speech yesterday in Maine, acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli argued that the trend toward marijuana legalization is making the fight against more serious drug problems, such as the abuse of prescription opioids, more difficult. He said that early use of marijuana increases the likelihood that users will develop dependency on other drugs. "It's hard to say at one level that we want to think about prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse without looking at how to prevent kids from starting to use other substances from an early age," he said.

Heroin

Four Northeastern States Create Anti-Heroin Task Force. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania officials Wednesday announced the formation of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF) in "an unprecedented law-enforcement collaboration to combat the growing problem of heroin distribution and abuse in communities throughout the region." Attorneys General from the four states will work together to try to repress the heroin trade. "For too long, drug organizations have tried to outmaneuver law-enforcement agencies by crossing state lines. This task force will ensure that our borders do not become our boundaries," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "By joining together, we can prevent defendants from using state borders as a shield from law-enforcement and allow us to shut down the pipelines and cut off the heroin supply."

Why Are We Freaking Out About Heroin? Wonkblog Asks. The Washington Post's Wonkblog has an insightful piece about the level of heroin use in the country and the public policy response it has engendered. The piece notes that "hardly anyone uses heroin" and is full of crunchy numbers and thoughtful commentary. "Overall, it's important for the public -- and particularly the media -- to keep some perspective when it comes to the numbers on heroin," the piece concludes. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to speak of 'epidemics' when use rates continue to hover somewhere between 0.1 and 0.5% of the total population. And kneejerk legislating will only make the problem worse." Click on the link for the full piece.

Psychedelics

New York City Conference on Psychedelics This Weekend. The eighth annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference will be held at Judson Memorial Church and The New School in Greenwich Village on October 11 and 12. Horizons focuses on contemporary research into the applications of psychedelics, providing an invaluable forum for experts to share ideas, insights, and to rethink the future of these drugs in science, medicine, culture, and history. This year, professors, researchers, writers and practitioners from the United States, England and Switzerland will be presenting findings and insights in the fields of neuroscience, terminal anxiety disorder, depression, hard drugs addiction, sexual orientation and identity, and more. Click on the links for more information.

International

Canada's Largest Addiction Center Calls for Marijuana Legalization. In a report issued today, Canada's largest addiction center calls for marijuana legalization with a strict regulatory approach. The recommendation is based in harm reduction principles. The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto made the call for legalization in its report CAMH's Cannabis Policy Framework. It comes after an in-depth analysis of the health, social, and legal implications of marijuana use, as well as an examination of comparative marijuana policy, by CAMH scientists and policy experts. "Canada's current system of cannabis control is failing to prevent or reduce the harms associated with cannabis use," said Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department at CAMH. "Based on a thorough review of the evidence, we believe that legalization combined with strict regulation of cannabis is the most effective means of reducing the harms associated with its use."

Myanmar Moving Toward Reducing Drug Penalties. Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brigadier General Kyaw Kyaw Tun has told members of parliament that the government is preparing to review sentences for drug use, which currently range from five to 15 years in prison. "Officials from the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, the Union Attorney-General's Office and the Union Supreme Court are drawing up an amendment law," the deputy minister said. The Myanmar government has been moving to shift drug penalties since 2012.

Chronicle AM: Carl Sagan Pot Papers Released, Supreme Court Takes Up Highway Drug Dog Detentions, More (10/8/14)

The Library of Congress unveils writings on marijuana and drug reform from astronomer Carl Sagan, pot pops up in the Oklahoma Senate race, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of how long police can detain someone on the side of the road waiting for a drug dog, the "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT raid case isn't over yet, and more. Let's get to it:

Carl Sagan
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Pops Up in Oklahoma US Senate Race. Even in Oklahoma, though that is not really a big surprise, given that Democratic contender state Sen. Constance Johnson is a leading Sooner advocate for legalization. At a debate in Stillwater with Republican contender US Rep. James Lankford, Johnson surprised no one by standing by her well-known position on pot. And Lankford surprised no one by opposing it. Click on the link to get some flavor.

Carl Sagan's Writings on Marijuana, Drug Policy in New Library of Congress Exhibit. The Library of Congress in Washington, DC, has made available to the public a huge trove of astronomer and PBS "Cosmos" host Carl Sagan's papers relating to marijuana and drug policy. Sagan was a proponent of marijuana and drug reform, and Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority has penned a nice piece about the collection and its release. Click on the title link to read it.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Committee Assignment. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, passed the Senate last month, but is being slowed down by Republicans in the House. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but Republican members said it would have to have at least two public hearings before going to a committee vote. With only four working days left in the legislative session, that isn't going to happen this year.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court to Rule on Roadside Detention of Motorists While Cops Await Arrival of Drug Dogs. How long can police hold a driver on the side of the road while waiting for a drug dog to arrive to do a sniff (which the Supreme Court considers not a search)? The US Supreme Court agreed yesterday to take up a case that could decide that issue. In the case, a Nebraska man was stopped for an alleged traffic infraction and ticketed by the officer 21 minutes later. But he remained detained by the officer for another six minutes, until backup arrived. The officer then used the dog to sniff the car, the dog alerted, a search ensued, and methamphetamine was found. The man pleaded guilty, but appealed, saying his detention after the ticket was written amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Oral arguments will be presented early next year. The court opinion will likely be announced by June 2015.

Family of Toddler Burned in Georgia SWAT Drug Raid Seeks Federal Charges. After a Georgia grand jury declined to indict any police officers in the botched drug raid that left toddler Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" severely injured when a SWAT officer through a flash-bang grenade in his play pen, his family is seeking a meeting this week with federal prosecutors in hopes of getting federal charges filed. While the local grand jury failed to indict, it was highly critical of law enforcement practices in the case. "There should be no such thing as an emergency narcotics investigation," the jurors wrote in their report. Georgia US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement that her office is looking into it. "Federal authorities have been participating in the investigation of this terrible incident, and now that a state grand jury has declined to return an indictment. We will review the matter for possible federal charges," said Yates.

International

Bolivian Presidential Candidates on Drug Policy. The PanAm Post has a nice analysis of the drug policy positions of the various candidates in the Bolivian presidential elections set for Sunday. While sitting President Evo Morales has won kudos for his coca policies, he has not undertaken any broader reform initiatives, such as drug decriminalization or legalization. Neither have any of the other candidates. The candidates are united in their "prohibitionist insanity," the article notes. Morales is expected to be reelected.

El Chapo Guzman Indicted in New York for Murders. Mexico's imprisoned Sinaloa cartel leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been indicted for 12 murders in an indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn. He and his successor, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, were also charged with money-laundering more than $14 billion in drug profits. But don't look for him to be heading for New York any time soon; he faces numerous charges in Mexico, as well.

Mexican Drug Gang Hit Men Linked to Mass Murder of Student Teachers in Guerrero. The attorney general for the state of Guerrero said Tuesday that some of the 44 rural teachers' college students who went missing last week after clashing with police in the city of Iguala were probably executed by drug traffickers working with crooked police. Two men who identified themselves as members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang have supposedly confessed to killing at least 17 of them. Authorities have found a mass grave containing 27 bodies. The state attorney general said it appeared local police arrested the students, then handed them over to the hit men. The students were said to be political radicals and had been protesting against local officials. This sort of repressive political violence is nothing new in Guerrero, but the mass murder is one of the largest in recent Mexican history.

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: Dallas to Stop Marijuana Arrests, Rick Steves Campaigns, DEA Agent Makes Fake Facebook Page, More (10/7/14)

It's crunch time for those marijuana initiatives, Dallas will quit making small-time pot arrests, Colorado's governor disses the voters, Pennsylvania's medical marijuana bill is stalled, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Dallas to Quit Arresting People for Small-Time Marijuana Possession. Starting in January, police in Dallas County, Texas, will only ticket -- not arrest -- people caught in possession of two ounces or less of marijuana. But those cited will still face misdemeanor charges, a fine of up to $2,000 and up to six months in jail (though that is rarely the case). The state legislature in 2007 voted to allow jurisdictions to implement cite-and-release, but only a handful of locales in the state have exercised that option.

Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off in Lewiston, Maine. The campaign to legalize marijuana locally through ballot initiatives in Lewiston and South Portland, Maine, kicked off its final month of electioneering with a rally today in Lewiston. The effort is led by the Marijuana Policy Project and is part of a plan to legalize the herb statewide in the near future. Portland, the state's largest city, passed a similar initiative last year.

Rick Steves Hits the Road for the Oregon Legalization Initiative. The charming and mild-mannered PBS travel show host is kicking off a 9-stop tour in support of Measure 91. Steves, who lives in next-door Washington state, also played a critical role in that state's successful 2012 legalization initiative.

DC Council Votes to Strengthen Law to Seal Records for Past Marijuana Arrests. The DC Council voted unanimously today in favor of a bill that would improve the process by which a person can seal criminal records pertaining to conduct that has since been decriminalized or legalized. The council is expected to take a final vote on the bill in late October and it will then go to Mayor Vincent Gray for his review. The council decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year, and the Measure 71 possession and cultivation legalization initiative appears poised to pass in November.

Colorado Governor Says Voters Were "Reckless" to Legalize Marijuana. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said during a campaign debate with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez that Colorado voters were "reckless" for voting to legalize marijuana. "Any governor that looks at doing this before we see what the consequences are, I would view it as reckless," he said. But what about voters who voted for it? "I think for us to do that without having all the data, there is not enough data, and to a certain extent you could say it was reckless. I'm not saying it was reckless because I'll get quoted everywhere, but if it was up to me I wouldn't have done it, right. I opposed it from the very beginning. In matter of fact, all right, what the hell -- I'll say it was reckless." Hickenlooper may call voters "reckless," but he has overseen the good faith implementation of the voters' will. Beauprez opposes marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Stalled in House. The state Senate last month passed a restrictive medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1182, but even that appears to be too much for the Republican-controlled House. Spokesmen for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) said the body wants to carefully study the bill, including holding public hearings. That means there is virtually no chance it will come to a vote this session. But some Democrats have some legislative maneuvers planned, including trying to attach it to another bill, so stay tuned.

Law Enforcement

Grand Jury Fails to Indict Cops in "Baby Bou Bou" Georgia SWAT Raid. A grand jury in Habersharm County has decided against charging any police officers in a botched drug raid in which a toddler was severely injured by a flash-bang grenade thrown by a SWAT officer. "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesvanh's nose was nearly blown off his face and he spent weeks hospitalized after the raid, in which no drugs were found and no one was arrested. The county has also refused to pay the child's medical bills. Look for a civil suit to come.

DEA Agent Set Up Fake Facebook Page in Woman's Name Without Her Consent. A DEA agent investigating a drug case took over a woman's identity, creating a fake Facebook page in her name and posting racy photos from her seized cell phone. The woman was a minor player in a drug case and didn't know her identity had been commandeered until friends asked her why she was posting racy photos. The woman hadn't even set up a Facebook page of her own. DEA Agent Timothy Sinnigen set up the fake page and used it to communicate with at least one drug suspect. Now, the Justice Department is arguing in federal court that it was perfectly okay for him to do so. Click on the link to read the whole sordid tale.

Sentencing

Ten Percent Drop in Federal Prison Sentences of a Year or More. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University reports that the number of federal prison sentences of a year or more has dropped by 10% over the past five years. Only about one in four people convicted of federal crimes received sentences of greater than a year. Drug offenders accounted for nearly one-third (32.4%) of them. The TRAC data doesn't specify whether this figure has gone up or down in the past five years.

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: NY Times Backs Marijuana Initiatives, UK Lib Dems Approve Drug Reforms, More (10/06/14)

The nation's leading newspaper endorses three marijuana legalization initiatives, the FDA sticks up for Zohydro, British Lib Dems endorse drug reforms as a new British poll suggests growing public support, Ecuador begins freeing drug mules under a new law, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New York Times Endorses Alaska, Oregon, DC Legalization Initiatives. The editorial board of the New York Times endorsed all three initiatives in a Sunday editorial. The newspaper of record noted that all three entities had already legalized medical marijuana, and it "makes good sense" to go the rest of the way. "Opponents of legalization warn that states are embarking on a risky experiment," the newspaper said. "But the sky over Colorado has not fallen, and prohibition has proved to be a complete failure. It's time to bring the marijuana market out into the open and end the injustice of arrests and convictions that have devastated communities."

Oregon Legalization Campaign Gets Another $300,000 Donation. The Drug Policy Action Network, the campaign and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has kicked in another $300,000 for the Measure 91 legalization campaign. That means the group has now donated nearly a million dollars to the campaign, which has raised nearly $3 million overall.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Gets Underway. Three children's hospitals and the Department of Health are doing a research study on the use of CBD cannabis oil in children. The project, announced in May, is now underway. A broader, but still restrictive, medical marijuana bill has passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the House.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds Most See Drug Addiction as Moral Failing. Most Americans consider drug addiction a personal vice rather than a medical condition, according to a new poll from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Respondents were much more likely to approve of helping people with mental illness than with drug addictions, the poll found. "While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition," study leader Colleen Barry, an associate professor in the department of health policy and management, said in a Hopkins news release. "In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one's struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal," she added.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Responds to Critics on Zohydro. Responding to months of criticism over its decision to approve the prescription opiate pain reliever Zohydro ER, a trio of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have written a piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association saying approval of the drug was warranted and criticism of the agency was misguided. Concentrating on one drug during a time of heightened concern over opiate misuse does not address the underlying problems of widespread misuse and physician overprescribing, they write. "The problem of opioid overdose demands well-informed policies. The actions taken by FDA may help to reverse the epidemic," they wrote. "Policies that focus on a single drug can divert focus from broader, further-reaching interventions… The concerns over Zohydro ER should be seen in the greater context of the opioid epidemic. Singling out one drug for restrictions is not likely to be successful."

International

British Liberal Democrats Approve Drug Reform Platform. The Lib Dems, junior partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, Sunday approved a drug policy plank that calls for the decriminalization of drug possession and for the tightening of laws allowing police to stop and search people suspected of drug crimes. That puts them at odds with their coalition partners. The Lib Dems have presented their drug policy platform within the broader context of reducing crime, which has been going down, and reducing re-offending.

Poll Finds Most British Think Drug War a Huge Failure. A new Guardian poll finds that 84% think the war on drugs cannot be won, with 39% supporting the decriminalization of drug possession and a slight majority (52%) supporting marijuana legalization initiatives like those in Colorado and Washington. Click on the poll link for much more detail and discussion.

Ecuador Freeing Thousands of Drug Mules. Under a law that went into effect in August, Ecuador has begun quietly freeing thousands of people convicted of low-level cocaine smuggling offenses. The new law retroactively reduced jail sentences for drug mules, with some 500 already freed and at least another 2,200 to follow. The sentence reductions come only after a court hearing, which the prisoner must request. President Rafael Correa's father spent three years in a US prison as a drug mule.

UNODC Head Says Drug Legalization Could Cause More Deaths. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC), said today that drug legalization could lead to increased consumption and more deaths. He was responding to a report last month from the Global Commission on Drug Policy that called for "experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs," which he rejected. "I believe that such experimentation certainly will make drugs more available and (cheaper)," Fedotov said. "It means that we may face increased consumption of psychoactive substances which may result in more death and more suffering of individuals (and) their families."

Help Track Candidates' Positions on "Vote For Marijuana" Web Site

StoptheDrugWar.org has teamed up with Vote For Marijuana, a new web site that's building a database of all state and federal politicians and their public statements/votes/pledges related to marijuana policy. We hope you'll join the team by submitting information from your local races on the site.

Vote For Marijuana's goal (and ours) is to enable any voter to see all the local politicians running for (and holding) office, and what each politician has said and done about ending or continuing marijuana prohibition and its parts. For that we need activists from each state to help.

Visit http://www.voteformarijuana.net/getinvolved to learn how to become a Vote For Marijuana moderator in your home state, or just check out the front end and see what the system already knows about your local politicians!

Medical Marijuana Update

A new study punctures some myths about medical marijuana in California, Connecticut's dispensaries finally open for business, the Illinois program is moving along, and more. Let's get to it:

California

On Monday, a survey found that 5% of adult Californians have used medical marijuana. The survey from the Public Health Institute in Sacramento, which will appear in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, also found that, contrary to popular belief, it mostly is sick people using medical marijuana: "It is clear that (California law) is helping people who are sick and use medical marijuana to treat serious medical conditions… Our study contradicts commonly held beliefs that medical marijuana is being overused by healthy individuals… under the pretense that they have a serious medical condition and that they 'need' marijuana to treat it."

Colorado

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court heard a patient's wrongful firing lawsuit. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for the Dish Network until he was fired four years ago for testing positive for marijuana. Dish Network argues that even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law, and the firing was thus justified.

Connecticut

Last week, dispensaries finally opened for business. The state's first licensed grower sent its first shipment this week to dispensaries, which promptly began selling it to qualified patients. All six dispensaries in the state should be open this week.

Florida

Last Thursday, a SurveyUSA Poll had Amendment 2 at 53%. The latest SurveyUSA poll has the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative with 53% of the vote, but since the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. That's a slight drop from the last SurveyUSA poll, which had support at 56%. Importantly, while only 53% said they would vote for it, only 31% said they would vote against and 15% were undecided. If the undecideds split evenly, the initiative will squeak out a victory.

Guam

On Monday, a Guam attorney sought to block the pending medical marijuana initiative. Voters in Guam are set to vote on a medical marijuana initiative submitted by the territorial legislature next month, but a Guam attorney asked the US District Court there to block the vote. Howard Trapp argues that the legislature can't legally "pass the buck" to voters, even though the island's Supreme Court said it could in an August ruling. The election commission has until October 7 to respond to the filing.

Illinois

Last Wednesday, state officials said more than 350 people had applied for medical marijuana business permits. Some 158 people applied as potential cultivation centers, while 211 applied to operate dispensaries. The state will grant 21 grow center permits and 60 dispensary permits by year's end, with the first legally obtainable medical marijuana available by spring 2015.

Last week, the first Illinois patients got their registration cards. Jim Champion, an Army vet who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was apparently the first Illinois patient to get his medical marijuana card. His came last week. He is the first of more than 2,000 Illinois residents who have applied under the state's new law.

New York

Last Friday, the governor asked the Justice Department to allow the state to obtain medical marijuana from other states. Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General David Cole asking the Justice Department to extend a narrow, time-limited exception to federal law to allow the importation of certain strains of medical marijuana from other states for use by children in New York with severe forms of epilepsy. The letter follows a similar letter sent last month by the Cuomo administration to Attorney General Eric Holder.

On Monday, the state's two US senators joined the call. US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) request for the Justice Department to allow the state to import high-CBD cannabis oil from out of state. "As members of Congress whose constituents suffer from these illnesses, we feel that the federal government ought to do what it can to help these children," the senators wrote. "Therefore, we are requesting that you provide the state of New York with a waiver that would prohibit federal prosecution for the importation of cannabidol in the rare cases where medical marijuana is imported between two states with legalized medical marijuana, and the amount is small, finite and prescription-based."

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, the state Senate approved a restrictive medical marijuana bill. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 1182, after amending it to remove the ability to vaporize the plant and removing a large number of qualifying medical conditions. The bill now goes to the House.

Rhode Island

This coming Saturday, it's the second annual Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Festival. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition is hosting the festival to celebrate the eighth year of the state's medical marijuana program. Click on the link for more details.

Wisconsin

On Monday, activists targeted obstructionist lawmakers with billboards. Sick and tired of seeing bills blocked in the state legislature, medical marijuana activists are targeting two key opponents, Republican state Sens. Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, in a newly unveiled billboard campaign. The billboards urge readers to call the two senators and ask them why Wisconsin patients have no access to medical marijuana. Click on the link to see the billboard.

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

Chronicle AM: Decrim in Jamaica/MD/Philly, Chris Christie Talks Drugs, PA ODs Bill, More (10/1/14)

Decrim comes to Maryland and Philadelphia, and Jamaica is working on it, too; the Oregon initiative campaign heats up, Chris Christie talks drugs, a SWAT reporting bill in Michigan gets a hearing, and more. Let's get to it:

Rastas down Jamaica way will soon have something to smile about. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Campaign Unveils First TV Ad. The Measure 91 legalization initiative campaign has unveiled the first of its TV spot ads, featuring a former veteran Oregon law enforcement officer explaining why he supports legalization. The campaign has about $2 million budgeted for TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign. Click on the title link to view the ad.

Leading Legalization Foe to Make Oregon Campaign Appearances. The man who is arguably the leading public opponent of marijuana legalization, Dr. Kevin Sabet of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), will make seven appearances in Oregon this week to campaign against the Measure 91 legalization initiative. He had planned a 13-stop "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour" partly funded with federal grant dollars, but that was scrapped after the Measure 91 campaign cried foul. Now, Sabet's crusade is privately funded.

Philadelphia Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Mayor Michael Nutter (D) today signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Up to an ounce will be considered a civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine or a $100 fine for public consumption. The new law will go into effect October 20.

Decriminalization Now in Effect in Maryland. As of today, the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a crime, but a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100. The move comes after the legislature earlier this year passed and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed into law SB 364. Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Louisiana Poll Shows Little Support for Harsh Marijuana Sentences. A new Public Policy Polling survey released by the ACLU of Louisiana found that 78% opposed sentences of longer than six months for pot possession, 71% opposed life sentences for felons caught with marijuana, and 68% support medical marijuana. Louisiana has some of the nation's harshest marijuana laws, including a sentence of up to life in prison for marijuana possession by a felon and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for repeat pot possession offenders. Simple possession first offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, but 60% of respondents said it should be decriminalized. Click on the poll link for demographics and methodologies.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers to Hear High CBD Cannabis Oil Testimony Today. A legislative panel is meeting today in Lawrenceville to hear testimony from law enforcement, health care professionals, and others about medical marijuana extracts and cannabis oils. This could lay the groundwork for new legislation to be filed next year.

New Mexico Credit Unions Will Close Medical Marijuana Producer Accounts. Some credit unions have sent letters to nearly half the state's licensed medical marijuana producers saying they no longer accept their business and are closing their accounts. The credit unions said they could not comply with federal guidelines. Medical marijuana supporters are demanding to know why.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Talks Drug Treatment, Ending Mandatory Minimums. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, called Tuesday for making drug and alcohol treatment "more available for everybody" and criticized mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. "With 23 million folks addicted, it's not working," Christie said of the war on drugs. "There's gotta be a separation between the criminal act [of using illegal drugs] and the disease." Click on the link for more details.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) Tuesday signed into law SB 1164, which has two harm reduction measures aimed at reducing drug overdoses. The bill creates a "Good Samaritan" immunity from prosecution for people helping overdose victims and it makes the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) more available to police and the public. The new law will go into effect on October 20.

Law Enforcement

Michigan House Committee Hears Testimony on SWAT Reporting Bill. The state House Criminal Justice Committee is hearing testimony today on a bill that would require SWAT teams in the state to report on their activities. The SWAT Team Reporting ACT, HB 4914, would require agencies with SWAT teams to n the number, location, reason, authorization and outcome of all deployments, and to file reports with the Attorney General's office twice a year.

International

Jamaica on the Way to Marijuana Decriminalization. Justice Minister Mark Golding said today that a bill to decriminalize marijuana has been drafted and should be passed into law before the end of the year. The bill would make possession of up to two ounces a petty offense and would also allow decriminalization for religious purposes, allowing the island nation's Rastafarians to smoke "Jah herb" without fear of arrest.

Colorado and Washington Help Make the Case for Oregon's Measure 91 [FEATURE]

As Oregon voters consider Measure 91, an initiative on the November ballot that would regulate, legalize and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older, many are looking to how similar laws are affecting Colorado and Washington. Measure 91 supporters Tuesday brought together a panel of experts from those two pioneering states to make the case that marijuana legalization is a winner, with more positives than negatives for states that have taken the step.

With marijuana legalization, there has been a lot less of this... (wikimedia.org)
Admittedly, we have not had a lot of time to judge -- Colorado began allowing legal, regulated sales only this January and the first marijuana stores in Washington didn't open until July -- but early results have been promising.

In Colorado, the state has already taken in more than $27 million in taxes and fees, with more than $5 million already allocated to building schools. At the same time, violent crime in Denver has declined by 5.2%, even as the state is set to save somewhere between $12 million and $40 million in annual criminal justice system costs, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

Both a Drug Policy Alliance six-month status report and a Brookings Center report on Colorado's situation have also found that legalization there is proceeding relatively smoothly, with few bumps.

In Washington state, the reviews are fewer since retail stores just began operating in July (although Brookings has issued a report), but customers bought $3.2 million worth of legal weed that first month, with sales doubling to more than $6.9 million in August. More than another $6 million worth had been sold in the first three weeks of September. Tax revenues from legal marijuana sales are estimated to reach $636 million over the next five years.

But while Washington retail sales have just gotten underway, the legalization of personal possession has been the law since the beginning of 2013, and the results on that front are remarkable. According to official state court data, the number of misdemeanor marijuana charges against adults dropped dramatically, from more than 5,500 in 2012 to only 120 last year.

The experiences of Colorado and Washington show that -- if done correctly -- marijuana legalization can be a big winner for other states as well, experts and officials from the two pioneer states said Tuesday.

"People call this an experiment, but it's time to treat marijuana like the drug it is, not the drug we fear it to be," said Colorado state Rep. Jonathan Singer, who was one of only two state representatives to endorse Amendment 64. "We have to thank the people for leading; the legislature has been following," he said.

Issues remain, Singer said, but the state is dealing with them.

"Lawmakers have to ensure that we responsibly regulate edibles and concentrates, so consumers are well aware of what they're putting in their bodies. We want consumers educated," he said. The legislature has passed a bill dealing with edibles.

"The biggest issue is banking, and a bill I sponsored created first-of-a-kind cannabis credit co-ops," Singer said. "We will soon be petitioning the Federal Reserve for services with members of the industry who have formed their own co-ops. When dispensaries get robbed, it's for the cash, not the marijuana."

...and a lot more of this. (Drug Policy Alliance/Sandra Yruel)
"When voters decided to support Amendment 64, they did so to bring marijuana above ground in the hope that it wouldn't detrimentally impact public health and safety, and so far, it hasn't," said Art Way, Colorado state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The most important impact we've seen is that thousands of people are no longer being arrested for simple possession of marijuana in our state," he said.

"All marijuana offenses have declined by about 50%, and law enforcement resources have been freed up to fight violent crime," Way continued. "The state is saving millions of dollars a year in criminal justice system expenses."

For retired Denver police officer Tony Ryan, marijuana law enforcement was a distraction from more serious business.

"Chasing marijuana smokers was not at the top of my list because I needed my officers to handle calls for service," Ryan said. "We didn't have enough officers to cover calls, in part because of the distraction of doing narcotics enforcement, and when you're enforcing narcotics laws, you're mostly enforcing marijuana laws. This frees up police officers to do what they're supposed to do -- answer calls for service and work on solving crimes."

Lewis Koski is director of Marijuana Enforcement for the state of Colorado, and he said officials are keeping on top of the situation.

"We've recently been focused on how to comprehensively and effectively regulate the edibles manufacturing process," he said. "We also do licensing and monitoring of the businesses that cultivate, manufacture, transport, and sell marijuana, and our licensing process is pretty robust."

The department also runs stings to check for age compliance, he said. Increased youth access to marijuana is one of the most often heard fears of legalization foes.

"We put undercover underage individuals into the retail stores to see if they could buy anything, but what we've seen is a 100% compliance rate," he said.

While Washington hasn't had as lengthy an experience with legalized, taxed, and regulated sales as Colorado, experts and officials from the Evergreen State also said legalization was working for them.

"We've enjoyed a successful, albeit slow, launch," said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. "We did see the virtual elimination of marijuana possession arrests, which has resulted in a restoration of justice. We're no longer hounding people for the possession of marijuana in the state of Washington."

There are issues remaining, but they are soluble, Holmes said.

"One impediment is that our medical marijuana laws were in disarray after the former governor vetoed a regulation bill, and as a result, I-502 didn't touch medical at all," he noted. "The biggest unfinished business for us is how the legislature will address medical. Perhaps it will be folded into the I-502 system."

Holmes also pointed to the issue of revenue sharing, the problem of some localities opting out, and the lack -- so far -- of a legal supply adequate to put a sizeable dent in the black market.

Like his Colorado law enforcement colleague, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper saw legalization as a smart move.

"It's no secret that relations between police officers and the communities they are required to serve are strained, especially with young and poor people, and marijuana enforcement is a big factor in this," Stamper argued. "A vast number of poor young people of color have been arrested over the years. With I-502, there is a major shift in law enforcement priorities. Now, police can focus on burglaries and robberies and the like, and by freeing up resources, we can also deal a serious if not fatal blow to major drug dealers. This is making a huge and positive difference."

I-502 chief proponent Alison Holcomb was brief and to the point.

"I-502 has preserved public safety, reduced the burden on police and prosecutors, and generated significant new tax resources," she said.

"We've learned a lot from Colorado and Washington, and we purposefully set up a very deliberative process," said Oregon Measure 91 campaign spokesman Anthony Johnson. "The state will have a full year to analyze what's going on there and implement what's best for Oregon. We will regulate marijuana very much like we regulate beer and wine."

But first, they have to win. Measure 91 is leading in the polls, but by no means comfortably. Getting the message out about how things have gone in Colorado and Washington should only help.

OR
United States

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