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Chronicle AM: Mexico Senate Approves MedMJ, WI Lawmaker Wants HS Drug Testing, More... (12/14/16)

With the backing of the president, Mexico's Senate has approved medical marijuana; Kentucky's attorney general identifies the opioid epidemic as the state's biggest problem, Nevada drug dogs trained to sniff out marijuana face an uncertain future after legalization, and more.

Do you want to play high school sports in Wisconsin? A GOP lawmaker wants you to have to pee in a cup first. (Wikimedia)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky AG Says Opioid Epidemic Should Be Legislature's Top Priority. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said Tuesday that the opioid epidemic -- not a failing pension program -- is the state's biggest problem and the Republican-controlled legislature should make that its top priority. "We have a very important pension problem that we have to tackle, but a pension hasn't killed anyone's father or mother or taken a child from a parent," Beshear said. "This drug epidemic is the single largest threat to the lives of our citizens and also to our economy itself."

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Lawmaker Wants to Impose Drug Testing on High School Students Statewide. Whether to drug test students is a question traditionally left to local school boards, but state Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) is drafting a bill to impose drug testing on some students statewide. He said he will introduce a bill that will require private and public schools to have policies to randomly drug test students who participate in voluntary activities, such as sports or choir or the debate club. Only a handful of Wisconsin school districts currently have such policies.

Law Enforcement

After Pot Vote, Nevada Drug Dogs Face Uncertain Future. With legal marijuana looming in the state's near future, Nevada drug dogs trained to sniff marijuana could be out of a job. Drug dogs are trained to detect various substances and will alert on any of them, but after January 1, they could be alerting on a legal substance, and that means their usefulness to law enforcement is in question. They could be retrained (difficult and expensive) or replaced (expensive).

International

Mexico Senate Votes Overwhelmingly to Approve Medical Marijuana. The Mexican Senate voted 98-7 Tuesday to approve medical marijuana legislation. The move comes after President Enrique Pena Nieto earlier this year signaled his support. Some lawmakers said they were disappointed the bill didn't legalize marijuana outright.

Philippines President Admits Personally Killing People. Speaking Monday about his bloody war on drugs, which has left nearly 6,000 dead in six months, President Rodrigo Duterte admitted to personally killing people while mayor of Davao City, where he has long been accused of tolerating death squads. "In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police officers] that if I can do it, why can't you. And I'd go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill," he said.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Legal in MA Thursday, Canada Moving Forward, More... (12/13/16)

There's a lot of international news today, plus Colorado pot sales pass the $1 billion mark this year, Massachusetts politicians get out of the way of legalization, and more.

Philippines President Duterte isn't satisfied with mass killing of drug suspects. He wants the death penalty, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Sales Hit $1 Billion Mark This Year. The state Department of Revenue reports that marijuana sales through October exceeded the billion dollar mark, coming in at $1.09 billion. That figure could hit $1.3 billion by year's end, according to marijuana industry attorney Christian Sederberg.

Massachusetts Officials Won't Delay Marijuana Legalization. Possession of small amounts of marijuana will become legal Thursday. There had been fears of a delay after loose talk in the legislature, but legislative leaders made it clear Monday they will not seek to delay the start of the new law.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commissioners Sworn In. In the first meeting of a commission established to create a state medical marijuana system after voters approved a constitutional amendment last month, five commissioners were sworn in. The members of the state Medical Marijuana Commission are Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman of Little Rock, lobbyist James Miller of Bryant, Dr. Carlos Roman of Little Rock, pharmacy executive Stephen Carroll of Benton and attorney Travis Story of Fayetteville. Henry-Tillman was unanimously elected Monday afternoon as the commission's chairman.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) has filed the Cannabis Compassion Act of 2017 (BR 409), which would allow patients with a specified list of diseases and medical conditions access to their medicine. The bill would allow patients to possess up to three ounces and grow up to 12 plants and envisions a system of regulated cultivators and "compassion centers."

Michigan Medical Marijuana Fees Fund State's War on Drugs.Medical marijuana fees have fattened the Michigan Medical Marijuana Fund, and state law enforcement has been tapping into that fund to aggressively go after marijuana. Local sheriffs in the Detroit area have spent more than $600,000 raiding dispensaries in the past year, and there's more where that came from since the fund has raised $30 million. "I really don't think it's appropriate to fund law enforcement on the backs of medical marijuana patients," medical marijuana attorney Matt Abel told the Detroit News. "… It's really a hidden tax on patients."

International

Canada Marijuana Task Force Advises Wide-Ranging Legalization. The task force charged with shaping the country's looming marijuana legalization has recommended that pot be sold in retail stores and by mail order, that possession of 30 grams and cultivation of four plants be legalized, that the minimum age be set at 18, and that pot not be sold along with alcohol. The commission is also recommending that high-potency products be more heavily taxed to discourage their use. The Liberals are expected to file their legalization bill this coming spring.

Canada Releases New Comprehensive Drug Strategy. Health Minister Jane Philpott Monday unveiled the Canadian Drug and Substances Strategy, which will replace the existing National Anti-Drug Strategy of the Conservatives. The new strategy restores harm reduction as a core pillar of Canadian drug policy, along with prevention, treatment, and law enforcement, and insists on a "strong evidence base."

British Drug Advisers Call for Prescription Heroin, Safe Injection Sites. The official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has recommending allowing hard-core heroin users to get the drug via prescription and called for the opening of supervised injection facilities. Both moves come as a response to a soaring number of drug overdose deaths. "The ACMD is of the view that death is the most serious harm related to drug use," commission head Les Iversen said in a letter to the Home Secretary. "The most important recommendation in this report is that government ensures that investment in OST [opioid substitution therapy] of optimal dosage and duration is, at least, maintained," he added.

Philippines Drug War Death Toll Nearing 6,000. According to statistics released Monday by the Philippines National Police, some 5,927 deaths have been linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs since he took office at the beginning of July. Nearly 2,100 were killed in police operations, while more than 3,800 deaths were blamed on vigilantes or death squads.

Effort to Block Philippines Death Penalty Bill. In addition to widespread extra-judicial executions of drug suspects, President Duterte wants to reinstate the death penalty, including for drug offenses. ASEAN Parliamentarians on Human Rights is leading the campaign against the bill and wants people to contact Philippines lawmakers. Click on the link for more info.

Chronicle AM: Opioid ODs Keep Rising, More Vancouver SIJs, More DC "Smoke Sessions", More... (12/9/16)

Trump's anti-marijuana attorney general pick gets a surprise visit from DC activists, the CDC announces that opioid OD deaths went up again last year, British Columbia expands its safe injection site program, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists Visit Sessions' Office, Offer Free Weed. As part of their #SmokeSessions campaign to defeat the nomination of Trump's attorney general pick, activists from the DC Cannabis Campaign, the same group that led the DC legalization campaign, visited the offices of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) Thursday, carrying marijuana with them as they went. Sessions staffers listened to arguments against prohibition and stories about medical benefits and did not call Capitol Police to arrest the federal lawbreakers, leading organizer Adam Eidinger to ask: "If you're not going to arrest people in your own office who bring marijuana… why would you break down people's doors as a federal policy?"

Hemp

Missouri Hemp Bill Filed. State Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) has pre-filed a bill that would authorize commercial hemp farming, production, and sale, and does not require growers to get federal permission to grow their crop. The measure is SB120. The legislative session starts next month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Opioid Deaths Surpassed 30,000 Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data Thursday showing the opioid overdose deaths had surpassed 30,000 for the first time in recent history last year. That's up nearly 5,000 deaths over 2014. And for the first time since the 1990s, more people died from heroin overdoses than prescription opioid overdoses. "The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen," said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement. "Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems."

Asset Forfeiture

Institute of Justice Sues Border Patrol, IRS Over Asset Forfeiture FOIA Records. The libertarian-leaning Institute of Justice filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Border Patrol and the IRS, saying the two agencies are violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The IRS demanded $750,000 to turn over asset forfeiture records, while the Border Patrol denied the FOIA request, first claiming it was "overbroad" and then saying to do so would reveal law enforcement techniques. "The lack of transparency surrounding forfeiture is deeply troubling, especially considering the vast power law enforcement has to take property from people without so much as charging them with a crime," The Institute for Justice's research director Lisa Knepper said in a press release announcing the suit. "The public ought to know how forfeiture is being used."

Ohio Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would require the filing of criminal charges before the state could institute civil asset forfeiture proceedings won final approval in the House Friday and now head to the desk of Gov. John Kasich (R). The measure, House Bill 347, was earlier approved unanimously by the state Senate.

International

New Safe Injection Sites Open in Vancouver, with More Yet to Come. Two new safe injection sites for drug users opened in the city's Downtown Eastside Thursday, and similar facilities will open in Surrey and Victoria next week. And later this month, additional sites will open in all three locations. The move was announced by the British Columbia Ministry of Health, which did not seek permission from the federal government to do so. But they did let Health Canada and the Ministry of Public Safety know it was coming. BC Health Minister Terry Lake said the actions were necessary to combat a rising toll of opioid overdose deaths. "We can't wait for federal changes in order to save people's lives," he said. "We know people are using in alleys, they are using in their rooms, and they are not where the people who can help them are. And so in the face of this crisis, we really just wanted to do more."

Germany's Dusseldorf Wants to Legalize Weed. Following the lead of Berlin, which is moving to allow cannabis coffee shops, the city of Dusseldorf is moving to enact total marijuana legalization. The city council met Wednesday with experts in crime, economics, and psychology to discuss how best to move forward.

Chronicle AM: Trump Names Drug Warrior for DHS, Congress Funds Opioid Treatment, More... (12/8/16)

Another Trump nominee raising eyebrows and concerns among drug reformers, Congress passes a health care omnibus bill that includes $1 billion for opioid treatment, Montana dispensaries are cleared to reopen, and more.

Trump's Department of Homeland Security pick, Gen. John Kelly (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Anchorage Gets Its First Marijuana Shop on December 17. Alaska's largest city will have a place to buy legal marijuana in less than ten days. Alaska Fireweed in downtown Anchorage has announced that it will open at high noon on December 17.

Colorado Governor Aims to Rein In Home Pot Cultivation. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has told lawmakers he wants to reduce black market marijuana exports by imposing a 12-plant limit on grows at private homes, banning collective recreational grows, and imposing tighter restrictions on medical marijuana caregivers. It isn't going to happen without a fight, marijuana activists say.

Vermonters Can Seek Pardons for Small-Time Marijuana Possession Convictions -- This Month Only. Governor Peter Shumlin (D) will consider pardoning Vermont convictions of possession for up to an ounce of marijuana, but people have to apply before the end of this month. The state decriminalized possession of less than an ounce in 2013. Seeking a pardon doesn't necessarily mean you'll get one, though. Click on the link to see the pardon form.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Judge Clears Dispensaries to Reopen. A district court judge in Helena has ruled that a wording error in last month's successful medical marijuana initiative should not keep sick patients from having access to the plant now. The initiative undid a 2011 law that largely undid the original 2004 initiative allowing medical marijuana, but late changes to the initiative resulted in new sections being added, which in turn resulted in a change in section numbering that unintentionally pushed back the date dispensaries could open. "The folks that are maybe the most in need are the least able to provide, to grow their own," the judge said in making his ruling. "I think speed is more important than niceties."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congress Passes Health Bill That Includes $1 Billion for Opioid Fight. The Senate Monday gave final approval to HR 34, an omnibus health care bill that includes $1 billion for expanded opioid treatment programs. The legislation now heads for the president's desk. Obama is expected to sign it.

Law Enforcement

Trump Nominates Another Drug War Zealot to Head Department of Homeland Security. The Trump transition team has named General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly has said he believes marijuana is a gateway drug, that interdiction could be more efficient with increased funding, and that marijuana legalization sends a confusing message to Latin American leaders, among other things."This is looking really bad," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "First Sessions for Attorney General, then Price at HHS, and now yet another old-style drug war character for Homeland Security. It looks like Donald Trump is revving up to re-launch the failed drug war."

Chronicle AM: Organic Foods Group Disses Kratom, DPA Releases Opioids Plan, More... (12/7/16)

An organic foods group says allowing kratom would be "dangerous," the Drug Policy Alliance comes out with a plan for heroin and prescription opioids, Iowa shuts down its asset forfeiture unit, and more.

The Natural Products Association says allowing kratom would be "dangerous." (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Marijuana Arrests Plummet. Marijuana arrests have dropped 14% in the state over the past two years, the largest decline this century, and they appear headed for further declines this year. Changes in prosecutorial priorities appear to be behind the fall, with some prosecutors saying they need to husband their resources for felony prosecutions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Policy Alliance Releases Public Health and Safety Plan to Address Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose. The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading proponent of drug policy reform, is releasing a plan to address increasing rates of opioid use and overdose (now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States). The plan marks a radical departure from the punitive responses that characterize much of US drug policy and instead focuses on scientifically proven harm reduction and public health interventions that can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the negative consequences of opioid misuse, such as transmission of infectious diseases and overdose. The plan has 20 specific recommendations, including establishing safe injection sites, moving ahead with prescription heroin (heroin-assisted treatment), and embracing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to keep people out of the criminal justice system and bring them in contact with social services.

Kratom

Natural Products Association Says Allowing Kratom Would Be "Dangerous." The largest trade group representing the organic and natural foods industry and dietary supplements makers has commented on the DEA's proposed ban on kratom, saying that "adding kratom to the US food supply could likely be dangerous and lead to serious unintended consequences." Kratom products have not met the strict standards for new items to be marketed to the public or undergone FDA approval, the group said. "Adding an untested and unregulated substance such as kratom to our food supply without the application of longstanding federal rules and guidelines would not only be illegal," said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, NPA's CEO and executive director. "It could likely be dangerous, leading to serious unintended consequences as our nation struggles with the crisis of opioid addiction."

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Disbands State Asset Forfeiture Team, Returns $60,000 Taken From Travelers. Under increasing fire over asset forfeiture practices that saw a thousand seizures a year, the state Attorney General's Office announced Monday that the Department of Public Safety had disbanded its Interstate 80 drug interdiction and forfeiture team. The move came because of increased personnel demands and the need to focus on reducing traffic deaths, the office said, and had nothing to do with the recently announced settlement of a lawsuit brought by a pair of California gamblers who had $100,000 seized after they were stopped and a small amount of marijuana was found. That settlement resulted in the men getting most of their money back.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Probing Possible Criminal Charges Over Atlanta DEA Informants. A DEA official told a congressional committee last week that the agency has referred "potential criminal charges" to the Justice Department over an Atlanta DEA supervisor who allegedly was in sexual relationships with two informants, one of whom was paid $212,000 for helping to bust four St. Louis drug traffickers. There are allegations of false documentation of payments to the snitch, who got $2,500 a month for two years, along with two "bonuses" of $55,000 and $80,750. The monthly payments apparently covered the rent for apartment near the DEA supervisor's home in the Atlanta metro area.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Safe Injection Site "Die-In," ME MJ Init Vote Recount, More... (12/5/16)

Foes challenging the narrow legalization victory in Maine got their recount going today, patients take to the courts in Arizona and to the streets in Michigan, Seattle health care professionals do a die-in for safe injection sites, Ireland takes another step toward medical marijuana, and more.

Vancouver's safe injection site. Doctors and nurses in Seattle are agitating for something similar there. (vcha.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Initiative Recount Begins. The Question 1 initiative legalizing marijuana won by less than 1% of the popular vote, garnering 381,692 votes to the opposition's 377,619 votes, a difference of 4,073 votes. Citing the narrow margin of victory, foes called a recount, and it began Monday. The recount could take up to a month, delaying putting legalization into effect until it is completed.

Medical Marijuana

Pair of Arizona Patients Sue Over Fees. Attorneys for patients Yolanda Daniels and Lisa Becker filed suit last Friday to force a reduction in the annual fee for registration cards that patients are legally required to obtain. The state health department is charging $150 a year, even though it has nearly $11.5 million in its medical marijuana account. "In a time when medication is more expensive than ever, the state should be helping to make it cheaper for Arizonans," the patients' attorney argued. "The state is deliberately squatting on the excess fund instead of refunding it to patients or using it in furtherance of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, such as to help patients."

Michigan Protestors Denounce Kent County Dispensary Raids. A couple of dozen people gathered outside the Plainfield Township Hall last Friday to protest a series of raids last Monday that shuttered three dispensaries in Plainfield. Demonstrators said they have nowhere to go to get their medicine, but Plainfield officials countered that dispensaries had been banned there since 2011.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Nurses, Doctors Do Die-In at City Hall in Protest Calling for Safe Injection Sites. As Seattle officials ponder whether to move toward allowing a safe injection site, doctors and nurses are turning up the heat. Last Friday, more than 30 members of Health Care Workers for Supervised Consumption Spaces held a die-in at City Hall to imitate the corpses that will be created if safe injection sites aren't allowed. City officials have been generally sympathetic to the idea, and a Seattle/King County opioid task force recommended the move in September.

International

British Town to Allow Drug Testing at Clubs. In a harm reduction first for the United Kingdom, a town in Lancashire will be the first in the country to offer testing of drug samples provided by club-goers at night clubs. The tests will examine samples of cocaine and MDMA to test the strength and purity of the drugs in a bid to reduce deaths related to "adulterated or highly potent" drugs. The National Police Chief's Council reportedly said the scheme could be useful but was still not yet endorsed on a national basis.

Ireland Takes Another Step Toward Medical Marijuana. The Dáil Éireann, the lower house of parliament, last Thursday approved an amendment allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana. But the measure still has to undergo another round of approval before it becomes law.

Poll: More Irish Support Marijuana Legalization Than Not. As the parliament ponders medical marijuana, a new poll finds that more Irish than not support full-blown legalization. A poll asking "Should cannabis be legalized for recreational use?" had 48% saying yes, 41% saying no, and 11% undecided.

Chronicle AM: CA Eyeing Billion in MJ Taxes, SF Safe Injection Site Support, More... (12/2/16)

A battle over safe injection sites looms in San Francisco, California could score a billion bucks a year in marijuana taxes, kratom gets massive support during the DEA's public comment period on its proposed ban, and more.

San Francisco's top health official is down with safe injection sites, but the mayor isn't. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana Could Generate a Billion Dollars a Year in California Marijuana Taxes. State analysts estimate legal marijuana tax revenues could provide a $1 billion a year boost in state and local tax revenues. In anticipation of dollars to come, the state Board of Equalization Tuesday approved a proposal to fund staffing to administer the state's legalization bureaucracy, saying it needs $20 million by 2021 to support a staff of 114.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Release Draft Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Department of Health Wednesday released proposed draft rules for the voter-approved medical marijuana program. The rules include provisions about labeling, obtaining medical marijuana registry cards, lab testing requirements, and the process for adding new qualifying conditions. The department said it hopes to present the draft rules to the Board of Health next month and then open them to public comment. The department has not completed draft rules for regulation of and applications for dispensary and cultivation licenses. The state is supposed to be ready to license growers and sellers by June 1.

Minnesota Will Allow Medical Marijuana For PTSD. The state Department of Health has decided to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying conditions for marijuana. It had been weighing requests to add PTSD, autism, arthritis, depression, and other conditions. "While the process of reviewing these potential additions was difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence, PTSD presented the strongest case for potential benefits," Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. "PTSD also has few effective treatment alternatives available for some patients with the condition," he added. The decision means that patients certified with PTSD will be eligible for medical cannabis starting August 2017.

Kratom

Kratom Comment Period is Over; Massive Response to DEA Ban Move. The time to comment on the DEA's proposed move to ban kratom has ended, but more than 22,000 comments came in before the deadline, overwhelmingly against restrictive scheduling of the Southeast Asian tree and the psychoactive chemicals it contains. Commenters noted its lack of lethality, its use as a pain reliever, and its utility in substituting for more dangerous opioids. Addiction specialist Dr. Jack Henningfield wrote a 127-page analysis that concluded that scheduling kratom "is not warranted from a public health perspective and is more likely to cause public health problems that do not presently exist." It should be regulated like a health supplement, Henningfield recommended.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Health Chief Supports Safe Injection Sites. Barbara Garcia, director of the city's Department of Public Health, strongly endorsed safe injection sites, she told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday. "I think if we were going to open one, it would be very successful," she told the supes, but added that the city needed a half-dozen to make a real difference. That puts her at odds with Mayor Ed Lee, who has come out strongly against the harm reduction measure.

Chronicle AM: World AIDS Day, Psilocybin Could Help Terminal Patients, More... (12/1/16)

New studies suggest psychedelics could help terminal patients deal with their fears, the Ohio legislature prepares to pass asset forfeiture reform, and more.

Psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, can help terminal patients cope, a pair of new studies suggests.
Psychedelics

Studies Suggest Magic Mushrooms Could Help Cancer Patients Deal With Fear. A pair of studies published Thursday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggest that psilocybin, the psychedelic drug in magic mushrooms, could help terminal cancer patients cope with fear and anxiety around impending death. "The findings are impressive, with good safety data and large effect sizes," says Robin Carharrt-Harris, who studies psychedelic drugs at Imperial College London. "My feeling is that these studies will play a significant role in waking up the scientific and medical mainstream to the therapeutic potential of psychedelics."

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Legislature Poised to Pass Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform, Despite Police and Prosecutors' Opposition. Legislative leaders say they expect to pass a civil asset forfeiture reform bill in the state Senate next week. The measure, House Bill 347, passed the House in the spring, but was delayed in the Senate when a committee approved an amendment to address concerns raised by prosecutors. The bill originally would have eliminated civil asset forfeiture, but now has been softened to allow it if the property owner is dead, the suspect cannot be located, or the owner does not claim the property. It also allows for civil forfeiture post-conviction.

Harm Reduction

It's World AIDS Day. We Can't End AIDS Until We End the War on Drugs. "Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day," writes the Drug Policy Alliance's Laura Thomas. "In 1989, I was arrested in front of the White House on World AIDS Day, demanding that then-President Bush take action on HIV/AIDS. Among the issues we were demanding action on then, so many years ago, was the availability of sterile syringes for people who inject drugs, so they could stop the transmission of HIV. In the decades since, we have celebrated amazing victories against HIV/AIDS. We now have treatments we could only dream of then. We have pills that will prevent HIV. We have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. We even have an effective cure for hepatitis C. And we are keeping many, many more people with HIV alive now. And yet, it is syringe access -- needle exchange -- that we have been the slowest to win…" Click on the link for the whole post.

Will Trump's Dead Alcoholic Brother Haunt His Drug Policy? [FEATURE]

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

As incoming president, Donald Trump will be, among other things, the man in charge of the nation's drug policy. Whether he takes a hand-on, direct approach to policy-making or whether he delegates decision-making authority on drug matters to subordinates -- think Attorney General Jeff Sessions and shudder -- the buck ultimately stops with Donald.

Booze did in older brother Freddy, Jr. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
What a Trump administration will do with states that have legalized marijuana is a huge burning question, but the drug policy horizon extends well beyond weed. The Obama administration has championed federal drug sentencing reform, and the president is now commuting the sentences of dozens of drug offenders each week as the clock ticks down on his tenure. Will Trump reverse course?

There's also a huge cry for drug treatment in response to increasing heroin and prescription opioid use. Will a Trump administration be sympathetic? And what about harm reduction -- needle exchanges, supervised consumption sites, and the like? Do such programs have a future under Trump?

The short answer is: Who knows? Trump is proving day by day that how he governs will not necessarily have much correlation with anything he said on the campaign trail. And, as with his approach to many policy areas, what he has said about drugs, both during the campaign and in his earlier life, sounds both spur-of-the-moment and self-contradictory.

But Trump is not just a rather unpredictable president-elect. He's also a person with his own personal and family history, and that history includes a close encounter with substance abuse that sheds some light on his attitudes towards drugs and may influence his drug policy decision-making.

Donald Trump's older brother, and his overbearing father's namesake, "Freddy, Jr." was a full-blown alcoholic by his mid-20s (and Donald's teens) and drank himself into an early grave at the age of 43 in 1981. Freddy wasn't ready to take over the family business and instead became a fun-loving airline pilot, but his descent into the bottle had a traumatic -- and lasting -- impact on his little brother.

Trump says Freddy's alcoholism turned him into teetotaler. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
"I learned a lot from my brother Fred's death," Trump told Esquire in a 2004 interview. "He was a great-looking guy. He had the best personality. He had everything. But he had a problem with alcohol and cigarettes. He knew he had the problem, and it's a tough problem to have. He was ten years older than me, and he would always tell me not to drink or smoke. And to this day I've never had a cigarette. I've never had a glass of alcohol. I won't even drink a cup of coffee. I just stay away from those things because he had such a tremendous problem. Fred did me a great favor. It's one of the greatest favors anyone's ever done for me," he recalled.

Trump's experience with his brother turned him into a teetotaler, although he does swill Diet Coke instead. And he admits to one other "vice" in revealing terms. In a 2007 video, he said that hot women are his "alcoholism," especially "beautiful" teens.

"I never understood why people don't go after the alcohol companies like they did the tobacco companies," he continued in the Esquire interview. "Alcohol is a much worse problem than cigarettes."

Still, the free-wheeling marketeer wasn't ready to reinstate Prohibition because of Freddy, and that attitude extended to drugs. In the early 1990s, Trump reportedly talked about drug legalization, calling drug law enforcement "a joke" and saying "You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profits away from these drug czars."

But Trump was singing a different tune on the campaign trail, especially in New Hampshire, which has been hit hard by the opioid wave. In a November 2015 interview with ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Trump backtracked.

"Well, I did not think about it," he confessed. "I said it's something that should be studied and maybe should continue to be studied. But it's not something I'd be willing to do right now. I think it's something that I've always said maybe it has to be looked at because we do such a poor job of policing. We don't want to build walls. We don't want to do anything. And if you're not going to want to do the policing, you're going to have to start thinking about other alternatives. But it's not something that I would want to do."

Will this be Trump's solution to the nation's drug problems? (nadcp.org)
That suggests that he thinks if we just enforce drug laws more vigorously, we could solve the problem. But it also suggests that he hasn't really been paying attention to the last 40 years of the war on drugs. Still, he has also said that marijuana legalization "should be a state issue, state by state," suggesting that he will not try to roll back pot legalization in the eight states that have now voted to free the weed.

And in an October 15 speech in New Hampshire, where he made his most coherent remarks about drug policy, he was mainly about building the wall on the Mexican border to stop the flow of heroin from Mexico. But in that speech, he at least sketched the outlines of response that included increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, increased reliance on drug courts, and increased access to the silver bullet of drug addiction, "abuse-deterring drugs." But he didn't say anything about how much he would be willing to spend on treatment and recovery (Hillary Clinton rolled out a $10 billion plan), nor how he would pay for it.

As with many policy areas, Trump's positions on drug policy are murky, seemingly only half-developed, and full of potential contradictions. Will having a teetotaler with a dead alcoholic brother in the White House make for better drug policies or an administration more understanding of the travails of addiction? As with many things Trump, we shall have to wait for his actions. Nominating drug war hardliners like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to head the Justice Department and giving Vice President-elect Mike Pence props for enacting mandatory minimum drug sentences aren't good omens, though.

Chronicle AM: Calls for Obama to Cut More Sentences, Iran Drug Death Penalty Moves, More... (11/29/16)

Scholars, advocates, and a US congressman are calling on Obama to ramp up the commutation process in the final weeks of his term, the CDC issues a report calling for expanded syringe exchange, Maryland moves to address racial diversity (or the lack thereof) in the medical marijuana business, and more.

There are new calls for Obama to ramp up the commutation process as the clock ticks down on his term. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Marijuana Victory Faces Certification Delay. Secretary of State William Galvin said Monday that the November 8 election results may not be certified in time for marijuana legalization to go into effect on December 15, that date it is supposed to become legal. Ballot initiatives in the state do not become law until they are officially certified, and a December 14 meeting is the earliest date voting tallies on the initiative are likely to presented, Galvin said. But if not by December 15, certainly by early next year, he added: "All those tokers can hold their breath a little longer, but they'll be able to exhale" by early 2017, Galvin quipped.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Moving to Improve Diversity in Medical Marijuana Industry. The state Cannabis Commission announced Monday that it is hiring a consultant to advise it on steps it can take to improve racial diversity in the nascent industry. The consultant will decide whether a study can be conducted to determine whether minorities have been unfairly excluded. If such a finding is made, that would allow the state to consider race when awarding medical marijuana licenses.

Harm Reduction

Groundbreaking Report from CDC Calls for Expansion of Syringe Access Programs. In a report on HIV and injection drug use released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls strongly for expanding needle exchange programs. "Syringe services programs (SSPs) can play a role in preventing HIV and other health problems among people who inject drugs (PWID)," the report found. "They provide access to sterile syringes and should also provide comprehensive services such as help with stopping substance misuse; testing and linkage to treatment for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C; education on what to do for an overdose; and other prevention services. State and local health departments can work with their lawmakers and law enforcement to make SSPs more available to PWID."

Sentencing

Calls Mount For Obama to Ramp Up Commutations as Term Nears End. A coalition of scholars and activists as well as a US congressman are calling on President Obama to expand clemency efforts in the final weeks of his administration -- including considering granting clemency to entire groups of people without case-by-case review. Obama has commuted the sentences of more than a thousand people sentenced under draconian drug war sentencing laws, but thousands more have applied for commutations without those applications yet being acted on.

International

Iran Keeps Moving Toward Ending the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Iranian parliament last week agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors." Iran is one of the world's leading drug executioners, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed last year.

Drug War Issues

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