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Chronicle AM -- March 3, 2014

DC should decriminalize tomorrow, New Mexico looks to expand its medical marijuana program, harm reduction bills move in a couple of states, Mexican police repress a pro-El Chapo demonstration, and more. Let's get to it:

The shrine to narco-saint Jesus Malverde in Culiacan. (Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle, 2008)
Marijuana Policy

DC Decriminalization Bill Expected to Get Final Vote Tomorrow. The District of Columbia city council is expected to give final approval tomorrow to a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, with a $25 fine. It has the support of eight of 13 council members, so it should be a done deal, but stay tuned tomorrow.

Legalization Bill Introduced in Florida. State Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Orlando) has introduced a legalization bill in the Sunshine State. Senate Bill 1562 was filed Friday. The proposal comes as Florida voters prepare to cast ballots in November on legalizing medical marijuana. Also, lawmakers are considering proposals to legalize a marijuana extract that can help some children who have a form of epilepsy and suffer from severe seizures.

Medical Marijuana

California Statewide Regulation Bill Has Support of Cops, Cities. For the first time, California law enforcement and local government associations are backing legislation to regulate the medical marijuana industry. The California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California cities are supporting Senate Bill 1262, filed by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), but the bill is opposed by friends of medical marijuana, who object to its provisions setting limits on doctors who recommend it.

New Jersey Annual Medical Marijuana Reports Out. The state Department of Health has released the 2013 Annual Report and the 2013 Biennial Report on the status of the state's medical marijuana program. The state has 1,585 active registered patients, 121 active registered caregivers, and six registered dispensaries. Both reports are at the link.

Massachusetts Caregiver Flouts Regs, Grows for More than One Patient. Longtime Bay State marijuana activist Bill Downing has gone public with his flouting of the state's medical marijuana regulations. He says he is providing medical marijuana to some 350 patients, but state regulations say he can be a caregiver for only one. Downing says it's the regulations that are in conflict with the state's medical marijuana law, not him. "The regulation violates the statute. The statute allows for caregiving. The regulation does not," he said. And the state Health Department knows what he is up to, he added.

New Mexico to Address Medical Marijuana Shortage, Adds New Conditions. Acknowledging that a shortage of medical marijuana exists in the state, the Department of Health Friday proposed increasing the number of plants and seedlings that licensed producers can grow and opening the application process to allow more producers to apply for licenses. There are only 23 licensed producers in the state, and demand is rising. Under the proposals announced Friday, producers would be able to boost their crop from a total of 150 plants and seedlings to as many as 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings. The state would also be looking to add another 12 producers to the list. The number of patients in the state jumped to more than 10,000 last year, an increase of 1,200 over the previous year. The department also announced it was adding Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases to the list of qualifying conditions to get into the program.

Solid Majority Favors Medical Marijuana in Iowa Poll. Nearly six out of 10 Iowans (59%) support legalizing medical marijuana, according to the latest Iowa Poll. But only 28% support legalization. Medical marijuana bills are introduced in the legislature every year, but have yet to go anywhere.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Moving in Ohio. A bill that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) remains alive after the House voted to concur in changes made to it in the Senate. Substitute House Bill 170, sponsored by Rep. Terry Boose (R-Norwalk) has an emergency clause and will go into effect immediately upon signature by Gov. John Kasich (R).

Good Samaritan 911 Bill Moving in Georgia. A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution on drug charges for people who seek emergency treatment for drug overdose victims has passed the House. House Bill 965, also known as the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law, now awaits action in the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill Gets Hearing in Maryland. A bill that would require police to report the type of property seized, the crime with which it is supposedly linked, and the disposition of any related criminal cases has been heard in the Maryland Senate. Senate Bill 468, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Shank (R-Washington County), got a hearing last week in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but no vote was taken.

International

Mexican Police Arrest 40 in Pro-El Chapo Guzman Demonstration in Culiacan. Police in Culiacan, Sinaloa, arrested about 40 people Sunday who were planning to demonstrate in support of captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. About 150 supporters had gathered at the shrine to Jesus Malverde, informal patron saint of drug traffickers, in Culiacan, and about 40 were arrested when they refused to disperse. Some shouted "Long live Chapo." More than a thousand people marched for Guzman in Culiacan last week, and police wanted to prevent a repeat of signs of public support.

Drug Reformers Head to New Zealand for Conference on Regulating Legal Highs. Drug reformers from around the globe are heading to Auckland later this month to discuss the Psychoactive Substances Act and advocate further drug reform. The Pathway to Reform conference will take place on March 20.

Conservative Norwegian MP Charged in Hash Scandal Case. Erik Skutle, the Conservative Party member of parliament who took Prime Minister Erna Solberg's seat when she took the leadership position, has been charged with hashish use in a case that has embarrassed his "zero tolerance" political party. He was charged Thursday, a day after he publicly proposed decriminalizing cannabis possession as the scandal emerged. But it looks like he will retain his seat in parliament.

Chronicle AM -- February 26, 2014

A Maryland police chief embarrasses himself with bogus marijuana death claims, welfare drug testing bills face challenges in the Deep South, a hemp bill advances in Indiana, Russia's drug czar says "nyet" to legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization, Legalization Bills Get Hearing; Police Chief Cites Hoax Story About Pot Overdose Deaths. Sen. Robert Zirkin's (D-Baltimore) Senate Bill 364, which would decriminalize marijuana possession, and Sen. Jamie Raskin's (D-Montgomery County) Senate Bill 658, which would legalize marijuana, got hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Law enforcement opposed the bills, while leaders of the ACLU and NORML members supported it. The lowlight of the hearing was Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop's testimony mentioning an article about 37 overdose deaths the day marijuana became legal in Colorado. After being called out for repeating the hoax story by Sen. Raskin, Pristoop quickly backtracked.

Iowa Semi-Decriminalization Bill Introduced. A bill that would remove the possibility of jail time for possession of less than an ounce and a half of marijuana has been introduced by Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines). It's not a true decriminalization bill because it would keep simple possession as a misdemeanor offense. House File 2313 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link to read the bill.

Texas Poll Finds Near Majority for Legalization. Almost half -- 49% -- of Texans surveyed in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll support legalizing weed in either small quantities (32%) or any quantity (17%). Another 28% supported legalization only for medical purposes, while only 23% opposed any form of legalization.

New York Poll Finds Majority Oppose Legalization. A new Siena poll has support for legalization at only 43%, with 53% opposed. That contrasts with a recent Q Poll that had New Yorkers supporting legalization 57% to 39%. Differences in the questions asked and the margin of error in the polls may account for the difference. Or New Yorkers are conflicted.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would allow for the trial use of high CBD cannabis oil to treat childhood epileptic seizures was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 124 now heads for the Senate floor.

Hemp

Hemp Bill Advances in Indiana. A bill to legalize the production of industrial hemp passed the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday and now heads for the House floor. The bill is Senate Bill 357. It has already passed the Senate.

Drug Testing

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Advances in Georgia. A bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to undergo drug testing upon "reasonable suspicion" passed the House Judiciary Committee Monday. House Bill 772 now moves to the House floor.

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Stalls in Alabama Senate. A bill requiring drug testing of some welfare applicants hit a roadblock in the Senate Tuesday when Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) adjourned the body after Democrats began fighting the bill. Senate Bill 63 would require drug testing of any applicant with a drug conviction in the last five years. It is just one of five bills in the Republican agenda to tighten regulations for public assistance.

Sentencing

West Virginia Senate Approves Draconian Drug Sentencing Bill. A bill that would increase the penalty for bringing drugs into West Virginia from one year to up to 15 years passed the Senate Monday. It now goes to the House.

International

Russian Drug Czar Rules Out Marijuana Legalization, Methadone Maintenance. The head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service has called marijuana a dangerous gateway drug and said the authorities did not plan to legalize it, or to allow methadone treatment for heroin addicts. "Marijuana users have a 50 or 60 times higher risk of switching to heroin. There is one step from dope to heroin," Viktor Ivanov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency. He completely ruled out legalization, saying it was too risky in an advanced society. "Today we live in the age of high technology, a lot of things are managed with the help of computer systems. Someone who works at a nuclear power plant can wreak real havoc after smoking marijuana," he said. Ivanov also scoffed at needle exchange and methadone maintenance, saying there was little reliable evidence methadone maintenance worked. [Ed: Ivanov must have missed the entirety large body of research done on both needle exchange and methadone maintenance, which has found them to be effective and of paramount importance.]

Colombia's FARC Calls for Dismantling Drug-Paramilitary Nexus. Colombia's FARC guerrilla army called Tuesday for the dismantling of drug and paramilitary organizations it said were embedded within the Colombian state. The call was part of the FARC's six-point program to deal with the drug issue in the country, which is the fourth item on the agenda of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.

British Chief Constable Says Give Heroin to Addicts. Mike Barton, Chief Constable for Dunham Constabulary, is calling for heroin maintenance for addicts. Such a move would "take money out of drug dealers' pockets," he said, adding that it "isn't practical" to simply arrest addicts. His comments come in a BBC documentary in which he went to Copenhagen to visit drug consumption rooms there.

Chronicle AM -- February 24, 2014

Marijuana politics continues to dominate the drug news, but meanwhile, the FDA has banned its first tobacco product, the DEA wants you to snitch out pain pill abusers, Delaware makes diverting a pain pill a felony -- and speaking of Delaware and diversion, someone has been diverting Oxycontin from the medical examiner's office, and more. Let's get to it:

Indian-style "bidi" cigarettes -- been banned by the FDA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bankers Still Leery Over Doing Marijuana Business. Although the federal government has issued new guidelines designed to ease their fears, financial institutions need to be convinced that they will not be prosecuted should they open accounts for marijuana businesses. "As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions," said Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association. While he appreciates the effort by the feds, "that doesn't alter the underlying challenge for banks," he added.

Governors Not Too Keen on Legalization. The nation's governors gathered for the National Governors' Association meeting over the weekend, and they were generally not eager to follow Colorado and Washington down the path toward legalization. They worried about the kids and public safety, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) counseled them to go slow.

Zero Tolerance DUID Bill Introduced in California. Assemblymen Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable amount of THC in one's blood. The bill is Assembly Bill 2500. Correa introduced a similar measure last year, but it was defeated.

Forty Maine Lawmakers Urge Consideration of Marijuana Legalization. On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee. The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana. "All options should be on the table," Rep. Russell stated in the memo. "In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use."

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in Florida. Rep. Randolph Bracy (D-Orange County) last Thursday introduced a legalization bill, House Bill 1039. No word yet on where it's headed.

Maryland Marijuana Reform Measures Get Hearings Tuesday. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold hearings on a legalization bill and a decriminalization bill Tuesday. The legalization bill is Senate Bill 658, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery). The decriminalization bill is Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Plurality for Legalization. A new Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization at 49%, with 43% opposed. Of those opposed, 48% support decriminalization. That means support for decrim is over 70%.

Medical Marijuana

Big Majority for Medical Marijuana in Ohio. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 87% in the Buckeye State.

Utah CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee. A bill that would allow children with epilepsy to use high-CBD cannabis oil passed the House Law Enforcement Committee on an 8-2 vote last Thursday. House Bill 105 now heads to the House floor.

Prescription Drugs

Delaware Law Makes Taking Your Brother's Pain Pills a Felony. A bill drafted by state Attorney General Beau Biden in a bid to stop illegal prescription drug use makes it a felony for a family member or health care professional to divert prescription medications. Offenders will also be placed on a scarlet letter list, the Adult Abuse Registry. House Bill 154 was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell (D) last week.

Law Enforcement

Missing Dope Scandal at Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. Drugs sent to the Medical Examiner's Office for testing between 2010 and 2012 have gone missing, sometimes replaced with fakes, investigators said Saturday. At least 15 drug cases have been flagged as having tainted or missing evidence, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg. Almost all of the cases involve Oxycontin. The Medical Examiner's Office has quit doing drug analysis for the time being as the investigation continues.

Jury Awards $2.3 Million to Family of Georgia Pastor Killed By Narcs. A federal jury has awarded $2.3 million to the wife of Jonathan Ayers, a Georgia pastor gunned down by plainclothes narcotics officers as he attempted to flee from them at a gas station. They were investigating a woman who had allegedly sold $50 worth of cocaine, and saw her in his car. The narcs jumped out at Ayers and he attempted to flee, slightly striking one of them. They then shot him nine times, killing him. Read Radley Balko's complete piece at the link above to get all the hideous details.

DEA Wants You to Rat Out Suspected Pain Pill Abusers. The DEA is rolling out a new text-messaging system to report illegal prescription drug use and sales. Pilot programs are underway in Philadelphia and Georgia. The federal agency is also distributing pamphlets to 1,200 Atlanta-area pharmacies to encourage the use of the reporting system.

Tobacco

FDA Bans First Tobacco Product. For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used its regulatory powers to ban a tobacco product. The agency moved against "bidis," a style of cigarette from India. Banned are Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone, which are manufactured by Jash International. FDA used its authority under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to ban them as "not substantially equivalent" to tobacco products sold as of February 15, 2007.

Harm Reduction

Georgia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. A 911 Good Samaritan bill (House Bill 965) and a naloxone access bill (House Bill 966) are moving in the legislature. The former passed out of the House Rules Committee Monday and is set for a floor vote tomorrow, while the later goes before the Rules Committee tomorrow. It's time to call your representatives, says Georgia Overdose Prevention.

Buffalo Police to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in Buffalo, New York, are the latest law enforcement personnel to begin carrying naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, with them in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. "We've seen a nationwide epidemic of heroin overdoses. It's hitting Buffalo. It's hitting the suburbs," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. "Basically, if somebody's overdosing, this could save their life."

International

Italian Harm Reductionists Call for Thorough Review of Drug Policies. The Italian Harm Reduction Association (ITARDD) issued an open letter Monday calling on politicians and the state to engage in a national dialogue about drug policy that includes harm reduction. The group also called for control over drug policy to be taken from the Anti-Drug Policy Department and be put in the hands of the health and welfare ministries.

Belgian Socialists Adopt Marijuana Legalization Plank. The Belgian socialist party SP.A (the Flemish socialist party) narrowly adopted a proposal by its Young Socialist section to legalize marijuana. The move came at the party's congress in Brussels, ahead of elections set for May 25.

Jamaica Governing Party Legislative Leader Hints Decriminalization is Coming. Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Phillip Paulwell signaled that decriminalization is coming to Jamaica this year. "It is my view that decriminalization of the weed will become a reality this (calendar) year, arising from the parliamentary debate and the support by the majority of the members, I believe it will be approved this year." But legalization is out of the question for now, he added.

Chronicle AM -- February 21, 2014

Marijuana legalization in the District of Columbia hits a bump, the Epilepsy Foundation comes out for medical marijuana, India passes landmark access to pain medication legislation, and more. Let's get to it:

"Big Plans, Little Brains." Canada's criminally cretinous Trailer Park Boys fight marijuana legalization in their latest flick.
Marijuana Policy

DC's Top Lawyer Says Proposed Legalization Ordinance Can't Go to Voters. District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan issued a formal opinion yesterday saying the proposed DC marijuana legalization initiative should not go before the voters because it violates federal law. His opinion is not binding, but carries weight with the Board of Elections, which meets on the issue next Tuesday. Initiative backers are scrambling to see if they can't fix the language in question before then.

New Mexico House Approves Study of Legalization Effects. The state House late Wednesday passed a nonbinding memorial (bill) that calls for studying the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. Under the measure, the Legislative Finance Committee would conduct the study and report its findings later this year. The committee will be looking specifically at state revenue and agricultural production levels as well as addiction rates and the availability of law enforcement resources. The bill is House Memorial 38.

Medical Marijuana

Epilepsy Foundation Calls for Access to Medical Marijuana, Tells DEA to Back Off. "The Epilepsy Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana. Nothing should stand in the way of patients gaining access to potentially life-saving treatment," said Epilepsy Foundation President and CEO Philip M. Gattone and Epilepsy Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Warren Lammert. "If a patient and their healthcare professionals feel that the potential benefits of medical marijuana for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then families need to have that legal option now -- not in five years or ten years. For people living with severe uncontrolled epilepsy, time is not on their side." The foundation said it was moved to act after getting repeated inquiries about the use of medical marijuana, especially high CBD cannabis oils. It also urged the DEA to get out of the way. Click on the link to read the press release.

New Jersey Patients Air Grievances Before Assembly Committee. Medical marijuana patients and advocates got a chance to lay out their problems with the state's medical marijuana program Thursday at a hearing of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee. Click on the link to get all the details.

Maryland Medical Marijuana Program Still 18 Months Away, Official Says. Dr. Paul Davies, head of the commission set up to oversee the implementation of a medical marijuana program told lawmakers Thursday that the initiative is at least 18 months away from offering pain relief to the first patients. And that's the best-case scenario.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone (Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug) Bills Move in Ohio, Wisconsin. Bills that would expand access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) are moving in Ohio and Wisconsin. The Christian Science Monitor mentions these bills in a broader article on states moving to respond opioid overdoses. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

International

India's Rajya Sabha Passes Bill to Increase Access to Opiate Pain Medications. India's parliament has passed a bill that will ease access to opiate pain medications. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2014, was passed by the Rajya Sabha, or upper house Friday. It had passed the Lok Sabha, or lower house, the day before. The law will bring relief to thousands of cancer patients in the country who use opiates for acute and chronic pain relief. It had been pushed by the Indian Association for Palliative Care, among other groups.

Canadian Pro-Legalization Group Seeks Candidates to Support in Next Year's Elections. A new organization, Legalize Canada, has popped-up with the intent of "supporting strong and vocal pro-legalization candidates for public office" in the 2015 federal election. The group said it had identified 95 to 100 ridings (legislative districts) out of 338 in the country where support for legalization could be a critical, election-winning issue. The group says it is aiming for a $7 million budget.

Canada's Trailer Park Boys Say Don't Legalize It. Canada's cult TV and movie phenomenon, Trailer Park Boys, is back with a new sequel, Trailer Park Boys 3: Don't Legalize It. Ricky, Julian, Bubbles, and the rest of the crew have too much invested in their latest criminal pot growing scheme to put up with legal weed.

Seven Killed in Philippines Drug Raid. Philippines anti-drug police killed seven suspected drug dealers and arrested several more in a Friday raid on the outskirts of Davao City. "They put up a fight and were killed in the process," Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said here when asked about the deaths. Duterte has long been suspected of being behind extrajudicial killings in Davao City, an accusation the Aquino administration ally has repeatedly denied.

Chronicle AM -- February 20, 2014

Colorado is rolling in the marijuana tax dollars, Washington state gets closer to licensing legal grows, a New Hampshire patient grow bill is moving, the Europeans are worried about some new drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

The Europeans are worried about "N Bomb"
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Announces Marijuana Tax Revenues Plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Wednesday announced his plan to start spending tax revenues from legalized marijuana. He said he would spend $99 million next fiscal year, with half of it going to youth use prevention, another 40% going to substance abuse treatment, and more than $12 million for public health. His proposal must be approved by the legislature.

Washington State Regulators Announce Rules Modifications. The Washington State Liquor Control Board announced Wednesday that it will limit marijuana business applicants to one pot grow each, down from the three-license limit it originally set. The board also reduced by 30% the amount of grow space that licensees can use. The board is trying to address how to equitably distribute the two million square foot of grow space it has set as a statewide cap. The move also opens the way to the actual issuance of grow licenses, which could come as soon as early next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Patient Cultivation Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would allow qualifying patients to cultivate a limited amount of medical marijuana in New Hampshire was approved this morning in a 13-3 vote by the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs. The bill will be considered by the full House sometime in March. Sponsored by Rep. Donald Wright (R-Tuftonboro), House Bill 1622 would patients or their designated caregivers to possess up to two mature plants and twelve seedlings. The cultivation location would have to be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, and patients would lose their ability to cultivate when an alternative treatment center opens within 30 miles of their residence.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) Wednesday introduced a bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy seizures. Senate Bill 1035 has been referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.

Arizona Bill Would Use Medical Marijuana Fees to Fund Anti-Drug Campaigns. A bill approved Wednesday by the House Health Committee would set up a special fund using fees from medical marijuana user and dispensaries to "discourage marijuana use among the general population." House Bill 2333, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) is being derided by the Marijuana Policy Project, whose spokesman, Mason Tvert, said "It is remarkable how much money some government officials are willing to flush down the toilet in hopes of scaring adults away from using marijuana."

Heroin

Vermont Law School Symposium Will Address Heroin Addiction and New Solutions. The Vermont Law Criminal Law Society is hosting a symposium on heroin and opiate addiction and responses to it on Monday. "This event is about new ideas from new sources," said Vermont Law JD candidate George Selby ', one of the panel organizers. "We need to fundamentally change the way we treat addicts and the opiates they fall victim to." Panelists will include addiction and pain specialists, a narcotics investigator, and an advocate for revolutionizing drug policy. They will discuss whether drug courts, replacement therapy, and support groups are enough, and tackle a controversial question: Should doctors be allowed to prescribe heroin to treat heroin addiction? One of the featured speakers is Arnold Trebach, JD, PhD, professor emeritus of public affairs at American University and founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, the precursor to the Drug Policy Alliance, who plans to call for action in Vermont. Click on the title link for more details.

International

Europeans Issue Alert on Four New Synthetic Drugs. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has issued an alert and announced a formal risk assessment of four new synthetic drugs. They are the hallucinogenic phenethylamine 251-NBOMe ("N-Bomb," linked to three deaths), the synthetic opioid AH-7921 (15 reported deaths in Europe), the synthetic cathinone derivative MDPV ("legal cocaine," linked to 99 deaths), and the arylcyclohexamine drug Methoxetamine (linked to 20 deaths). Click on the link above for more details.

British Columbia Judge Rules Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Unconstitutional. A judge in Canada's British Columbia ruled Wednesday that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders under the federal 2012 Safe Streets and Communities Act are unconstitutional. In November, an Ontario judge struck down a similar sentence for a weapons offense, but BC is the first province to have the drug offense sentences quashed. Crown prosecutors are expected to appeal.

India Asset Forfeiture Bill Passes Lok Sabha. A bill that would increase the Indian government's ability to seize assets from drug traffickers was approved Wednesday by the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the country's bicameral parliament. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2011 passed on a voice vote after members took turns worrying aloud about the spread of drug use in the world's most populous democracy.

Chronicle AM -- February 17, 2014

Olympic drug testers back off on marijuana, a surprise marijuana vote in New Mexico, a bad medical marijuana bill in Michigan, NYPD's most sued cops are all narcs, a new South Australian law criminalizes some speech about synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

You don't even want to talk about synthetic stimulants now in South Australia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Senate Committee Votes to Remove Marijuana from Schedule I. In a surprise move, the Senate Judiciary Committee Saturday voted to remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances. The move came in the form of an amendment by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) to a synthetic cannabinoids ban bill, Senate Bill 127. The bill goes now to the full Senate.

Poll Finds Majority Support for Legalization in New York. A new Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that New Yorkers support the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana 57% to 39%, while 45% of those voters say marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and 36% say it's less dangerous. The poll also found whopping 88% support for medical marijuana. Click on the poll link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Landlords to Prohibit Patient Use on Private Property. A bill that would allow Michigan landlords to ban the use, possession, or cultivation on private property is set for a committee hearing this week. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sens. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and James Marleau (R-Lake Orion), gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon. Foes called the bill "hostile" and "unnecessary."

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drug Ban Bill Passes Alabama Senate. A bill that would expand Alabama's ban on new synthetic drugs passed the Senate last Thursday and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-3rd District), would add additional synthetic cannabinoids and other analogues to the ban. Next stop is the House Judiciary Committee.

(See the international section below for another synthetic drugs item.)

Law Enforcement

Meet NYPD's Most Sued Cops -- They're All Narcs. The New York Daily News reveals that 55 NYPD officers have been sued 10 times or more at a cost to the city of over $6 million. The Daily News then profiled the four officers with the most lawsuits filed against them. All four are narcotics officers. And for some reason, all four are still on the job.

Senators Still Looking for Answers on Customs Searches of Domestic Private Aircraft. It took holding up the nomination of current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to head Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but a pair of US senators finally got a response from CBP to their months-old question about how and why the border protection agency was stopping and searching private aircraft that had never left the US. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jim Risch (R-ID) put the hold on the nomination, and while CBP has responded, they say they are still not satisfied with the response and sent a February 12 letter requesting a briefing and additional written responses from DHS. Click on the title link to get all the details.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Sentencing Reform Initiative Cleared for Circulation. A sentencing reform initiative whose proponents are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdown has been approved for signature gathering. The initiative would require misdemeanor sentences instead of felonies for a number of petty crimes, including certain drug possession offenses. It would also require resentencing for people currently serving felony sentences for those offenses. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures before the end of spring to qualify for the November ballot.

International

Olympics Drug Testers Raise Permissible Levels for Marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has raised the permissible level of marijuana in athletes' urine from 15 nanograms per millileter to 150 nanograms. Although WADA considers marijuana to be a performance enhancing drug, it also conceded that it also "is a socially more or less an accepted drug being used in social context" and raised the threshold accordingly. "That's a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter and that was agreed upon as the best way to proceed with this particular issue," Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, told reporters Saturday in Sochi. "There is a big debate on it."

Harsh New Synthetic Drug Laws Now in Effect in South Australia. New laws that heighten criminal penalties for selling or manufacturing synthetic stimulant drugs went into effect across South Australia today. In addition to increased prison sentences, the Controlled Substances (Offences) Amendment Bill 2013 also outlaws the "promotion" of synthetic drugs or causing another person to believe they caused effect similar to an illegal drug or similar to a legal stimulant. Those speech-crime offenses are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Bermuda. Members of the opposition People's National Party filed a marijuana decriminalization bill Friday. The Decriminalization of Cannabis Act would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to half an ounce, but Attorney General Mark Pettingill seemed quite perturbed by it, accusing the PNP of coming "swashbuckling in" with a "very badly thought out" bill.

Norway Approves Use of Naloxone for Overdose Reversal. Norway has Europe's worst overdose rate, and now the Scandinavian country is preparing a pilot program that will offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in its two most populous cities, Oslo and Bergen, later this year. Since 2002, about 240 people have died each year in Norway from heroin overdoses, more than have died from traffic accidents.

Vancouver Clinic Seeks Federal Approval for Long-Running Safe Injection Site. The Dr. Peter Center, which has quietly provided supervised injection services for its clients since 2002, is now seeking a formal exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be able to do so legally. The move, which comes in the wake of a 2011 Canadian Supreme Court decision stopping the federal government from shutting down the Insite supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside, has the support of the city and provincial governments.

Chronicle AM -- February 13, 2014

A bill has been filed to stop forcing the drug czar to oppose drug legalization, CBD medical marijuana bills continue to get attention, and there are big doings south of the border, and more. Let's get to it:

Russell Brand helped push British petition over the top. (flickr.com/photos/evarinaldiphotography/)
Drug Legalization

Congressman Steven Cohen Files Bill to Let Drug Czar Deal Honestly with Drug Legalization. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) is required by law to oppose legalization of any Schedule I substance and prohibited from studying it. Now, Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) has filed a bill, the Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act (H.R. 4046), that would strip that language from the drug czar's enabling legislation, the ONDCP Reauthorization Act of 1998.

Marijuana Policy

High Times, Westword Sue Colorado Over Marijuana Advertising Restrictions. Marijuana magazine High Times and Denver alternative weekly Westword filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday challenging Colorado's restrictions on advertising for legal marijuana. The state's rules allow pot businesses to advertise only in adult-oriented publications for which "no more than 30% of the publication's readership is reasonably expected to be under 21." The lawsuit argues that the restrictions are an unconstitutional contravention of free speech.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Coming. House Judiciary Committee Chair Edith Ajello and Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Josh Miller announced Wednesday they will file a bill to legalize marijuana for adults and set up a system of taxation and regulation for marijuana commerce. The effort is backed by Regulate Rhode Island and the Marijuana Policy Project.

Hawaii Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing Today. Three Senate committees are holding a joint hearing today on two decriminalization bills, Senate Bill 2358 and Senate Bill 2733, and one bill, Senate Bill 2402, a bill that would take away protections for patients who possess and use marijuana concentrates.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Rally Set for Friday in Topeka. Supporters of a long-stalled medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 9, will rally at the Kansas State Capitol Rotunda Friday morning and lobby legislators after that. The effort is organized by Kansas for Change. Click on the title link for more details.

Hundreds Pack Oklahoma Capitol for CBD Medical Marijuana Hearing. Demonstrators called for marijuana legalization outside as hundreds of people jammed into the state capitol for a hearing on CBD medical marijuana. Dramatic and moving testimony was heard from family members of children suffering seizure disorders who might be helped by access to CBD cannabis oils.

Wisconsin Lawmakers Hold Hearing on CBD Medical Marijuana. Wisconsin legislators Wednesday heard from families of children with seizure disorders, who pleaded with them to pass a pending CBD medical marijuana bill.

Harm Reduction

Cincinnati Gets Its First Needle Exchange Program. The first needle exchange program in the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region is open for business. The Cincinnati Exchange Program becomes the third in Ohio, with others already operating in Cleveland and Portsmouth. The needle exchanges have been proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne infectious diseases.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Database Bill Wins Missouri House Vote. A bill that would establish a prescription drug database has won a vote in the House, but senators, citing privacy concerns, said there is little chance of it moving forward in their chamber. The bill would create an electronic database managed by the state health department that would share information about prescriptions, patients, and doctors. The bill is House Bill 1133.

International

Mexico City Decriminalization, Regulation Bill and Mexican National Drug Reform Bill Introduced Today. In Mexico City, legislators for the federal district introduced a bill to decriminalize the possession of up to five grams of marijuana and remove the option of incarceration for possession of small amounts of other drugs. The bill would also allow for limited regulated marijuana sales. The second, national, bill would reschedule marijuana and allow for its medical use. Look for a Chronicle feature article on this soon.

Dark Web Drug Sales Site Busted. German and Dutch authorities have arrested five men in a sting directed at an internet drug sales portal. The men were connected to Black Market Reloaded and its successor web site, Utopia. Undercover police purchased drugs and weapons through the web sites, they said, and seized computers, hard drives, USB sticks, and a Bitcoin wallet containing $680,000 worth of the electronic currency.

More Than 100,000 Sign British Petition for Review of Drug Laws. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas set up an online petition urging the British government to order a cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment of British drug laws within the next year. It has now achieved the benchmark of 100,000 signatures, which means it must be addressed by the Backbench Business Committee. Sign-ons accelerated after actor and comedian Russell Brand joined with the online campaign group Avaaz to encourage its 1.1 million members to sign up.

Chronicle AM -- February 12, 2014

Overdose prevention is big news today as the drug czar chimes in in favor, more than a dozen congressmen call on Obama to re- or de-schedule marijuana, the Italian Supreme Court undoes a bad drug law, and more. Let's get to it:

Eighteen Congressmen Call for Marijuana Rescheduling or Descheduling. In a Wednesday letter to the White House, 18 congressmen urged President Obama to tell Attorney General Holder to ease up on marijuana. "We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter," said the letter signed by 17 Democrats and one Republican. The letter's lead author is Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Texas Governor Candidate Wendy Davis Says She Would Consider Decriminalization, Supports Medical Marijuana. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis told the Dallas Morning News editorial board she would consider decriminalizing marijuana possession and she supports medical marijuana. "We as a state need to think about the cost of that incarceration and, obviously, the cost to the taxpayers as a consequence of it, and whether we're really solving any problem for the state by virtue of incarcerations for small amounts of marijuana possession," Davis said. "I personally believe that medical marijuana should be allowed for. Certainly as governor I think it's important to be deferential to whether the state of Texas feels that it's ready for that."

Pennsylvania Governor Candidate Allyson Schwartz Calls for Decriminalization, Supports Medical Marijuana. Leading contender for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination US Rep. Allyson Schwartz told the Philadelphia Weekly Monday she favors decriminalization and medical marijuana. "I do believe that marijuana is over-criminalized. And what we should do is decriminalize possession," she said. She also said she would sign a pending medical marijuana bill. "If it came to my desk, I would be supportive," she said.

New Mexico Senate Rules Committee Stalls Marijuana Legalization Resolution. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernallillo) saw his Senate Joint Resolution 10 stalled on a tie vote in the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday. The bill would have legalized possession for those 21 and over and set up a regulated system of marijuana commerce.

New Mexico House Committee Approves Study of Legalization Effects. A measure that asks the Legislative Finance Committee to study the effects of marijuana legalization in other states passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Tuesday. House Memorial 38, filed by Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces), should now be headed for a House floor vote.

Arizona Decriminalization Bill for Small-Time Possession With Intent Filed. Rep. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) has introduced a bill that decriminalizes possession with intent to sell of less than an ounce of pot, make possession of less than two pounds with intent to sell a petty offense, and make possession of more than two pounds with intent to sell a misdemeanor. The measure would also decriminalize growing if the yield is less than two pounds. The bill is House Bill 2474; it has been assigned to the House Judiciary and Rules committees.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Oklahoma City. Supporters of medical marijuana led by Oklahoma NORML rallied at Oklahoma State Capitol today, and also did lobbying and training.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar Calls for Overdose Antidote Drug to Be More Widely Available. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) called Tuesday for making the overdose antidote drug naloxone (Narcan) more widely available. "The Obama Administration is encouraging first responders to carry the overdose-reversal drug naloxone," ONDCP said in a blog post. "When administered quickly and effectively, naloxone immediately restores breathing to a victim in the throes of an opioid overdose. Because police are often the first on the scene of an overdose, the administration strongly encourages local law enforcement agencies to train and equip their personnel with this lifesaving drug… Used in concert with "Good Samaritan" laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose, it can and will save lives."

Boston Mayor Calls for All First Responders to Carry Overdose Antidote. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh Tuesday responded to a spike in drug overdoses in the city by calling on all first responders to carry naloxone (Narcan), a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses. Both heroin and prescription opioid overdoses have jumped since 2009. Walsh announced a series of community workshops on the issue.

Indianapolis Police to Carry Overdose Antidote. Beginning next month, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police will begin a pilot program where police officers are trained in the use of and will carry with them naloxone (Narcan) to reverse overdoses. Heroin overdose deaths have doubled in the city since 2011.

Maine Governor Opposes Bill to Increase Access to Overdose Antidote. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) opposes a bill to make the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) more widely available, saying it would encourage drug use. The sponsor of the bill, Legislative Document 1209, Rep. Sara Gideon (D), said the governor's health policy advisor told her he would oppose the bill. "His main objection is his belief -- and I have to emphasize 'his belief' because there is no evidence that supports this at all -- his belief that increasing the availability of Narcan or naloxone will lead the drug user or drug abuser to have this feeling of invincibility," Gideon said. The Tea Party Republican governor last year vetoed bills to increase naloxone availability and create a Good Samaritan 911 law. Fatal heroin overdoses in the state quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.

Drugged Driving

New Mexico Drugged Driving Bill Advances. A drugged driving bill passed out of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee Tuesday. House Bill 190, filed by Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Albuquerque), would make driving with any detectable level of controlled substances, including marijuana and prescribed drugs evidence of driving under the influence of drugs. Such evidence would not automatically guarantee a conviction, but could be used to shore up prosecutions. The bill ran into opposition from, among others, the Drug Policy Alliance, which said it was likely to entrap regular users of marijuana or medical marijuana. The bill now moves to the House Judiciary Committee.

Synthetic Drugs

Missouri Synthetic Drugs Bill Advances. A bill that adds several specific substances to the state's list of banned synthetic cannabinoids advanced on a voice vote in the House Tuesday. House Bill 1051 is designed "basically to stay ahead of or try to keep up with new chemicals as they come out," said bill sponsor Rep. Shawn Rhoads (R-West Plains). The bill needs one more House vote before moving to the Senate.

International

Italian Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Equating Marijuana With Heroin. The Italian Supreme Court Tuesday struck down a 2006 law that removed the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs, stiffening prison sentences for marijuana and hash offenders, and filling the country's prisons with low-level pot offenders. The expectation is that thousands of them will soon be freed.

Groups Call for UN to Freeze Vietnam Anti-Drug Aid Over Death Penalty. Harm Reduction International and the anti-death penalty groups Reprieve and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have called on the United Nations to freeze anti-drug aid for Vietnam after it sentencing 30 people to die for heroin trafficking. In a letter to the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), they said they had raised concern for several years about UN support for countries that impose the death penalty for drug offenses and that UNODC had internal human rights guidance that required it "to cease support for a country if it is feared the support may facilitate executions." UNODC had not replied as of Wednesday afternoon.

Marijuana Seeds Dropped from Slovak Controlled Substances List, New Drugs Added. President Ivan Gasparovic Tuesday signed legislation that will drop marijuana seeds from the list of illegal drugs in Slovakia because they do not contain cannabinoids. But the updated list will now include eight new drugs, including buphedrone, desoxypipradrol and 4-methylamphetamine, and it down-schedules GHB to allow doctors to prescribe drugs containing it.

(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.)

Hoffman, Heroin, and What Is To Be Done [FEATURE]

The news last Sunday that acclaimed actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman had died of an apparent heroin overdose has turned a glaring media spotlight on the phenomenon, but heroin overdose deaths had been on the rise for several years before his premature demise. And while there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth -- and quick arrests of low-level dealers and users -- too little has been said, either before or after his passing, about what could have been done to save him and what could be done to save others.

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
There are proven measures that can be taken to reduce overdose deaths -- and to enable heroin addicts to live safe and normal lives, whether they cease using heroin or not. All of the above face social and political obstacles and have only been implemented unevenly, if at all. If there is any good to come of Hoffmann's death it will be to the degree that it inspires broader discussion of what can be done to prevent the same thing happening to others in a similar position.

Hoffman, devoted family man and great actor that he was, died a criminal. And perhaps he died because his use of heroin was criminalized. Criminalized heroin -- heroin under drug prohibition -- is of uncertain provenance, of unknown strength and purity, adulterated with unknown substances. While we don't know what was in the heroin that Hoffman injected, we do know that he maintained his addiction and went to meet his maker with black market dope. That's what was found beside his lifeless body.

In a commentary published by The Guardian, actor Russell Brand, a recovered heroin addict, laid the blame for Hoffman's demise on the drug laws. "Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise drug addicts," Brand wrote, calling prohibitionists' methods "so gallingly ineffective that it is difficult not to deduce that they are deliberately creating the worst imaginable circumstances to maximise the harm caused by substance misuse." As a result, "drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem."

We didn't always treat our addicts this way. Even after the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, doctors continued for years to prescribe maintenance doses of opiates to addicts -- and hundreds of them went to jail for it as the medical profession fought, and ultimately lost, a battle with the nascent drug prohibition bureaucracy over whether giving addicts their medicine was part of the legitimate practice of medicine.

The idea of treating heroin addicts as patients instead of criminals was largely vanquished in the United States, but it never went away -- it lingers with methadone substitution, for example. But other countries have for decades been experimenting with providing maintenance doses of opioids to addicts, and to good result. It goes by various names -- opiate substitution therapy, heroin-assisted theatment, heroin maintenance -- and studies from Britain and other European countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, as well as the North American Opiate Medications Initiative (NAOMI) and the follow-up Study to Assess Long-Term Opiate Maintenance in Canada have touted its successes.

Those studies have found that providing pharmaceutical grade heroin to addicts in a clinical setting works. It reduces the likelihood of death or disease among clients, as well as allowing them to bring some stability and predictability to sometimes chaotic lives made even more chaotic by the demands of addiction under prohibition. Such treatment has also been found to have beneficial effects for society, with lowered criminality among participants and increased likelihood of their integration as productive members of society.

The dry, scientific language of the studies obscures the human realities around heroin addiction and opioid maintenance therapy. One NAOMI participant helps put a human face on it.

"I want to tell you what being a participant in this study did for me," one participant told researchers. "Initially it meant 'free heroin.' But over time it became more, much more. NAOMI took much of the stress out of my life and allowed me to think more clearly about my life and future. It exposed me to new ideas, people (staff and clients) that in my street life (read: stressful existence) there was no time for."

"After NAOMI, I was offered oral methadone, which I refused. After going quickly downhill, I ended up hopeless and homeless. I went into detox in April 2007, abstained from using for two months, then relapsed. In July 2008 I again went to detox and I am presently in a treatment center... I am definitely not "out of the woods" yet, but I feel I am on the right path. And this path started for me at the corner of Abbott and Hastings in Vancouver... Thank you and all who were involved in making NAOMI happen. Without NAOMI, I wouldn't be where I am today. I am sure I would be in a much worse place."

Arnold Trebach, one of the fathers of the drug reform in late 20th Century America, has been studying heroin since 1972, and is still at it. He examined the British system in the early 1970s, when doctors still prescribed heroin to thousands of addicts, and authored a book, The Heroin Solution, that compared and contrasted the US and UK approaches. Later this month, the octogenarian law professor will be appearing on a panel at the Vermont Law School to address what Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has described as the heroin crisis there.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (wikimedia.org)
"The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a tragedy all the way around," Trebach told the Chronicle. "It's a bad idea to use heroin off the street, and he shouldn't have been doing that."

That said, Trebach continued, it didn't have to be that way.

"If we had had a sensible system of dealing with this, he would have been in treatment under medical care," he said. "If he was going to inject heroin, he should have been using pharmaceutically pure heroin in a medical setting where he could also have been exposed to efforts to straighten out his personal life, and he could have access to vitamins, weight control advice, and the whole spectrum of medical care. And if he had had access to opioid antagonists, he could still be alive," he added.

While Hoffman may have made bad personal choices, Trebach said, we as a society have made policy choices seemingly designed to amplify the prospects for disaster.

"This is a sad thing. He is just another one of the many victims of our barbaric drug policy," he said. "This was a totally unnecessary death at every level. He shouldn't have been using, but we should have been taking care of him."

The stuff ought to be legalized, Trebach said.

"I'm an advocate of full legalization, but if we can't go that far, we need to at least provide social and psychological support for these people," he said. "And even if we were to decriminalize or legalize, I would still want to figure out ways to provide support and love and kindness to people using the stuff. I advise you not to do it, but if you're going to use it, I want to keep you alive. I remember talking to people from Liverpool [a famous heroin maintenance clinic covered in the '90s by Sixty Minutes, linked above] about harm reduction around heroin use back in the 1970s. One of the ladies said it is very hard to rehabilitate a dead addict."

"There are plenty of things we can be doing," said Hilary McQuie, Western director for the Harm Reduction Network, reeling off a list of harm reduction interventions that are by now well-known but inadequately implemented.

"We can make naloxone (Narcan) more available. We need better access to it. It should be offered to people like Hoffman when they are leaving treatment programs, especially if they've been using opiates, just as a safeguard," she said. "Having treatment programs as well as harm reduction programs distribute it is important. We can cut the overdose rate in half with naloxone, but there will still be people using alone and people using multiple substances."

There are other proven interventions that could be ramped up as well, McQuie said.

"Safe injection sites would be very helpful, so would more Good Samaritan overdose emergency laws, and more education, not to mention more access to methadone and buprenorphine and other opioid substitution therapies (OST)," she said, reeling off possible interventions.

Dr. Martin Schechter, director of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, knows a thing or two about OST. The principal study investigator for the NAOMI and the follow-up SALOME study, Schechter has overseen research into the effectiveness of treating intractable addicts with pharmaceutical heroin, as well as methadone. The results have been promising.

"What we're using is medically prescribed pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin," he explained. "It's what you have when you strip away all the street additives. This is a stable, sterile medication from a pharmaceutical manufacturer. We know the precise dose tailored for each person. With street heroin, not only is it adulterated and injected in unsterile situations, but people really don't know how strong it is. That's probably what happened to Mr. Hoffman."

Naloxone (Narcan) can reverse opiate overdoses (wikimedia.org)
In NAOMI, 90,000 injections were administered to study participants, and only 11 people suffered overdoses requiring medical attention.

"Never did we have a fatal overdose," Schechter said. "Because it was in a clinic, nurses and doctors are right there. We administer Narcan (naloxone), and they wake up."

Heroin maintenance had even proven more effective than methadone in numerous studies, Schechter said.

"There have been seven randomized control trials across Europe and in Canada that have shown for people who have already tried treatments like methadone, that medically prescribed heroin is more effective and cost effective treatment than simply trying methadone one more time."

Those studies carry a lesson, he said.

"We have to start looking at heroin from a medicinal point of view and treat it like a medicine," he argued. "The more we drive its use underground, the more overdoses we get. We need to expand treatment programs, not only with methadone, but with medically prescribed heroin for people who don't respond to other treatments."

Safe injection sites are also a worthwhile intervention, Schechter said, although he also noted their limitations.

"Injecting under supervision is much safer; if there is an overdose, there is prompt attention, and they provide sterile equipment, reducing the risk of HIV and Hep C," he said. "But they are still injecting street heroin."

He would favor decriminalizing heroin possession, too, he said.

Harm reduction measures, opioid maintenance treatments, and the like are absolutely necessary interventions, said McQuie, but there is a larger issue at hand, as well.

"We still need to look at the overall issue of the stigmatization of drug users," she said. "People aren't open about their use, and that puts them in a more dangerous situation. It's really hard in a criminalized environment."

Stigmatization means to mark or brand someone or something as disgraceful and subject to strong disapproval. Defining an activity, such as heroin possession, as a crime is stigmatization crystallized into the legal structures of society itself.

"The ultimate harm reduction solution," McQuie argued, "is a regulated, decriminalized environment where it is available by prescription, so people know what they're getting, they know how much to use, and it's not cut with fentanyl or other deadly adulterants. People wouldn't have to deal with all the collateral damage that comes from being defined as criminals as well as dealing with the consequences of their drug use. They could deal with their addictions without having to worry about losing their homes, their families, and their freedoms."

While such approaches have a long way to go before winning wide popular acceptance, policymakers should at least be held to account for the consequences of their decision-making, McQuie said, suggesting that the turn to heroin in recent years was a foreseeable result of the crackdown on prescription opioid pain medication beginning in the middle of the last decade.

"They started shutting down all those 'pill mills' and people should have anticipated what would happen and been ready for it," she said. "What we have seen is more and more people turning to injecting heroin, but nobody stopped to do an impact statement on what would be the likely result of restricting access to pain pills."

The impact can be seen in the numbers on heroin use, addiction, and overdoses. While talk of a "heroin epidemic" is overblown rhetoric, the number of heroin users has increased dramatically in the past decade. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of past year users grew by about 50% between 2002 and 2011, from roughly 400,000 to more than 600,000. At the same time, the number of addicted users increased from just under 200,000 to about 370,000, a slightly lesser increase.

If there is any good news, it is that, according to the latest (2012) National Household Survey of Drug Use and Health, the number of new heroin users has remained fairly steady at around 150,000 each year for the past decade. That suggests, however, that more first-time users are graduating to occasional and sometimes, dependent user status.

And some of them are dying of heroin overdoses, although not near the number dying from overdoses from prescription opioids. Between 1999 and 2007, heroin deaths hovered just under 2,000, even as prescription drug deaths skyrocketed, from around 2,500 in 1999 to more than 12,000 just eight years later. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, by 2010, the latest year for which data are available, heroin overdose deaths had surpassed 3,000, a 50% increase in just three years.

While the number of heroin overdose deaths is still but a fraction of those attributed to prescription opioid overdoses and the numbers since 2010 are spotty, the increase that showed up in 2010 shows no signs of having gone away. Phillip Seymour Hoffman may be the most prominent recent victim, but in the week since his death, another 50 or 60 people have probably followed him to the morgue due to heroin overdoses.

There are ways to reduce the heroin overdose death toll. It's not a making of figuring out what they are. It's a matter of finding the political and social will to implement them, and that requires leaving the drug war paradigm behind.

New York City, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 11, 2014

California's narcs are whining about Obama's marijuana remarks, Coloradans seem happy with legalization, a Good Samaritan overdose bill is filed in Maryland, an Israeli newspaper talks pot policy, and a Colombian FARC representative lays out the guerrilla's drug proposals, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plants. The FARC has plans for them. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization More Popular Than Ever in Colorado. A year after marijuana possession became legal in the state and a month after retail marijuana sales began, Coloradans are more supportive than legalization than ever, according to a new poll. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday had support for legalization at 58%, three points higher than 55% who actually voted for it in November 2012. And 73% said they wouldn't mind if their neighbors grew marijuana in their homes.

California Narcs Unhappy With Obama Marijuana Comments. California's narcs are displeased with President Obama's recent remarks suggesting that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol. In an open letter Monday, the California Narcotics Officers' Association took "strong issue" with the president's statements and warned that marijuana poses "significant risks to public health." The full text of the letter is at the link.

Wyoming Activists "Walk for Weed" at State Capitol. Several dozen marijuana legalization activists demonstrated at the state capitol in Cheyenne Monday armed with signs reading "Legalize, Not Legal Lies" and "Turning a Red State Green in 2016." The protest was an action by Wyoming NORML, which aims to put a legalization initiative on the ballot then.

North Carolina Legislator Vows to Introduce Legalization Measure. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) said Monday he will introduce a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment when the legislature reconvenes in May. "It's an inevitable thing," he said. "Trying to stop that movement reminds me of somebody marching out to the beach, holding up their hand and saying the tide will not rise."

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Bills to Fold Medical Marijuana into Legal Marijuana System Moving. A pair of state Senate bills that would end collective gardens for medical marijuana patients advanced last Friday, while a House bill that would reduce the amount of medicine and the number of plants patients or caregivers can possess moved on Monday. Senate Bill 5887 and Senate Bill 6178 each passed 6-1 in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor on Friday. Both were second substitute versions. House Bill 2149 passed out of the House Appropriations Committee Monday.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Needs Revisions, Sponsor Says. After a three-hour committee hearing Monday, state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the sponsor of the CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 885, said it needed significant revisions before it could advance in the House. The hearing included searing testimony from parents of children suffering seizures, but also from physicians who said the use of CBD cannabis oils needed more study. Another hearing is set for Thursday.

Drug Testing

Illinois Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients, General Assembly Candidates Filed. A bill that would require candidates for the state House and Senate to undergo drug testing and bar them from running if they test positive has been filed in Illinois. Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Forsythe) said he introduced House Bill 5292 with the political candidate provision because he thinks elected officials should be held to the same standards as food stamp recipients. The bill also calls for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of food stamp recipients. Requiring drug tests of candidates for office, and requiring drug tests of public benefits recipients without individualized suspicion, have both been held unconstitutional by the federal courts.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Good Samaritan 911 Overdose Prevention Bill Proposed. Delegate Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore) today proposed a bill that would offer limited immunity for nonviolent drug possession charges if that person contacts police or emergency personnel for reports of an overdose. "While I don't condone illegal drug or alcohol use or abuse, we should make sure overdose victims are brought to safety and not allow them die out of fear of being arrested," said Cardin in a statement. "There is strong evidence that overdose victims and their friends would often rather let someone die than call emergency personnel. This should never happen. This law is a common sense way to literally save thousands of lives." The bill was not yet on the legislative web site as of Tuesday afternoon.

International

In-Depth Interview with FARC Representative on Colombian Guerrilla Group's Drug Policy Proposals. The Voice of Russia has recorded an extensive interview with FARC peace delegation member Laura Villa on the FARC's drug policy proposals, which begin from the premise that drug prohibition has failed. FARC policies call for respect for the coca leaf, decriminalization of the coca crop (in the context of land reform), a public health approach to drug consumption, as well as demilitarization, an end to aerial eradication, and compensation for victims of eradication. The entire interview is quite illuminating and worth the read.

Israel Hayom Debates Marijuana Legalization. Editors and contributors to Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, debated marijuana legalization in the Holy Land. Check out the debate by clicking on the link.

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