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Chronicle AM: Obama Says Federal Pot Prohibition "Not Tenable" After Tuesday, More... (11/07/16)

Marijuana Policy 

President Obama Says Federal Pot Prohibition in Question After Tuesday's Vote. Appearing on the Bill Maher Show Friday night, President Obama said federal marijuana prohibition will not "be tenable" if more states vote to legalize the weed on Tuesday. "The good news is is that after this referenda, to some degree it’s gonna call the question, because if in fact it passed in all these states, you now have about a fifth of the country that’s operating under one set of laws, and four-fifths in another," Obama said. "The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others — they’re gonna guard against transporting these drugs across state lines, but you’ve got the entire Pacific corridor where this is legal — that is not gonna be tenable," he said.

 

Maine Legalizers Have Huge Cash Advantage. Supporters of the Question 1 marijuana legalization initiative have raised more than $2.4 million dollars, according to campaign finance reports, while opponents have raised only $201,000. Most of the pro-legalization money has come from the New Approach PAC, the instrument of the heirs of late Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform philanthropist Peter Lewis, while 99% of the anti-legalization money has come courtesy of Project SAM's Kevin Sabet, who now heads the newly formed non-profit Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy.

Las Vegas Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson Again Kicks in Against Nevada Pot Initiative. The Sands Corporation head honcho and prolific funder of anti-drug reform efforts has given more than $1.35 million to the campaign trying to defeat the Question 2 marijuana legalization initiative in recent weeks, according to campaign finance reports. That's on top of $2 million he gave opponents in September. In fact, Adelson is virtually a one-man opposition campaign, having provided 97.4% of all reported opposition campaign contributions. Proponents of Question 2 have raised only $1.2 million.

Medical Marijuana

New Report Calls Marijuana a "Promising Option" for Dealing With Opioid Addiction. A new report from the National Cannabis Industry Association finds that increasing legal access to marijuana can be a potent weapon in the fight against opioid addiction. The report findssignificant progress in reducing addiction and overdose deaths in states that have legalized it.

New Mexico Panel Votes to Allow Medical Marijuana for "Opiate Use Disorder." A state advisory board that makes recommendations to the Health Department on New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program voted 5-1 Friday in favor of adding "opiate use disorder" to the list of conditions that qualify. Now, it's up to incoming Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to accept or deny the recommendation. Such a move could add thousands of new patients to the state's rapidly expanding medical marijuana program.

Asset Forfeiture

Montana Supreme Court Affirms Right to Jury Trial in Civil Forfeiture Cases. In a ruling last week, the state high court upheld and strengthened a 2015 law that reformed asset forfeiture procedures. The ruling came in the case of a man whose land was seized after police found 300 marijuana plants on it. The man was convicted of federal drug charges, but not prosecuted by the state. Even though he faced no state charges, the state seized his land. He requested a jury trial, but was denied in lower court, and a judge turned the property over to the state. But the Supreme Court said the 2015 law supplanted older law on which the trial judge based his decision.

Law Enforcement

Even As Arrests Drop, California Racial Disparities Persist. A new report from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris finds that arrest rates for all racial groups have dropped in the past decade, but blacks were still much more likely than whites to be arrested on felony charges. When it comes to drugs, black men were six times as likely as whites to be arrested, and black women were nearly three times as likely to be arrested as whites. Latinos, on the other hand, were arrested for drugs at roughly the same rate as whites. 

Clinton's and Trump's Drug Policies [FEATURE]

(This article was written prior to the election.)

One means of judging the competing presidential candidates is to examine their actual policy prescriptions for dealing with serious issues facing the country. When it comes to drug policy, the contrasts between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn't be more telling.

Donald Trump talks drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
The country is in the midst of what can fairly be called an opioid crisis, with the CDC reporting 78 Americans dying every day from heroin and prescription opioid overdoses. Both candidates have addressed the problem on the campaign trail, but, as is the case in so many other policy areas, one candidate has detailed proposals, while the other offers demagogic sloganeering.

Guess which is which.

Hillary Clinton has offered a detailed $10 billion plan to deal with what she called the "quiet epidemic" of opioid addiction. Donald Trump's plan consists largely of "build the wall."

That was the centerpiece of his October 15 speech in New Hampshire where he offered his clearest drug policy prescriptions yet (though it was overshadowed by his weird demand that Hillary Clinton undergo a drug test).  To be fair, since then, Trump has also called for expanding law enforcement and treatment programs, but he has offered no specifics or cost estimates.

And the centerpiece of his approach remains interdiction, which dovetails nicely with his nativist immigration positions.

Donald Trump wants a wall here to stop drugs and immigrants. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
"A Trump administration will secure and defend our borders," he said in that speech. "A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth."

Trump did not address the failure of 40 years of ever-increasing border security and interdiction policies to stop the flow of drugs up until now, nor did he explain what would prevent a 50-foot wall from being met with a 51-foot ladder.

Trump's drug policy also takes aim at a favorite target of conservatives: so-called sanctuary cities, where local officials refuse to cooperate in harsh federal deportation policies.

"We are also going to put an end to sanctuary cities, which refuse to turn over illegal immigrant drug traffickers for deportation," he said. "We will dismantle the illegal immigrant cartels and violent gangs, and we will send them swiftly out of our country."

In contrast, Clinton's detailed proposal calls for increased federal spending for prevention, treatment and recovery, first responders, prescribers, and criminal justice reform. The Clinton plan would send $7.5 billion to the states over 10 years, matching every dollar they spend on such programs with four federal dollars. Another $2.5 billion would be designated for the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program.

Hillary Clinton has a detailed drug policy position. (state.gov)
While Trump advocates increased border and law enforcement, including a return to now widely discredited mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders, Clinton does not include funding for drug enforcement and interdiction efforts in her proposal. Such funding would presumably come through normal appropriations channels.

Instead of a criminal justice crackdown, Clinton vows that her attorney general will issue guidance to the states urging them to emphasize treatment over incarceration for low-level drug offenders. She also supports alternatives to incarceration such as drug courts (as does Trump). But unlike Trump, Clinton makes no call for increased penalties for drug offenders.

Trump provides lip service to prevention, treatment and recovery, but his rhetorical emphasis illuminates his drug policy priorities: more walls, more law enforcement, more drug war prisoners.

There is one area of drug policy where both candidates are largely in agreement, and that is marijuana policy. Both Clinton and Trump have embraced medical marijuana, both say they are inclined to let the states experiment with legalization, but neither has called for marijuana legalization or the repeal of federal pot prohibition.

If Clinton's drug policies can be said to be a continuation of Obama's, Trump's drug policies are more similar to a return to Nixon's. 

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Former LA Mayor Endorses Prop 64, Glasgow Moves Toward UK's First Safe Injection Site, More... (11/1/16)

California's Prop 64 picks up another high-profile endorsement, the city of Glasgow is moving to establish the United Kingdom's first safe injection site, and more.

The Vancouver InSite supervised injection site. Something similar could soon be coming to Scotland. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy 

Colorado Lawmakers Call on Arizona "No" Campaign to Quit Using Inaccurate Ads. Three Colorado state legislators Monday sent letters to the campaign opposing the Prop 205 legalization initiative calling on it to quit misstating facts about what has happened since legalization in Colorado. The "no" campaign has claimed that Colorado schools have not seen any money from marijuana revenues, but the legislators point out that the state Department of Education has received more than $138 million in pot tax revenues. "They are saying these things that area really far field from the truth," state Sen. Pat Steadman. "We've been building schools and repairing schools with the excess tax revenue that was dedicated to school construction. Those dollars are flowing."

Former Los Angeles Mayor Endorses California Legalization Initiative. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) Monday became the latest well-known California politician to endorse the Prop 64 legalization initiative. "I took my time on this measure because I wanted to make sure it included protections for children and public safety," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "In evaluating the measure in its entirety, I am convinced there are enough safeguards to make it a workable proposition."

Medical Marijuana

Disqualified Arkansas Initiative Asks State Supreme Court to Reinstate It. Backers of the Issue 7 medical marijuana initiative are seeking recourse from the state's highest court after that same court last week disqualified it days after early voting began in the state. In a ruling last week, the high court said the campaign had violating state laws regarding reporting and registration of paid canvassers and threw out 12,000 signatures that had been approved by state election officials. But the Issue 7 campaign argues that a 2013 law imposing restrictions on paid canvassers is unfair to smaller groups. The state Supreme Court rarely grants petitions for a rehearing. A competing initiative, Issue 6, remains on the ballot. 

International

Glasgow Moves Toward Opening Forced Supervised Injection Facility in the UK.The Glasgow City Alcohol and Drug Partnership is pushing plans for the first safe injection sites in the United Kingdom. The notion is to be considered by the city council, the health board, and the police, all of whom are expected to agree in principle to the idea. Stay tuned. 

Chronicle AM: AZ Legalization Foe Faces Boycott, Dubai .07gm Meth Death Penalty, More... (10/18/16)

Discount Tire could pay a price for opposing the Arizona legalization initiative, the UFW endorses California's Prop 64, the White House scoffs at Trump's drug test demand, and more.

Lebanese civil society organizes for drug reform and harm reduction. (YouTube screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona's Discount Tire Hit With Boycott After Donating $1 Million to Keep Pot Illegal. The company and its billionaire owner, Bruce Halle, are facing "a growing boycott movement" after he donated a million dollars to the campaign against Prop 205, the legalization initiative. The company had already been the object of a boycott after Discount Tire stores posted "Re-Elect Sheriff Joe Arpaio" signs in the windows. Now, in addition to Latinos, who overall loathe Arpaio, Halle is facing the ire of half the population, who will vote to legalize it next month.

United Farm Workers Endorse California Legalization Initiative. The UFW, the nation's largest farm workers' union, has endorsed the Prop 64 legalization initiative. "Proposition 64 will bring legal justice and job training to communities of color that have been cynically targeted by the failed war on marijuana," says UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez. "It also extends strong worker and safety protections for those who toil in the fields of this industry and work in every part of the supply chain. UFW is pleased to endorse it."

Delaware Activists Launch Legalization Petition. Less than a week after Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) said she would file a legalization bill next year, and the same day a University of Delaware poll said support for legalization was at 61%, activists in the First State announced a petition signature drive to influence legislators. Delaware does not have an initiative process, so any petitions are non-binding, but would show public support for the move.

Medical Marijuana

Miami Herald Endorses Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. The influential newspaper has come out in support of the Amendment 2 initiative, citing the legislature's unwillingness to enact a meaningful medical marijuana law. "In 2014, the Legislature legalized some strains of marijuana for patients with severe seizures. Last year, lawmakers legalized full-scale medical marijuana, but only for the terminally ill," the newspaper noted. "Once again, initiative foes argue the legalization of medical cannabis should be handled by the state Legislature instead of being enshrined into the Florida Constitution. We agree, but since lawmakers have repeatedly failed to pass comprehensive legislation, sick Floridians want this relief. For their sake, we recommend YES on Amendment 2."

Iowa Governor Open to Renewing CBD Cannabis Oil Law.Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said Tuesday he was open to working with advocates to extend a soon-to-end law that allows the use of CBD cannabis oil for patients with epilepsy. The law is set to expire next July 1. "We don't want people to lose something they think will be helpful or that has been helpful to members of their family," Branstad said. "I intend to work with the legislature as well as with the (Governor's) Office of Drug Control (Policy) as we look at what is the appropriate thing to do.

Drug Policy

White House Scoffs at Trump Drug Test Proposal. White House press secretary Josh Earnest Monday reacted with incredulity to Donald Trump's call to drug test Hillary Clinton before tomorrow night's debate. "You're telling me the candidate who snorted his way through the first two debates is accusing the other candidate of taking drugs?" Earnest said. "That's a curious development in the campaign." But was he really suggesting that Trump was on drugs? "Not at all," he said. "Just trying to have a little fun. You guys are so serious today," he told assembled reporters.

International

Lebanese Drug Policy Group Tells Young People: Know Your Rights! A Lebanese nonprofit organization has launched a campaign to empower young people who are being criminalized for drug use, and to call on legislators to adopt an alternative drug policy approach. Skoun, the organization behind the initiative, is a Beirut-based organization that offers free and confidential drug treatment to those who seek it. Alongside its clinical work, Skoun campaigns for an end to Lebanon's punitive drug policies, and advocates for policies rooted in humanity, self-determination, health, and justice. The organization launched its Know Your Rights campaign in September. The project has three goals: empowering young people to know their rights during drug-related encounters with the law; shedding light on police abuse of power; and, stimulating debate around the effectiveness of current drug policies.

Dubai Prosecutors Seek Death Sentence for 0.07 Grams of Meth. Wow. Prosecutors in Dubai are seeking a death sentence for two men caught in possession of a miniscule amount of methamphetamine. Prosecutors claimed the men possessed the drugs -- less than a tenth of gram -- for drug trafficking purposes.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: DEA Kratom Ban Retreat, France's First Supervised Injection Site, More... (10/12/16)

A new Pew poll has support for marijuana legalization at 57% nationwide, the DEA is forced to back away from its kratom ban, France opens its first supervised injection site, and more.

In a historic move, the DEA was forced to back away from enacting an emergency ban on kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New National Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Legalization. A new Pew Research Center poll released today has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 57%, with 37% opposed. A recent Gallup poll had it at 58%. Pew says the numbers show that public opinion on the issue has flipped in the past decade. In 2006, only 32% supported legalization, with 60% opposed.

Delaware Legislator Vows to File Legalization Bill Next Year. State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D), the Senate majority whip, said she will introduce a pot legalization bill in January. "It's certainly being considered. It's going to be an uphill battle," Henry said Tuesday during a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee. "But it's time, quite frankly. It's time to certainly look at it."

Nevada's Largest Labor Union Endorses Legalization Initiative. Culinary Union Local 226, the largest labor union in the state, is getting behind the Question 2 legalization initiative. The union represents some 60,000 workers in the Silver State.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Poll Has Initiative With Strong Lead. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida has more than three-out-four likely voters supporting the Question 2 medical marijuana initiative. The poll had support at 77%. The initiative needs 60% to win because it is a constitutional amendment.

Kratom

In Unprecedented Move, DEA Backs Away from Kratom Ban -- At Least for Now. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has posted a notice in the Federal Register stating that it is withdrawing its plans to ban kratom using emergency scheduling powers. The DEA instead is opening a public comment period ending December 1st. The official notice indicates that comments received by the DEA will be considered -- along with formal input from the Food and Drug Administration -- before a determination is made about scheduling kratom. The DEA's proposed ban on kratom, a medicinal plant used for millennia in Southeast Asia and currently by millions in the US, was anticipated to go in effect as early as September 30. The DEA retreat came amidst enormous pressure on the agency from the public and lawmakers to halt the ban.

International

France's First Supervised Injection Site is Open for Business. France has now joined a growing list of European countries that operate supervised injection facilities for drug users. After the Socialist government pushed through legislation allowing them last year, the first one in France opened Tuesday near Paris's Gare du Nord train station.

Peru Renews Military Operations in Key Coca Growing Area. The Peruvian government announced last week that it is declaring a 60-day state of emergency in parts of the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), a key coca producing region. The area had been under a state of emergency for 30 years until last year, when the government ended it after capturing several Shining Path operatives. But now, the military is back with twin briefs to fight drug trafficking and "narcoterrorism."

Cayman Island Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill.Lawmakers in the Caribbean island nation voted Monday to legalize the use of CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. The measure still faces one final vote, and could require some tweaking before such medicines become available. No one in the Cayman Islands produces CBD cannabis oil, and it could be problematic to try to import it from the US because of federal marijuana prohibition.

A Possession Arrest Every 25 Seconds: The Cruel Folly of the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

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

Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.

More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.

Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.

The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.

"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."

Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.

The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.

Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.

"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."

The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.

Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.

And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.

report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.

"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.

"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."

Chronicle AM: DEA Cuts Prescription Opioid Production Quotas, Legal Pot Sales Keep Getting Higher, More... (10/4/16)

The campaign ads start rolling out in Maine and Massachusetts, legal pot sales keep getting higher, the DEA cuts quotas for prescription opioid manufacturing, and more.

The maker of Suboxone is accused of price gouging and patent manipulation. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Pot Sales Keep Going Up, Up, Up. This year is on track to be another record-setter when it comes to legal marijuana sales. A new report from the financial services company Convergex finds that sales growth at legal pot shops in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington was "impressive." Through July, Colorado has already done $458.7 million in revenues, while Washington has come in at $415.8 million through August. The Colorado figure is only 20% below the total for all of 2015, while the Washington figure already exceeds sales for all of last year. Oregon dispensaries reported $42.4 million in retail sales in June and July.

New England Legalization Initiatives Launch First TV Ads. The Question 1 campaign in Maine and the Question 4 campaign in Massachusetts both rolled out their first television ads Monday. The Massachusetts ads feature a former Boston police officer who is now a criminal justice professor, while the Maine ad also features a former law enforcement official, former Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Reduces Amount of Opioid Controlled Substances. The DEA announced Tuesday that it is reducing quotas for the amount of Schedule II opiates and opioid medications that can be produced in the US next year by 25% or more. DEA said it is responding to decreased demand for these substances, based on reduced prescribing of them. The quota has been cut by 25% for oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, and other such medications and a whopping 66% for hydrocodone.

Thirty-Five States and DC Sue Suboxone Maker Over Price Gouging. Illinois is among the 35 states and the District of Columbia that have filed a lawsuit against the drugmaker Indivior over its maneuvers to keep a monopoly on the market for Suboxone, which is used to treat patients addicted to heroin and other opioids. The lawsuit charges that Indivior changed Suboxone from a tablet to a dissolving film only in order to get a new patent that would protect it from competition and allow it to charge exorbitant prices. The company has made over a billion dollars in annual sales every year since 2009, when the original patent was set to expire. "These companies rigged a system to ensure they profited at the expense of the people who depended on this drug to treat and recover from addiction," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement.

Chronicle AM: Chelsea Clinton "Misspoke" on MJ Dangers, NYC Safe Injection Sites?, More... (9/29/16)

No, medical marijuana doesn't kill patients, Chelsea Clinton's spokeswoman admits, New York City is about to embark on a study of supervised injection facilities, and more.

The InSite supervised injection facility in Vancouver. New York City will study whether to have them, too. (vch.ca)
Medical Marijuana

Chelsea Clinton "Misspoke" About Risk of Marijuana Fatalities. Chelsea Clinton "misspoke" when she suggested that using medical marijuana along with other medications could be fatal, a spokeswoman has conceded. "While discussing her and her mother's support for rescheduling marijuana to allow for further study of both its medical benefits and possible interactions with other medications, Chelsea misspoke about marijuana's interaction with other drugs contributing to specific deaths," the spokeswoman said. While campaigning for her mother, the former first daughter told students at Youngstown State University in Ohio over the weekend that "some of the people who were taking marijuana for those [medicinal] purposes, the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking."

Harm Reduction

New York City to Study Supervised Injection Facilities. The city council has agreed to fund a $100,000 study into the pros and cons of supervised injection facilities. "The Council's new supervised injection impact study will assess the feasibility and impact of New York City having a program that provides a safe, clean haven to high-risk, vulnerable New Yorkers and will help prevent drug overdoses and disease transmissions, "Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said after passage of the proposal.

Law Enforcement

GOP Congressman's Bill Would Subject Heroin Spiked with Fentanyl Dealers to the Death Penalty. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) has filed a bill that would allow federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for dealers linked to an overdose death caused by heroin laced with fentanyl. The measure is HR 6158, the Help Ensure Lives are Protected (HELP) Act. The move was quickly criticized by drug reform advocates. "This bill is a doubling down on the very ineffective, harsh and punitive policies that characterized the early war on drugs and which have widely been proven ineffective at reducing drug use," said Lindsay LaSalle, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Powerful Coalition is Building Pressure on Feds to Think Again on Kratom Ban [FEATURE]

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

In a last ditch bid to stop the DEA from criminalizing an herb widely hailed for its ability to treat pain, depression, and anxiety, and help people wean themselves from more dangerous opioid pain relievers, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the agency Monday asking it to reconsider its decision to place kratom on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Kratom is a southeast Asian herb made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciose, a tree related to the coffee plant. In small doses, it has a mild stimulant effect, but in larger doses, it acts like a mild opioid. To be precise, the DEA has moved to criminalize not the herb itself, but two alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxmitragynine, which activate opioid receptors in the brain.

Last month, the DEA exercised its emergency scheduling powers in announcing that it was moving kratom to Schedule I, effective at the end of this week. The drug agency said kratom poses "an imminent hazard to public safety," citing only press reports of some 15 deaths linked to kratom use. But in at least 14 of those cases, the victims were also using other drugs or had pre-existing life-threatening conditions. (Meanwhile, some 25,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses last year.)

Kratom users, who could number in the millions, immediately raised the alarm, organizing campaigns to undo the decision and lobbying Congress for help. That's what sparked Monday's letter from 51 lawmakers, including 22 Republicans.

"This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders," reads the letter, drafted by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Matt Salmon (R-AZ). "This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement."

Given the ongoing high level of heroin and prescription opioid use and the associated overdose deaths, he DEA was hypocritical in mounting a campaign against kratom, the lawmakers said.

"The DEA's decision to place kratom as a Schedule I substance will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions -- a significant public health threat," they wrote.

The lawmakers called on DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to delay the emergency scheduling and instead "engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters."

Since first emerging in the US a few years ago, kratom has been unregulated at the federal level, although the Food & Drug Administration began seizing shipments of it in 2014. At the state level, a half dozen states have entertained moves to ban it, but such efforts failed in all except Alabama. In other states, kratom advocates have managed to turn bans into regulation, with age restrictions and similar limits.

Kratom capsules (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
A ban on kratom would be disastrous, said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association. Ash said she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2006 and ended up essentially disabled under the weight of 13 different prescriptions, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines (to counter the opioids and the benzos). She became addicted to the opioids and finally tried kratom as a last resort.

"I didn't really want to have anything to do with a plant, but I decided to try it, and it worked day and night," she said Tuesday. "Within two weeks, I went from home bound to starting this organization."

With the kratom ban looming, her members are facing "our darkest hour," Ash said. "Our average member is a middle-aged woman, about 40% of whom have experienced addition, and tens of thousands of them are using it as an alternative to pharmaceutical medications because they believe it is safer and more natural. Now, people are saying they are going to lose their quality of life, that they will be re-disabled. People are terrified. What we need is regulation, not prohibition."

"Despite the moral, political, and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as public health issues, the DEA wants to subject people with kratom to prison sentences," said Jag Davies, director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is also fighting the ban. "The DEA's move would also effectively halt promising scientific investigations into the plant's uses and medicinal benefits, including helping many people struggling with opioid addiction."

The scientific studies are promising indeed. Researchers at Columbia University just published a study on kratom alkaloids and found that they activate opioid receptors in a way that doesn't trigger respiratory depression, the lethal side effect of most opioids. Such research could lead to the "holy grail" of narcotic analgesics, a painkiller that doesn't kill users and doesn't get them addicted.

"Our research shows that mitragynine and its analogs activate the opioid receptors in a unique way compared to morphine or oxycodone," said Dr. Andrew Kruegel, one of the Columbia researchers. "They activate a certain protein pathway while avoiding other pathways, and that gives you a better safety profile, mostly for respiratory depression. The scientific data is consistent with an improved safety profile from the alkaloids and suggestive of the same with the raw plant," he explained.

"This new prohibition will really restrict our ability to purse new opioid painkillers based on alkaloids and new safer drugs for pain," Kruegel said.

And then some, DPA's Davies added.

"Placing kratom in Schedule I would place regulatory and funding barriers in front of research, drive users into the black market, and leave them facing lengthy prison terms," he said. "It's troubling that the DEA is moving hastily to criminalize kratom at the same time Congress and the president have been made sentencing reform a priority this year and when communities are grappling with unprecedented rates of heroin and opioid overdoses, the DEA is threatening to punish people for using it instead of potent pharmaceutical preparations. Kratom has a role to play in mitigating the opioid crisis."

But not if the DEA refuses to budge from its ban plan. If the DEA cannot be moved, kratom is illegal as of this coming Friday.

Chronicle AM: CA "Doctor Shopping" Law, Strong FL MedMJ Polling, Iran Executions More... (9/28/16)

The polls are looking good in Florida and Massachusetts, California's governor signs a mandatory prescription monitoring bill, Iran executes more drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Nurses Endorse Legalization Initiative. The California Nurses Association has formally endorsed the Prop 64 legalization initiative. "California Nurses believe strongly that the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana has ruined generations of lives, wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer of dollars and failed to protect the public health and safety, "Deborah Burger, the organization's president said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "On balance, Proposition 64 is significantly better for public health and safety than the broken status quo, and we are pleased to endorse it,"she added. The California Medical Association has also endorsed Prop 64; the California Hospitals Association opposes it.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Favored in New Poll. A new WBZ-TV/UMass Amherst poll has the Question 4 legalization initiative favored by 53% of respondents, with 40% opposed and 7% undecided. Of demographic groups, only voters over 55 and self-described conservatives opposed the measure.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Cruising to Victory in New Poll. A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll has 73% of voters favoring the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative, with only 22% opposed. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needs 60% to pass, but it is polling well beyond that.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

California Governor Signs Prescription Monitoring Bill into Law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 482, aimed at preventing "doctor shopping." The new law requires doctors to check a database of prescription drug prescriptions before writing prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs. The state already has an electronic prescription database, but until now it's use has been optional. The new law will go into effect in six months.

International

Iran Hangs Five More Drug Offenders. Iranian authorities executed four drug prisoners at Tabriz Central Prison on Saturday and one more at Taybad Prison on Sunday. Their names were Abdolkarim Bapiri, Mehdi Molaie, Salah Ghaderian, Ali Mohtabipour, and Hadi Oskouie. In recent years, Iran has executed hundreds of drug offenders each year.

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