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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 (
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."

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.


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.

Chronicle AM: OR Top Cops Want Defelonization, SC County Wants to Jail Overdosers, More... (9/27/16)

NORML updates its congressional scorecard, Bay State legalizers cry foul over a misleading voter guide, the number of babies suffering from opioid withdrawals has jumped dramatically, Oregon top cops want to defelonize simple drug possession, and more.

Oregon sheriffs and police chiefs jointly call for defelonizing simple drug possession. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

NORML Releases Updated and Revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard. To mark national Voter Registration Day, NORML has released its updated and revised guide to members of Congress. The guide gives letter grades to our representatives based on the comments and voting records. Only 22 of the 535 senators and congressmen got "A" grades, while 32 members got an "F" grade.

Massachusetts Legalizers Cry Foul Over State-Issued Voter Guide. Campaigners behind the Question 4 legalization initiative say a state-issued guide sent to voters across the state inaccurately describes the fiscal consequences of the measure. The guide says they are "difficult to project due to lack of reliable data" and cites a report from a committee headed by a top opponent of legalization to the effect that taxes and fee revenues from legal marijuana sales "may fall short of even covering the full public and social costs. The Yes on 4 campaign points out that there is "reliable data" from legal marijuana states and that those states have easily covered administrative and other expenses.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study: Number of Babies Born Suffering Withdrawal Symptoms More Than Doubles in Four Years. Researchers studying neonatal abstinence syndrome, which results from withdrawal from opioids to which fetuses were exposed in utero, report that the incidence of the syndrome has jumped from 2.8 cases per thousand live births in 2009 to 7.3 cases in 2013. At least some of the surge may be a result of drug policies aimed at cracking down on prescription drug use. "The drug policies of the early 2000s were effective in reducing supply -- we have seen a decrease in methamphetamine abuse and there have been reductions in some aspects of prescription drug abuse," said lead study author Dr. Joshua Brown. "However, the indirect results, mainly the increase in heroin abuse, were likely not anticipated and we are just starting to see these." The researchers also noted wide variations by state, from 0.7 cases per thousand in Hawaii to 33.4 cases in West Virginia.

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill to Criminalize More New Synthetics Passes House. A bill sponsored by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-TX) to add several new synthetic cannabinoids and opioids to the Controlled Substances Act passed the House Monday. The measure, HR 3537, now goes to the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Law Enforcement Calls for Defelonizing Drug Possession. The Oregon Association of Police Chiefs and the Oregon State Sheriff's Association have jointly called for people caught with "user amounts" of illegal drugs to face misdemeanor charges -- not felonies -- and be sent to treatment. Elected officials and prosecutors should "craft a more thoughtful approach to drug possession when it is the only crime committed," the top cops said, because felony charges "include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities."

South Carolina County Ponders Mandatory Jail Time for People Who Overdose. The chairman of the county council in Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located, has inquired during a council meeting about whether to make people who suffer opioid overdoses spend three days in jail. Chairman Mark Lazarus would also like to see mandatory drug treatment required. He added that jailing people who overdose wouldn't discourage them from getting medical help because they're usually unconscious and someone else calls for emergency assistance.

Chronicle AM: MA Init Gets Big Bucks, Chicago's West Side is Heroin "Epicenter", More... (9/12/16)

The California legalization campaign heats up, the Massachusetts legalization campaign is sitting pretty with lots of cash, a North Carolina town becomes the first in the South to adopt Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) for drug users, and more.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

California Legalization Supporters File Complaint Against Opposition Committee. Diane Goldstein, one of the proponents for the Prop 64 legalization initiative, filed a complaint last Friday against Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the prohibitionist Project SAM. The complaint claims the committee misreported donations, failed to file contribution reports, and left some contribution reports incomplete, including one for Pennsylvania millionaire Julie Schauer, who gave $1.3 million the opposition.

California Highway Patrol Says It Is Neutral on Legalization Initiative. The state Highway Patrol last Friday clarified that it has not taken a position on the Prop 64 legalization initiative. The move comes after the head of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen criticized the measure for not setting a legal driving limit for the amount of THC in drivers' blood. CHP provided technical assistance to the measure's authors and is involved in implementing medical marijuana regulations signed into law last year.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Getting Big Bucks Backing. Supporters of the Question 4 legalization initiative have taken in more than $2.4 million since January, most of it from the New Approach PAC, a group based in Washington, DC, that is led by Graham Boyd. Groups opposing Question 4 have only raised less than $400,000, giving supporters a six-to-one funding advantage.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Report Names Chicago's West Side as "Epicenter" of State's Heroin Crisis. A new report from Roosevelt University, Hidden in Plain Sight, examines heroin arrests, hospitalizations, and deaths on the city's West Side and finds that the area accounts for one out of four hospitalizations for overdoses in the entire state. The response to rising heroin use has focused on enforcement, not treatment, said report coauthor Kathy Kane Willis. "Incarceration or arrest is an extremely ineffective and expensive way to treat a health crisis like this. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," she said. In response to the report, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago) has launched the West Side Heroin Task Force to help find evidence-based solutions to the problem.

Law Enforcement

Fayetteville, NC, Starts First Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program in the South. This month the Fayetteville Police Department and a number of partners, including the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), are launching a new program to divert low-level drug and sex work (prostitution) offenders to treatment instead of jail. Currently, Fayetteville faces one of the highest rates of opioid abuse in the nation. Last year alone over 500 people were arrested for drug possession in the city. Under the new law enforcement assisted diversion program (LEAD) launched this month, police officers will be able to divert eligible citizens (people with under 4 grams of drugs, no violent record, etc) to treatment providers and social services instead of funneling them through the criminal justice system, where often the cases are thrown out or people serve minimal jail time and wind up back on the streets.


Rampant Meth Use is Driving Asia's Drug War. The Philippines isn't the only country in the region waging a deadly "war on drugs." In Thailand and Myanmar, drug users are sentenced to long prison terms, while Indonesia has declared a "narcotics emergency" and resumed the execution of drug convicts. But that tough response is only likely to make things worse, experts said.

Chronicle AM: House Passes Opioid Bill Without $$, CA Drug Felonies Plummet, More... (7/11/16)

California felony drug arrests are down, Colombian coca production is up, the Arizona marijuana legalization initiative is trailing in a new poll, Congress moves toward final passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, but there's a fight over funding, and more.

The House passes the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, but spurns efforts to pay for it. (
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Legalization Initiative Trailing. A new poll from O.H. Predictive Insights has the legalization initiative sponsored by the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol losing on election day. The poll found 52.5% opposed, with only 39% in favor. The initiative has not yet officially qualified for the ballot, but is expected to after supporters handed in 100,000 more signatures than needed, providing plenty of cushion for invalidated signatures. The campaign does have significant resources; it looks like it will need them to turn the numbers around.

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Mere Smell of Marijuana is Grounds for Search, Even Though It's a Medical Marijuana State. The state's high court ruled Monday that the mere smell of marijuana is sufficient grounds to obtain a search warrant, even though the state has legalized medical marijuana. But the court also held that the legal foundation for such a search can go up in smoke if police have evidence the suspected marijuana use or possession is legal under state law. The case is State v. Sisco.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short. North Dakotans will not be voting on marijuana legalization this fall. Sponsors of the initiative conceded Monday they only had about 10,000 signatures, and they needed 13,452 valid signatures to qualify. Monday was the deadline for turning in signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales Continue Climbing. The state saw $2.57 million in medical marijuana sales in June, up from $2.3 million in May, according to figures from the state Department of Agriculture. Sales total $13.8 million since the first dispensaries started operating last November. The numbers should increase even further once two new qualifying conditions -- PTSD and terminal illness -- come on line. They've already been approved, but the Department of Health is in the midst of preparing new rules and application forms.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. The North Dakotans for Compassionate Care campaign handed in some 15,500 raw signatures for its medical marijuana initiative Monday, the last day for handing them in. The campaign needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify, so there is very little cushion for invalidated signatures. Stay tuned.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Approves Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, But Without Requested Funding. The House last Friday gave final approval to S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), but beat back Democratic efforts to provide additional funding for it. The Obama administration had asked for $1.1 billion, and House Democrats tried in vain last week to $925 million in funding. The White House has suggested it may veto the bill if no extra funding is attached. House Republicans said funding was available elsewhere. The measure is a conference committee compromise, with the Senate set to give final approval this week.


California Drug Felony Arrests Plummet in Wake of Prop 47. What happens when you change drug felonies to misdemeanors? Drug felonies plummet. Felony drug arrests in California dropped between 68% and 73% between 2014 and 2015 according to new data from the California Attorney General. Marijuana felonies followed a similar curve, dropping from 13,300 in 2014 to 8,856 last year. On the other hand, misdemeanor drug arrests nearly doubled, from 92,469 in 2014 to 163,073 last year.


Poll Finds Majority of British MPs Favor Medical Marijuana. Some 58% of British MPs back the use of medical marijuana, according to the polling firm Populus. Only 27% were opposed. Support was strongest among Scottish National Party MPs (88%), followed by Labor (60%), and even 55% of Tories were on board.

Colombia Coca Boom Underway. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported last Thursday that coca cultivation had increased by 39% last year and nearly doubled since 2013. Some observers speculate that it reflects coca growers' belief that this could be the last chance to grow the cash crop before a peace deal between the government and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC takes hold. Colombia government officials said the largest increases in cultivation are in areas controlled by the FARC.

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Driving Bill Killed, OH MedMJ Init Quits, More... (5/31/16)

An effort to create a per se marijuana DUID law in California ran into a brick wall of science, the Ohio effort to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot shuts down, a US senator seeks an investigation into Purdue Pharma over its claims on OxyContin's extended effectiveness, and more.

The California Assembly rejects a per se marijuana DUID bill after hearing there is no scientific basis for it. (
Marijuana Policy

California Driving While High Bill Killed. A bill that sought to create a per se marijuana drugged driving level of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood has been killed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The committee killed it and a bill that would have let police use oral swabs to strengthen cases after cannabis industry officials said they were not supported by science.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Program Gets Extension, Expansion. The House Friday voted to approve a plan to expand the state's medical marijuana program by adding PTSD and terminal illness to the program's list of qualifying conditions and by extending the program for an additional 2 ½ years. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has now come around and says he supports the bill, which still needs a final Senate vote. The measure is Senate Bill 10.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Call It Quits. Faced with a medical marijuana bill approved by the legislature and awaiting the governor's signature, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana announced Saturday that they were ending their campaign to put an initiative on the November ballot. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed effort decided to call it quits because "the reality is that raising funds for medical marijuana policy changes is incredibly difficult, especially given the improvements made to the proposed program by the Ohio General Assembly and the fact that the Governor is expected to sign the bill." The bill passed by the legislature will allow people with about 20 different diseases and conditions to use marijuana, but not to smoke it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

US Senator Calls on Feds to Investigate Purdue Pharma Over OxyContin Time-Effectiveness Claims. A US senator has called for a federal investigation of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, in the wake of reports that the money-making pain reliever wears off early in many patients, leaving them exposed to pain and increased risk of addiction. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) Friday sent letters to the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission urging them to begin probes of the Connecticut-based drug maker.

New York Overdose Tracking Bill Goes to Governor. The Senate and the Assembly have both approved a bill that requires the state Health Department to track non-fatal drug overdoses in a bid to get a more complete picture of opioid drug use in the state. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

US Senator Calls on Feds to Investigate Purdue Pharma Over OxyContin Time-Effectiveness Claims

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

A US senator has called for a federal investigation of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, in the wake of reports that the money-making pain reliever wears off early in many patients, leaving them exposed to pain and increased risk of addiction.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) Friday sent letters to the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission urging them to begin probes of the Connecticut-based drug maker.

The move comes in the wake of a Los Angeles Times investigation into Purdue Pharma's claim that OxyContin relieves pain for 12 hours, which was one of the drug's main selling points. But the Times found that the effects often wear off before that, leaving patients cycling between relief and intense pain and suffering from opiate withdrawals before their next scheduled pill.

The Times also found that Purdue knew about the problem since OxyContin first appeared in 1996, but continued to claim that it worked for the full 12 hours in part to protect its revenues. The newspaper reported that when faced with the problem, Purdue instructed doctors to prescribe stronger doses, not more frequent ones. Stronger doses of opioid pain relievers are more likely to be implicated in overdose deaths.

"These are serious allegations," Markey wrote in his letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. "They raise questions about ongoing deception by Purdue, harm to the public, continued costs to the United States, and the availability of further judicial recourse against Purdue. If upon investigation these allegations are substantiated, the Department should take legal action" against the drug company.

Purdue has rejected the Times' findings, noting that the FDA had approved OxyContin as a 12-hour drug.

"We promote our medicines only within the parameters approved by FDA and, given FDA has not approved OxyContin for eight-hour use, we do not recommend that dosing to prescribers," the statement said.

That's not good enough for Markey, who represents a state hard-hit by problems with prescription opioids and heroin. More than 1,300 people died from opioid overdoses in the state last year, according to the state Department of Public Health.

In his letter to the FDA and FTC, Markey called Purdue "the leading culprit in the current opioid and heroin overdose epidemic" and accused it of making "false and misleading claims about the longevity of OxyContin's pain-relieving properties."

The FDA and FTC should "investigate these claims and take action to protect patients and consumers from the harm caused by Purdue Pharma's deceptive marketing materials."

Justice, FDA, and FTC all say they are studying Markey's letter.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Millions Would Grow Pot If They Could, Hemp Returns to WV, More... (5/12/16)

Congress acts on opioid and drug trafficking bills, million want to grow pot if it's legal, a CBD cannabis oil bill moves in Louisiana, a medical marijuana bill is killed in Missouri, and more.

Safe injection sites are coming to Ireland. (
Marijuana Policy

Millions of Americans Would Grow Pot at Home If It Were Legal, Survey Finds. A new Harris Poll conducted for Green State Gardener has found that a whopping 44.5 million adult Americans would grow their own at home if it were legal. That's 18% of all adults, up from 10% only last year. "A year or two of research doesn't establish a trend yet, but the jump in these numbers is pretty significant," said industry analyst Bruce Butterfield. "The largest number of adults most likely to grow marijuana themselves is 18 to 34 year olds, followed by baby boomers aged 55-plus." The poll also found that 59% said marijuana should be legal, in line with other recent polls showing consistent, if narrow, majorities for legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Houses Passes CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. The House approved Senate Bill 271 Wednesday, but because it amended it, the bill must now go back to the Senate for a final vote. Last year, legislators legalized CBD cannabis oil, but only for a handful of conditions. This bill expands those conditions to include seizure disorders. No one can currently use CBD cannabis oils because the legislature is still figuring out how to regulate them.

Missouri House Rejects Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Wednesday killed the bill on a 71-85 vote. That leaves an open path for a medical marijuana initiative whose supporters have handed in signatures and are awaiting confirmation that the initiative has qualified for the November ballot.

Ohio Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for medical marijuana at very high 90%. The poll comes as a restrictive medical marijuana bill is working its way through the legislature and as a medical marijuana initiative is in the signature-gathering phase. The poll also asked about support for legalization, which came in at 52%.

Industrial Hemp

West Virginia to See First Legal Hemp Crop Since World War II. Scientists with West Virginia University are set to plant hemp next week in Morgantown as part of a research study on phytoremediation (reinvigorating depleted or polluted soils). The second phase of the study will explore hemp's industrial applications.

Drug Policy

House Passes 10-Bill Package Aimed at Opioid Addiction. The House Wednesday approved 10 bills that are part of an 18-bill legislative package designed to fight opioid addiction. One bill would concentrate on best prescribing practices for opioids, another would provide funding for care for babies of mothers addicted to opioids. The rest of the package is due for consideration today or tomorrow.

Congress Passes Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. The act, Senate Bill 32, now heads to the White House for President Obama's signature. The bill would criminalize foreign drug manufacturers if they intend, know, or have probable cause to believe the substance will be illegally imported into the US. It would also increase penalties for trafficking in counterfeit drugs.


Irish Government Makes it Official: Safe Injection Sites Are Coming. The government released its Program for Government Tuesday, and the document commits the Fine Gael-led administration to supporting "a health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drug use, including legislation for injection rooms."

Chronicle AM: CA Init Hands in Plenty of Signatures, CT Passes Sweeping Opioids Bill, More... (5/4/16)

Californians will have a chance to vote on marijuana legalization this year, Oakland moves ahead with medical marijuana expansion, Connecticut passes a sweeping bill aimed at the opioid crisis, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California AUMA Legalization Initiative Hands in Signatures. Supporters of the Sean Parker-backed Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative handed in some 600,000 signatures Tuesday. They only need 365,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. It looks very much like California will vote on legalizing marijuana this fall. Under the AUMA, adults 21 and over could possess and transport up to an ounce and grow up to six plants. The AUMA would also create a system of licensed and regulated marijuana cultivation and commerce.

After Killing Legalization, Vermont House Approves Move to Develop System to Regulate Legal Marijuana. Legalization is dead for this year, but the House Tuesday voted to approve a measure that would begin the development of system to regulate legal adult marijuana use. The House approved House Bill 858 after amending it to include language establishing a commission to "propose a comprehensive regulatory and revenue structure that establishes controlled access to marijuana in a manner that, when compared to the current illegal marijuana market, increases public safety and reduces harm to public health." The commission would be required to provide its recommendations to the legislature by the end of the year.

Medical Marijuana

Oakland Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The city has given its okay for a plan to license up to eight more dispensaries a year, as well as creating the city's first-ever licenses for farms, kitchens, and labs. The move came on a pair of unanimous city council votes after 16 months of laying the political groundwork. The council must come back later and approve the changes one more time before they're final.

Colorado Legislature Approves Bill to Help Young Medical Marijuana Patients. The legislature has approved House Bill 1373, which orders school districts to come up with policies to accommodate students who are medical marijuana patients. The measure does not allow smokable marijuana at school, nor does it require school employees to administer marijuana-based medicines. That will be left to parents or primary caregivers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is expected to sign the bill into law.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Bill Won't Allow Smoking. Vaping is okay, but toking is not under House Bill 523, the bill being considered by the legislature. The bill would also bar home cultivation. Proposed ballot initiatives, however, would allow both smoking and home cultivation, so the legislature's effort to undercut initiatives by passing its own bill may still not be enough to blunt the popular measures.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Connecticut Legislature Approves Sweeping Opioids Bill. The state Senate Tuesday passed comprehensive opioid legislation that would put a one-week cap on first-time opioid prescriptions to treat acute pain. The bill would also require localities to ensure that first responders have access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, limit liability for health care providers who administer naloxone, and strengthen the state's prescription monitoring system. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) is expected to sign it shortly.

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