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Chronicle AM: NH, NM Legalization Bills Killed, FL & WY Forfeiture Reform Advances, More... (2/15/16)

A pair of state marijuana legalization bills get defeated, a pair of state asset forfeiture reform bills advance; House Republicans want states to be able to drug test food stamp recipients, Senate Democrats want $600 million in anti-heroin funding, Mexico cartel mayhem continues, and more.

Senate Democrats want $600 million to fight the heroin and pain pill epidemic. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Kills Legalization Bill. The House voted last Thursday to kill House Bill 1694, which would have legalized the use of marijuana by adults. The House has previously passed legalization, only to see if die in the Senate. Another legalization bill, House Bill 1610, is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

New Mexico Senate Kills Legalization Initiative Bill. The state Senate last Friday voted 24-17 to kill SJR 5, which would have placed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana on the November ballot. Six Senate Democrats voted "no" along with all the Republican members.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Needs Redo. State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said last Thursday that a legalization petition submitted the day before was flawed because it used a list of Schedule I substances that was not current. Eric Olson, who heads the sponsoring committee for the initiative, said the committee will resubmit the petition. The group has until July 11 to come up with some 13,000 valid voter signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Lawmakers Ponder Bill That Would Allow Outdoor, Greenhouse Grows. Under the state's medical marijuana law, the Department of Health has decided that all cultivation must take place in an enclosed structure, but lawmakers say that wasn't their intent, and they are preparing a bill that would clarify that medical marijuana could be grown in the open air, in greenhouses, or in shade houses.

Massachusetts Doubles Amount of Medical Marijuana Patients Can Purchase. The Department of Public Health last Friday more than doubled the amount of medicine patients can possess after regulators said laboratories can ensure the safety of the drug. Now, patients will be able to buy up to 10 ounces of medical marijuana every two months.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice last Thursday. The measure is Senate Bill 1044, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday. The measure is House Bill 14. It is nearly identical to a bill that easily passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Matt Meade (R). It looks like another veto showdown could be coming.

Drug Policy

London School of Economics Issues "After the Drug Wars" Report. A new report from the London School of Economics, After the Drug Wars, calls for the war on drugs to be replaced by sustainable development goals (SDGs). The report is endorsed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and five Nobel Prize recipients. "The question now is not, whether to end the 'war on drugs', but what to replace its failed policies with," said Dr John Collins, coordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and editor of the report. "The path to drug peace becomes clearer if we look to the SDGs as the way to address the root causes of many socioeconomic problems, one of which is problematic drug use. It is also the way to tackle the systemic causes of illicit market violence, which is often a product of and worsened by hard-line prohibitionist policies. The global priorities should be -- develop first, manage drug issues second. If states pursue prohibitionist policies in the absence of development and political integration, the result is usually instability, violence and failures on drug control goals. To be successful states must recognise that policies need to be properly sequenced. Focusing on the SDGs over counterproductive drug control goals is the way to do this."

Democrats Seek $600 Million for Emergency Heroin Bill. Just after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (Senate Bill 524), Senate Democrats announced they will try to add a $600 million funding measure authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to the bill. The measure includes funding for treatment, prevention, and recovery at the state level, as well as funding for treatment and law enforcement programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to bring the Recovery Act to the Senate floor shortly.

Drug Testing

House Republicans Pushing Measure to Allow States to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chair of the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, last Thursday unveiled a measure that would allow states the option of drug testing people who apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. The Agriculture Department, which administers the program, currently says states cannot impose new requirements, such as drug testing, under the program.

Harm Reduction

Alaska Naloxone Bill One Vote Away From Passage. A bill to increase access to opioid overdose reversal drugs passed its final House committee vote last Friday and now heads for a House floor vote. The measure, Senate Bill 23, has already passed the Senate. It grants immunity for those prescribing or administering naloxone (Narcan) and allows pharmacies to legally dispense the drugs to members of the public without a prescription.

Law Enforcement

Maine Bill to Stiffen Penalties for Out of State Drug Dealers Advances. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted mainly along party lines last Wednesday to approve LD 1541, which would increase the sentences for out of state drug dealers. The measure advanced despite criticism that it would be difficult to prove drug importation in court and that the state already sufficiently punishes drug dealers. It is being championed by Gov. Paul Le Page, who was called for the use of the guillotine to execute drug dealers, called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers, and accused black drug dealers from New Year of impregnating white Maine girls.

International

Four Swiss Cities to Create Cannabis Club Pilot Projects. Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Zurich have agreed to launch a pilot project for cannabis clubs where consumers could use the drug. The projects are to be run over four years and will be scientifically evaluated. But they must first be approved by canton governments and the federal office of public health.

Mexican Cartel Prison Battle Leaves 49 Dead. A battle last Wednesday between Zetas cartel members and rivals from other drug gangs left 49 people dead at the Topo Chico prison near Monterrey. One inmate was killed by gunfire; the rest by being stabbed with bottles or blades or by being hit with objects. The prison has long housed Zetas, who dominate much of its interior.

Upstart Mexican Cartel Makes a Move on Tijuana. After five years of relative peace in the border town, killings are on the increase, with many of the victims described as low-level members of the city's drug trade. The uptick in violence is being blamed on the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has been leaving messages with mutilated corpses on city streets or hanging from bridges. People were being killed at a rate of more than two a day in January, making it the most violent January since 2010. Jalisco New Generation is believed to be challenging the Sinaloa cartel, which currently dominates the Tijuana drug trade.

A Maryland Lawmaker's Paradigm-Shifting Approach to the Heroin and Pain Pill Crisis [FEATURE]

With nearly 47,000 Americans dying of drug overdoses in 2014 -- more than from gunshots or car crashes -- the problem of heroin and prescription opioid (pain pill) addiction is getting well-deserved attention. From community town halls to state capitals, as well as in Congress and on the rival presidential campaigns, the crisis is spawning demands for solutions.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dan-morhaim-180px.jpg
Dan Morhaim
The response, in general, has been more sympathetic than to earlier waves of hard drug use, such as heroin in the 1960s or crack cocaine in the 1980s, which brought down the harsh drug war policies of Nixon and Reagan. Now, there are more calls for drug treatment than for further law enforcement crackdowns, police departments are carrying overdose reversal drugs, and public health agencies are taking on a more prominent role.

But addicts continue to be arrested, with all the deleterious consequences that entails, and, when it comes to policy, the problem of addiction remains largely in the realm of criminal justice. Harm reduction practices proven in other parts of the world improve both the lives of drug users and those of the communities they live in continue to be shunted aside in the US.

That could change in at least one state. Veteran Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) has just introduced a paradigm-shifting package of bills that would begin to move the state's posture toward drug use from prohibition to public health and harm reduction. Morhaim, a practicing physician with three decades of frontline hospital ERs, brings to his approach a vision formed by that experience.

If enacted, Morhaim's package would mark a radical, but commonsensical, humane, and scientifically-supported shift in Maryland's drug policies. Here's what it includes:

  • Emergency Room Treatment on Demand. House Bill 908 provides treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings. The bill requires acute care hospitals to have a counselor available or on-call at all times and specified arrangements for transferring patients to appropriate treatment settings. Addicted patients make up a large percentage of uninsured visits to ERs, making them an ideal place for initial therapeutic contact.
  • Safe Consumption Sites. House Bill 1212 allows individuals to use drugs in approved facilities while supervised by trained staff who also provide sterile equipment, monitor the person for overdose and offer treatment referrals. Similar on-going programs in Australia, Canada, and several European countries have eliminated overdose deaths, reduced the spread of disease, and provided points of accessto the most hard-to-reach drug users.
  • Drug Decriminalization. House Bill 1219 decriminalizes the possession and use of small quantities of drugs: one gram of meth or heroin, two grams of cocaine, 10 hits of MDMA, 150 micrograms of LSD. The object is to keep otherwise non-criminal drug users out of the criminal justice system, saving resources and avoiding saddling more residents with criminal records.
  • Heroin Maintenance. House Bill 1267 allows a four-year pilot study of "poly-morphone assisted treatment" with pharmaceutical grade opioids, including heroin, to treat under medical supervision a small number of hardcore users who have proven resistant to other forms of treatment. Ongoing heroin maintenance programs in several European countries have been shown to reduce illegal drug use, decrease crime, reduce the black market for heroin, and lead to less chaotic lives for their participants.

The package didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Morhaim's experiences in the ER, where he dealt not only with direct consequences of drug use -- overdoses, infections -- but also direct consequences of drug prohibition -- old women injured in muggings for black market drug money, the toll of dead and wounded in black market drug turf battles -- colored his approach.

"I'm a physician, not a prosecuting attorney," Morhaim told the Chronicle. "I come at this from a public health perspective. We talk about 'surges' to fight this and that, but what we haven't had in this country is a surge in the public health approach, real, substantive public health. This is different, and some will see it as controversial, but I'm comfortable with that. This is something that's really corroding the heart and soul of our society."

He wasn't alone.

"I've had a lot of conversations, and my district has generally been very supportive of these kind of innovative things. No negative feedback. There's a broad consensus that the war on drugs is a failure," Morhaim said. "People are really cognizant of that. And I'm an Emergency Room physician at a Level II trauma center, I've also done healthcare for the homeless. I've been on the front lines, seen the carnage, the death, the violence, and the way this affects the families, and I'm speaking from true experience, and people respect that."

Not only did Morhaim have support in his community, he had support from a strong group of advocates and experts.

"As things were coming to a head, Delegate Morhaim reached out to us at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)," said DPA staff attorney Lindsay LaSalle, who was involved in developing the proposals. "He said he felt like he could offer progressive solutions to the crisis and he wanted our subject matter expertise to help develop those proposals."

DPA, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), whose executive director, Neill Franklin, is a former Baltimore police officer, and the Open Society Foundations joined with academics, lawyers, doctors, and harm reductionists to develop and refine the policy proposals that became the bill package. Local institutions of higher learning, including the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University, had academics involved in the effort as well.

Passing the bills won't be easy, and it's not likely to happen this year, but Morhaim and his supporters are playing to win in the not-too-distant future.

"Dan is currently on the second year of a four year term," LaSalle said. "These bills were introduced strategically this term with the understanding that it would be a year of educating colleagues and generating positive media coverage. This is always a long game; we don't expect passage this year, but we hope to gain traction on one or more of these in the next two or three years."

"I've been in the legislature a long time, and I've learned you just have to be persistent, you listen and address concerns, maybe you accept an amendment to a bill," Morhaim said.

He pointed to the successful effort to get medical marijuana through the legislature.

"On that, people had suggestions, and we said let's fix it in the bill," he recalled. "Law enforcement didn't oppose it because I sat down and worked with them."

He also recalled legislative battles he had fought -- and won -- around smoking in restaurants and the use of safety seats for children.

"Banning smoking in restaurants seemed impossible in 1995, but now it's commonplace," he said. "The same with kids safety seats. Both of those were hard-fought on the political level, but when we talk to people, we can convince them. These things take time, but when you recognize what's not working, then you can explore what is. People are looking for answers."

Although Morhaim's package of bills is the most comprehensive, explicit harm reduction interventions are being considered in other places, too. California will see a safe consumption site bill introduced next week, and activists and officials in a number of cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle are laying the groundwork for such facilities at the local level.

"We're getting traction on these issues," said LaSalle. "Nevada was the first state with a heroin-assisted treatment bill, and while it didn't get out of committee, we had robust hearings, with international experts. And that California bill will be moving forward this session. Drug treatment and harm reduction don't always go hand in hand, but in this case the treatment community is cosponsoring or officially supporting safe consumption sites."

Meanwhile, some states are moving in the opposite direction. In Maine, the administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul Le Page (R) is seeking to reverse a law passed last year that defelonized drug possession. (The rambunctious Republican has also called for guillotining drug dealers, blamed black drug dealers for impregnating white Maine girls, and called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers.) And next door in New Hampshire, the attorney general wants to start charging heroin suppliers with murder in the event of fatal overdoses. Prosecutors in other states have also dusted off long-unused statutes to bring murder or manslaughter charges.

"We need to ask those people why they're doubling down on a failed policy," said LaSalle. "Why would this work now when it's just more of the same that's been in place for four decades, and now we have use and overdoses and Hep C increasing."

"I understand the impulse to 'Do Something!' in response, and because criminalization has been our go-to response, it seems logical that increasing penalties or prosecutions is a way to solve the problem, but we know, we have shown, that it is not. It's frustrating."

It can be worse than frustrating, too, LaSalle noted.

"Using murder charges as a whipping stick in the case of overdoses is really counterproductive," she said. "If the goal is to reduce overdoses, this is going to reduce the likelihood of anyone calling 911. Maybe they shared their stash, and if they could face murder charges, they now have a serious disincentive to call."

Clearly, the war on drugs is not over. But after half a century of relying predominantly on the forces of repression to deal with drug use, a new vision, both smarter and more humane, is emerging. Now comes the political fight to enact it.

Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM: WVA Welfare Drug Test Bill Advances, ME Voters Want Drug Decrim, More... (2/9/16)

Medical marijuana bills get filed not only in Iowa, but also Australia and Greece, a new poll shows enlightened drug policy attitudes among Maine voters, Republican US senators hold competing events for and against sentencing reform legislation, and more.

Medical marijuana is seeing action at statehouses in the US and in foreign capitals. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Reemerges. A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana has come out of hibernation in the House. After months on the sidelines, the bill, House Bill 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday on a 9-2 vote. It now needs one more committee vote before heading for the House floor.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) Tuesday filed a bill that would make it legal to grow medical marijuana, produce CBD cannabis oil, and create dispensaries. The bill is not yet on the legislative website. Republican lawmakers last year killed similar legislation.

Drug Policy

Maine Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Not Punitive Drug Policies, Poll Finds. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of voters support decriminalizing drug possession, according to a new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. More than seven out of 10 (71%) said substantially reducing incarceration rates was important to them. The poll comes as the state's Tea Party governor, Paul Le Page (R), is pushing legislation that would roll back reforms passed last year that make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

West Virginia Senate Passes Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate overwhelmingly (32-2) approved Senate Bill 6, which would create a three-year pilot program to drug test applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if state employees have "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs. "Reasonable suspicion" can be triggered by applicants demonstrating "qualities indicative of substance abuse" or having been arrested on a drug charge in the past five years. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Bill Would Let Users Turn in Drugs Without Fear of Punishment. Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester) has filed a bill that would allow addicts seeking treatment to turn in unwanted drugs without the threat of prosecution. A person "who, in good faith, enters a police station and seeks assistance or treatment for a drug-related addiction, or is the subject of a good faith request for such assistance or treatment, shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance" if the evidence for such a charge was gained as a result of seeking treatment. The bill is before the Joint Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Republican Senators and Law Enforcement Leaders Rally for Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) joined law enforcement leaders today for a Capitol Hill briefing in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123). The briefing, supported by Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, comes the same day two other Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, hosted an event to oppose the bill.

International

Australian Government Files Medical Marijuana Legislation. The federal government today filed legislation to allow the cultivation of marijuana for medical or scientific purposes. The bill would create a national scheme to regulate cultivation for such purposes.

Greek Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Bill. Twenty members of the governing Syriza Party Monday filed legislation to legalize marijuana for medical and pharmaceutical purposes. "The proven beneficial effect in cases of especially dangerous diseases, such as glaucoma, cancer, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, malignancies make the legalization of cannabis as medicine -- already used in many developed countries -- imperative. The criminalization of cannabis use has resulted in leading many patients and their families to acquire cannabis through illegal channels, something that entails substantial loss of revenue for the State, organized crime activities and pushing patients to resort illegal activities," the lawmakers argued.

Could Kratom Be a Better Choice for Heroin and Pain Pill Users? [FEATURE]

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

The Southeast Asian herb is now available powdered...
A Southeast Asian herb is gaining popularity among addicted heroin and prescription opiate users, pain sufferers, and hipsters looking for a nice buzz, and it's legal -- at least for now. It's usually consumed as a tea, and is now available at non-alcohol kratom bars in several states, as well as in powdered from in specialty shops and on the Internet.

It is regulated as an herbal supplement, not a controlled substance, but it is coming under some scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators. The FDA banned its import in 2014, and the DEA has it listed as a drug of concern, but has not moved to criminalize it. It is illegal in four states, though -- Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming -- and similar laws are now being proposed in Florida and New Jersey.

The stuff is called kratom, and was traditionally used in Thailand and Malaysia to help endure physical labor, relieve pain, and stop diarrhea. It was also good for relieving the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

That's because its active ingredients activate the same opioid receptors heroin and prescription pain pills do. And it behaves like an opiate -- with a couple of exceptions, one interesting and one quite important.

...or it can be brewed into a tea. (wikimedia.org)
Like other opiates, it relieves pain, slows bowel activity, produces euphoric feelings, and creates physical addiction and a whithdrawal syndrome. But unlike other opiates, it causes a pleasant, caffeine-type buzz in small doses. More significantly, it is apparently very difficult -- if not impossible -- to overdose on. The few deaths where kratom is implicated include poly-drug use, or as in a case reported by the New York Times, suicide by a young kratom user who was also being treated for depression.

"Direct kratom overdoses from the life-threatening respiratory depression that usually occurs with opioid overdoses have not been reported," says Oliver Grundmann, clinical associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Florida, told journalist Maia Szalavitz at Vice. Grundmann should know; he just reviewed the research on kratom for the International Journal of Legal Medicine.

"It's a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it, Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a co-author of several scientific articles on kratom, told the Times. "Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware -- potentially you're at just as much risk" as with an opiate.

Well, except for that whole fatal overdose thing. And like the kratom high, the physical dependence appears much milder.

Szalavitz consulted Mark Swogger, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who with his colleagues analyzed 161 "experience reports" posted by kratom users on the drug information site Erowid.org for a recent study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that kratom has at least some addiction potential. The data is fairly strong on that and our study also found that people are reporting addiction," but "overall, we found that it's really mild compared to opioid addiction and it didn't seem to last as long."

About one in six of the users reported nausea or stomach pain and 6% actually vomited. There have been a handful of other handful of reports of liver problems.

All this makes kratom something like opium's mild-mannered little sister. And that is apparently something a lot of people are looking for.

One of them was Susan Ash, 46, who told the Times she began taking kratom while being treated for dependence on prescription pain relievers and now takes a small dose daily to ease chronic pain and depression.

She was so impressed with the results that last year, she founded the American Kratom Association to represent consumers. The group now has more than 2,000 members and lobbies against bills to ban the herb.

"We know from all our experiences that kratom has the potential to be a wonderful medicine," she said. "We're all experiencing that it's changing our lives. We do agree that more science is needed to actually prove this potential that we know it has."

Yes, more science is needed, and kratom does have its disaffected users, as the Times was quick to dig up, but so far, it looks like we have a drug like opium, but with attenuated effects. If people are taking kratom to get off heroin or prescription pills or to treat pain or just to get a nice buzz, and they're not overdosing by the tens of thousands, as they are with the opiates, that would seem like an overall good thing. If we want to reduce harm from heroin and prescription opiates, kratom should be studied and, perhaps, embraced, not proscribed.

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init Qualifies for Ballot, VT Gov Endorses Pot Legalization Bill, More... (1/28/16)

Busy, busy. State legislatures are in full swing, and the bills just keep coming. Meanwhile, Florida's medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot, Vermont's governor endorses legalization, and more.

Heroin is on the agenda at statehouses this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Colorado's Legalization. A Colorado US District Court judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the legality of marijuana legalization in the state. The lawsuit was filed by a Washington, DC-based anti-marijuana group, the Safe Streets Alliance, and asked the court to find the state and Pueblo County guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The judge in the case rejected the claims, concluding that private parties have no standing to seek recourse for alleged violations of the Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land. Another lawsuit, filed by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, is still being decided.

New Mexico Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization. Three out five (61%) adult New Mexicans support legalizing and regulating marijuana, according to a new poll from Research & Polling. The poll comes as the legislature ponders two bills, one that would amend the state constitution to let voters decide the issue, and one that is a straightforward legalization bill. The bills are Senate Joint Resolution 5 and House Bill 75, respectively.

Vermont Governor Endorses Legalization Bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin has endorsed the Senate Judiciary Committee's legalization bill, Senate Bill 137. "The War on Drugs has failed when it comes to marijuana prohibition," Gov. Shumlin said. "Under the status quo, marijuana use is widespread, Vermonters have little difficulty procuring it for personal use, and the shadows of prohibition make it nearly impossible to address key issues like prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, and dealing with those driving under the influence who are already on Vermont's roads. The system has failed. The question for us is how do we deal with that failure. Vermont can take a smarter approach that regulates marijuana in a thoughtful way, and this bill provides a framework for us to do that."

DC Poll Finds Residents Want District to Move Ahead With Regulation -- Despite Congress. A substantial majority of District residents believe Mayor Bowser should move forward with taxation and regulation of marijuana despite Congressional prohibition, according to a survey conducted over the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Drug Policy Alliance, DC Vote, DC Working Families and the Washington City Paper. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents believe the mayor should pursue a legal method (such as use of reserve funds) to implement taxation and regulation of marijuana in the District. In light of congressional interference attempting to prevent such regulation, 63% of residents view marijuana legalization as a statehood issue for the District.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Releases Report on State Medical Marijuana Programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded harshly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

California Bill to Halt Medical Marijuana Bans Heads to Governor's Desk. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for the November Ballot. The group behind the effort, United for Care, said Wednesday the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Injection Drug Use Driving Appalachian Hepatitis B Infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that acute Hepatitis B was up 114% in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia between 2009 and 2013. The report found that injection drug was tied to 75% of the new cases. Unlike Hep C, Hep B can be prevented with a vaccine, but vaccine coverage is low among adults nationwide.

Maine Governor Wants Gunowners to Shoot Drug Dealers. Just days after saying Maine should revive the guillotine to execute drug dealers, Gov. Paul LePage suggested just shooting them instead. "I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry," LePage said in an on-camera interview in Lewiston. "Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they're killing our kids," the governor said. He then denied that he was encouraging vigilantism.

New York Assembly Minority Task Force Releases Report on Heroin Addiction. The task force has come out with suggestions for combating heroin and opiate addiction. The recommendations include earlier drug education, involuntary "emergency medical" detention of addicts, and a felony "death by dealer" statute. Now, the task force must work with Assembly Democrats to create legislation.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Killed in Committee. The Health and Human Services voted to kill a bill that would have required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Even the Republican governor had opposed the bill.

International

Producers of Prohibited Plants Issue Declaration Ahead of UNGASS. The Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants (coca, opium, marijuana) is demanding that growers be heard at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in April. In a joint declaration from producers in 14 countries, the group urged an end to forced eradication of drug crops, the removal of the three plants from international drug control treaties, and sustainable rural economic development. Click the title link for a full list of participants and recommendations.

Chronicle AM: CA Could Get $1 Billion a Year in Pot Taxes, Kosher MedMJ Comes to NY, More... (12/31/15)

Thar's gold in that there merry-ju-wanna, California finance officials say; Oregon recreational tokers start paying taxes next week, kosher medical marijuana comes to New York, the US surgeon general is planning a review of drug policies, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Could Get $1 Billion a Year in Pot Taxes, Finance Department Says. The state stands to gain "from the high hundreds of millions to over $1 billion annually," according to the Department of Finance's analysis of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the "Sean Parker initiative," which looks to be the one that will go before voters in November. The state could also save about $100 million a year from "the reduction in state and local criminal justice costs" associated with marijuana prohibition, the report added.

Mississippi Legalization Initiative Comes Up Far Short. A DeSoto County woman's effort to get a legalization initiative, Ballot Initiative 48, on the November 2016 ballot has come to an end. Kelly Jacobs managed to gather only 13,320 valid voter signatures by this week's Tuesday deadline. She needed 107,000 to qualify. Jacobs had complained of unlawful denial of access to public buildings and being threatened by Ku Klux Klan members, among other improprieties. "The truth about Mississippi and marijuana is that Mississippians are too afraid of the police to change the law themselves by supporting a ballot initiative with their signatures of approval," Jacobs said.

Oregon Recreational Marijuana Sales Tax Goes Into Effect Next Week. Recreational pot smokers who have been enjoying tax-free marijuana from dispensaries in the state will have to start paying up beginning on January 4. On that date, a 25% sales tax for pot takes effect. Registered medical marijuana patients will not be affected. The tax could decrease at a later date.

Medical Marijuana

New Yorkers Can Get Kosher Medical Marijuana. Vireo Health, a provider of non-smokable medical marijuana products, has been certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. The Union said it awarded the certificate after inspecting the company's facilities to ensure that the marijuana was being grown and processed according to kosher standards. Vireo said it was the first time a medical marijuana producer had been certified as kosher.

Drug Policy

US Surgeon General to Review Drug Policies. According to a Federal Register notice published Thursday, the US surgeon general is preparing a report "presenting the state of the science on substance abuse, addiction, and health. The review will cover both illegal drugs and legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. The report will be broad in scope, covering prevention, treatment, and recovery; social, economic, and health consequences of substance use; the state of health care access; and "ethical, legal and policy issues; and potential future directions."

Law Enforcement

Appeals Court Agrees to Hear Case of Texas Trucking Company Suing DEA. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hear oral arguments in the case of Craig Patty in February. Patty owns a trucking company. The DEA used one of his trucks without his permission in a drug cartel sting that resulted in a shootout in Houston leaving an informant dead and leaving Patty's truck bullet-riddled. Patty filed suit, seeking payment from the DEA for fixing the truck and for the temporary loss of its use, as well as damages for emotional turmoil to Patty, who feared the Zetas cartel could come after him. A federal circuit court judge ruled earlier in the DEA's favor.

International

Another Malaysian Faces Death Sentence for Marijuana Trafficking. A 35-year-old Malaysian man has been charged with trafficking 15 pounds of marijuana, which, under the country's Dangerous Drug Act of 1952, carries a mandatory death sentence. The defendant, S. Gunalan, had no legal representation during his initial hearing.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

(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: Senate Has Deal on Sentencing Reform, OR Legal Pot Sales Begin Today, More (10/1/15)

Oregon dispensaries can now sell marijuana to all comers (21 and over), a bipartisan group of senators announces a deal on major sentencing reform, Albuquerque's mayor vetoes decrim again, heroin policy on the campaign trail is featured, and more.

now on sale to adults in Oregon (wikimedia/Mangokeylime)
Marijuana Policy

Family Physicians Say Marijuana Should Be Decriminalized, Rescheduled. Meeting in Denver, the American Academy of Family Physicians has passed two resolutions on marijuana policy. The first originally called for legalization, but was watered down to decriminalization, while the second calls on the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Click on the link for details on the debate.

California Marijuana Arrests Decline to Lowest Level Since 1966. Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that pot arrests in the state are at the lowest in nearly 50 years. Some 19,711 people were arrested on marijuana charges last year, down slightly from 20,346 in 2013. Arrests have nose-dived since the state decriminalized possession in 2008. But some things apparently never change: Blacks were arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate more than twice their percentage of the state's population.

Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Are Now Underway in Oregon. Medical marijuana dispensaries across the state began selling pot to anyone with an ID showing he is 21 or over today. State officials moved to allow dispensaries to start selling recreational marijuana early in order to allow Oregonians to have a place to legally purchase it until adult use shops open next year. Not all dispensaries are participating; about 200 of the 345 in the state are.

Albuquerque Mayor Vetoes Decriminalization (Again). Mayor Richard Berry has vetoed a decriminalization ordinance passed by the city council. He vetoed a similar measure last year. In a veto statement, he said he had a "hard time signing legislation that preempts state and federal law." Except that it doesn't. Decriminalization has majority support in the city and Bernalillo County, but the mayor doesn't appear to be listening.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Heroin As a Campaign Issue. This USA Today story looks primarily at the attention Hillary Clinton is paying to heroin and opiate addiction in New England and the role of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) in advising her on drug policy, but also mentions Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush has also been talking about addiction this week.

Sentencing

Senators Reach Deal on Sentencing Reform Package. A bipartisan group of senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform Thursday, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things. Look for a Chronicle feature story on this in coming days.

(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: The Pope on Dope, Marijuana Arrests Jump, NYC Safe Injection Site Campaign, More (9/28/15)

The pope criticizes the drug war at the UN, the president addresses overdoses and addiction in his weekly address, marijuana arrests jumped last year, a campaign to bring safe injection sites to New York City is launching, and more.

Pots busts jumped last year. Why?
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Lawmakers Get Earful from Patients at Hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

Pope Francis Criticizes War on Drugs. During his address to the United Nations last Friday, Pope Francis turned from criticizing "systemic violence" in places like Syria and Ukraine to addressing violence linked to drug prohibition -- although without calling it that. "Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade," Pope Francis said. The drug war is failing, the pontiff said, and it brings dire consequences. "[It is] a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption," he continued. Click on the link for a full transcript of his remarks.

President Obama Uses Weekly Address to Talk About Preventing Substance Abuse. Obama used his weekly radio address last Saturday to encourage people to participate in "National Drug Take-Back Day" that same day, warning that too many Americans are dying of drug overdoses. "More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes," he said. "And most of those deaths aren't due to drugs like heroin or cocaine, but rather prescription drugs." Click on the link for a full transcript of the president's address.

International Drug Policy Conference in DC in November. The Drug Policy Alliance is hosting the world's premier drug policy conference in suburban Washington, DC, on November 18-21. Click on the link for much more information.

Harm Reduction

Campaign for Supervised Injection Sites Coming to New York City. The Open Society Foundation will host a town hall Wednesday on innovative solutions to public drug use and overdosing, including supervised injection sites. It's the opening salvo in a campaign to bring such sites to New York City. While a proven harm reduction measure, no such sites currently operate in the United States. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Nationwide Marijuana Arrests Jumped Last Year. The FBI has released its annual Uniform Crime Report. The report shows that nearly 701,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2014, up from 693,000 the previous year. Nearly 90% of all arrests were for possession.

International

United Nations Will Monitor Honduras War on Drug Gangs. The UN will open a human rights monitoring office in Honduras to monitor potential human rights violations by security forces as they pursue their war on drug gangs, President Juan Hernandez said Sunday. Hernandez and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, have increasingly relied on the military to fight gangs, and complaints about human rights violations have been piling up.

Bolivian Drug Law Reforms Would Reduce Penalties for "Microtraffickers," Consumers. The government of President Evo Morales has proposed reforms of the country's drug laws that would cut sentences for consumers and small-time traffickers. The proposal has been sent to the Legislative Assembly. Click on the link to read more in Spanish.

Chronicle AM: Needle Exchanges Spread in WVA, Obama Admin Eases Buprenorphine Restrictions, More (9/18/15)

It's looking like Arizona will vote on marijuana legalization next year, the Obama administration eases restrictions on the opiate maintenance drug buprenorphine, needle exchanges expand in West Virginia, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative on Track With Signature Gathering. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said Thursday that it has already gathered 75,000 signatures, putting the group about one-third of the way to its goal of gathering 230,000 by July 2016. The group needs more than 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A second group, Arizonans for Mindful Regulation wants to put its own initiative on the ballot, but has gathered only about 6,000 signatures so far.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Obama Administration Makes Big Announcement Addressing Heroin Epidemic. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burrell said Thursday that her agency would rewrite regulations to make it easier for doctors to treat opiate addiction with buprenorphine in a bid to get a handle on opiate abuse and addiction. "We need to lift people out of opioid-use disorder through medication-assisted treatment," Burwell said. "This epidemic is multifaceted, and we need to respond with the best solutions that medicine and behavioral therapy can provide together, so we need to increase the use of buprenorphine, which can help us treat opioid use disorder when combined with psycho-social support."

Ohio Bill Would Require Insurers to Cover Tamper-Resistant Drugs. A bipartisan pair of legislators have introduced a bill that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for tamper-resistant drugs that are more difficult to abuse. Reps. Robert Schrager (R-Findlay) and Nickie Antonion (D-Cleveland) said the measure is necessary because the long-term cost of opiate abuse in the state will cost the state millions of dollars. The bill has not yet appeared on the state legislative website.

Harm Reduction

West Virginia County to Begin Needle Exchange Program. Harrison County plans to move forward with a needle exchange/harm reduction program after hearing of the success of a similar program in Morgantown. The Morgantown exchange began in 2013, when 34 local residents tested positive for Hepatitis C. There have been 118 Hep C infections in Harrison County this year. It is a regional problem -- West Virginia and Kentucky have the highest Hep C infection rates in the country, many of them tied to intravenous drug use.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School