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Marijuana Backers to GOPers: Why Not Cut the DEA Budget?

With Republicans in the House looking to cut down on spending in the next fiscal year, supporters of legalizing marijuana have a suggestion for where they should start -- the Drug Enforcement Agency's budget. "In the grand scheme of things, the entire federal budget dedicated to keeping marijuana illegal and carrying out all the enforcement measures to do so is really something that is long past its prime," the Marijuana Policy Project's Steve Fox said. "I'm not naive enough to think there would be such a major step, but you can just pick it apart and look at the marijuana seizures -- the amount of time and energy put into those seizures -- is really doing essentially nothing except maybe having a marginal effect on the price of marijuana," Fox said. "So all they're really doing is giving those involved in illegal marijuana dealing a little bit of price support."
Publication/Source: 
Talking Points Memo (NY)
URL: 
http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/marijuana_backers_to_gopers_why_not_cut_the_dea_budget.php

Marijuana Activists Fight DEA Efforts to Eviscerate Medical Privacy

Location: 
MI
United States
If the State of Michigan won't protect the people, activists will. So went the cry of medical marijuana groups in Michigan, concerned that the privacy of medical marijuana patients there is at grave risk. The Michigan Association of Compassion Clubs filed an emergency motion this week to halt efforts by the federal government to gain access to the records of several Michigan medical marijuana patients.
Publication/Source: 
Change.org (DC)
URL: 
http://criminaljustice.change.org/blog/view/marijuana_activists_fight_dea_efforts_to_eviscerate_medical_privacy

Retailers Fight Efforts to Ban "Fake Marijuana" [FEATURE]

Although the DEA's bid to ban synthetic cannabinoids at the federal level has been stymied, at least temporarily, bills to ban it at the state level are moving through legislatures in at least a half-dozen states and more will probably follow this year. They are already banned in a dozen other states. But retailers' representatives say that "fake pot" is a multi-billion dollar a year industry that should be regulated, not prohibited.

synthetic marijuana -- gone in some states, going in others? (image via Wikimedia)
In products going under a variety of brand names, such as Spice and K2, and sold widely in head shops, convenience stores, and gas stations, as well as via the Internet, synthetic cannabinoids are sprayed onto dried plant matter. Although the products are marketed as incense and sometimes marked "not for human consumption," they are typically smoked by purchasers in a bid to replicate a marijuana high with a legal substance.

While advocates of banning the synthetic cannabinoids describe them as harmful and dangerous, there is little evidence they are addictive or especially toxic. There are no known overdose fatalities from Spice, although at least one suicide has been linked by grieving parents to recent use. Other reported adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids include panic attacks, anxiety, agitation, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, hallucinations, tremors, and seizures.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported last week that it had received more than 2,800 calls about Spice last year and another 217 through January 18. The calls were "causing increased concern among doctors and clinicians," the group said.

"These products present a health risk that is not worth it for consumers," said Missouri Poison Center Medical Director Anthony J. Scalzo, MD, who first noticed increased calls about these products to his center last fall. "The products are meant to create a similar reaction to marijuana, but in fact, patients often report the opposite -- a fast, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure and nausea."

But representatives of retailers say the concerns are overblown. They point to a relatively low number of reported adverse events, a lack of evidence of life-threatening side effects, and fending off Puritanism as reasons to regulate instead of prohibit synthetic cannabinoids.

"My estimate is that this industry is worth $2 to $3 billion at the retail level, so we are talking about up to 100 million $30 doses," said Dan Francis of the Retail Compliance Association, the group representing retailers that forced the DEA to back away, at least for now, from its emergency ban on synthetic cannabinoids. "If we're talking about 3,000 reports to poison control centers, it would seem that the incidence of problems is extremely low."

Francis also reacted to some of the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding the danger of synthetic cannabinoids and the need for emergency action. "The typical side effects that are being reported are anxiety, agitation and nervousness," he said. "There are no reports of any side effects lasting more than a few hours."

"These substances are very widely used and they've been around for awhile. They're sold in head shops across America and a large number of gas stations, and there have been a few cases where people have freaked out and gone to the hospital, but that happens with marijuana, too," said Dustin Bayer of the Small Business Alliance, a group representing entrepreneurs challenging the federal ban effort. "It's not physical problems, but more like anxiety attacks."

The complaints of the retailers' representatives notwithstanding, bills to ban the synthetics are moving in the following states:

In Arizona, HB 2167, an emergency measure adding synthetic cannabinoids to the state's list of dangerous drugs and providing the same penalties as those for marijuana, passed the passed the House Judiciary and the House Rules committee last week on unanimous votes. It now heads to the House Floor.

In Indiana, SB 57, which outlaws synthetic cannabinoids and punishes them like marijuana, passed the Senate on a 47-0 vote last Friday. Two days earlier, the House Criminal Codes Committee approved its version of the bill. It now awaits a House floor vote.

In Minnesota, HF 57, which make sale of fake pot a gross misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and possession a misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail, passed the House Public Safety Committee Monday and has been referred to the house Judiciary Policy Committee.

In Utah, HB 23, which would add synthetic cannabinoids to the state's controlled substances list, passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and is headed for the House Floor. A less restrictive bill that would ban their sale to people under age 19, HB 200, passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, but its sponsor said he would withdraw it if the more draconian bill passed.

In Virginia, SB 748, which add a new category of controlled substances to include synthetic cannabinoids, was passed by the Senate Committee on Courts and Justice Tuesday. The bill would make punishments similar to those for marijuana.

In West Virginia, SB 63, which would ban fake pot in the Mountaineer State, passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday, but only after being amended. The original version of the bill also included a ban on salvia divinorum, but that was dropped in the version approved by the committee.

Indiana state Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), who sponsored the Indiana ban bill, provided a typical rationale in an interview with the South Bend Tribune. "This is something that is just a real, real bad substance," he said, adding that "the hallucinations produced by synthetic cannabinoids are 10 times stronger than those from marijuana."

Alting said doctors and police had told him of people falling into comas, being temporarily paralyzed, or trying to kill themselves after using fake pot. And he said teenagers in his home district convinced him of the need for a ban when he asked them why anyone would smoke synthetic cannabindoids.

"They looked at me and said, 'Because it's legal,'" he said."Let's put an end to that comeback from young people and anyone else using this."

"Why do they want to make criminals out of store clerks?" asked an exasperated Francis. "It's an insane endeavor to enforce felony-quality laws on people who are just struggling to get by. Why don't they consider regulation instead? There's a myriad of those chemicals out there -- we could have good manufacturing regulations, batch and lot numbers, restricting it to people over 21. Those are the kinds of things we're working on right now."

"I would ask those legislators what danger does this pose?" said Bayer. "There is no shown danger. The people who want to ban it want to ban it for moral reasons, the same way they want to ban marijuana. It's not a scientific issue or an issue of danger, it's really more of a moral issue."

Where's the Outrage Over 'Wrong-Door' Drug Raid? (Opinion)

Location: 
Spring Valley, NY
United States
Bob Goldberg opines on the surprise early morning raid by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Spring Valley police which terrorized an innocent Spring Valley family asleep in their home.
Publication/Source: 
The Journal News (NY)
URL: 
http://www.lohud.com/article/20110126/OPINION/101260312/1076/OPINION01/Where+%27s%20the%20outrage%20over%20+%27wrong-door+%27%20drug%20raid

Leading Pain Patient Organization Shuts Down Under Federal Pressure

The Pain Relief Network (PRN) is no longer a burr under the saddle of DEA agents eager to second guess doctors or federal prosecutors out to make a name for themselves by prosecuting doctors for their medical decisions. PRN founder and leader Siobhan Reynolds announced December 29 that the group would no longer be an activist organization because "pressure from the US Department of Justice has made it impossible for us to function." The organization's web site continues as an educational and community forum.

Siobhan Reynolds at a 2004 Congressional Briefing organized by the American Association of Physicians & Surgeons
Reynolds was referring to an open-ended grand jury investigation directed at PRN by Wichita US Attorney Tanya Treadway, who had been irked by the group's fervent defense of pain medicine Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife Linda, who were convicted of drug trafficking offenses for prescribing high doses of opioid pain relievers to patients at their Kansas pain clinic.

Treadway first attempted to impose a gag order on Reynolds and PRN to prevent them from publicly discussing the case and the broader issues of pain control and the tensions between it the DEA's effort to prevent the "improper" prescribing of opioid pain medications. That effort was thrown out by the trial judge.

Treadway then came back with a grand jury investigation seeking evidence of obstruction of justice for PRN's advocacy, and issued subpoenas demanding all PRN records having anything to do with the case, including Reynolds' phone and email records. Reynolds refused to comply and sought relief in the courts, but the organization was hit by $200 daily fines for each day it failed to turn over the records.

Reynolds and PRN lost in US district court and at the 10th US Circuit of Appeals, which, most unusually, sealed its opinion. The government-imposed secrecy surrounding the case has been criticized by groups including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which questioned why the court would "order the complete sealing of a record in which the facts are already publicly known and the traditional grounds for secrecy carry no force." In a post on Reason.com (linked above), Jacob Sullum noted that an amicus brief filed by the Reason Foundation (publisher of Reason) and the Institute for Justice, based entirely on publicly-available information, was itself sealed by the court. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court last month refused to hear her appeal. (For more detailed coverage on these courthouse antics, see the PRN archive page here.) Broke and unable to obtain redress from the courts, PRN has called it a day.

That is too bad. Reynolds and PRN were tireless activists on behalf of pain patients dating back to her ex-husband's search for relief from a debilitating condition. That search led them to Dr. Billy Hurwitz, a leading high-dose opioid pain reliever prescriber. But Hurwitz was himself prosecuted and convicted by the feds for his prescribing, kicking Reynolds and PRN into high gear.

PRN also worked other cases of doctors persecuted by the DEA and federal prosecutors over their opioid prescribing practices. Reynolds and PRN also played a key role in agitating around Richard Paey, the Florida pain patient sentenced to 25 years as a drug dealer for obtaining pain meds from multiple pharmacies. Paey was later pardoned by Gov. Charlie Crist, thanks in good part to PRN's efforts.

PRN may be done as an activist organization, but the community of patients Reynolds organized is not going away. Reynold's announcement indicated that they are looking at a possible new legal action in the Western District of Washington, but not under PRN's auspices.

Family Home Stormed in Another Botched Drug Prohibition SWAT Raid

Location: 
36 Sharon Drive
Spring Valley, NY 10977
United States
Another police raid and yet another innocent family caught up in a failed drug prohibition war that sends heavily armed, masked and hyped up cops in search of largely nonviolent offenders. This time the raid happened in Spring Valley, New York, and left a 13-year-old child vomiting and gasping for air in an asthma attack triggered by the over-the-top and misdirected actions of police and DEA agents.
Publication/Source: 
Change.org (DC)
URL: 
http://criminaljustice.change.org/blog/view/family_home_stormed_in_another_botched_swat_raid

Kiwi Banker Reveals His Part in Mexico's Drug Prohibition War

Location: 
Mexico
A Kiwi-born banker has revealed chilling details of his undercover life working for vicious, prohibition-created South American drug trafficking organizations, including watching a hit squad execute and dismember a group of people in front of him. He claims he was approached by the US Drug Enforcement Agency after striking up friendships with Mexican cartel bankers while in jail for conspiring to defraud.
Publication/Source: 
TVNZ (New Zealand)
URL: 
http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/kiwi-banker-reveals-his-part-in-mexico-s-drug-war-4000611

Providers to Help Form DEA Policy on Long-Term Care Facilities' Disposal of Unwanted Controlled Substances

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is looking to modify its policies regarding the disposal of powerful medications that long-term care facilities need to discard. Providers, including the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, have submitted comments for the DEA's public meeting, which will be held next Wednesday and Thursday in Washington. Among the hottest topics will be the DEA's concern that abusers might devise new and unwanted pathways to re-route controlled substances from intended destruction.
Publication/Source: 
McKnight's Long-Term Care News (NY)
URL: 
http://www.mcknights.com/providers-to-help-form-dea-policy-on-long-term-care-facilities-disposal-of-unwanted-controlled-substances/article/194289/

DEA Emergency Ban on Synthetic Marijuana NOT in Effect

Contrary to previous reports that a DEA emergency ban on synthetic cannabinoids had gone into effect on December 24, that emergency ban has been delayed. The DEA published a notice in the federal register dated January 7 that its November 24 notice of intent to institute an emergency ban had to be revised due to "administrative errors."

Still legal under federal law -- at least for now. (image via Wikimedia)
Sold under a variety of names, including Spice and K2, the synthetic cannabinoid products have been criminalized in about a dozen states, with more states on track to join the list.

DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno confirmed to the Chronicle January 13 that the ban was not yet in effect. "We're still writing the regulations," she said, explaining that, "While we must give the public 30 days notice, that doesn't mean it automatically becomes illegal. We're working diligently on it and hoping to get it done quickly."

The delay was forced by legal challenges from the Retail Compliance Association, a newly-formed retailers' organization created to block the DEA ban. "They need to stop hurting the small businesses that sell these products, and at least have a grip on the basics of the laws that govern their actions" said Dan Francis, the group's executive director, in a press release. "These rule do apply to them, they can't just declare that they don't and have it that way, we are a country of laws, passed by congress, not dictated by the DEA."
 

Washington, DC
United States

Meet Mephedrone, the Latest "Drug Menace" [FEATURE]

Poison control centers, hospital emergency rooms, and law enforcement are all raising the alarm about a new, uncontrolled stimulant drug, and the first moves to ban the drug at the state level have already taken place. But the DEA has yet to act, and drug policy analysts say that a reflexive move to ban the drug may not be the answer.

Going, going, gone in Louisiana. Who's next?
The drug is 4-methylmethcathinone, also known as mephedrone, a synthetic derivative of cathinone, the psychoactive stimulant found in the khat plant. (To be completely accurate, there are actually a number of methcathinone analogues involved, but for brevity's sake we will refer simply to mephedrone.) It produces a stimulant effect that users have likened to that of cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines, or Ritalin.

The drug is being sold as bath salts, plant food, or plant fertilizer and typically marketed with the words "not for human consumption" under product names including Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, Pure Ivory, and Sextacy. Marketers also use names with a local charge, such as Hurricane Charlie in Louisiana and White Lightning in Kentucky.

After hysterical press coverage of unproven mephedrone overdose deaths in England early last year, the drug was banned in the United Kingdom, and in November, the European Union banned mephedrone in member countries, citing a risk assessment from the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA).

But while that risk assessment found that mephedrone can cause acute health problems and lead to dependence, it found only tenuous links between mephedrone and any alleged fatalities. The risk assessment also cautioned that banning the drug could create its own problems. "Control measures could create an illegal market in mephedrone with the associated risk of criminal activity," EMCDDA warned.

But the European Union didn't listen, and now, politicians in the US states where mephedrone is most prevalent, are jumping on the ban bandwagon. Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued an emergency rule making the possession, distribution, or manufacture of mephedrone illegal and placing it in Schedule 1 of the state's controlled substances act. That means violators could face up to 30 years in prison.

"These drugs have crept into our communities and they are hurting our kids," said Jindal as he announced the rule. "We have to do everything in our power to protect our children and to make sure our streets are safe for our families. The reality is that the chemicals used to make these dangerous substances have no legitimate use other than to provide a high for the user. Today’s announcement gives our law enforcement officials the tools they need to crack down on the people pushing these dangerous drugs. Indeed, our law enforcement officials can immediately take these drugs off the shelf -- and at the same time, it's now illegal to possess and use these dangerous chemicals."

This week, neighboring Mississippi is moving against the substance. At least two bills to ban mephedrone have been introduced and are moving through committees. The bills are likely to be combined. As in Louisiana, the bills envision harsh penalties, with offenders facing up to 20 years in prison.

News media reports warning of the new "menace" and urging authorities to act have also appeared in Georgia and Texas. Such news reports are often a precursor to legislative or administrative action.

That these first moves to ban mephedrone are taking place on the Gulf Coast makes sense because that is where the drug has made the deepest inroads. Louisiana Poison Control Center director Dr. Mark Ryan went public with news of mounting calls about mephedrone just before Christmas, and on Monday, the American Association of Poison Control Centers issued a nationwide alert about mephedrone.

The alert shows that, at this point, mephedrone is very much a regional phenomenon. Poison control centers around the country have taken more than 300 calls about mephedrone, 69 of them in just the first days of 2011. While poison centers representing 25 states have received calls, 165 of them were in Louisiana. Kentucky was second with 23 calls. In the Upper Midwest, however, there have been no calls about mephedrone.

"We got notice a few weeks ago about reports from other poison centers, but we're not aware of any coming to our regional center," said Rachel Brandt of the Sanford Poison Control Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which covers Minnesota and the Dakotas.

It's a much different story in Louisiana. "We got our first case on September 29 and shortly thereafter we began getting calls just about every day," said the Louisiana Poison Control Center's Dr. Ryan. "We reported to the state health department that this was coming up on our radar, that we were getting people with bizarre, off-the-wall symptoms, with some of them staying in the hospital for five to seven days and the symptoms not resolving very well. The state became very concerned, and so did we as the number of calls continued to increase."

According to Dr. Ryan, adverse responses to mephedrone can be extreme. "We are seeing people describing intense cravings even though they don't like the high," he said. "We're seeing guys discharged from the hospital showing up again a few days later. We're seeing people who are very anxious or suffering from extreme paranoia, we're seeing people with suicidal thoughts, we're seeing people with delusions and hallucinations. A common thread is that they describe monsters, aliens, or demons."

But while the adverse reactions can be disturbing, and while three deaths have been "linked" to mephedrone, there have been no verified mephedrone overdose fatalities. In one case, a 21-year-old man named Dickie Sanders committed suicide three days after ingesting mephedrone. Louisiana media also referred to two other deaths "linked" to the substance, but the connection to mephedrone use remains unproven.

"They're saying the other two are related, but there is no toxicology to back that up," said Dr. Ryan.

Dealing with new designer drugs is difficult and frustrating, Dr. Ryan said. "We banned six different substances after looking at the ones abused in European countries," he said. "But you can't ban everything, and you could make a different designer cathinone every day. It's like a cat chasing its tail."

The DEA is also taking a look at mephedrone. But unlike state legislators, which can act without the least bit of evidence, the DEA is charged with actually finding good reasons to add a new drug to the list of proscribed or controlled substances. While more than a dozen states have criminalized the psychedelic salvia divinorum based on little more than the fear someone somewhere might get high on something legally, the DEA has had salvia on its radar as a drug of concern for nearly a decade, but has yet to find the evidence it needs to schedule it. On the other hand, the DEA is susceptible to political pressure, as indicated by its quick action last November to ban synthetic cannabinoids after being asked to do so by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Mephedrone has been on the DEA's radar since at least September 2009, when an analysis of drug samples containing mephedrone was published in the agency's Microgram Bulletin. But a DEA spokesman told the Chronicle this week the agency has yet to act.

"This is a drug of concern," said DEA public information officer Michael Sanders. "We're looking into it right now. We see those drugs out there, but there is a lot of research that goes into actually scheduling something."

The DEA may be well served by not rushing to judgment, said drug policy analyst Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. Prohibiting drugs has not worked in the past and there is no reason to assume it will now, he argued.

"Regulation is pretty much always better than prohibition because it means you can actually control the drug," he said. "You can regulate potency, quality, and all that stuff, but prohibiting it just drives it further into an unregulated market. Prohibition certainly has not controlled cocaine, ecstasy, or meth," Piper pointed out.

"It seems really strange that the political position around drugs in this country is that the only drugs people can legally use from now until the end of time are apparently alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine," Piper said. "And at least two of those substances are more dangerous than most of the other drugs. Every new substance is either banned immediately or eventually. This should be something for policymakers and voters to discuss and debate instead of just having knee-jerk responses."

That unfortunately has yet to happen, for mephedrone or for most drugs, and the drive to prohibit mephedrone is gaining steam.

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