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Philly Mayor Nixes Opioid Settlement Funds for Needle Exchanges, MD Bill Would Hike Fentanyl OD Sentences, More... (3/7/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on
Consequences of Prohibition

A federal court in Vermont rules that the ADA does not protect medical marijuana patients, the drug czar says the cocaine trade remains a US priority, and more.

Seized cocaine. Even amidst the fentanyl crisis, the US is still keeping an eye on cocaine, the drug czar says. (DHS)
Medical Marijuana

Federal Court Rules Vermont Medical Marijuana Patient Not Protected Under Americans with Disabilities Act. A US district court judge in the District of Vermont has thrown out a medical marijuana patient's claim of discrimination and failure-to-accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ruling that his medical marijuana use was not protected by the ADA. A federal district judge in Vermont ruled that the ADA does not protect medical marijuana usage.

The ruling came in the case of Ivo Skoric, who was fired from the Marble Valley Transit District after testing positive for marijuana in a random drug test. Skoric is a medical marijuana patient with a doctor's recommendation. He sought unemployment after being fired but was denied.

He then filed his lawsuit pro se, alleging violations of the ADA. He argued that since he was using marijuana under the supervision of a doctor, his use was protected by the ADA.

But the district court disagreed. Citing other district court opinions, as well as a ruling from the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court held that Skoric's medical marijuana use did not fall within the ADA's supervised use exception and that because marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use" under federal law, a medical marijuana patient does not qualify as a "qualified individual with a disability" under the ADA. 

Drug Policy

Maryland Bill Would Impose 20-Year Sentences for Drug Sellers Linked to Fatal Overdoses. A bill that would create stiffer penalties for people who sell fentanyl resulting in a fatal overdose, House Bill 1245, got a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. No vote was taken. 

The measure, also known as Victoria and Scottie’s Law after two people who died of fentanyl overdoses, would mandate sentences of up to 20 years for people who sold fentanyl that ends up killing someone. 

"The bill is designed to go after drug dealers who are selling the worst of the worst to our loved ones and not addicts who needs treatment," said bill cosponsor Delegate Chris Tomlinson (R-District 5). 

"These dealers are not getting high on their own supply. These are people who are purposely making money dealing poison that kills people," said Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-District 5), one of the sponsors of the Senate version of the legislation, Senate Bill 1075. [Editor's Note: It is unclear how Ready knows "the dealers are not getting high on their own supply" since many drug dealers do precisely that and many are selling so they can get high.]

Foreign Relations

US Drug Czar Tells Colombia Cocaine Trafficking Is Still a US Priority. The head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), Dr. Rahul Gupta, met in Bogota Tuesday with President Gustavo Petro and other Colombian officials and told them that combatting the cocaine traffic remains a high US priority. 

While the rapid increase in fentanyl has taken center stage among drug issues, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine provider, and the US has room to take on both challenges, Gupta said. 

"Cocaine production, trafficking, (and) consumption remains a priority for us," Gupta said. "We should be able to address the challenges of both the synthetic drugs today, like fentanyl, like methamphetamine and others, while at the same time the plant-based drugs like cocaine."

Coca production in the country was up 13 percent in 2022 over 2021, the most recent years for which statistics are available. 

While Colombia under Petro has been looking into alternate uses for coca, Gupta was not down with that. 

"We believe that industrialization of coca is a net negative benefit," he said, adding benefits would be marginal and such an industry would create "perverse incentives" to create incentives for farmers to try to make a livelihood from the crop. 

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Mayor Rejects Using Opioid Settlement Funds for Needle Exchange Program. In a reversal of previous policy, Mayor Cherelle Parker (D) will not use any of the $180 million coming to the city in pay-outs from opioid pain pill makers and distributors in lawsuits filed against them for their role in this century's opioid epidemic to provide services such as needle exchanges or the provision of pipes to drug users.

Other harm reduction moves, such as providing the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone or drug testing kits will still be funded, but "anything directly used in the consumption of illegal drugs" will no longer get funds, city spokesperson Sharon Gallagher said.

The policy change "aligns with the Parker administration’s strategy to improve public health and public safety," Gallagher said, adding that top leaders are "exploring all options and funding sources" to do so.

There were 1,413 fatal drug overdoses in the city in 2022. 

Needle exchanges have operated in the city for more than 30 years. They have proven effective at reducing the spread of HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne illnesses by allowing drug users to obtain sterile needles to inject their drugs instead of sharing needles with others.

The move is drawing criticism from the public health sphere. 

 "Given how little money is involved, it’s not a budgetary decision — it’s a decision about politics and optics," said Ayden Scheim, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Drexel University he said. "It’s putting people who use drugs at risk to score political points."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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