Chronicle AM -- April 30, 2014

There was marijuana talk on Capitol Hill yesterday, a Vermont dispensary bill passes the Senate, Georgia's governor signs a welfare drug testing bill, a California drugged driving bill dies, and -- oh, yeah, we spent $7.5 billion to reduce Afghan opium production and got squat. And more. Let's get to it:

The US spent $7.5 billion to reduce Afghan opium cultivation. Now Afghanistan produces more than ever. Go figger. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

NIH Head Tells Congress Marijuana is a Gateway Drug. Dr. Nora Volkow, the director from the National Institutes of Health warned House lawmakers Tuesday against legalizing marijuana use, saying it could act as a gateway drug. Volkow told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations subpanel studies show that changes to brain chemistry after alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana use can prime users for harder drugs. Despite Volkow's claims, the gateway theory is widely discredited.

Treasury Secretary Defends Marijuana Banking Guidelines.Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Tuesday defended the Obama administration's guidelines to banks conducting transactions with legal marijuana sellers as congressional Republicans questioned whether the guidance amounts to tacit federal approval of a drug illegal in most states. Lew's comments came at hearing of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on financial services, where Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) accused the administration of providing a "rubber stamp" to drug dealers. Lew disagreed: "Without any guidance, there would be a proliferation of cash-only businesses, and that would make it impossible to see when there are actions going on that violate both federal and state law and that... would be a real concern," Lew said. "We thought that the clarity, bringing it into daylight, was a better solution." Congress should write a law to establish a policy, he added.

New York City Conference Today and Tomorrow Marks 70th Anniversary of LaGuardia Commission Report. A major one-and-a-half day conference at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) to discuss marijuana and broader drug policy reform gets underway today. The conference commemorates the 70th anniversary of one of the nation's first systematic studies to address many of the myths about marijuana, The La Guardia Committee Report: The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York, published in 1944. The NYAM published report concluded that "the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated," but marijuana prohibition has stood largely intact for seventy years -- until now. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Vermont Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Dispensary Improvement Bill. The Vermont Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that will expand access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. It will now be sent to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has expressed support for the measure. Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), will eliminate the cap on the number of patients who are allowed to access medical marijuana dispensaries. Currently, only 1,000 total patients are able to access dispensaries. The measure will also increase possession limits for dispensaries, allow them to deliver medical marijuana to patients, and permit naturopaths to certify patients for the program. The bill was amended by the House to initiate two studies: one to explore the possibility of adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program, and one to evaluate the potential impact of making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Excites Law Enforcement Opposition. Law enforcement agencies from across the state spoke out against a proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana at the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association today. "As the current bill stands in Louisiana, this still does not correct the fact that it is illegal in the United States of America to possess or use marijuana," president of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. The bill, Senate Bill 541, proposed by Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills (D-St. Martin Parish), will be heard by the Committee on Health and Welfare today.

Virginia Congressman Introduces Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) has filed House Resolution 4498, the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act. This bill would prohibit the federal government from preventing the prescription, possession, transportation, and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with applicable state law. The bill would also reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug.

Drug Testing

Georgia Governor Signs Bill to Drug Test Some Welfare Recipients. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed legislation on Tuesday requiring some applicants for food stamps and welfare benefits to undergo a drug test. Under the measure, House Bill 772, testing could be required if authorities have a "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. A person failing the test would temporarily lose benefits, although their children could receive assistance through another adult. Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, called the legislation "shameful" and said it violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

Drugged Driving

California "Per Se" Drugged Driving Bill Dies in Committee. A bill that would have made the presence of tiny amounts of marijuana metabolites per se evidence of impaired driving was killed in the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. Assembly Bill 2500, sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Antioch), was opposed by California NORML, whose head, Dale Gieringer, called it "a solution in search of a problem."

Law Enforcement

Bogus Highway Drug Search Yields $100,000 Settlement for Star Trek Fan. A Star Trek fan returning home from a convention on I-70 Illinois when he was stopped and searched by a Collinsville, Illinois, police officer has settled a lawsuit against the department for $100,000. Terrance Huff, who is also a documentary filmmaker, sued over the stop. After the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals refused to throw out the lawsuit, Collinsville settled. Click on the link for the whole juicy, sleazy story.

Colorado Bills That Would Have Removed Kids from Parents Suspected of Drug Use Die. The state Senate approved, but then rejected two bills that attempted to expand the definition of child abuse to include even attempts at drug use and/or possession. The bills were Senate Bill 177 and Senate Bill 178. They were opposed by a coalition of groups including the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of Colorado, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Defends Approval of Zohydro. FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, defended the agency's approval of the powerful opioid Zohydro ER (hydrocodone bitartrate) extended-release capsules, explaining that its highest dose is no more potent than the highest strengths of the opioid OxyContin ER (oxycodone) extended-release and extended-release morphine, in an FDA blog posted yesterday. Dr. Hamburg explained that with the drug approval, it is unlikely that opioid prescribing will change significantly or use by patients with pain. Zohydro ER is approved for the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment and for which alternative treatment options are inadequate. "Addressing the opioid crisis by focusing on a single opioid drug will simply not be effective," she stated. "Instead we must focus our collective attention and energy on the key drivers of the problem, which include excessive prescribing, illegal activity by a small number of providers, improper disposal of unused medications, and insufficient prescriber and patient education."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act to Eliminate the Disparities Between Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Passes its First Committee. The California Fair Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1010), authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), passed its first hurdle in the Senate Committee on Public Safety by a 4-2 vote. The bill will correct the disparity in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine that has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California. SB 1010 now moves on to the Appropriations Committee.

Bill to Up Meth Trafficking Penalties Passes New York Senate. The state Senate Monday passed legislation, cosponsored by Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida), that would increase the penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine. The measure, Senate Bill 3639, increases sentences by moving various meth manufacture and distribution offenses up one notch on the state's felony crime sentencing scheme.

International

OAS Drug Commission Meeting Underway. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) yesterday inaugurated its 55th Regular Session where it discussed, among other issues, policies related to micro-trafficking and the agenda of the Special General Assembly the hemispheric institution will hold in September in Guatemala, which will be dedicated exclusively to the Global Drug Problem in the Americas. The agenda of the CICAD meeting also includes discussions on alternatives to incarceration for drug dependent offenders and others in conflict with the law for reasons related to drugs, and the challenges and impacts surrounding the regulation of cannabis, with special attention to initiatives of this type in some States of the United States, as well as Uruguay. The meeting takes place between today and Thursday, May 1 at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, and is being chaired by Colombia. Click on the link for more details.

Singapore Bans New Synthetic Drugs Effective Tomorrow. Synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of controlled drugs like methamphetamine and heroin, will become illegal and attract the same penalties beginning May 1. While it is now legal to possess these drugs, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has the power to seize them to restrict their circulation. There are currently 11 types of compounds under the Fifth Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act, with over a hundred specific examples listed. Beginning in May, drugs listed under the Fifth Schedule will then be re-classified as Class A controlled drugs. This means that those convicted of abusing them may be jailed up to 10 years and fined up to S$20,000. Those found guilty of trafficking such substances will face a minimum of five years' jail and five strokes of the cane.

US Spent $7.5 Billion to Stop Afghan Opium, Got Squat, New Report Says. A new report from Washington's Afghanistan war watchdog has found that the US spent $7.5 billion in efforts to reduce Afghan opium cultivation, but that opium cultivation there is at an all-time high. The report is the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstuction. Opium-poppy cultivation takes up 209,000 hectares (516,230 acres) of land in Afghanistan, a 36% increase since 2012. Afghanistan is by far the world's largest opium producer.

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