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Senate Committee Okays Bill to Ease Methadone Restrictions, Dutch Legal Weed Experiment, More... (12/12/23)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1200)

More than 100,000 Show Me State residents have seen their pot bust records erased, a pair of conservative rural California counties move to end needle exchanges, and more.

A Dutch cannabis coffeeshop. An experiment with legally grown weed begins this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Has Expunged More Than 100,000 Marijuana Arrests, More to Come. State officials have expunged more than 100,000 marijuana cases from court records ahead of a deadline last Friday, but some courts missed that deadline as clerks worked to review decades of cases.

"The courts are going to need more time to finish the job, and in fact, it might be years before all the cases from the past century are expunged," said lawyer Dan Viets, a Missouri NORML coordinator and coauthor of Missouri's 2022 constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana. "We've had more than 100 years of marijuana prohibition in Missouri. Many of the older cases have never been put on a database. So, it's going to take a lot of physical work to locate those paper records in boxes and attics and go through them."

The automatic expungement is "one of the most significant parts" of the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law, Viets said. "In addition to stopping approximately 20,000 marijuana arrests each year," he said, "the law now requires state government to undo much of the damage which was inflicted on hundreds of thousands of Missourians during the past 100 years."

Drug Treatment

Senate Committee Advances Bill to Loosen Restrictions on Methadone. the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would make the opioid-assisted treatment methadone more widely accessible. For decades, people using methadone as a treatment for opioid addiction have had to report to clinics and be observed taking the medication.

Methadone is a type of medication treatment for Opiate Use Disorder (OUD) that is effective in helping people maintain recovery and avoid diversion. While physicians can prescribe, and pharmacies can dispense, methadone for chronic pain, methadone for opioid use disorder is only available at Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs). OTPs can be difficult to access for many people, particularly those in rural regions, for individuals with limited access to transportation, and for patients in regions with few or no programs. Currently, there are no OTPs in Wyoming, Guam, North Marianas, the Federated States of Micronesia, and America Samoa; there is only one in South Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands; there are three in Nebraska; and four in Mississippi and Hawaii.

But under S. 644, the Modernizing Opioid Treatment Access Act (MOTAA), the measure approved by the committee, certified addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry doctors registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will be able to prescribe methadone that patients could pick up at a pharmacy. The bipartisan legislation would represent the first major reform to methadone in half a century and is supported by hundreds of clinicians and medical organizations.

"Methadone for opioid use disorder is locked behind arcane laws that criminalize and stigmatize people in recovery," said bill cosponsors Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rand Paul (R-KY). "The experts and evidence are clear: this outdated system is costing lives, and we should no longer stand by as outdated federal law keeps people from treatment they need no matter where they live. We are pleased that my colleagues are joining with me in passing the Modernizing Opioid Treatment Access Act. Together, we took an essential step toward reducing stigma, expanding access, and saving lives in communities all across the country. We will keep fighting until the Modernizing Opioid Treatment Access Act is signed into law."

The House version of the bill, HR 1359, was filed in March and referred to the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees. The latter committee in turn referred it to the Subcommittee on Health, where it has sat ever since.

Harm Reduction

California Counties Move to Halt Needle Exchanges. A pair of conservative counties in the state's Sierra Nevada mountains are moving to end needle exchange programs. Placer County has already done so, and the El Dorado County board of supervisors is set to take a second vote today on an urgency ordinance to eliminate the programs.

The state Department of Public Health authorized the Sierra Harm Reduction Coalition to undertake needle exchanges in 2019, an action that county supervisors, the county sheriff, and the District Attorney all disapproved of.

The county leaders say they are concerned with rising drug overdoses, improper used needle collection and public health risks. There is little evidence the program is slowing the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis C, they claimed.

"The Board of Supervisors recognizes that the establishment and operation of a syringe exchange program will increase improperly disposed needles which pose a serious risk to the public health, safety and welfare, given the potential for personal bodily injury, property damage and contaminated waterways," the draft ordinance reads. "It is the purpose and intent of this section to prohibit the establishment, operation, use and/or participation in a syringe exchange program within the unincorporated areas of the county to protect the public health, safety and general welfare of its residents."

CDPH data shows eight people were diagnosed with an HIV infection in 2021, while six were diagnosed in 2020; there were 145 reported cases of hepatitis C in the county in 2021, a decrease from 181 in 2019 and 152 in 2020. CDPH also said that 15 percent of people living with HIV in El Dorado County reported injection drug use as a risk for transmission. The statewide average is 12 percent, CDPH said.

"These programs may work in other parts of California and the United States, although I have my doubts," Sheriff Jeff Leikauf said. "What I do know is that El Dorado County does not want or need these types of programs. We need to exercise local control and decision making."

Sierra Harm Reduction Coalition Director Tom Ewing disagrees with the county's position. "Who could argue that it is better to let people die than help them be healthier and stay alive?" Ewing asked. "Our street support program focuses on safer use, medical care, behavioral care, transportation, housing and addiction treatment, or just giving a compassionate ear to what our clients have to share. Our clients are real human beings."

"Addiction is always a highly charged emotional issue. Hatred and fear of drug users is not new in the United States, and it's far from unique to EDC," Ewing said. "For some who have had loved ones struggle with addiction, this topic can be very hard; I even know many people who are in recovery themselves who seem to resent the fact that we are offering people the kind of support that they themselves did not receive when they needed it most."


Dutch Legal Marijuana Supply Pilot Program Begins This Week. The preparatory phase of pilot project in supplying the country's famous cannabis coffeeshops with legally obtained marijuana will get underway Thursday. Two sanctioned growers are ready to supply coffeeshops in Breda and Tilburg.

The coffeeshops will be able to sell both legally produced and black market weed, and two more legal suppliers will begin supplying coffeeshops in the two cities with more in February 2024.

It is part of the Dutch government's "experiment with a legalized production and sales chain" and is aimed at solving the longstanding "back door problem," wherein marijuana possession and sales are tolerated but there is no legal supply source, leaving coffeeshops to rely on the black market.

This preparatory phase should be over in six months, and coffeeshops will begin the transition phase at the end of the first quarter of next year. During this phase, participating coffeeshops will be able to sell both legally grown and black market product. Six weeks after the transitional phase begins, the experimental phase will begin. Then participating coffeeshops will from then on be able to sell only cannabis from regulated crops.

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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