Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Malaysia Death Sentence for Cannabis Oil, OH MedMJ Delays, More... (9/5/18)

A Malaysian court has sentenced a man to death for providing cannabis oil to patients, a group of lawmakers asks the VA to study medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, and more.

Ohio medical marijuana patients will have to wait a little longer.
Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers Ask VA Secretary to Research Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids. A bipartisan group of legislators sent a letter last Thursday to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie asking him to begin a "rigorous clinical trial" of medical marijuana for PTSD and chronic pain. "We believe VA has the authority, ability, and capacity to carry out such a study," they wrote. "Many of our nation's veterans already use medicinal cannabis, and they deserve to have full knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of this alternative therapy." Signatories to the letter were Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), Sen. Dan Sullivan, (R-AK), along with Democrats Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota.

Ohio Regulators Say State Will Not Meet Saturday Deadline for Medical Marijuana. Officials with the State Medical Board, Board of Pharmacy, and Board of Commerce say they will not be able to meet a Saturday deadline for getting the state's medical marijuana program up and running. Some licenses have been issued, but no growers yet have crops ready to go to market.

Utah Initiative Campaign Files Election Complaint Over Opposition Radio Ad. The Utah Patients Coalition Tuesday filed a complaint with the lieutenant governor's office about an ad from Drug Safe Utah that declares "Prop 2 is actually about recreational use and not medical." "DSU has published a false statement in relation to Prop 2, a ballot measure, that will affect how people vote in the November election. We therefore request the Elections Division to order DSU to immediately cease and desist all such claims regarding Prop 2 being an attempt to legalize 'recreational use,'" the complaint reads. Drug Safe Utah said it stood by its ad.

International

Death Sentence for Malaysia Man Who Gave Patients Free Cannabis Oil. A Malaysian court has sentenced a man to death for processing cannabis oil and distributing it to patients. Muhammed Lukman was sentenced on August 30 after being convicted of possessing, processing, and distributing cannabis oil. There is no allegation that Lukman profited from his activities, but he was still found guilty of violating a provision of the country's Dangerous Drug Act that mandates the death penalty. Malaysia is one of at least 33 countries that resort to the death penalty for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Colombia Moves Backwards on Drug Policy, NYPD Pot Arrests Now Halted, More... (9/4/18)

Colombia's new president moves resolutely backward on drug policy, New York City's era of mass marijuana possession arrests is over, the California legislature has been busy, and more.

The era of New York City as the world's marijuana arrest capital has come to an end. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Lawmakers Pass Bill that Will Support Local Cannabis Equity Programs to Increase Representation in the Industry by Persons from Communities Most Harmed by Cannabis Prohibition. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 1294, which helps create equity in the cannabis industry through the distribution of grants to localities offering assistance to persons most harmed by cannabis prohibition and generational poverty. SB 1294 will offer grants to localities with existing equity programs -- such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco -- to support them as they offer equity-qualifying applicants and licensees business loans and grants, regulatory compliance and technical assistance, and licensing fee waivers. SB 1294 reflects a nationwide movement to ensure that this growing industry is representative and accessible to all persons, no matter their financial or criminal history background. Advocates, entrepreneurs, and local governments now call on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign this important measure.

Delaware Governor Signs Marijuana Expungement Bill Into Law. Gov. John Carney (D) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 197, which "provides mandatory expungement eligibility to individuals who were convicted of the possession [of one ounce or less], use or consumption of marijuana prior to Delaware's decriminalization of these offenses." The provision only applies to people who have no other criminal convictions on their records.

New York City Change in Marijuana Arrest Policy Now in Effect. As of Saturday, the NYPD is no longer arresting people for small-time marijuana use or possession in most cases. The city arrested more than 10,000 people on such charges last year. Officials said the change came because the arrests had nothing to do with public safety and were racially disproportionate. "Our new policy, we're going to see a humongous drop in people in communities of color being arrested for marijuana," NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison said. "And that was one of the whole goals of this whole new policy."

New Psychoactive Substances

DEA Makes Synthetic Cathinone Schedule I Substance. The DEA last Friday announced it was placing the synthetic cathinone N-Ethylpentylone into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This is a temporary scheduling action good for up to 24 months, during which time research will be conducted to see if the drug should be permanently scheduled. DEA said the drug was linked to 151 deaths in the US since 2015.

Sentencing Policy

California Lawmakers Pass Bill Giving Judges the Power to Set Aside Ineffective and Punitive Five-year Sentence Enhancement. The legislature last Friday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1393, which would restore judicial discretion to the application of a five-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony on a person's criminal record. Current law requires judges to add an additional five-years to cases, even when the judge believes that the punishment is unjust and unwarranted. If signed into law, judges would have maximum flexibility during the penalty phase of a trail to impose, or not impose, the additional five-years. A coalition of people who are directly impacted, their families, service providers, and advocates now call on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign this important measure.

International

Colombian President Moves to Recriminalize Drug Possession. President Ivan Duque announced on Sunday measures to give police the power to seize personal use quantities of drugs that had previously been legalized. "This week will sign the decree through which, in development of the police code 02 of the 2009 legislative act, we will give the authorities tools to confiscate any dose of drugs or hallucinogens in the streets of Colombia, and thus face the root of micro-trafficking problems," said Duque. The measures would appear to contradict rulings by the country's Constitutional Court, which in 2012 approved the decriminalization of small amounts of cocaine and marijuana for personal use.

Statement: Duterte Moves Against Second Drug War Critic

Senator Trillanes at our March 2018 event (photo courtesy Joey Tranchina)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 4, 2018

StoptheDrugWar.org condemns the Duterte administration's blatantly political attack on Senator Antonio Trillanes, a fierce and brave critic of the President's human rights violations.

Senator Trillanes joined our March 2018 event at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting in Vienna, where he presented administration data suggesting that extrajudicial killings in President Duterte's drug war may exceed 20,000. Perversely, the Senator observed, the administration listed these killings among its "2017 Accomplishments."

We note that President Duterte promised a year ago to "destroy" Senator Trillanes.

Senator Leila de Lima was incarcerated a year and a half ago on unsupported drug charges, half a year after President Duterte promised to "destroy" her. The case against de Lima was brought shortly after she had a confessed former member of Duterte's "Davao Death Squad" testify in the Justice Committee, one of two former DDS members to go public.

"Senator Trillanes told us in Vienna he expected political prosecutions to increase in pace during the second half of this year. But he also promised that while he remained free, he would continue to speak out," said StoptheDrugWar.org Executive Director David Borden.

"Undoubtedly the imprisoning of Senator Trillanes, if that happens, will further mobilize the already energized Philippine opposition to Duterte," Borden continued. "But it will also focus even greater world attention onto Duterte's crimes and depredations. I am saddened by this development, but I can't imagine a better gift to our international organizing efforts."

StoptheDrugWar.org is a US-based NGO with a focus on international drug policy, and which has focused on the Philippines human rights situation since early 2017. Our educational nonprofit DRCNet Foundation has been in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 2016.

Footage of Senator Trillanes' presentation in Vienna is online at https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines#vienna2018.

- END -

Chronicle AM: NYC Overdose Action March, US Sentencing Commission Sets Priorities, More... (8/31/18)

The police chief in Oklahoma City wants pot busts downgraded, the US Sentencing Commission sets policy priorities for the next 18 months, marchers demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo take action on the state's overdose crisis, and more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in the crosshairs Thursday as marchers demanded action on the state overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wants to Quit Arresting Pot Possessors. Police Chief Bill Citty is calling for adjusting city ordinances so that police officers will not have to jail people caught with small amounts of marijuana. He is backing a move to reduce the penalty for possession from a $1,200 fine and up to six months in jail to just a $400 fine. "Right now, we're taking all possessions of marijuana, and it would be a Class B offense and it would actually, they would be arrested," said Citty. "We've been arresting every single one of them. This would stop that practice. By lowering it to $400, this allows us to basically take it out of that court of record trial and we're able to assign citations for the possession of marijuana. Now, that will be if they don't have a state permit or license that allows them to have it for medical use." The proposed ordinance will be up for discussion on September 11 and again on September 28.

Utah Governor Calls for Federal Rescheduling of Marijuana. As voters in the state prepare to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a medical marijuana initiative in November, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is calling on Congress to reschedule it. "I'd like to see the federal government get out of the way," he said on Thursday during his monthly news conference. "We ought to call upon our congressional delegation (to) take it off the Schedule I list. Let's do the studies, let's do the clinical trials. Are they not paying attention in Washington? Evidently not," he said.

Wisconsin Voters Will Have a Chance to Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana. Voters in 16 counties and two cities will have a chance to vote on non-binding advisory referenda for or against legalizing marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. The referenda are on local ballots scattered across the state, from Milwaukee and Dane to LaCrosse and Langlade counties, as well as the cities of Racine and Waukesha.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists March from City Morgue to Governor's Office to Call for Action on Overdose Crisis. Activists and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose marched through Manhattan on International Overdose Awareness Day to demand Gov. Cuomo (D) take action on the overdose crisis. Amid the seventh straight year of increased overdose deaths in NYC -- 2017 being the deadliest year on record -- the community brought pictures and stories of their loved ones to Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office and demanded he takes action with evidence-based public health interventions to end the crisis.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Finalizes 2018-2019 Priorities. In a notice printed in the Federal Register Thursday, the US Sentencing Commission laid out is policy priorities for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019. The priorities include reexamining sentencing guidelines in the wake of the Booker decision, implementing its 2016 recommendations on sentencing enhancements to focus on actual violent offenders, and continuing its efforts to implement reforms in mandatory minimum sentencing, among others.

Chronicle AM: CA Ends Cash Bail But It May Be Worse, Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Passes, More.... (8/30/18)

California ends cash bail for criminal defendants -- but cash bail opponents don't think it was worth it -- the Northern Marianas Islands legislature passes a marijuana legalization bill, Oregon activists look forward to cannabis cafes, and more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs landmark legislation essentially ending cash bail for prisoners awaiting trial. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Announces Series of "Listening Sessions" on Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has announced that state officials will hold a series of "listening sessions" about marijuana legalization beginning next week. "Community input is critical as we work to draft balanced and comprehensive legislation on a regulated marijuana program in New York," Cuomo said in a press release. "The multi-agency report identified the benefits of a regulated marijuana market, and with these listening sessions, we are taking another important step to develop a model program for New York. We look forward to hearing what New Yorkers in every corner of the state have to say." The announcement comes a day after the Assembly announced it would hold a series of public hearings on the issue this fall.

Northern Marianas Legislature Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Northern Marianas' Commonwealth Legislature has approved a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult and medical use. H.B. 20-178 will now be sent to Gov. Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres for his consideration. The House approved the bill 18-1-1 on August 8 and the Senate approved it 6-0-2 on Thursday. The bill allows adults to possess up to an ounce of weed and register to grow up to six mature and 12 immature plants at home. It also directs the legislature to set taxes and fees on regulated marijuana businesses.

Oregon Activists Want Cannabis Cafes, Could Go Initiative Route if Legislature Doesn't Act. The marijuana advocacy group the New Revenue Coalition says it will push lawmakers next year to legalize the existence of cafes and lounges dedicated to onsite marijuana consumption. The group also plans to begin gathering signatures for a 2020 initiative as a back-up plan." Cannabis consumers deserve a place to use their cannabis safely and legally. This is a social justice issue that disproportionately affects the poor, patients and communities of color," said Madeline Martinez, a national board member for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and executive director of Oregon NORML.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Regulators Add New Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has released updated medical marijuana regulations that add new qualifying conditions for adults and children. The conditions include spasticity or pain associated with fibromyalgia, severe rheumatoid arthritis, post-herpetic neuralgia, hydrocephalus with intractable headache, neuropathic facial pain, and muscular dystrophy.

Michigan Regulators Propose Allowing Online Orders, Home Delivery. The state's Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation have proposed a rule to allow online orders and home delivery. The rule is aimed at helping people who don't live near a marijuana supplier. A public hearing is set for next month.

Criminal Justice

California Governor Signs Bill to End Cash Bail. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Tuesday signed into law a bill that almost entirely ends the state's cash bail system. Instead, judges will have greater power to decide who should remain behind bars awaiting trial. Senate Bill 10 would virtually eliminate cash bail. "Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly," Brown said in a statement. Human Rights Watch was among the criminal justice reform groups who don't see it that way. In mid-August they pulled support for the bill, saying it would substitute one bad system for another.

Medical Marijuana Update

Oregon drastically reduces the daily purchase limit for patients, Oklahoma continues to try to get its nascent system up and running, and more.

Illinois

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill to allow patients to use medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids. "Opioid abuse disorder is taking the lives of Illinoisans, thousands of lives. Opioid abuse disorder is disrupting and destroying families across our state and across the country," Rauner said at the bill signing at the Chicago Recovery Alliance. "We've got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic, and today, I'm proud to sign a bill that helps us stop this epidemic. Medical cannabis creates an opportunity to treat pain in a less intrusive, less obstructive way than opioids."

Oklahoma Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations Now Open for Public Comment. State officials are now asking the public for its input on the regulation and implementation of medical marijuana in the state. "Lawmakers in the legislative working group are seeking a path forward to implement State Question 788 in a way that conforms to the desires of voters who passed the law," said Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka). "To do that effectively, the working group needs as much input as possible from citizens -- supporters, advocates, patients, health-care providers, public safety and law enforcement officers and even those who have concerns. I would encourage all Oklahomans who have an interest in this issue to use this opportunity to share input and have their voices heard." Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Messages will then be shared with members of the working group.

Oregon

Oregon Regulators Slash Daily Purchase Limit for Patients. In a bid to reduce leakage into the black market, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last Thursday dramatically reduced the amount of medical marijuana patients can purchase each day. Medical cardholders may now buy only one ounce a day, not the 24 ounces that had been the limit. The emergency change is in effect until December 27.

Utah

Mormon Church Sends Out Letter Opposed Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Latter Day Saints has mailed a letter to church members urging a "no" vote on the state's November medical marijuana initiative. The letter claims the measure would create "a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More jail and prison guards gone bad, a kinky New Jersey cop is in trouble, and more. Let's get to it:

In Raymond, Mississippi, two Hinds County jail guards were arrested last Tuesday on suspicion they were providing drugs and other contraband to inmates. Guards Marcell Anderson, 21, and Shauntavia Lee, 26, went down after narcotics investigators got a tip. They face separate charges of possessing marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, Xanax, and meth in a correctional facility with the intent to distribute.

In Monroe Township, New Jersey, a Monroe Police officer was arrested last Wednesday for misusing a police database to provide information to drug suspects. Sgt. Jody Collins, 41, is also accused of engaging in sexual activity on duty and providing money to settle a drug debt by someone known to sell drugs. He is charged with official misconduct and computer crimes.

In Forest Park, Ohio, a now former Colerain Township police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges she stole medications from a home "while there on official business." Ashley Meyer allegedly stole the medications in late 2017 and they showed up being offered for sale in January of this year. When police searched Meyer's home, they also found methamphetamine, marijuana, and "a white powder substances, possibly crack cocaine or heroin" inside. Meyer is charged with theft in office, trafficking in drugs, and drug possession.

In Salisbury, Delaware, a state prison guard was sentenced Tuesday to more than four years in federal prison in a massive conspiracy to smuggle and sell drugs. Former guard Rachelle Hankerson, 28, was one of 18 guards among 80 total defendants in the case and pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. She is the 77th of the 80 to be sent to prison. She admitted charging inmates and their "facilitators" at least $500 for each package of contraband smuggled into the prison.

Chronicle AM: White House's Anti-Pot Committee, IL Gov OKs MedMJ for Opioids, More... (8/29/18)

The Trump administration has a secret committee to trash pot, Canada okays a roadside drug testing device for motorists, Illinois becomes the latest state to allow medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Trump Administration Has Secret Committee to Trash Pot. The White House has created a multi-agency committee to combat rising public support for marijuana legalization and make legalization initiatives look bad, according to a report today in Buzzfeed News. The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee has instructed federal agencies including the DEA to come up with and submit "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" about marijuana and the "threat" in poses to the country. Reports from the committee will be used to brief Trump "on marijuana threats." The committee is being coordinated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

New Jersey Attorney General Issues Guidance on Marijuana-Related Prosecutions. The Office of the Attorney General issued guidance to municipal prosecutors regarding prosecution of marijuana-related cases. This guidance comes after Attorney General Gurbir Grewal convened a working group on marijuana prosecutions earlier this summer. The guidance reaffirms that local prosecutors cannot decriminalize marijuana possession, but they can use their discretion on a case-by-case basis "based on the particular facts and applicable law, and consistent with their ethical obligations to the state, the defendants, and the courts." The guidance merely highlights the need for the state to actually pass marijuana legalization, advocates said.

New York Assembly to Hold Public Hearings on Marijuana Legalization. The Assembly will hold four public hearings this fall on whether and how to legalize marijuana. These hearings will follow a well-attended hearing in the Assembly on the topic earlier this year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has recently embraced legalization, and a legalization bill is before the Assembly.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill to allow patients to use medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids. "Opioid abuse disorder is taking the lives of Illinoisans, thousands of lives. Opioid abuse disorder is disrupting and destroying families across our state and across the country," Rauner said at the bill signing at the Chicago Recovery Alliance. "We've got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic, and today, I'm proud to sign a bill that helps us stop this epidemic. Medical cannabis creates an opportunity to treat pain in a less intrusive, less obstructive way than opioids."

International

Canada Approves First Roadside Drug Test Device for Marijuana. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has approved a device designed to detect whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana. The device is the Drager Drug Test 5000, which allows police to check drivers' saliva for the presence of THC, as well as amphetamines, opioids, cocaine, and methadone. The device has plenty of critics, who say it is prone to false positives and false negatives. Officials will also have to determine what level of THC indicates impairment and whether the results will hold up in court.

Study: Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths "Bad Criminal Justice Policy" [FEATURE]

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history -- more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose -- or sometimes just the people who shared it -- with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Drug-induced homicide charges are a regression to the lock 'em up policies of last century's drug war. (ussc.gov)
Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, "America's Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis" concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective -- it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in US history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking -- yet completely unsurprising -- finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount -- or totally disregard -- legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into US jurisprudence, however."

"Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

The Opioid Crisis Could Cost a Half Million Lives in the Next Decade

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in mid-August, showed a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths last year, with 49,000 related to heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids. According to the authors of a study released last week in the American Journal of Public Health, that could be the new normal.

The study, by Stanford researchers Allison Pitt, Keith Humphreys, and Margaret Brandeau, attempts to assess the number of opioid-related deaths we could expect to see over the next decade, as well as the impact of different policy responses on reducing the death toll.

The researchers said there are steps that can be taken to reduce the death toll, but also that some seemingly simple solutions, such as cracking down on opioid prescribing for chronic pain, could actually increase the toll. And even those policies that could cut the opioid death rate are likely to do so only marginally.

Using a mathematical model, the researchers estimate that some 510,000 people will die over the next decade because of opioid use. The number includes not only drug overdoses but also other opioid-related deaths, such as HIV infections caused by shared needles.

Even including the non-overdose deaths, the number is staggering. Last year was the worst year ever for opioid-related overdose deaths, but this research suggests we are going to see year after year of similar numbers.

Making the overdose reversal drug naloxone more widely available could cut opioid-related deaths by 21,200 over the next decade, allowing greater access to medication-assisted therapies with drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone would save another 12,500 lives, and reducing opioid prescribing for acute pain would prevent another 8,000 deaths, the researchers said. But those three policy moves combined would shave less than 10 percent off the overall death toll.

"No single policy is likely to substantially reduce deaths over 5 to 10 years," the researchers wrote.

While harm reduction interventions such as those above would save lives, some aspects of tightening opioid prescribing would actually increase opioid-related deaths by as much as the tens of thousands -- because they increase heroin deaths more than they cut painkiller deaths. Moves such as reducing prescribing for chronic pain, up-scheduling pain relievers to further restrict their prescribing, and prescription drug monitoring programs all tend to push existing prescription opioid users into the illicit heroin and fentanyl markers all end up contributing to net increases in opioid deaths over the 10-year period, the researchers found.

On the other hand, other interventions on the prescribing front, such as reducing acute prescribing for acute pain (pain that may be signficant but is short-term), reducing prescribing for transitional pain, reformulating drugs to make them less susceptible to misuse, and opioid disposal programs, appear to prevent more deaths than they cause.

Ultimately, reducing the opioid death toll includes reducing the size of the opioid-using population, the researchers say. That implies making addiction treatment more available for those currently using and preventing the initiation of a new generation of opioid users. Restrictions on prescribing, while possibly driving some current users to dangerous illicit markets, can have a long-term impact by reducing the number of people who develop a dependence on opioids.

Whether that's a tolerable tradeoff for those pain patients who don't get the relief they need from other medications -- or for patients and others who end up dying from street heroin but might have lived despite their prescription opioid use -- is a different question.

By all appearances, when it comes to the loss of life around opioids, it looks like a pretty sad decade ahead of us.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: DOJ Takes Aim at SISes, States Demand Congress Act on Pot Banking, More... (8/28/18)

Even as a California safer injection site bill approaches final passage, the Justice Department takes aim at the harm reduction practice; state financial regulators want Congress to act on marijuana banking, and more.

Vancouver's InSite safer injection site. Coming soon to San Francisco? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Financial Regulators Call on Congress to Deal With Marijuana Banking Problems. The top financial regulators in 13 states sent a letter last week to congressional leaders demanding that they take action to protect banks working with marijuana businesses. The conflicts between state-level legalization and federal prohibition have created confusion in the financial sector and jeopardized public safety, the regulators said. "It is incumbent on Congress to resolve the conflict between state cannabis programs and federal statutes that effectively create unnecessary risk for banks seeking to operate in this space without the looming threat of civil actions, forfeiture of assets, reputational risk, and criminal penalties," the regulators wrote. "While Congress has taken some action, such as the Rohrabacher amendment prohibiting federal funds being used to inhibit state medicinal marijuana programs, this has been an impermanent approach that requires a permanent resolution." Regulators from Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington State signed the letter.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations Now Open for Public Comment. State officials are now asking the public for its input on the regulation and implementation of medical marijuana in the state. "Lawmakers in the legislative working group are seeking a path forward to implement State Question 788 in a way that conforms to the desires of voters who passed the law," said Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka). "To do that effectively, the working group needs as much input as possible from citizens -- supporters, advocates, patients, health-care providers, public safety and law enforcement officers and even those who have concerns. I would encourage all Oklahomans who have an interest in this issue to use this opportunity to share input and have their voices heard." Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Messages will then be shared with members of the working group.

Harm Reduction

Justice Department Attacks Safer Injection Sites. In an op-ed in the New York Times titled "Fight Drug Abuse, Don't Subsidize It," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attacked safer injection sites as "very dangerous" and argued they would "only make the opioid crisis worse." He also points out that they are federally illegal and warns that violations are punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. His op-ed comes as cities such as New York, Seattle, and San Francisco advance plans to open such facilities in a bid to reduce harms.

California Safer Injection Site Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted Monday to approve Assembly Bill 186, which will allow the city of San Francisco to undertake a three-year, pilot safer injection site program. The bill now goes back to the Assembly for a final concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Signs Opioid Bill, VT Dems Want Full MJ Legalization, More... (8/27/18)

An Arizona prosecutor gets challenged for trying to profit off small-time pot offenders, Oregon regulators slash the daily purchase amounts for medical marijuana patients, a Louisiana prisoner featured in the Chronicle years ago gets a break, and more.

Oregon patients will only be able to buy one ounce a day under new emergency rules. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona County Attorney Sued Over Drug Court Diversion Program for Smalltime Marijuana Offenders. The Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, and a local law firm have sued Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery. They allege that he and the county drug court diversion program are preying on and profiting off people charged with minor pot possession offenses. Under the state's harsh laws, possession of even small amounts is a felony, but first- and second-time offenders are eligible for a diversion program. The problem is the diversion program has a $1,000 fee, and those who cannot pay the entire fee linger in the program, paying $15 to $20 fees for drug testing as often as several times a week and face being tried as felons if they fail to complete the program. "The complaint explains that the marijuana diversion program operated by TASC Inc. and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office represents a two-tiered legal system," Civil Rights Corps Attorney Dami Animashaun said in a statement. "Wealthy people buy their way off diversion quickly, while poor people risk being expelled from the program and prosecuted for a felony solely because they cannot afford to pay."

Vermont Democrats Call for Taxed, Regulated Legal Marijuana Sales. Vermont has already legalized the personal possession and home cultivation of marijuana, and now the state's Democratic Party has formally endorsed expanding legalization to include taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales. "We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity," reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party's platform convention on Sunday.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Regulators Slash Daily Purchase Limit for Patients. In a bid to reduce leakage into the black market, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last Thursday dramatically reduced the amount of medical marijuana patients can purchase each day. Medical cardholders may now buy only one ounce a day, not the 24 ounces that had been the limit. The emergency change is in effect until December 27.

Illinois Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Saturday signed a bill legalizing industrial hemp, the Illinois Hemp Act. "Legalizing the farming of industrial hemp just makes good sense," Rauner said in a statement. "Roughly 38 states -- including our neighbors in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee -- have allowed or are considering allowing cultivation of this crop for commercial, research or pilot programs. Our farmers should have this option as well." The state Department of Agriculture will issue licenses to farmers who want to grow it, and regulators will establish rules for THC-level testing of industrial hemp crops.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Legislation To Expand Use Of Rehabilitation And Diversion Services To Combat Heroin And Opioid Epidemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed legislation (A.10403/S.8760) to help in the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic by diverting substance-dependent individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system. This legislation provides another form of support to prosecutors and law enforcement officers as they seek treatment and counseling for people who are addicted to opioids. These diversion models include law enforcement assisted diversion, known as LEAD, and other programs treating substance abuse and addiction. The legislation expands the allowable use of funding from seized or forfeited assets by law enforcement and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse."We must use every tool at our disposal to combat this nation's opioid epidemic and the underlying issues that lead people to commit crime, and this legislation makes available additional funding to help New Yorkers in need," Governor Cuomo said. "By helping New Yorkers turn their lives around, this program helps strengthen communities, increase public safety and break the vicious cycle of recidivism once and for all."

Sentencing

One Louisiana Man Gets a Sentence Cut. A Louisiana man sentenced to life in prison for marijuana possession as a habitual offender has received a sentence reduction that will allow him to go free in a matter of weeks. Jody Butler's case was covered by the Chronicle's Clarence Walker back in 2013, but it took until now for justice to be done. New Orleans Parish District Attorney, who made a career of imposing long sentences on small-time drug offenders, raised no objection to a sentence reduction in Butler's case, the latest in which he has backpedaled away from his earlier, harsher stance.

Chronicle AM: Good NJ, WI Pot Polls; OH Drug Defelonization Initiative, More... (8/24/18)

New polls in New Jersey and Wisconsin show solid support for marijuana legalization, Chicago harm reduction pioneer Dan Big has died too early, the FDA approves clinical trials of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, an Ohio drug defelonization initiative is on the November ballot, and more.

magic mushrooms (Flickr/Green)
Marijuana Policy

California Legislature Passes Bill to Overturn Old Marijuana Convictions. The state Senate Wednesday approved Assembly Bill 1793, which directs prosecutors throughout the state to overturn convictions for acts that are no longer illegal under the state's Prop 64 marijuana legalization initiative. The bill would also reduce many felony convictions for marijuana-related crimes to misdemeanors. It was approved by the Assembly in May and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

New Jersey Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. Among respondents between 18 and 34, that figure was 90%. The poll comes as Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders push to get a legalization bill passed next month.

Wisconsin Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A new Marquette Law poll has support for legalization in the Dairy State at 61%. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is opposed to marijuana legalization, calling it a gateway drug. He's polling at 46% in the same poll.

Medical Marijuana

Mormon Church Sends Out Letter Opposed Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Latter Day Saints has mailed a letter to church members urging a "no" vote on the state's November medical marijuana initiative. The letter claims the measure would create "a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls."

Psychedelics

FDA Approves Psychedelic Magic Mushrooms Ingredient Psilocybin for Depression Trial. The Food & Drug Administration has approved the use of psilocybin for a drug trial in treatment-resistant depression. Compass Pathways, a life sciences firm, now has a green light to perform the clinical trials. The phase two trial with 216 patients will get underway next month.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Harm Reduction Pioneer Dan Bigg Dead at 59. Dan Bigg, a co-founder of the Chicago Recovery Alliance and a long-time activist died Tuesday at his home. The cause of death remains undetermined pending further tests. He was a pioneering needle exchange worker in the 1990s and pushed for putting naloxone in the hands of drug users and their loved ones as opioid overdose deaths began to soar more than a decade ago. Friends and colleagues said that thousands of people who could have died from overdoses or infectious disease are alive today because of Bigg's stalwart activism. He will be missed.

Sentencing

Ohio Initiative Would Defelonize Drug Possession, Cut Sentences. Voters in the Buckeye State will vote on a constitutional amendment that would reduce penalties for non-violent drug crimes by making drug use and possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Issue 1 also bars the jailing of probationers merely for drug use or possession and allows sentence reductions of up to 25% for inmates who participate in rehabilitation, work, or educational programming.

In Memoriam: Dan Bigg, a Giant of Harm Reduction Gone Much Too Soon

Harm reductionists, drug policy reformers, and many others are mourning the unexpected passing of Dan Bigg at age 59 this week.

Dan Bigg (courtesy Suzanne Michelle)
Dan, a cofounder and the long-term executive director of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, played a leading role advancing syringe exchange in the United States, and more recently naloxone distribution to prevent heroin overdoses. He was a 2017 Chicago Magazine Chicagoan of the Year, and received the Drug Policy Alliance's 2015 Norman ZInberg Award.

The Fix called Dan "The Patron Saint of Harm Reduction" in a notable 2014 interview, and the Chicago Tribune described his work as "revolutionary." The AIDS Foundation of Chicago and The Harm Reduction Coalition are among the organizations publishing tributes. Of course numerous tributes can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

I didn't realize, but learned from a colleague quoted in the Chicagoan, CRA was the first place to distribute naloxone for overdose reversal. The Drug Reporter interviewed Dan about naloxone in 2010, and he gave extensive comments to our own newsletter in 2008.

On a personal note, since meeting Dan in 1994 I saw him many times at conferences. In hotels full of supportive people, he stood out for his supportiveness. Doubtless many others feel the same way.

As a drug policy reformer I also found it empowering that someone with that kind of stature, in his community and in public health, not only believed in ending prohibition and its ultimate necessity for harm reduction, but was willing to say so.

Family has asked for donations to Team CRA for the AIDS Run & Walk Chicago.

Help Us Stop a Major Human Rights Crisis Caused by the Drug War

While much of the world moves toward compassionate drug policy reform, a populist would-be dictator has led one country cruelly backwards. Since taking office, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has orchestrated a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings, mainly as part of his "drug war." Credible estimates for the number of dead range from at least 12,000 to well over 20,000 and rising since mid-2016.

Ominously, a "Duterte effect" in the region has led to extrajudicial drug war killings in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level officials in Malaysia and Turkey have also called for killings or other extrajudicial violence. In a move that has comforted human rights violators everywhere, President Trump has praised Duterte's drug war, twice.

"There are 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have..." [points at himself]
- Rodrigo Duterte, September 2016 (source: Reuters)

We at StoptheDrugWar.org ask your help in stopping this drug war tragedy that threatens global human rights:

Watch the powerful video from Senator Risa Hontiveros of the Philippines, sent for our event at the UN in New York last month:

Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,


David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC

P.S. Our Philippines campaign flows from work we're doing at the United Nations seeking reform of the UN drug treaties to clear the way more for legalization, while advocating drug policies based on health and human rights. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global to learn more about that side of our work.

Bad Law Men: A Devil’s Half-Dozen Drug-Corrupted County Sheriffs [FEATURE]

Last week, the good citizens of Mississippi's Tallahatchie County got a rude shock. The county's top lawmen, Sheriff William Brewer, was at the courthouse, which was not unusual. This time, though, he was dressed not in his sheriff's uniform but in an orange prisoner jumpsuit to face federal criminal drug trafficking charges.

According to a federal indictment, over a period of 15 years, Sheriff Brewer had conspired with a local ne'er-do-well to have that person repeatedly rob drug dealers, give stolen cash to Brewer, sell the drugs, then give Brewer part of the proceeds. In return, that man got a free ride for his own methamphetamine trafficking activities. Well, until he started coming up with his own meth supply. When Brewer found out about that, he started demanding a $500 or $600 payment every week for the dealer to carry out his work unimpeded. The dealer eventually became an FBI informant and took his former partner down.

Brewer has now resigned as sheriff, and he has not yet been convicted of anything, but his arrest on drug and extortion charges is yet another disturbing example of the corrosive impact on law enforcement of enforcing drug prohibition.

County sheriffs are unique figures in the American law enforcement landscape. Unlike police chiefs or the heads of federal law enforcement agencies, they are typically elected, not appointed. They are subject to little effective oversight except from voters at the polling booth. They control policing not only of all county territory not handled by municipal police forces, but also the county jail and the policing of the courthouse. They control their own law enforcement fiefdoms.

And they sometimes turn to the dark side. For the past dozen years, Drug War Chronicle has covered drug prohibition-related law enforcement misbehavior in a recurring feature, "This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories." During that period, hundreds of police officers, DEA agents, FBI agents, Customs and Border Patrol agents, jail and prison guards, and sheriff's deputies have gone down for one or more of the myriad forms of dirty drug policing.

Law enforcement misbehavior has run the gamut from planting drugs on innocent people to ripping off drug dealers and selling their stashes to sexual coercion to lying on search warrants to lying in court to pocketing cash from drug busts to embezzling asset forfeiture funds, and even stealing drugs from those drug dropoff boxes.

It's bad enough when the people charged with enforcing the law flout it, but it's arguably more disheartening and corrosive when the corrupt cops are the very people charged with heading law enforcement offices, such as county sheriffs. There are more than 3,000 of them, holding office in every state except Alaska (no county governments), Connecticut (replaced by State Marshals), and Hawaii (deputies serve in a division of the Department of Public Safety). The vast majority of them are honest law enforcement professionals.

But some are notoriously not. Each year, one or two or three county sheriffs find themselves on the wrong side of the law because of drugs, whether it's stealing them, selling them, or gobbling them down themselves. And sometimes, when they break bad, they do so in a spectacular fashion. Here are a half-dozen of the most outrageous from the past decade alone:

Oklahoma's Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess Burgess was hit in 2008 with a 35-count indictment charging him with coercing and bribing female inmates to participate in sex acts. He was hit with 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy, and five counts of bribery by a public official, among other charges. A federal lawsuit filed by 12 former inmates alleges that Burgess and his employees had them participate in wet T-shirt contests and gave cigarettes to inmates who would flash their breasts. Another prisoner alleged she was given trusty status after agreeing to perform a sex act on Burgess, but lost that status when she later refused. After a jury trial, now former Sheriff Burgess was convicted of 13 felonies, including five counts of second-degree rape and three counts of bribery by a public official. Testimony included that of several former female inmates who testified they feared they would be sent to prison if they did not provide sexual favors to the sheriff, as well as two female drug court participants. Burgess sexually assaulted one of them in his patrol car after arresting her for a drug court violation. In March 2009, he was sentenced to 79 years in prison.

Texas's Montague County Sheriff Bill Keating. Another badge-wearing pervert, Keating, 62, went down for a November 2008 drug raid at a home where the victim and her boyfriend lived. The boyfriend was arrested on outstanding warrants and removed by sheriff's deputies, who then searched the house and found meth paraphernalia. Sheriff Keating shooed the remaining deputy out of the bedroom, closed the door, and told the victim, "You are about to be my new best friend." He then threatened to arrest her on drug charges unless she "assisted" him by performing oral sex on him on multiple occasions and becoming a snitch for him. Keating pleaded guilty in that case in January 2009, but was then indicted along with nine jail guards -- seven women and two men -- for official oppression over allegations that the county jail was like Animal House. That indictment features multiple allegations of guards and inmates doing drugs and having sex with each other under Keatings' watch. Keating was looking at up to 10 years in prison on the original charge when he died of a heart attack in July 2009. The federal charges against him were subsequently dismissed.

Illinois's Gallatin County Sheriff Raymond Martin. Sheriff Martin found himself in hot water in 2009, when he was indicted on federal marijuana trafficking charges after being videotaped repeatedly providing pounds of marijuana to a local man, who would sell the weed and then give Martin the proceeds. That man became an informant for the DEA after Martin threatened him with death when he said he wanted out. It only got worse from there. While in jail awaiting trial, Martin, his wife, and their 20-year-old son were all arrested again, this time on solicitation of murder charges for plotting to knock off the guy who ratted them out. In September 2010, Martin was convicted of 15 counts in the drug trafficking and murder-for-hire scheme. He was sentenced to two life terms in federal prison in January 2011.

South Carolina's Florence County Sheriff E.J. Melvin. The only black sheriff on this list, Melvin was indicted on dozens of federal charges along with 11 others in 2011 for a massive and complex cocaine trafficking conspiracy. He was accused of dealing cocaine from his official vehicle, extorting money from drug dealers for protection or to get reduced charges. State police agents testified that they give Melvin a list of possible drug dealers, only to have him tip them off and arrange to get payments from them to keep the agents away. In addition to the massive cocaine conspiracy, involving multiple kilograms of the drug over a multi-year period, he was also accused of ripping off $5,000 in victim assistance funds for personal use. He ended up convicted on 37 of 43 counts and is now serving a 17-year federal prison sentence.

Kentucky's Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge. Hodge was indicted on both state and federal charges in 2011 for stealing around $350,000 over a seven-year period, including $100,000 he claimed was used in drug investigations. That wasn't all: Hodge was also charged with ripping off drug dealers and then funneling them to a local attorney. He would get a $50,000 kickback, the department would get a $50,000 "donation," and the dealers would get more lenient treatment. Oh, and he admitted to being strung out on pain pills. Hodge is now doing 15 years of federal time and 17 years of state time, and when he gets out, he has to pay back some $350,000.

Oklahoma's Love County Sheriff Marion "Joe" Russell. Russell was arrested in 2016 on charges of corruption, neglect of duty, and housing a fugitive, but it gets hinkier than that. He was accused of turning a blind eye to meth dealing out of his own home by his adult son, covering up a missing person case where another family member is the main suspect. His son, Willie Russell, had already pleaded guilty to meth dealing. The fugitive, a young woman, was dating Willie and staying at the sheriff's house even though she had four arrest warrants outstanding. Russell would remind her that she was in a "safe haven," and when she left anyway, he arrested her and the man she moved in with -- for harboring a fugitive. He was also accused of arresting drunken women in bikinis and taking them to his house instead of to jail. There, they were allegedly sexually assaulted and given meth. The missing persons case involves a young couple who were last seen in a car owned by Russell's nephew. That couple, Molly Miller and Colt Haynes, are still missing, but Russell is now in the clear, having copped a plea deal that resulted in one year of probation and $370 in court costs.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Medical Marijuana Update

Oklahoma continues to grapple with its new medical marijuana program, Utah foes try a novel strategy to block a medical marijuana initiative, and more.

Louisiana

Louisiana Regulators Weight Raising Limit on Number of Patients Doctors Can Treat. The state Board of Medical Examiners is set to boost the number of medical marijuana patients a single doctor can treat. The board set a limit of 100 patients per doctor in 2016, but Vincent Culotta, the board's executive director, said the limit will be raised at the board's meeting next month. "We realize we're going to have to increase that number," he said.

New Jersey

New Jersey Business Can Drug Test Medical Marijuana Patient, Federal Court Rules. A federal district court judge has ruled that a New Jersey business does not have to waive its requirement for mandatory drug testing to accommodate a worker who uses medical marijuana. The worker had sued the company after it wouldn't allow him to return to work unless he submitted to drug testing. "New Jersey law does not require private employers to waive drug tests for users of medical marijuana," Judge Robert Kugler wrote in his decision. He also noted that "unless expressly provided for by statute, most courts have concluded that the decriminalization of medical marijuana does not shield employees from adverse employment actions."

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment Initiative Fails to Make Ballot. An initiative that would have put the right to use medical marijuana in the state constitution will not appear on the November ballot. That initiative, State Question796, came up short on signatures. It needed more than 123,000 valid voter signatures but came up with only 95,000 raw signatures. Voters in Oklahoma approved a statutory medical marijuana initiative earlier this year.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Groups Agree on Proposed Bill. Advocates led by New Health Solutions have crafted a 202-page bill designed to get the state's nascent, voter-approved medical marijuana law up and running. The bill would postpone any limits on the number of business license holders for two years and eliminates a requirement that the state investigate proposed medical marijuana businesses and their backers before issuing licenses. It also lets residential landlords charge a $250 fee for marijuana use on their property, removes state restrictions on gun ownership with a medical marijuana license and would also protect employees working in infrastructure operations and maintenance who want to obtain a license. Advocates say the legislature needs to return in special session to iron out last-minute hitches and avoid delays in implementing the program. The Department of Health is supposed to begin accepting license applications on Friday.

Oklahoma Judge Rules Implementation of Medical Marijuana Rules Can Proceed. Cleveland County District Court Judge Michael Tupper ruled Tuesday that the Board of Health can proceed with implementing the state's medical marijuana rules and regulations. He ruled against a lawsuit by more than a dozen Oklahoma patients and businesses who challenged the rules. The decision Tuesday does not end the case. The judge could still throw out some or all the challenged rules at a later date or choose to leave them alone again. Another legal challenge is still pending in Oklahoma County District Court.

Utah

Utah Medical Marijuana Foes Try Hail Mary Court Challenge to Block Initiative. Opponents of the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative filed a lawsuit in state court last Wednesday seeking to remove the measure from the ballot. The opponents claim the initiative would tread on their freedom of religion because it violates the religious beliefs of a Mormon foe. "In the United States of America, members of all religions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have a constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs," the complaint reads. "This includes the right not to consort with, be around, or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant." Proponents of the initiative called the move "a wacky attempt" by foes to derail medical marijuana.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: CA Senate Passes SIS Bill, Black Vets More Likely to Be Drug Tested, More... (8/22/18)

Louisiana doctors could soon treat more medical marijuana patients, black VA patients on opioid therapy are more likely to be drug tested and have their treatment halted for illicit drug use than whites, a Georgia judge throws out a heroin murder conviction, and more.

A facility like Vancouver's InSite could be coming to San Francisco. A bill to make it happen is moving in Sacramento. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Regulators Weight Raising Limit on Number of Patients Doctors Can Treat. The state Board of Medical Examiners is set to boost the number of medical marijuana patients a single doctor can treat. The board set a limit of 100 patients per doctor in 2016, but Vincent Culotta, the board's executive director, said the limit will be raised at the board's meeting next month. "We realize we're going to have to increase that number," he said.

Oklahoma Judge Rules Implementation of Medical Marijuana Rules Can Proceed. Cleveland County District Court Judge Michael Tupper ruled Tuesday that the Board of Health can proceed with implementing the state's medical marijuana rules and regulations. He ruled against a lawsuit by more than a dozen Oklahoma patients and businesses who challenged the rules. The decision Tuesday does not end the case. The judge could still throw out some or all the challenged rules at a later date or choose to leave them alone again. Another legal challenge is still pending in Oklahoma County District Court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study Finds African-American VA Patients More Likely to Be Drug Tested, Have Prescriptions Stopped. Black VA patients on long-term opioid therapy are more likely to be drug tested by their doctors and much more likely to have their opioid prescriptions halted if any illegal drug use is found, a new study finds. About 25% of black patients were tested within six months of being prescribed opioids, while only 16% of whites were. Black patients were twice as likely as white ones to have their opioid therapy halted if they tested positive for marijuana and three times as likely if they tested positive for cocaine. The findings were published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Georgia Judge Dismisses Indictment in Heroin Overdose Death. A Georgia judge has dismissed a murder indictment against a man accused of injecting heroin into another man who overdosed and died. In the case, Superior Court Judge John Goger found that the defendant injected the fatal dose at the victim's request and that the victim had purchased the drug himself. Goger held that that didn't amount to heroin distribution by the defendant, and without the underlying drug felony, there is no felony murder.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Passes Bill to Permit Safe Injection Sites in San Francisco. The state Senate Wednesday approved Assembly Bill 186, which would allow San Francisco to implement a safe injection site. AB 186 permits San Francisco to establish facilities where individuals can use controlled substances under the supervision of staff that are trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing, healthcare, and other services. Mayor London Breed, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well as a significant majority of the San Francisco electorate, support piloting safe injection sites in San Francisco.

Trump's Tariffs and Trade War Will Hit the Marijuana Industry, Too

The Trump administration has included vaping devices and their components among the Chinese products subject to punitive tariffs, and that's going to have an impact on the marijuana industry. But it's not just vaping devices: Many other products made in China, from fixtures to packaging materials and more that are used in the pot industry, are also subject to increased tariffs.

The bottom line will be increased costs for legal marijuana companies and increased prices for their customers. To the degree that tariffs subdue growth in legal marijuana markets, they could also end up putting a hit on marijuana tax revenues for states and localities.

Companies selling vaping products are on the front line, said Arnaud Dumas de Rauly, co-CEO of the Blinc Group, which develops and sells technology and products related to vaping and runs an incubator program to research, develop, and brand technologies for marijuana and nicotine vaping. Dumas de Rauly made his comments in July 24 testimony at public hearings on the tariffs held by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The vast majority of vaping devices, as well as batteries, filters, and cartridges, are manufactured in China, Dumas de Rauly noted, and there are currently few alternatives for producing them. But the profit margin on such devices is only 10 to 15 percent, and that means companies will either have to find alternative sources, eat the hit to their bottom lines, or, more likely, pass the increases on to consumers.

And that will have an impact on the "entire cannabis consumption market -- including medical and recreational marijuana," Dumas de Rauly said.

It's not just consumers who will feel the impact, Dumas de Rauly warned. Higher prices mean decreasing sales and shrinking tax revenues and "25 percent of sales come from cannabis vaping products," he said.

The business press, which now actually treats the marijuana business as a real industry, found plenty of people who echoed Dumas de Rauly's sentiments. In an interview with Forbes, Brooke Davies, executive director of Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments, a non-profit trade association representing cannabis retailers in Washington State, said that tariffs were already having an impact. Small growers there, already under pressure from dropping marijuana prices, will see profit margins shrink even further because the glass jars they buy from China to package their buds are being hit by tariffs.

"The Trump tariffs will undoubtedly hurt the rural parts of Washington State," Greg James, publisher of Marijuana Venture and Sun Grower magazines, told Forbes. "There could well be a snowball effect that results in the outdoor growing community having an even harder time selling their crop," he said.

It's not just growers or vaping companies taking a hit. "Any items essential to the day-to-day operations of a cannabis business, from construction equipment to cell phones, will likely increase in price," Kevin Hagan of the Princeton Public Affairs Group told Forbes.

Meanwhile, CNBC reported that unlike other sectors targeted for tariffs, such as imported steel, aluminum, solar panels, and washing machines, whose impacts are slower to show up (how often do you buy a washing machine?), the tariffs on vaping products will have an almost immediate impact. That means consumers will quickly see price increases and adjust their behavior accordingly.

But for some people -- medical marijuana patients -- marijuana isn't a luxury, but a necessity.

"For those who need it, they don't have a choice," Mary Lovely, a professor of economics at Syracuse University and nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., told CNBC.

Maybe they can comfort themselves by reading Donald Trump's tweets. As he exclaimed in a tweet the same day as the Office of U.S. Trade Representative hearings, "Tariffs are the greatest!... All will be Great!"

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Murder Charges for Dealers in ODs "Bad Justice Policy," Study Finds, More... (8/21/18)

Prosecuting opioid dealers for overdose deaths is counterproductive "policy theater," concludes a new study; a key New Jersey politician says the votes are there to pass a legalization bill, and more.

Prosecuting drug dealers for murder in opioid overdose deaths is counterproductive and "bad justice policy," a new study finds.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate President Says He Has Votes to Pass Legalization Bill. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) now says he has the votes needed to pass a marijuana legalization bill, probably next month. He told POLITICO that he will tie together efforts to legalize marijuana and expand medical marijuana so people who support medical will have to vote for recreational. "Don't be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it," Sweeney said, predicting Republicans who support expanding medical marijuana will support legalization, too.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Officially Fails to Make Ballot. Green the Vote organizers admitted earlier this month that they had failed to gather enough signatures to qualify the State Question 797 legalization initiative for the November ballot, and now Secretary of State James Williamson has made it official. He announced Tuesday that initiative supporters had gathered only 102,814 raw signatures. They needed 123,725 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania State Senator Starts Petition Drive to Boost Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) announced Tuesday that he has launched an online petition in support of a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2600. "There are tremendous benefits to legalizing marijuana and few downsides," said Wheatley. "It's estimated that legalization would generate more than $580 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania. That's money to balance our budget, strengthen our economy, bolster our workforce and improve our schools."

Sentencing

Prosecuting Dealers for Opioid Deaths "Bad Justice Policy," Study Concludes. A new study says prosecuting drug dealers for opioid overdose deaths is not only "bad law and bad criminal justice policy," but also exacerbates a public health crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives. Such prosecutions are little more than "policy theater," said study author Leo Beletsky, Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events," Beletsky wrote.

Chronicle AM: Drug Reformer Kofi Annan Dead at 80, OK MedMJ Politicking Continues, More... (8/20/18)

The world loses a global drug reformer, the US Senate could act on a marijuana measure this week, they're still sorting out medical marijuana in Oklahoma, and more.

Kofi Annan. R.I.P. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

US Senate Could Vote This Week on Amendment to Require Feds to Study Impact of Marijuana Legalization. The Senate could vote this week on an amendment to the Defense, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services funding bill from Sen. Robert Melendez (D-NJ) that would direct those departments to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study cannabis tax revenues, rates of medicinal use, and opioid overdose rates in states where marijuana is legal. The amendment is similar to a standalone bill filed in the House last month by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HA), Carlos Curbelo (D-FL), and others.

North Dakota Cops Come Out Against Legalization Initiative. At its convention in Minot last Friday, the North Dakota Peace Officers Association approved a resolution opposing the state's marijuana legalization initiative. Police expressed concerns about drugged driving and "how at a high school football or soccer game someone can't smoke a tobacco cigarette, but they could smoke a marijuana cigarette." But initiative proponents said state smoking laws would apply to marijuana, too.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment Initiative Fails to Make Ballot. An initiative that would have put the right to use medical marijuana in the state constitution will not appear on the November ballot. That initiative, State Question796, came up short on signatures. It needed more than 123,000 valid voter signatures but came up with only 95,000 raw signatures. Voters in Oklahoma approved a statutory medical marijuana initiative earlier this year.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Groups Agree on Proposed Bill. Advocates led by New Health Solutions have crafted a 202-page bill designed to get the state's nascent, voter-approved medical marijuana law up and running. The bill would postpone any limits on the number of business license holders for two years and eliminates a requirement that the state investigate proposed medical marijuana businesses and their backers before issuing licenses. It also lets residential landlords charge a $250 fee for marijuana use on their property, removes state restrictions on gun ownership with a medical marijuana license and would also protect employees working in infrastructure operations and maintenance who want to obtain a license. Advocates say the legislature needs to return in special session to iron out last-minute hitches and avoid delays in implementing the program. The Department of Health is supposed to begin accepting license applications on Friday.

International

Kofi Annan Dead at 80. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has died at age 80. He was also a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which issued the following statement on his death: "It is with deep sadness and a tremendous sense of loss that the members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy have learned of the passing of their esteemed colleague Kofi Annan today, Saturday, 18 August 2018. A former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Commissioner Annan worked tirelessly for peace throughout his life, and addressed the many challenges confronting the world with wisdom and pragmatism. He initiated the move towards eradicating extreme poverty with the Millenium Development Goals and contributed considerably to the global response to HIV.Mr Annan convened the West Africa Commission on Drugs and remained a dedicated member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. He was an ardent advocate for a more humane approach to drug control, stating: "I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more." In his work with the Commission, he displayed the same commitment to protect the dignity, health and human rights of all. Mr Annan will be forever remembered for his contribution to global peace and his profound love and dedication to humanity. The members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy join millions around the world in honoring his memory and express their deep condolences to his family for this great loss."

Chronicle AM: NJ Firm Can Drug Test MedMJ Patient, Egypt Bans "Synthetic Hashish," More... (8/17/18)

A federal judge sides with a New Jersey company against a medical marijuana-using worker, Egypt bans "synthetic hashish," a Mexican state advances a bill to decriminalize opium production, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales says he wants to return to coca farming, but the people demand him. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Business Can Drug Test Medical Marijuana Patient, Federal Court Rules. A federal district court judge has ruled that a New Jersey business does not have to waive its requirement for mandatory drug testing to accommodate a worker who uses medical marijuana. The worker had sued the company after it wouldn't allow him to return to work unless he submitted to drug testing. "New Jersey law does not require private employers to waive drug tests for users of medical marijuana," Judge Robert Kugler wrote in his decision. He also noted that "unless expressly provided for by statute, most courts have concluded that the decriminalization of medical marijuana does not shield employees from adverse employment actions."

International

Bolivia President Says He Wants to Return to Coca Farming, But Country Wants Him. President Evo Morales said Thursday he will seek a fourth term in office, citing broad popular support. "The people ask me to return, I do not want to... I want to return to my region to harvest coca, that's the great desire I have, but it is not easy to reject it when the people push you," Morales said. Morales has led the country since 2006, during which period poverty levels have fallen by 3.5%.

Egypt "Synthetic Hashish" Ban. The Health Ministry this week officially banned six forms of "synthetic hashish," or synthetic cannabinoids. The ministry said the ban applied to six "extremely addictive" substances, but it did not provide the technical names for the banned substances.

Mexican State Moving to Legalize Opium Production for Pharmaceutical Purposes. A legislative committee in the state of Guerrero, Mexico's opium production epicenter, has approved a draft bill to decriminalize the production and sale of opium for pharmaceutical purposes. If the bill is approved by the state legislature, it would then be sent to the federal congress for approval. The law is designed to reduce the impact of federal law enforcement on local producers, but critics worry such a law could be used fraudulently by drug cartels supplying heroin to the US.

Chronicle AM: Overdose Deaths at Record High, DEA Cuts Opioid Production Quotas, More... (8/16/18)

Drug overdose deaths hit another record high last year, the DEA is cutting prescription opioid quotas again, California pot tax revenues are not meeting expectations, and more.

According to the CDC, more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Tax Revenues Still Sluggish. The state has taken in $82 million in marijuana tax revenues in the first six months of 2018, finance officials reported. That's less than half the $185 million anticipated. Politicians and industry figures say that's because illicit sales still flourish and because many localities in the state don't allow retail marijuana sales. At a meeting with state regulators Tuesday, fingers were also pointed at a shaky supply chain, a shortage of licenses, testing problems and restrictions on retail sales and deliveries.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Foes Try Hail Mary Court Challenge to Block Initiative. Opponents of the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative filed a lawsuit in state court Wednesday seeking to remove the measure from the ballot. The opponents claim the initiative would tread on their freedom of religion because it violates the religious beliefs of a Mormon foe. "In the United States of America, members of all religions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have a constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs," the complaint reads. "This includes the right not to consort with, be around, or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant." Proponents of the initiative called the move "a wacky attempt" by foes to derail medical marijuana.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Proposes Big Cuts in Opioid Manufacturing Next Year. The DEA has proposed decreasing the manufacturing quotas for the "six most frequently abused" opioids for next by 10%. That would be the third straight year of reductions. The move is described as part of President Trump's Safe Prescribing Plan, which seeks to "cut nationwide opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years." Neither this proposed cut nor the plan address whether bluntly tightening production quotas could lead to shortages for patients needing them for chronic pain.

Overdose Deaths At Record High Last Year, Driven By Opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Wednesday that preliminary figures showed that more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, up 7% over 2016. Opioids, which include prescription painkillers along with heroin and other illegal synthetic opioid drugs, contributed 49,068 to the total number of overdose deaths, the report indicates. From 2002 to 2017, the CDC estimates a 4.1-fold increase in the total number of deaths due to all types of opioid drugs.

Psychedelics Are Showing Real Promise for Treating Mental Disorders

Research presented at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco last weekend is illuminating the rapid advance of psychedelic science. New findings are adding to a growing mountain of evidence that psychedelics could be effective at treating a range of psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and social anxiety.

The research could be laying the groundwork for legal prescribing of psychedelics including MMDA (ecstasy), ayahuasca, LSD, and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). But that's a way down the road: All of these drugs are currently illegal, classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. (The two plants that combine to make ayahuasca are not illegal, but DMT, the mind-altering ingredient in ayahuasca, is.)

Researchers began studying psychedelics for their potential healing benefits after the discovery of LSD in 1943, but that research came to a screaming halt in the 1960s, when psychedelics were criminalized in the wake of their widespread adoption by the counterculture. Recent years, however, have seen an efflorescence of interest in the therapeutic benefits of the substances -- and it's starting to pay off.

"Combined with psychotherapy, some psychedelic drugs like MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," said Cristina L. Magalhaes, Ph.D., of Alliant International University Los Angeles, and co-chair of a symposium on psychedelics and psychotherapy. "More research and discussion are needed to understand the possible benefits of these drugs, and psychologists can help navigate the clinical, ethical and cultural issues related to their use."

In one study, researchers questioned 159 participants about their spirituality, their relationship with their own emotion, and their use of hallucinogens. Laurentian University's Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., reported that psychedelic use correlated with higher levels of spirituality, which were associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and improved emotional stability.

"This study reinforces the need for the psychological field to consider a larger role for spirituality in the context of mainstream treatment because spiritual growth and a connection to something greater than the self can be fostered," said Lafrance.

An ayahuasca study found similar results. That study suggested the drug could help relieve addiction and depression, as well as helping people cope with trauma.

"We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection, and altruism," said Clancy Cavnar, Ph.D., with the Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (Nucleus of Interdisciplinary Psychoactive Studies).

Another study, led by Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, found that a combination of psychotherapy and MMDA could treat social anxiety in adults on the autism spectrum. In that study, 12 participants with moderate to severe social anxiety twice given doses of MMDA and treated with psychotherapy, and they showed significant, long-lasting reductions in anxiety.

"Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective," said Danforth. "The positive effects of using MDMA and therapy lasted months, or even years, for most of the research volunteers."

Yet another study examined the use of psilocybin in reducing stress and anxiety in people suffering from terminal cancer. In that study, 13 subjects were given psilocybin in conjunction with psychotherapy. Researchers found that the experience helped subjects grapple with their feelings about death and develop new understandings of dying.

"Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence," said Gabby Agin-Liebes, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

After a decades-long lacuna, psychedelic science is back. How long that will take to translate into psychedelics becoming legally available by prescription remains to be seen, but the groundwork is being laid right now.

This Surprising State Could Be the Next to Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

Much attention this year has been focused on marijuana legalization efforts in state legislatures, particularly in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states, but unless Albany and Annapolis and Trenton get their acts together in a hurry, they could be upstaged by a prairie upstart: North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota (GoodFreePhotos.com)
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Monday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by the grassroots group Legalize ND has qualified for the November ballot. The group had handed in more than 17,000 raw signatures last month and needed 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify. On Monday, Jaeger reported 14,637 signatures were valid.

"The Legalize ND campaign was able to successfully channel the grassroots enthusiasm for recreational marijuana," said Legalize ND chairman David Owen.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana since 2012, but all of those states have been in the West or the Northeast. This year, with marijuana legalization on the ballot in Michigan as well as North Dakota, legal weed could make a heartland breakthrough.

The North Dakota initiative has some unique features. Here's what it would and wouldn't do:

  • It would legalize marijuana -- in all its forms -- for people 21 and over by removing marijuana, THC, and hashish from the state's controlled substances schedules.
  • It would provide for the expungement of criminal convictions for anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be legal under the measure.
  • It does not set any limits on how much marijuana people could possess or how many plants they could grow.
  • It does not create a framework for regulated marijuana sales nor does it set any taxes. Creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce would be up to the state legislature.

It's only been two years since North Dakota voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, and the state Health Department is still in the process of setting up a system for producing and distributing the drug. That same year, marijuana legalization supporters came up short on signatures to get on the ballot, but they persevered, and here we are.

North Dakota is a deep red state -- Donald Trump got more than twice as many votes as Hillary Clinton in 2016 -- but the only poll done so far has the initiative leading. The June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

That's good but not great news for Legalize ND. Yes, the initiative is leading, but the conventional wisdom among initiative and referendum watchers is that campaigns should be starting off with at least 60 percent support -- the assumption being that inevitable organized opposition is going to eat away at support levels in the final weeks of the campaign.

And there will be organized opposition. The North Dakota Sheriffs and Deputies Association passed a resolution in May opposing legalization and, now that the initiative has made the ballot, is meeting this week to plot strategy to defeat it.

Association president Pat Rummel, the Billings County sheriff, told the Associated Press this week law enforcement worried about potential problems such as impaired driving, more domestic disputes, and more strain on mental health and addiction treatment facilities.

"We don't have enough facilities to take care of these people," he said. "That's going to be a huge impact, too. Where do we put all these people that need to be into treatment?"

The national anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana will also join the effort to defeat the initiative, the group's leader, Kevin Sabet, told the AP. "Our nation is dealing with a five-alarm fire of addiction right now; the last thing we need is more states to throw gasoline on it by promoting more drug use," he said.

That's the tenor of the opposition arguments so far. The question is whether North Dakota voters will still be swayed by such arguments. We'll find out in November.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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