Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Malaysia Moves Toward Drug Decriminalization, Cocaine Production at Record High, More... (6/28/19)

In a dramatic change of course, Malaysia is moving toward drug decriminalization; the UN says cocaine production hit an all-time high in 2017, Cory Booker files a bill to protect immigrants with marijuana convictions, and more.

Sen. Cory Booker has filed a bill to protect immigrants from being deported for marijuana offenses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Cory Booker Files Bill to Protect Immigrants from Being Deported for Marijuana. Democratic presidential contender and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker filed a bill Thursday that would bar the US from deporting immigrants and denying citizenship to people convicted of marijuana offenses. More than 34,000 people were deported for marijuana offenses between 2012 and 2017, according to Human Rights Watch. The bill is the Remove Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act. It is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Congressional Bill Would Allow Marijuana Imports and Exports Between Legal States. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Thursday filed a bill to allow states to legally export and import marijuana. The bill would allow states that have legalized marijuana to enter into mutual agreements to engage in interstate pot commerce. "As more and more states legalize cannabis, the gap between state and federal laws will only grow more confusing for both legal businesses and consumers," Wyden said in a press release.
The solution is clear: the federal government needs to end its senseless and out of touch prohibition. As we fight for that ultimate goal, however, Congress can and should immediately act to protect the will of Oregonians and voters in other states from federal interference -- and that should include interstate cannabis commerce," he said. Read the text of the bill here.

California Legislature Approves Bill Extending Provisional Permits. The Assembly voted 57-11 Thursday to approve Assembly Bill 97, which will extend the lifespan of provisional business licenses for marijuana operations until 2022. Since the measure passed the Senate on Monday, the bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who is expected to sign it. The measure is a bid to bolster the state's flagging legal marijuana industry.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey to Allow Paramedics to Initiate Buprenorphine. State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal signed an executive order this week that will allow paramedics to administer buprenorphine, an opioid addiction medication. The aim is to encourage people who have been administered naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose to go right to buprenorphine in the wake of the overdose recovery. Buprenorphine is considered the gold standard for opioid treatment drugs.

International

UN Says Cocaine Production at Record Levels in 2017. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Thursday that cocaine production jumped 13% in 2017 to 1,275 tons, the largest quantity ever reported. Although Colombia accounts for about 70% of total production, output was also increasing in both Bolivia and Peru. Colombian cocaine manufacture has quadrupled between 2013 and 2017.

Malaysia Moving Toward Drug Decriminalization. Malaysia plans to drop criminal penalties for the use and possession of small amounts of drugs, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said Thursday. The country currently has some of the world's toughest penalties for drug possession and more than 1,200 prisoners on death row, most for drug offenses. Less than half a pound of marijuana can merit a death sentence under current law. Ahmad said drug addiction is a complex, relapsing medical condition and throwing an addict into jail will not cure him. "Drug decriminalization will indeed be a critical next step toward achieving a rational drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration," Dzulkefly said. "An addict shall be treated as a patient, not as a criminal, whose addiction is a disease we would like to cure."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Afghan Opium Down, Colombian Coca Leveling Off, More... (6/29/19)

The UN says Afghan opium production is down, the US says Colombian coca production has leveled off but is still at high levels, Louisville passes a lowest law enforcement priority ordinance for marijuana, and more.

Colombian coca production is leveling off, the US says, but there's still plenty of cocaine to go around. (CBP)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Governor Won't Veto Decriminalization Bill. Gov. David Ige (D) said this week that he will not veto HB 1383, which decriminalizes the possession of up to three grams of marijuana. Under current law, possession is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Once the bill is signed, it will become a non-criminal violation punishable by a $130 fine.

Louisville Passes Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Ordinance. The Louisville Metro Council has passed an ordinance making "investigation, citations, and arrests" relating to adult possession of a "small amount of marijuana" the lowest law enforcement priority. The ordinance defines adults as 21 or older and says "personal use" could be a half ounce or less of marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Senate Approves Bill Mandating Law Enforcement Reporting on Seizures. The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a bill making it mandatory for law enforcement to report on how often it resorted to civil asset forfeiture to seize property from people not convicted of a crime. The bill now goes to the House.

Harm Reduction

Florida Authorizes Expansion of Syringe Access Statewide. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) Wednesday signed into law a bill that will allow legally authorized needle exchange programs across the state. The Infectious Disease Elimination Act (SB 366) was approved by the legislature in May after the Drug Policy Alliance worked with local stakeholders to get it through. Florida now becomes just the 22nd jurisdiction in the country to legally authorize syringe exchange programs. Many still operate underground and face daily risk of closure, further fueling the spread of blood-borne diseases and overdose rates.

International

UN Says Afghan Opium Harvest Declines, Thanks to Drought. Opium production fell last year in Afghanistan, by far the world's leading opium producer, because of severe drought, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday. UNODC said the drop was about 25%, leaving output at just under 8,000 tons of raw opium.

US Says Colombian Cocaine Production Leveling Off. According to a 2018 estimate released Wednesday by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia remains high but is leveling off. The estimate states cultivation in Colombia saw a minor decrease in 2018 to 208,000 hectares from 209,000 hectares in 2017. Similarly, potential pure cocaine production also saw a minor decrease in 2018 to 887 pure metric tons from 900 pure metric tons in 2017. Although coca cultivation in Colombia remained at historically high levels in 2018, it was the first year the crop did not increase since 2012.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal amendment to ease veterans' access to medical marijuana gets bumped, an Idaho medical marijuana initiative campaign gets underway, and more.

National

Amendment to Ease Vets' Access to Medical Marijuana Shelved. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), sponsor of an amendment to an annual spending bill for Veteran Affairs that would have widened access to medical marijuana for veterans, pulled the amendment in the face of opposition from the VA. On the House floor, Blumenauer explained that the VA "has not been as helpful as it should be" in easing access for vets. "All of a sudden the VA has decided, well, they would be putting their doctors at risk," he said. "I hope that we'll be able to work together to fix this little quirk to make sure that VA doctors can do what doctors everywhere do in states where medical cannabis is legal and be able to work with their patients."

Delaware

Delaware Sees Two Last-Minute Medical Marijuana Bills. With five days left in the legislative session, two last-minute medical marijuana bills await consideration. SB 170 would allow patients with anxiety to treat their conditions with CBD-rich products, while HB 243, would allow certain approved users to grow a limited amount of their own medical marijuana. The assigned committee has not yet issued a report for this bill, keeping it from a full vote in the house.

Idaho

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition announced Tuesday that it delivered signatures to the secretary of state's office to start the process for getting a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in 2020. The initiative seeks to provide Idahoans with "safe access to whole plant cannabis and other medical cannabis products through a system of secure dispensaries tightly regulated by the state." Patients with demonstrated physical or financial hardship would qualify to grow their own medicine.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Will Allow Physician Assistants to Recommend Medical Marijuana. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has signed into law a bill expanding the list of providers who may recommend medical marijuana. A bill that allows medical marijuana users to grow their own plants awaits his signature.

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

Chronicle AM: MD Task Force Studying Legalization, ID MedMJ Init Underway, More... (6/26/19)

Maryland legislators begin studying the path to marijuana legalization, New York legalization advocates look to next year, an Idaho medical marijuana initiative campaign gets underway, and more.

Dispensaries like this one could be coming to Idaho if a new initiative campaign is successful. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Legislative Task Force Begins Work on Marijuana Legalization. A General Assembly task force began its work on studying possible marijuana legalization on Tuesday. The body will form subcommittees to study the impact on criminal justice and health, while also considering best approaches to taxation, licensing, and ensuring minority participation. The task force should finish its work by the end of the year, but what members will recommend remains to be seen.

New York Marijuana Advocates Now Aiming to Legalize It Next Year. Marijuana legalization advocates say they plan to spend the next six months lobbying lawmakers to pass a marijuana legalization bill next year. This after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and legislative leaders failed to get it done this year, passing a decriminalization bill as a last-minute sop. Kassandra Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance pointed the finger at Assembly and Senate leaders, but particularly Gov. Cuomo.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Sees Two Last-Minute Medical Marijuana Bills. With five days left in the legislative session, two last-minute medical marijuana bills await consideration. SB 170 would allow patients with anxiety to treat their conditions with CBD-rich products, while HB 243, would allow certain approved users to grow a limited amount of their own medical marijuana. The assigned committee has not yet issued a report for this bill, keeping it from a full vote in the house.

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition announced Tuesday that it delivered signatures to the secretary of state's office to start the process for getting a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in 2020. The initiative seeks to provide Idahoans with "safe access to whole plant cannabis and other medical cannabis products through a system of secure dispensaries tightly regulated by the state." Patients with demonstrated physical or financial hardship would qualify to grow their own medicine.

Chronicle AM: IL Becomes 11th Legal Marijuana State, Iran Says Sanctions Hinder Drug Fight, More... (6/25/19)

With the governor's signature, Illinois becomes the 11th legal marijuana state; Hawaii's governor wields the veto pen against hemp and asset forfeiture bills, Iran says US sanctions are hurting its war on drugs, and more.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/illinoisstatehouse.jpg
Illinois the latest legalization state
Marijuana Policy

It's Official: Illinois Legalizes Marijuana. Illinois has just become the 11th state to legalize marijuana. Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed into law a legalization bill passed with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate late last month. With that signature, Illinois became the first state to get a marijuana legalization bill all the way through the legislative process this year, and it became the first state to create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce through the legislative process rather than a voter initiative. (Vermont’s legislature legalized possession and cultivation but not sales in early 2018.) Once the law goes into effect on January 1, Illinois residents 21 and over will be able to legally possess 30 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of concentrate, or 500 milligrams of THC in a marijuana-infused product. Out-of-staters will only be able to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana.

Oregon Governor Signs Marijuana Expungement Measure into Law. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law SB 420, to facilitate the expungement of past marijuana convictions. The law sets procedures for people previously convicted of possessing up to an ounce of weed to file motions to have their convictions set aside. This measure expands upon a earlier expungement bill passed in 2015.

Hemp

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Hemp Bill. Gov. David Ige (D) has vetoed SB 1353, which would have established an industrial hemp licensing program required by the US Department of Agriculture for industrial hemp production. Ige said he was concerned the bill would create a licensing structure that could not be enforced.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Bill. Gov. David Ige (D) has vetoed HB 748, which would have prohibited civil asset forfeiture. The reason Ige gave for vetoing the bill is that "current laws are effective."

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Turn Over Narcotics Division Files For Probe Of Botched Raid. The Houston Police Department has turned over thousands of files from its narcotics division to the Harris County District Attorney's office. The DA's office said Monday prosecutors will review the files as part of an investigation sparked by a January 28 botched drug raid in which two civilians died and five officers were wounded.

International

Iran Foreign Minister Says US Sanctions Hindering Fight Against Drugs. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a conference in Tehran marking the International Day Against Drug Absue and Illicit Trafficking that the US and certain Western countries are hindering the fight against narcotics. Zarif said the reimposition of US sanctions against Iran as well as "economic terrorism" were preventing Iran from implementing international agreements about fighting drugs. "The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that to fight against narcotics it is necessary to avoid politicization and unilateralism, and to pay attention to international cooperation as a necessary means to achieve the goals set forth to build a better future for all human beings and future generations," he said. Iran seized more than 800 tons of Afghan opium last year.

Chronicle AM: Maine Legal MJ Sales (Finally), House Blocks Forfeiture Loophole, More... (6/24/19)

Soon, Mainers will finally be able to buy and sell legal marijuana, the House passes an amendment to block an asset forfeiture end-run for local law enforcement, and more.

Soon, Mainers will be able to go to pot shops like this one. (Sonya Yreul/Drug Policy Alliance)
Maine Governor Says Says She Intends to Sign Law to Allow Marijuana Sales. Gov. Janet Mills (D) said last Friday she plans to sign a law setting up a legal framework for marijuana sales in the state. Voters approved legalization in November 2016, but legal sales were long delayed by recalcitrant former Gov. Paul LePage (R).

Medical Marijuana

Amendment to Ease Vets' Access to Medical Marijuana Shelved. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), sponsor of an amendment to an annual spending bill for Veteran Affairs that would have widened access to medical marijuana for veterans, pulled the amendment in the face of opposition from the VA. On the House floor, Blumenauer explained that the VA "has not been as helpful as it should be" in easing access for vets. "All of a sudden the VA has decided, well, they would be putting their doctors at risk," he said. "I hope that we'll be able to work together to fix this little quirk to make sure that VA doctors can do what doctors everywhere do in states where medical cannabis is legal and be able to work with their patients."

New Hampshire Will Allow Physician Assistants to Recommend Medical Marijuana. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has signed into law a bill expanding the list of providers who may recommend medical marijuana. A bill that allows medical marijuana users to grow their own plants awaits his signature.

Asset Forfeiture

House Passes Amendment to Block Federal Asset Forfeiture Loophole. The House last Wednesday unanimously approved an amendment to the annual Justice Department funding bill that blocks the department from funding a practice known as adoptive seizure, in which the federal government agrees to take over seizure cases from state and local law enforcement in a bid to get around state asset forfeiture laws. The bipartisan amendment was sponsored by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Tim Wahlberg (R-MI).

Criminal Justice

Pennsylvania Senate Schedules Major Hearing on Probation and Parole Reform. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings Monday and Tuesday on the state's probation and parole systems. The committee will hear from more than a dozen stakeholders in the probation and parole debate, including county district attorneys, criminal defense lawyers, and advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Reform Alliance, which is chaired by Philadelphia rapper and probation and parole reform advocate Meek Mill. Representatives from state Department of Corrections, the Office of the Victim Advocate, and the Sentencing Commission will also offer testimony. "It's incredibly important," committee aide Mike Cortez said. "The hearing will be a sounding board to figure out what we can do, what we can't do, and if there are ways we can move bills forward." A recent report found that the state spends about $100 million a year to incarcerate people who committed technical parole infractions and an additional $200 million on people who commit new crimes while on parole or probation.

Chronicle AM: House Moves to Protect State-Legal Marijuana, Canada OKs Pot Expungements, More... (6/21/19)

The House has passed an historic amendment to protect legal marijuana states from federal interference, the polls numbers are looking good in Florida, Canada moves forward on expunging marijuana arrest records, and more.

Expedited, free expungement of past marijuana arrests is coming to Canada. (Cannabis Culture)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Bill to Block Federal Interference with State-Legal Marijuana. In a history-making vote Thursday, the House voted 267-165 to approve a bipartisan measure aimed at protecting state marijuana policies from federal interference. The vote came on an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to prevent states, US territories, and the District of Columbia from implementing laws authorizing the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of marijuana. A similar appropriations rider known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been in effect since 2014, but it only protected state medical marijuana programs, not states that have legalized marijuana for adults.

Florida Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac College poll has support for marijuana legalization in the Sunshine State at an "all-time high" of 65%, with only 30% opposed. The poll comes as the group Regulate Florida prepares a legalization initiative for 2020.

New York Legislature Approves Deeper Decriminalization, Expungement. After the marijuana legalization bill crashed and burned on Wednesday, the legislature hastily approved a bill that eliminate criminal penalties for public possession and use of marijuana. Possession had been decriminalized in 1978, but police would stop people in public, order them to remove the contents of their pockets, then charge them with public possession. Now they won't be able to do that. The bill also allows for the expungement of past possession convictions. The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who says he supports it.

Hemp

Massachusetts Regulators Ban Sales of Some Hemp Products. The state Department of Agricultural Resources has issued a policy statement that bans the sale of some hemp products, including foods infused with CBD and dietary supplements. It also prohibits CBD products that make therapeutic/medicinal claims, animal feed with hemp, and the sale of unprocessed or raw plant material to consumers. The state says it is following guidance from the Food & Drug Administration, which says introducing CBD into food products is unlawful.

Law Enforcement

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Continue Data Collection on Police Pedestrian and Traffic Stops. Gov. JB Pritzker (D) has signed into law HB 1613, which blocks a current law requiring data collection on vehicular and pedestrian police stops from being sunsetted. Continuance of the practice maintains "an important tool for police officers and the public to identify and combat racial disparities in law enforcement," the bill says.

International

Canada Parliament Passes Bill to Pardon Pot Possession Offenders. Parliament on Wednesday approved a bill, C-93, that would allow people with marijuana possession records to be pardoned at no cost and quickly. The new bill is expected to speed the pardon process by eliminating the potential five- to 10-year wait time and waives an application fee of C$631 ($479). The bill only applies to those who have completed their sentences and have only a single possession conviction on their criminal record.

House Votes to Protect Legal Marijuana States from Federal Interference [FEATURE]

In a history-making vote Thursday, the House voted 267-165 to approve a bipartisan measure aimed at protecting state marijuana policies from federal interference.

It was an historic vote in the House. (Wikimedia)
The vote came on an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to prevent states, US territories, and the District of Columbia from implementing laws authorizing the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of marijuana.

A similar appropriations rider known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been in effect since 2014, but it only protected state medical marijuana programs, not states that have legalized marijuana for adults.

Sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Tom McClintock (R-CA), the measure's fate will now up to House and Senate negotiators as they seek to bridge differences between House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill.

"It's past time we protect all cannabis programs," said Rep. Blumenauer, cofounder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and lead sponsor of the amendment. "We have much more work to do. The federal government is out of touch and our cannabis laws are out of date. I'm pleased that the House agrees, and we are able to move forward."

Marijuana reform organizations and industry spokesmen pronounced themselves quite pleased but pushed for more.

"Today's vote is the most significant step Congress has ever taken toward ending federal marijuana prohibition," said Steven Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Congress is recognizing that the federal government must let the states decide on cannabis legalization -- and not the other way around."

"The historic nature of this vote cannot be understated. For the first time, a chamber of Congress has declared that the federal government should defer to state cannabis laws," said Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation.

"The bipartisan nature of this vote is a strong signal that there would be majority support in the House for the STATES Act (S. 3032), which could be considered a more permanent version of this amendment. We hope the full House will be given the opportunity to vote on the STATES Act in coming months so that we can move closer to the end of federal cannabis prohibition."

Sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), the STATES Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that it "shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State law relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana."

Passage of the STATES Act, while still a distant glimmer, would be a good interim measure, but the ultimate goal is the end of federal marijuana prohibition.

"The end of marijuana prohibition has never been closer," said Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "When Drug Policy Alliance and a small band of allies first worked on this amendment in 2015, we were told that we didn't stand a chance. But we convinced members this was the right thing to do, and four years on, victory is sweet. Now is the time for Democrats to pivot to passing legislation that will end prohibition through a racial justice lens, making sure that the communities most impacted by our racist marijuana laws have a stake in the future of legalization. To do anything less would be to repeat an injustice."

The Senate is expected to take up companion legislation in the coming weeks, and then the battle will be to ensure that the House language stays in the final bill, but marijuana is picking up momentum in the Capitol.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sticky-fingered Louisiana lawman heads for prison, so does a cocaine distributing Texas bailiff, and more. Let's get to it:

In Edinburg, Texas, a former Hidalgo County bailiff was sentenced Monday to five years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Oscar De La Cruz was arrested in May 2018 during an FBI raid amid accusations that he helped traffic more than five kilograms of cocaine.

In Kingman, Arizona, a former Mojave County jail guard was sentenced last Friday to two years in state prison for smuggling drugs and tobacco to her boyfriend and another inmate at the jail. Ashley Aquino, 24, entered a plea agreement convicting her of promoting prison contraband. The boyfriend and the other inmate also face charges.

In Covington, Louisiana, a former St. Tammany Parish police officer was sentenced last Thursday to four years in prison for stealing cocaine, cash, and guns from the department evidence room. William Jones Jr., 46, was convicted of making off with $6,300 cash, two guns, and an unspecified amount of cocaine in a trial in May.

Most Heroin Addicts Didn't Start By Being Prescribed Pain Pills, Despite Drug Czar's Claims [FEATURE]

As part of its campaign to stem opioid addiction and overdoses, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has launched an education campaign called The Truth About Opioids, but some of the material it is presenting has more than a whiff of spin to it -- and could imperil the ability of pain patients to get the relief they need.

Most addicts didn't go from the doctor's office to the needle and spoon, a new study reports. (Wikimedia)
The web site declares in big, bold letters that "80% of heroin users started with a prescription painkiller," and highlights the words "80%," "heroin," "started," and "prescription" in lurid purple. The graphic suggests that heroin users were prescribed opioids, developed a habit, and then went on to junk, with the further implication that a way to reduce heroin addiction is to tighten and reduce the prescribing of opioids.

The web site then asks readers if they are "shocked," "ah-ha," "outraged," or "fired up" by the information. It is only if readers scroll down the page that they are informed that the basis for the statistic is a 2013 study of "Heroin use and heroin use risk behaviors among nonmedical users of prescription opioid pain relievers." (Emphasis added.)

That's right, even though the graphic shouts out that people prescribed opioids then went on to become heroin addicts, the science it uses to back its claim is about recreational pain pill users. That's deceptive.

Misleading claims about prescribing opioids and the potential for opioid addiction are, of course, nothing new. Twenty years ago, PurduePharma infamously claimed that the risk of addiction from OxyContin was so low as to be negligible, a marketing tactic that helped kick into overdrive the pain pill phase of the current wave of opioid use.

But the drug czar's office, with its misleading suggestion that being prescribed opioids leads to heroin addiction, tips the pendulum too far in the other direction. There are real world consequences to using such faulty information. The Drug Enforcement Administration cited that 80% figure last year when it ordered steep decreases in the supply of prescription opioids, and it claimed in the Federal Register that patients got addicted "after first obtaining these drugs from their health care providers."

"The 80% statistic is misleading and encourages faulty assumptions about the overdose crisis and medical care," Pain News Network columnist Roger Chriss argued in a column last year.

And now, a new study from researchers at Penn State University published in the Journal of Addictive Studies bolsters that claim. Concentrating on southwestern Pennsylvania, an area with high levels of addiction, the researchers conducted surveys and in-depth interviews with drug users to determine their drug using histories. The sample size was small, with 125 people surveyed and 30 interviewed, but the results were illuminating.

The researchers found that two out of three of those interviewed got their first prescription opioids not from a doctor's prescription, but either bought or stole it from a family member or friend. Another 7 percent bought their drugs from a stranger or a dealer. And only one out of four (26 percent) began with opioid medications prescribed by a doctor.

"What emerged from our study -- and really emerged because we decided to do these qualitative interviews in addition to a survey component -- was a pretty different narrative than the national one. There's a lot about that narrative that I think is an overly simplistic way of thinking about this," said lead author Ashton Verdery, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology, demography and social data analytics at Penn State.

"We found that most people initiated through a pattern of recreational use because of people around them. They got them from either siblings, friends or romantic partners," he continued. "Participants repeatedly reported having a peer or caregiver in their childhood who had a substance use problem. Stories from childhood of witnessing one of these people selling, preparing, or using drugs were very common. Being exposed to others' substance use at an early age was often cited as a turning point for OMI (opioid misuse) and of drug use in general."

Among study participants, recreational drug use -- or polysubstance abuse, in public health speak -- was common, Verdery noted, and usually began not with prescription opioids but with drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription sedatives and stimulants.

"It is important to note that interviewees universally reported initiating OMI only after previously starting their substance use career with another drug (e.g., alcohol, marijuana, cocaine). Opioids were never the first drug used, suggesting that OMI is likely associated with being further along in one's drug using career," he added.

Researchers studying opioid addiction need to be aware of the role other substances play in the process, Verdery said. Understanding how opioid addiction is intertwined with other drug use is necessary to figure out the correct steps to take to prevent addiction before it takes hold.

"We think that understanding this mechanism as a potential pathway is worth further consideration," said Verdery. "It's not just that people were prescribed painkillers from a doctor for a legitimate reason and, if we just crack down on the doctors who are prescribing in these borderline cases, we can reduce the epidemic."

It's not nice for the drug czar's office to promulgate deceptive and misleading information about why people are getting strung out on heroin. It results both in limitation on access to opioid pain medications for those who need them and in obfuscating the realities of how heroin addiction happens -- and how best to deal with it.

Chronicle AM: Cory Booker Plans Mass Drug Prisoner Clemencies, CA Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed, More... (6/20/19)

Cory Booker wants to grant clemency to thousands of federal drug prisoners, a pair of drug reform amendments pass the House, the Russians move to start cultivating marijuana and opium, and more.

Sen. Cory Booker vows to grant clemency to thousands of drug war prisoners if elected president. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Amendments Stripping DEA Funding and Pushing FDA to Regulate CBD. The House on Thursday approved two amendments to appropriations bills, one that would transfer $5 million from the DEA to an opioid treatment program and one that directs the Food and Drug Administration to set regulations for using CBD in foods and dietary supplements. The former amendment was authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said: "I offer this amendment because ending the war on drugs has to mean changing our priorities in order to keep all communities safe and healthy. The best way we do that is by offering people the help and support they need before arrest and criminalization should be considered in the first place."

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Bumped to Next Year. A bill that would have allowed San Francisco to launch a pilot safe injection site program has been bumped to next year by its sponsors. AB 362 passed the Assembly earlier this year, but after the Senate referred it to three different committees for review, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) and Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) pulled the bill, saying they needed more time to build alliances to ensure passage next year.

Sentencing Policy

Cory Booker Says He Will Grant Clemency to Thousands of Drug Prisoners. New Jersey senator and 2020 presidential candidate Corey Booker said Wednesday that he is elected, he will grant clemency to nonviolent drug offenders currently sitting in federal prisons. His clemency plan could affect more than 17,000 prisoners in three categories: those doing time for marijuana, those whose sentences would have been reduced if the criminal justice overhaul signed by President Donald Trump last year were applied retroactively, and those affected by the disparity between sentences for possession of crack versus powder cocaine.

International

Official Death Toll in Philippines Drug War Reaches 6,600. The official death toll in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs has reached 6,600, the Philippines National Police reported Thursday. That's up from just under 5,000 in November 2018. Duterte has recently acknowledged both that despite his efforts, drug use has increased in the country, and that the poor are feeling the brunt of the crackdown. Human rights groups put the toll much higher, some as high as 30,000, with killings divided between police and shadowy vigilante groups.

Russian Duma Approves Cultivation of Opium, Other Psychoactive Plants. Citing Western sanctions that threaten its supplies of opioids and other medications, the Russian parliament has approved a bill to allow the cultivation of psychoactive plants, including marijuana and opium poppies. The bill must still be approved by the Federation Council and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: No NY Legalization (Yet), Colombia to Resume Aerial Coca Spraying, More... (6/19/19)

The House could vote on a series of marijuana amendments soon, New York's bid to legalize marijuana this year runs out of time, Colombia's president says the spraying of coca crops (and farmers) with herbicides will recommence soon, and more.

Colombian coca farmer (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

House Rules Committee Sends Marijuana Amendments to Floor Vote. The House Rules Committee approved a series of marijuana amendments on Tuesday, setting them up for a House floor vote. They include a rider blocking the Justice Department from interfering in state-legal marijuana programs, a proposal shielding tribal marijuana laws, and a proposal to let vets receive medical marijuana recommendations from Veterans Affairs doctors. They are all part of an appropriations bill that funds large parts of the federal government.

New York Fails to Legalize Marijuana as Session Ends. The legislative session ended today with lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unable to come to an agreement that would allow them to pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (SB 1527). Key issues still unresolved included how tax revenues would be spent, whether past marijuana convictions should be expunged, and whether localities could opt out of allowing pot shops or would have to opt in.

Kratom

Oregon Legislature Punts on Regulating Kratom. Lawmakers have mooted a bid to regulate kratom in the state. The Senate Judiciary Committee had amended a series of rules and restrictions on kratom into an unrelated bill in April, but this week, the Joint Ways and Means Committee reversed the earlier action and removed all references to kratom in the bill. That means kratom will remain unregulated -- at least until the next legislative session.

Drug Testing

Maine Repeals Failed Food Stamp Drug Testing Requirement. Gov. Janet Mills (D) on Monday signed into law a bill that repeals the state's controversial and unsuccessful drug testing requirement for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) beneficiaries. Since imposed by Tea Party Republican former Gov. Paul LePage in 2015, the program found a total of fewer than ten people who actually tested positive out of thousands forced to submit to the test.

International

Colombia to Resume Aerial Spraying of Coca Crops, President Says. President Ivan Duque has said aerial spraying of coca crops will resume "within weeks," and Defense Minister Guillermo Botero adds that the herbicide glyphosate will be used. But there is an obstacle: The Constitutional Court suspended the practice back in 2015 until the government could convince it the herbicide was safe.

Chronicle AM: Clock Ticking on New York Legalization Bill, Psychedelic Reform Hopes Spread, More... (6/18/19)

New York lawmakers only have until tomorrow to pass a marijuana legalization bill, China gripes about legalization in the US and Canada, the movement to decriminalize psychedelics is spreading, and more.

Interest in psychedelic decriminalization is sprouting up like magic mushrooms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York Legalization Negotiations Continue as Clock Ticks Down. With the legislative session set to end Wednesday, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) are continuing to try to reach an agreement to pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. One of the obstacles is disagreement over how and where to allocate marijuana tax revenue, with some progressive legislators pushing for a fixed percentage of revenues going to communities most adversely affected by the war on drugs, while the governor wants more executive branch control over the funds.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Will Not Ban Sugared Edibles. State regulators are not banning sugared edibles after all. The state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board had announced last fall that it would reevaluate all edible products, especially those that might be appealing to children. But this week the board okayed edibles as long as they conform with appearance and marketing standards designed to avoid enticing children.

Psychedelics

Movement to Decriminalize Psychedelics Spreads Nationally. Decriminalize Nature, the group behind Oakland's successful natural psychedelic decriminalization ordinance, says activists from more than half the states have expressed interest in pursuing similar moves in their cities. With Oakland and Denver leading the way, activists from Berkeley are expressing strong interest, with San Diego and Boston primed to be next. The group has also gotten inquiries from Phoenix, Los Angeles, Eugene, Santa Cruz, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, and the Hawaiian Islands.

Foreign Policy

Beijing Says US Marijuana Legalization Threatens China. Liu Yuejin, deputy director of the China National Narcotics Control Commission, told a press conference Monday that marijuana legalization in parts of the US and Canada is "a new threat to China." Liu said the number of marijuana users in the country had grown by more than 25% last year, rising to about 24,000 people (which is an incredibly miniscule number in a country of nearly 1.4 billion). "In two years, we have found increasing cannabis trafficked from North America to China," he added, although he did concede there were "few cannabis abusers in China" relative to the total population. China intercepted about 110 pounds of pot in 2018, or 0.00004 grams per person.

Chronicle AM: CA Acts to Boost Struggling Cannabis Industry, WV Students Face Drug Tests, More... (6/17/09)

California officials are cutting legal operators some slack in a bid to boost the marijuana industry, Virginia's attorney general calls for marijuana decriminalization, West Virginia is demanding students seeking free community college tuition undergo drug testing, and more.

State officials are easing up on permitting to give the legal industry some breathing room. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

In Bid to Boost Legal Cannabis Industry, California Plans to Extend Provisional Permits for Growers and Sellers. State officials plan to extend the period that marijuana growers and sellers can operate with provisional licenses by five more years, giving them more time to get in compliance with stricter rules required for regular permits. The state's legal industry is having a hard time getting off the ground in the face of high taxes and stiff regulatory hurdles. Only 208 growers have obtained regular, annual licenses and another 1,532 are operating with provisional permits. That's a tiny fraction of all marijuana growers in the state. Similarly, only 39 marijuana retailers have regular licenses, with another 2,751 operating on provisional or temporary permits.

Virginia Attorney General Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Expungement, and Eventual Legalization. Attorney General Mark Herring has called for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, as well as expungement for old marijuana offenses, with an eye toward eventual legalization. "The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers," Herring wrote in an op-ed Saturday. "And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color."

Medical Marijuana

Gallup Poll Finds Americans Want CBD OTC. Americans familiar with CBD want it sold over the counter without a prescription by a margin of 61% to 33%, according to a Gallup poll released last Friday. More than a third (36%) of respondents were not familiar with CBD. When they are included, the figure for support for OTC CBD declined to 39%.

Drug Policy

California's Santa Clara County Will Stop Prosecuting People for Minor Drug Offenses. The Santa Clara County (San Jose) District Attorney's Office announced last Friday it will stop prosecuting most minor drug offenses. Only people who already have two drug offenses will be prosecuted under the new policy. "We are drawing a line between public health and public safety," said Brian Buckelew, a Supervising Deputy District Attorney. "If there's no other criminality, if someone is arrested with a meth pipe, or personal use methamphetamine, that person needs treatment. But should that person get treatment in the criminal justice system at great expense to the taxpayers? We have concluded they should not."

Drug Testing

West Virginia Students Will Have to Pass Drug Test to Get Free Tuition at Community Colleges. Students who are expecting free college tuition under the West Virginia Invests program will be required to pass drug tests in order to be eligible. That's after the state Community and Technical College System's board approved the move at a meeting last Thursday. While the law creating the program demanded drug testing, it did not specify which drugs should be tested for. The board decided to test for THC, marijuana's high-inducing ingredient, alongside opiates, oxycodone, hydrocodone, cocaine, amphetamines and other drugs. The policy went through no public comment period, and even one board member questioned why marijuana was on the list.

Chronicle AM: NY Legalization Effort Continues, Brazil Drug Survey Suppressed, More... (6/14/19)

The New York legislature has less than a week to get marijuana legalization done, a bid to open research on Schedule I drugs dies in the House, the Brazilian government appears to be suppressing a drug use survey that undercuts its war on drugs rationale, and more.

Mexico can produce about 100 metric tons of heroin a year from its opium poppy crop, the drug czar's office says. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Inching Forward in New York. With the legislative session coming to an end next week, Assembly Democrats went into a closed-door conference Thursday evening seeking a path forward. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have also been discussing the bill these past two days, with those discussions deemed largely positive. Lawmakers have until next Wednesday to get it done.

Drug Policy

House Democrats Join Republicans to Defeat Ocasio-Cortez Amendment to Ease Research Barriers for Schedule I Drugs. A majority of House Democrats joined their GOP colleagues in voting down an amendment that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed to expand research into the potential benefits of Schedule I substances. The amendment would have removed a longstanding budget rider that bars the use of federal funds for "any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I." Ocasio-Cortez had pointed to psilocybin and MDMA as examples of understudied drugs, but Schedule I also contains marijuana and heroin. Democrats voted against the measure after the Democratic leadership failed to give members a directive to support it. It was the only amendment not supported by the leadership.

International

Brazilian Government Accused of Suppressing Data That Could Challenge Its War on Drugs. Researchers familiar with a national drug use survey commissioned in 2014 are accusing the government of President Jairo Bolsonaro of suppressing its publication because it contradicts the government's assertion that drug use is a widespread and growing problem in the country. The government argues that the renowned Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) in Rio de Janeiro, which conducted the survey, didn't follow proper methodologies, a claim the foundation strenuously denies. "FIOCRUZ is proud of the work carried out by its researchers and ensures that [the survey] complied with what was proposed in the public notice, respecting all the methodological, scientific and ethical rigor pertinent to this type of study," says a statement released by the foundation on 21 May. Leaked data from the survey found that less than 1% of Brazilians reported ever using crack cocaine -- the main focus of the government's drug war.

Chronicle AM: CO Hits $1 Billion in Cannabis Taxes, Pompeo Doubles Down on Colombia Crop Spraying, More... (6/13/18)

Colorado has raked in a billion dollars in cannabis tax revenues, Cincinnati decriminalizes, Bonaroo harm reduction protest, Pompeo pushes Colombia coca crop spraying, and more.

Is this truck driver "an illicit drug user"? A trucking group says hundreds of thousands are. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Hits $1 Billion in Marijuana Tax Revenues. The state Department of Revenue reported this week that tax revenues from marijuana sales since legalization in 2014 have now topped the one-billion-dollar mark. The department reported tax, license, and fee revenues of $1.02 billion on sales of $6.5 billion. It also reported that the state now has 2,900 licensed marijuana businesses employing 41,000 people.

Nevada Becomes First State to Bar Employers from Refusing to Hire Marijuana Users. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) last week signed into law AB 132, which bans employers from refusing to hire people who test positive for marijuana on a drug test, making Nevada the first state to do so. "It is unlawful for any employer in this State to fail or refuse to hire a prospective employee because the prospective employee submitted to a screening test and the results of the screening test indicate the presence of marijuana," the law says. There are exceptions for some public safety-related positions. The law goes into effect on January 1.

Cincinnati Decriminalizes. The Cincinnati city council voted 5-3 Wednesday to decriminalize the possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana -- as long as it is not being used in public. There will be no fines, either.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Idaho Governor Signs Executive Order on Opioids and Substance Abuse. Gov. Brad Little (R) on Thursday signed into law an executive order aimed at combatting opioid and substance misuse in the state. The order creates an advisory group to study diversion policies for first-time drug offenders, prescription monitoring programs, treatment options, educating the medical community, and a public awareness campaign around opioids.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has signed into law SB 191, which does not end civil asset forfeiture in the state but requires that law enforcement report on its asset forfeiture activities.

Foreign Policy

Secretary of State Pompeo Doubles Down on Backing Aerial Coca Spraying in Colombia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Tuesday that the US still strongly supports the resumption of the aerial spraying of the pesticide glyphosate on coca fields in Colombia. He neither acknowledged global criticism of the use of glyphosate -- the Colombian constitutional court banned it in 2015 -- nor any other strategy for reducing coca cultivation. Instead, he said spraying is "an important tool they need" to reduce coca production.

Harm Reduction

Harm Reductionists Protest at Bonaroo Over Harassment of Drug Checking Kit Providers. Tennessee's Bonaroo music festival has been plagued by drug overdoses in recent years even though authorities had allowed harm reduction groups such as DanceSafe and the Bunk Police to hand out drug checking kits. But for the past couple of years, police have forced the groups out of the festival, so the Bunk Police have organized a protest Thursday and Friday afternoons to raise awareness of the issue. "We're trying to bring attention to the issue and have them join us and showing that there's a problem and that Bonnaroo could, you know, take action and allow this harm reduction effort, which could allow for a safe environment for the patrons," the Bunk Police said.

Transportation Policy

Trucking Group Demands Purge of 300,000 Truck Drivers as "Illicit Drug Users." Addressing Congress on Thursday, a trucking group composed of some of the industry's largest carriers said it had data indicating as many as 300,000 truck drivers are "manipulating" urine drug testing protocols and should be removed from the nation's highways. The Trucking Alliance told the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that "thousands of commercial truck drivers are illicit drug users" and that they have the drug testing data to back up their claims. They based their data on the number of drivers who passed urine drug tests but either failed or refused to undergo hair drug tests, which can detect the presence of substances for months -- long after they would have any influence on drivers. There is a chronic shortage of drivers in the industry, which other groups testifying attributed in part to the spread of marijuana legalization.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Hawaii police officer breaks bad and an Arkansas jail guard gets nailed. Let's get to it:

In Honolulu, a Maui Police Department officer was arrested last Friday after a months-long investigation into drug sales on the island of Molokai. Officer Daniel Imakyure went down after investigators obtained search warrants for his cellphones, computers, and lockers. Evidence recovered showed he was complicit in drug distribution on Molokai. He was charged with promoting a dangerous drug in the first degree and criminal conspiracy.

In Marion, Arkansas, a Crittenden county jail guard was arrested Monday after he got caught trying to sneak drugs into the jail. Corrections Officer Torell Harris, 23, went down after authorities were appraised of a smuggling plan and caught him picking up a stash hidden in a wastebasket in the sheriff's office. He is charged with furnishing prohibited articles and possession of a controlled substance.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's going to be more medical marijuana available in New Mexico, patient cards will cost less in Arizona, and more.

Alabama

Alabama Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Study Bill. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill creating a commission to study medical marijuana. The commission must report back with recommendations for future legislation by December. The bill, SB 236, allows also allows the University of Alabama Birmingham to continue its research on the use of CBD cannabis oil as a treatment for debilitating epileptic conditions.

Arizona

Arizona Governor Signs Bill Lowering Patient Card Costs. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 1494, which will cut the cost of a medical marijuana patient card in half by making patients pay the $150 fee once every two years instead of once a year. The bill also requires medical marijuana facilities to test their products.

Louisiana

Louisiana House Approves Allowing Patients to Inhale, But Not Smoke. The House voted unanimously to approve HB 358, which would allow patients to inhale -- but not smoke -- their medicine. The bill had stalled in the Senate, but was revived after legislators included a "metered-dose inhaler" in the definition of acceptable devices. The measure now goes to the governor's desk.

New Mexico

New Mexico to Expand Medical Marijuana Production. The state Health Department on Tuesday proposed new rules for marijuana production that would increase a 450-plant limit per grower to 1,750 mature plants per grower. The move is designed to ensure adequate supplies of medical marijuana without flooding the market.

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

Chronicle AM: Drug ODs May Have Peaked, New Gallup Marijuana Poll, More... (6/12/19)

New data from the CDC suggests the overdose epidemic may have peaked, a new Gallup poll shows support for marijuana legalization remains strong, Oregon passes an interstate marijuana commerce bill, and more.

The latest Gallup poll has support for legalization at 64%, down two points from October. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 64% Nationwide. A Gallup poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 64%, down two points from the last Gallup poll in October. The poll also asked why people opposed or supported legalization. The top reason for opposition was concern about impaired driving, while the top reason for support was because of its medical value to patients.

California Appeals Court Rules Prisoners Can Possess -- But Not Use -- Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned the convictions of five state prisoners for marijuana possession, ruling that Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana in the state, made possession of under an ounce of marijuana legal -- even in prison. But smoking or ingesting marijuana in prison is still a felony.

Oregon Legislature Approves Bill for Interstate Marijuana Commerce. The House on Tuesday approved SB 582, which would allow the governor to enter into agreements with other states for the import and export of marijuana. The Senate has already approved the bill, so it now heads to the desk of Gov. Elaine Brown (D), who is expected to sign it. The bill moved in the House after a Republican representative from a prime marijuana-growing area urged its passage.

House Foe of DC Legalization Doesn't Bother to File Amendment Messing with City's Ability to Make Marijuana Policy. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) didn't bother to even propose his amendment to the DC appropriations bill on Tuesday, recognizing that it would go nowhere in the Democratically controlled House. For years, Harris has filed an amendment blocking the city from using its funds to implement marijuana commerce and taxation.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico to Expand Medical Marijuana Production. The state Health Department on Tuesday proposed new rules for marijuana production that would increase a 450-plant limit per grower to 1,750 mature plants per grower. The move is designed to ensure adequate supplies of medical marijuana without flooding the market.

Hemp

Texas Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law HB 1325, which will create a state-regulated hemp industry. The law will allow hemp products, including CBD, to be sold as long as it contains no more than 0.3% THC.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Data Suggests Overdose Epidemic Has Peaked. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Tuesday shows that the age-adjusted overdose mortality rate declined in the twelve months ending in the second quarter of 2018. The rate was 6.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 and increased steadily over the past two decades to 21.7 per 100,000 in 2017. Now, it has declined to 20.8 per 100,000. This isn't a final figure, but it is an encouraging sign.

International

Canadian Commons Committee Urges Government to Study Portuguese Model. The House of Commons Health Committee has called on the federal government to study Portugal's drug decriminalization and see how the model could be "positively applied in Canada." The recommendation came in a committee report produced after members held hearings across the country on drug use and abuse. "Witnesses recommended that the federal government examine the implementation of the Portuguese model of decriminalization of the possession of illicit substances, which included a scaling-up of treatment programs and the creation of diversion programs for offenders who commit crimes related to their substance-use disorders," the report says.

Chronicle AM: NJ Lawmakers Pass Pot Expungement Bill, Psychedelic Research Proposal Advances, More... (6/11/19)

Nevada is going to pilot a digital banking program for cannabusinesses, Alabama's governor signs a medical marijuana study bill, chain pharmacies make recommendations on opioids, and more.

MDMA and other Schedule I substances could be opened for more research under a successful amendment to an appropriations bill.
Marijuana Policy

Nevada to Test Limited Marijuana Banking System. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) has signed into law a bill that creates a three-year pilot program where marijuana businesses can use an online system to send and receive digital currency. State Treasurer Zach Conine said he hopes to have the system up and running by July 2020.

New Jersey Legislature Approves Expungement Bill. Most state residents convicted of marijuana possession offenses would be able to get their records expunged under a bill approved Monday by both the House and Senate. If signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy (D), the bill would open even more marijuana offenses up for expungement, including possession of up to five pounds.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Study Bill. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill creating a commission to study medical marijuana. The commission must report back with recommendations for future legislation by December. The bill, SB 236, also allows the University of Alabama Birmingham to continue its research on the use of CBD cannabis oil as a treatment for debilitating epileptic conditions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

National Chain Pharmacies Issue Recommendations to Fight Opioid Abuse. The National Association of Chain Drugstores (NACSD) has issued four policy recommendations for opioid abuse prevention. They include increased access to naloxone, working toward a national prescription drug monitoring program, pursuing non-opioid remedies for chronic pain management, and requiring coverage of pain management services.

Psychedelics

Congressional Committee Advances Schedule I Amendment. The House Rules Committee voted Tuesday to approve an amendment by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would remove a longstanding rider on an appropriations bill that bars federal agencies from using tax dollars for "any activity that promotes the legalization of any drugs or substance in Schedule I" of the Controlled Substances Act. Ocasio-Cortez successfully argued that the provision impedes research into substances that have therapeutic potential, such as psilocybin or MDMA. or marijuana. The amendment and the larger appropriations bill now head for a House floor vote.

Chronicle AM: MJ Banking Headed for House Vote, UN Experts Call for Philippines Probe, More... (6/10/19)

The full House could soon get its first chance to vote on a marijuana banking bill, New Yorkers still want to legalize marijuana, a group of UN human rights experts calls for a probe into the Philippine drug war, and more.

Phillipines President Durterte's bloody drug war is drawing renewed human rights concerns. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Marijuana Banking Bill Quietly Advances in House as Floor Vote Approaches. The SAFE Banking Act, HR 1595, now has an open path to a House floor vote after the House Financial Services Committee, which earlier approved the bill, issued a formal report on the legislation last week. The bill was then set to go before the House Judiciary Committee, but that panel opted to advance it last week without a report, in order to clear the path to a House floor vote.

New York Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. With the clock ticking down on lawmakers in Albany, a new Sienna poll could give some added momentum to the push to legalize marijuana this session. The poll had support at 55%, with 40% opposed, mirroring myriad other recent polls.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Governor Signs Bill Lowering Patient Card Costs. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 1494, which will cut the cost of a medical marijuana patient card in half by making patients pay the $150 fee once every two years instead of once a year. The bill also requires medical marijuana facilities to test their products.

International

Colombian Constitutional Court Throws Out President's Ban on Public Pot Smoking, Drinking. The Constitutional Court has overruled a ban on public alcohol and marijuana consumption favored by President Ivan Duque as part of his hardline anti-drug policies. Under the ruling, police can no longer confiscate drugs considered to be for personal consumption, and people are again allowed to smoke pot and drink beer in public. But Duque appears to be ready to disobey the court, saying police would continue to confiscate drugs and impose penalties on people carrying or using drugs in public spaces. This isn't over.

UN Experts Call for Human Rights Probe of Philippines Drug War. A group of 11 United Nations human rights experts called Friday for the UN's Human Rights Council to start an independent probe into rights violations in the Philippines, including illegal killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. "We have recorded a staggering number of unlawful deaths and police killings in the context of the so-called war on drugs, as well as killings of human rights defenders," they said in a statement. "We are extremely concerned over the high number of killings which are being carried out across the country in an apparent climate of official, institutional impunity," they added. To actually get the inquiry going would require a resolution supported by a majority of the council's 47 members.

Veteran Drug Reform Activist Doug Greene Dead at 52

Longtime New York-based drug reform activist Doug Greene died Tuesday evening in a subway accident on Manhattan's Upper West Side. He was only 52.

Doug Greene poses with the Crain's magazine cover on which he was featured. (Facebook)
According to police and media reports, Greene and fellow activist Todd Hinden had attended a George Clinton concert in Central Park, then parted ways as Hinden hopped on his bicycle and Greene headed down into the subway, where he fell onto the tracks.

Police reported that "a man was fatally struck by an A train after he fell onto the subway tracks on the Upper West Side Tuesday night," adding that he was hit by "a southbound express train at the 72 St. station near Central Park West just before 10:45pm." His identity was confirmed on Wednesday, and police confirmed "they did not suspect foul play."

Greene spent more than half his life as a drug reformer, and has been a ubiquitous presence in the New York City and Albany reform community, as well as at NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, and other drug reform conferences around the country since the '90s. His friendships readily spanned both the grassroots and professional drug reform classes. I can't count the times I've run into him in the hallways or shared moments outside while we smoked.

He was a stalwart of Empire State NORML, and was serving as board member and legislative director. While he enjoyed a good marijuana protest as much as anybody, Greene focused his attention on Albany and the legislative process, mastering parliamentary arcana and lobbying lawmakers regularly -- some of them might say relentlessly.

Greene was also an advocate of ibogaine for addiction treatment, and had trained to be an ibogaine therapist. He was active with the group Cures Not Wars. He wrote an article about ibogaine and the movement for this newsletter, here.

He also worked tirelessly on coalition building in drug reform movement, and at his death, was pushing hard to keep momentum alive for the state's marijuana legalization bill, which has seen its chances fade in recent days. Some friends think exhaustion from the effort contributed to the accident.

Though his best known activism was in drug policy, Greene was an active member of the NYC vegetarian community, and supported animal rights. His conference agenda always included checking out local vegetarian restaurants with friends. At times he was active with the Libertarian Party as well.

Beyond his work in the movement, Doug Greene was just a nice guy. I didn't consider him a close friend, more a conference buddy or reform movement colleague. But when wildfires ripped through my Northern California community in 2017, Doug called me up to check on me. That's the kind of guy he was.

Doug, we're sorry you're gone so young and tragically and before you were able to see your life's work come to fruition, but the rest of us are going to make it happen. And it would make a fitting tribute to all your efforts to put your name on it.

Some other articles about Doug's life are here, here and here.

Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Advances, Opioid Maker InSys Pays Out Big Time, More... (6/6/19)

Delaware could be the next state to legalize marijuana if it hurries, Brazil's rightist president approves regressive new drug laws, Colombia's disarmed FARC rebels are starting to pick up their guns again, an opioid manufacturer pays out bigtime for bribing doctors to prescribe its fentanyl product, and more.

Vancouver's InSite
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote.The House Revenue and Finance Committee has approved a marijuana legalization bill, HB 110, on Wednesday. The measure now heads for a House floor vote. The bill would establish a state-licensed industry but would bar home cultivation. The bill calls for the state to collect a 15% tax on retail sales price of marijuana, as well as licensing fees. The legislative session ends June 30.

Maine Regulators Adopt Provisional Rules, Send Them to Legislature. Nearly three years after residents voted to legalize marijuana, the state Office of Marijuana Policy has released draft rules, which are now up for review by the legislature. This is the third attempt to get rules adopted to allow the state to get its marijuana industry going. The first two were vetoed by then Gov. Paul LePage (R).

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Approves Allowing Patients to Inhale, But Not Smoke. The House voted unanimously to approve HB 358, which would allow patients to inhale -- but not smoke -- their medicine. The bill had stalled in the Senate, but was revived after legislators included a "metered-dose inhaler" in the definition of acceptable devices. The measure now goes to the governor's desk.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

InSys Therapeutics to Pay $225 Million for Bribing Docs to Prescribe Its Fentanyl Product. Opioid manufacturer Insys Therapeutics has agreed to pay $225 million to end civil and criminal investigations into charges it used bribery to get doctors to illegally prescribe its highly addictive fentanyl spray, Subsys. The company also agreed to plead guilty to five counts of mail fraud and admitted that its speaker program "to increase brand awareness" was actually "a vehicle to pay bribes and kickbacks to targeted practitioners."

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Study Finds Community Support for Safe Injection Site. A Drexel University study published Thursday finds that a majority of residents and business owners in the city's Kensington neighborhood support opening a safe injection site there. The Philadelphia-based nonprofit Safehouse is working toward getting one open in the neighborhood. "We're vindicated that the people who are most affected believe that it’s needed," said Ronda Goldfein, Safehouse vice president and secretary and executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. "We recognize that we need multiple sites, but let's be realistic that we need to put our first site where the need is greatest."

International

Brazil's Bolsonaro Approves Regressive Drug Policy Changes. Brazil's ultra-rightist President Jair Bolsonaro has approved drug legislation passed earlier this year that toughens penalties for drug traffickers and requires drug users to undergo drug treatment at private or religious centers.

Colombia's Disarmed FARC Rebels Are Picking Up Their Guns Again. As many as a third of fighters in the FARC, which disbanded following a 2016 peace agreement, have taken up arms again, according to a military intelligence report. More than 2,000 of the FARC's 6,000 fighters have joined dissident FARC groups, many of which are operating in coca-growing regions. That's up a dramatic 30% since December. Disarmed FARC rebels were supposed to have been reintegrated into society, but that has been stymied by violence and discrimination. At least 139 former FARC members have been killed since disarming. "It doesn't help the government's case for reinsertion that many of the productive projects are failing to take off, their former comrades continue to be stigmatized by the ruling party, and a record number of killings of former FARC members remains uninvestigated and unpunished," Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis said.

Illinois Poised to Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

Illinois is poised to become the 11th state to legalize marijuana, as soon as Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs into law a legalization bill passed with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate last week. Pritzker pushed for the bill's passage.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker
(photo courtesy Chi Hack Night via Wikimedia)
When he signs, Illinois will become the first state to get a legalization bill all the way through the legislative process this year, and the first ever to create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce through the legislative process rather than through a voter initiative. (Vermont's legislature legalized possession and cultivation but not sales in early 2018.)

The Senate approved the bill last Wednesday and the House concurred on Friday, the last day of the legislative session.

"The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation," Pritzker said in a statement upon passage of the bill. "This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance."

Once the law goes into effect on January 1, Illinois residents 21 and over will be able to legally possess 30 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of concentrate, or 500 milligrams of THC in a marijuana-infused product. Out-of-staters will only be able to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana.

The right to grow one's own plants, however, was sacrificed in a bid to assuage critics and get the bill over the hump. The bill originally allowed for the home cultivation of up to five plants, but the loud opposition of law enforcement, who worried that it would make it more difficult to find illegal growers, along with Republican lawmakers and other interests, got that taken out.

Washington is the only other legal adult-use marijuana state that does not allow home cultivation.

It also took weakening of the expungement provision in the bill to bring some needed Republicans on board. When the bill was rolled out in the first week of May, it included language that would have created automatic expungement of criminal records for marijuana offenses that will no longer be a crime, but Republicans objected. Instead, bill sponsors agreed to language that removed automatic expungement and replaced it with language allowing the governor to pardon past offenses "with permission to expunge," but that will then require the filing of a petition to get it done, making it likely that many people with past marijuana convictions will not get their records expunged.

Excluding home grows and scaling back expungement was enough to get Republicans such as Rep. David Welter (R-Morris) on board, and that handful of GOP votes ensured passage of the bill.

"I'm a father of three from a rural district, and I'm standing before you supporting this bill because I do not believe the current policy that we have out there right now is working," Welter said during House debate. "Prohibition doesn't work, and we see that. Putting safeguards in place, taxing, regulating it, I believe provides a better market and a safer market."

The new law creates a system of licensed commercial cultivation operations and retail shops, while also setting up a social equity program to help minority businesses enter the emerging industry. That program will deploy grants and loans to such businesses, as well as establishing a grant fund to aid the communities most disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Legal marijuana is expected to generate some $87 million in tax revenues for the coming budget year, with $30 million going for a marijuana business development fund and $57 million headed for general revenues. That money will first pay for regulatory expenses and costs related to expungement. After that, the pot dollars will be divided among the general fund (35 percent), community grants (25 percent), mental health and substance abuse programs (20 percent, paying down the state's budget deficit (10 percent), supporting law enforcement (8 percent), and public education (2 percent).

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx cheered the passage of the bill even though the expungement provisions were weakened, and vowed to fight

"I applaud the Illinois General Assembly for passing legislation that legalizes recreational cannabis and provides conviction relief to hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans with low-level charges of cannabis possession," she said in a statement. As prosecutors who implemented these convictions, we must own our role in the harm they have caused and we should play a role in reversing them. The failed war on drugs has disproportionately impacted communities of color, and my office will continue to explore ways to provide the broadest relief possible, beyond that provided by this legislation."

This year has been something of a disappointment for marijuana reformers, with much-touted legalization efforts in states such as Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York stalling out. Illinois was considered something of a dark horse, but now it has beat everyone else across the finish line.

And the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working hard to get that New York bill passed, has taken notice.

"Illinois state representatives had the courage to pass comprehensive marijuana justice -- and made it their priority before the close of their legislative session," said DPA New York deputy director Melissa Moore. "As we enter the final three weeks of New York's session, our elected officials have a tremendous opportunity to show bold leadership and pass responsible regulation that will serve all New Yorkers and address the harms of marijuana prohibition. The time to act is now and the game plan is clear: Pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act immediately."

Whether New York or any other state can still get it done this year or not, the fabric of marijuana prohibition grows increasingly frayed. Thoroughly shredded on the West Coast and tattered in the Northeast, it now has a big hole in the heart of the Midwest with Illinois joining Michigan as a legal weed state.

And there's always next year, where voters in initiative states will have an opportunity to get it done themselves -- without having to deal with cumbersome legislative processes where a single committee chairman can kill a bill, or with recalcitrant lawmakers still stuck in the last century.

(Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Denver sheriff's deputy had the wrong boyfriend, a Los Angeles narc blackmails his secretary over a sexual encounter, and more. Let's get to it:

In Los Angeles, a former state drug agent was fired Tuesday for having sex with a female subordinate and then blackmailing her into covering it up. William Telish, the former director of an LA-based regional task force, had an affair with a secretary and then threatened to send nude photos of her to her son if she tried to tell a supervisor.

In Denver, a Denver sheriff's deputy was indicted last Friday on drug possession and distribution charges. Deputy Sylvia Montoya was arrested on April 2 along with a known gang member who is her boyfriend. During that arrest, police recovered drugs, cash and multiple cell phones, and arrested the boyfriend but not Montoya. Now she's been indicted on four counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, meth, and heroin.

In Philadelphia, a former state narcotics agent was sentenced last Friday to three years in federal prison for accepting $48,000 from his cousin and another man involved in the bust of a drug carrying $1.7 million in cash from a marijuana smuggling ring. Timothy Riley was a member of the Mobile Street Crimes Unit and helped his cousin, the truck driver, turn himself in at a truck stop. Riley seized the $1.7 million, but let his brother keep an additional $800,000 in return for the bribe.

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