Drug Courts

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Feds Charge Four Louisville Cops in Fatal Breonna Taylor Drug Raid, Thai Cannabis Tourism, More... (8/4/22)

Arkansas election officials knock a marijuana legalization initiative off the ballot -- at least for now -- San Francisco's new DA cracks down on drug dealers, and more.

Kentucky did not do it, but maybe the federal government can obtain justice for Breonna Taylor.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Panel Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday blocked a marijuana legalization initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas from appearing on the ballot in November. The board rejected the popular name and ballot title for the measure, which has already accumulated enough voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Responsible Growth Arkansas says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court. The board said it rejected the measure because members believed the ballot title didn't fully explain the measure's impact, but Responsible Growth Arkansas said the amount of detail demanded would make the ballot title "thousands and thousands of words long."

Law Enforcement

Feds Charge Four Louisville Cops in Breonna Taylor Case. The FBI has charged four Louisville police officers for their actions leading up to and during a March 2020 drug raid on the apartment of medical worker Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police gunfire after her boyfriend shot at what he believed to be intruders trying to break into the residence. Those charged include former Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers Joshua Jaynes, Brett Hankison, and Kelly Hanna Goodlett, as well as current LMPD sergeant Kyle Meany was also arrested Thursday by the feds. The feds are charging the four with civil rights violations, which include charges of obstruction of justice for actions they took after the raid. The four officers largely escaped justice at the state level, with only one charged, and later acquitted -- not for shooting Taylor but for endangering the lives of neighbors by wildly shooting several rounds into the building. The killing of Taylor became a major rallying cry in the summer of protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

San Francisco DA Cracks Down on Drug Dealers. Newly-elected District Attorney Brooke Jenkins on Wednesday announced tougher new policies to hold drug dealers accountable, saying anyone caught with more than five grams of drugs would no longer be referred to the city's drug court, that she will make use of sentencing enhancements for drug dealing within a thousand feet of a school, and will seek pretrial detention of fentanyl dealers in "extreme" cases. The move comes as Jenkins replaces former progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin, who was recalled amidst rising public concern over crime and squalor in the city. But the city's Public Defender called Jenkin's approach "regressive," saying it will disproportionately affect communities of color. "If District Attorney Jenkins truly wants to address the issues facing our city, she should not be relying on outdated and politically expedient soundbites about harsher enforcement," said Public Defender Mano Raju.

International

Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Penal Colony for Possessing Small Quantity of Cannabis Oil. American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony after earlier being found of bringing cannabis oil into the country in her luggage. The guilty verdict was virtually a foregone conclusion in a criminal justice system that wins convictions in 99 percent of cases. Griner was detained by Russian authorities just a week before it invaded Ukraine, and her case is widely seen as part of the broader conflict between Russia and the United States over that conflict. Griner's attorneys say they will appeal the verdict. President Biden, who has been under pressure to win her release from her wife and the athletic community and whose administration is attempting to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner, called her sentence "unacceptable," and vowed to continue all-out efforts to get her home.

Cannabis Cafes Emerge in Thailand. "Several" cannabis cafes have opened in Bangkok since the country decriminalized cannabis in June, despite the government's warning that the law's relaxation did not include recreational marijuana use. Recreational use has exploded under the new law, something that government officials have tried to discourage. Now, a parliamentary committee is working on a bill that could rejigger the rules and possibly impact the cannabis cafes. In the meantime, one café owner said his place had "hundreds" of customers every day. "Europeans, Japanese, Americans -- they are looking for Thai sativa. Cannabis and tourism are a match," he said.

Book Review: Three Takes on the Opioid Crisis [FEATURE]

RX Appalachia: Stories of Treatment and Survival in Rural Kentucky, by Lesly-Marie Buer (2020, Haymarket Books, 264 pp., $22.95 PB)

Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic, by Eric Eyre (2020, Scribner, 289 pp., $28.00 HB)

White Market Drugs: Big Pharma and the Hidden History of Addiction in America, by David Herzberg (2020, University of Chicago Press, 365 pp., $27.50 HB)

America remains in the grip of what is arguably its third great opioid addiction and overdose crisis. It began in the late 1990s as doctors tried to address an historic problem of under-prescribing and unavailability of opioids for chronic pain treatment that affected many patients. But mistakes were made along the way, and a massive tide of not always well targeted prescription opioids swamped the country. As regulators and law enforcement cracked down on pain pills, that morphed into a deadly wave of heroin addiction. And then we got fentanyl, which quickly took first place as a cause for overdose deaths. Produced mostly in China and Mexico, fentanyl is used by some hardcore addicts with high tolerance, but mainly appears as an adulterant added to heroin or in counterfeit prescription pills.

The authors of the three books reviewed here take on various aspects of the phenomenon, from the granular nitty-gritty of the lives of poor, white, female drug users ensnared in the treatment and rehab system in present-day Appalachia, to a state-level look at how drug distribution companies flooded West Virginia with literally billions of prescription opioids, to a long-term overview of the effort to regulate drugs and the subsequent -- and enduring -- historic division of drug use and users into markets black and white. (And by white markets, we are referring not only to legality but also, sadly yet unsurprisingly, skin color.)

Taken together, the three books weave a damning indictment of pharmaceutical companies, the people and entities that are supposed to regulate them, and the moral crusaders who -- too often, successfully -- use the issue of drug use to call for repressive policies, especially aimed at people who aren't "good people;" that is, poor and/or non-white people.

There are also some things the books don't do more than tangentially. They don't touch on the issue of access to pain medications for chronic pain patients. These are people who often suffer not from too-easy access to prescription opioids, but from obstacles to access, and who have suffered even more as politicians and regulators moved to rein in what they argue is massive overprescribing of such medications.

Whether it's being prosecuted for seeking their medicine in the black market or being forced to jump through hoops to obtain their medicine or being refused it altogether in the white market, these are people whose access to the medicines they need is encumbered. Their story is an important part of the debate over opioids (and drug policy more generally), but it gets only a side mention in one of these three works. But over-prescribing of opioids and under-prescribing of them continue to coexist.

The books also don't attempt to disentangle supply-driven opioid abuse, from the so-called "deaths of despair." The same social and economic factors that have driven up the suicide rate in recent decades, and which arguably helped to elect Donald Trump, increase the rates at which drugs are used and abused, including opioids. That in turn leads to more overdose deaths, and some apparent overdoses actually are suicides.

And the authors don't ask their readers to question whether any given "pill mill" or seemingly too large prescription, is really what it looks like. If we accept that abuses in the supply system have played a role in the opioid crisis, that doesn't mean that any given doctor or pharmacist or distributor is guilty as charged. A medical practice with patients treating patients from hundreds of miles away, could be a "pill mill," but it could also have the one doctor who understands pain treatment and is willing to work with poor people whom other doctors view as too risky. A prescription that seems huge because of the number of pills, could represent diversion to the underground market – or it could mean that a long-term pain patient who needs a large dosage because of tolerance built up over time, and who doesn't use technology like a medically-inserted morphine pump, is reliant on pills and their standard-sized dosages that are designed for less tolerant patients. Without considering those contexts, pill numbers can be a misleading metric, at least some of the time.

The books do discuss some options for making effective opioid addiction treatments more easy for more patients to obtain, or for reducing the likelihood of a user coming to serious harm. But the most effective treatment for this type of addiction is the use of other opioids, in what's known as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Through controlled use of methadone or buprenorphine supplied by clinics, people with opioid addictions are able to stabilize their lives and avoid catastrophic physical harms, while maintaining responsibilities like work and family needs. Making MAT available through a doctor's office, while training doctors in their use, would reduce the harm of opioid addiction by providing a legal alternative that works -- in this case a quality-controlled opioid. Offering HAT, too -- heroin assisted treatment, or heroin maintenance, as Canada and some European countries do for people who have tried methadone or buprenorphine without succeeding -- would do more.

And that begs the question about prohibition itself. Though some may find it counterintuitive to talk about legalization as a solution to a problem driven by increased drug availability, it is the case that this opioid crisis in its entirety has transpired under the current system – a system in which all drugs of this type are illegal unless one has a prescription, and in which most people are usually not supposed to be given prescriptions. Fentanyl, which today accounts for 2/3 of US opioid deaths and has room to spread geographically and increase further, is a textbook example of the consequences of prohibition -- most people taking it, and nearly all of those who die from it, thought they were taking something else. If people who developed addiction problems had access to predictable, (relatively) safe, easy to access and financially affordable options, that might be better even than a less heavy-handed system but still prohibition-based system.

All that said, there is an opioid crisis. These three books provide an eye-opening and important look at some critical sides of the phenomenon.

Lesly-Marie Buer is a Knoxville-based harm reductionist and medical anthropologist whose RX Appalachia is a compelling examination of the socially constructed suffering of mainly poor, white women who use drugs in a cluster of eastern Kentucky counties. She spent months living in the area, followed the women to court, to drug treatment, and opioid maintenance programs, and interviewed them extensively over time.

The result is a nuanced portrayal of these women's lives and struggles as they contend with the demands of institutions of social control even as they have to deal with poverty, child custody issues, and their stigmatization as drug users and therefore bad mothers. In that very important sense, RX Appalachia gives voice to the voiceless.

It also voices an unrelenting critique of a social and political system that provides unequal access to resources, chronically underfunds services to the poor and needy -- including but not limited to drug treatment and mental health services -- and is more willing to impose social controls on these women than to help them deal with the complexities of their lives. Appalachia RX is an important contribution to our understanding of the way drug policies, as well as broader social and economic trends, play out on the bodies of these multiply oppressed women.

How some of those women got strung out in the first place is the subject matter of Death in Mud Lick, still in Appalachia and just across the West Virginia line from those Kentucky women. Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize for his years of doggedly chasing down the story of how drug distribution companies pumped billions of opioid pain pills into the state in just a few years, and here, he puts that reporting in book form. It's quite a tale.

Eyre starts with a single drug overdose death, and by the time he's done, has unraveled a tangled tale of negligence, indifference, and profit-driven decision-making that left 1,728 West Virginians dead of drug overdoses in a six-year period. Thanks to Eyre's journalistic persistence and to a legal team determined to get to the bottom of the flood of pain pills that overwhelmed the state (and the region and the nation), we now know that drug companies dumped some 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone tablets into the state during that same period.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Pharmaceutical corporations such as Purdue aggressively promoted their opioid products, doctors turned medical practices into pill-prescribing machines, pharmacies blithely filled numberless prescriptions, and drug distribution companies such as Cardinal and McKesson just as blithely delivered all those pills to the pharmacies, despite warning signs.

And regulators failed to regulate. Whether it was the state Board of Pharmacy or the DEA, regulators were asleep at the switch as an opioid epidemic grew right in front of them. And state officials were compromised by ties with the pharmaceutical industry and the distributors.

Eyre tells his tale with journalistic panache, taking the reader with him as he and his struggling newspaper take on the state political establishment and the distributors in the court battles that ultimately forced the companies and the DEA to release the records that documented the deluge of opioids. Death in Mud Lick is a real eye-opener.

But for David Hertzberg, an associate professor of history at the University of Buffalo and author of White Market Drugs, Eyre's story is just the latest chapter in the long history of America's effort to control drugs. Hertzberg begins with the opioid crisis of the late 19th Century and ably describes how the competing forces seeking to deal with it -- therapeutic reformers, repressive moral entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical companies, the medical profession -- created a class- and race-based bifurcation of the world of psychoactive substances into "medicines" and "drugs."

If it was prescribed by a physician, it was medicine. If not, not. The world of legal, regulated drugs became Hertzberg's white market. The world of repressed, prohibited drugs is the familiar black market. One serves middle-class white people and is concerned with consumer safety. The other serves the poor, the unconnected, the immigrant, the people of color, whose drug use and sales are considered crimes.

The history of drugs in America is well-trodden ground, but Hertzberg brings both new revelations and a new perspective to the subject. The drug reform movement's archvillain, Harry Anslinger, the master of Reefer Madness propaganda, becomes more than one-dimensional as Hertzberg tells the story of his strict scientific approach to opioids. As head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Anslinger enlisted a Committee on Drug Addiction to closely study opioids, and those scientists even developed their own new opioids (they were market flops), as well as closely measuring the addictive potential of other potential new opioid products. Here, Anslinger was acting not as the heavy-handed lawman, but as the protector of white market consumers.

And as he tells the story of pharmaceutical companies continually coming up with new psychoactive products, patterns begin to occur. After the original drug prohibition laws a century ago effectively suppressed opioid use for decades, the pharmaceutical companies came up with barbiturates in the 1930s, amphetamines in the 1940s and 1950s, benzodiazepines in the 1970s and 1980s, before hitting it big again with opioids in the OxyContin-led bonanza beginning in the 1990s and lingering like a bad hangover to the present day. In all those cases, the profit motives of the drug makers overwhelmed regulatory structures designed to protect those good, deserving consumers of the white market -- even as the drug companies demonized black market drug users for causing the problems.

Given this history of pharmaceutical and regulatory fecklessness, Hertzberg comes to a shocking, but not really surprising conclusion: Left to their own devices, profit-drive drug companies peddling addictive products will function in ways that are incompatible with the public health. In Hertzberg's words:

"Profit-driven drug markets follow a predicably damaging cycle. Companies hype new medicines as safe and beneficial and sell with insufficient regard for consumer safety; a health crisis ensues as consumers are left ill-equipped to make informed decisions; authorities respond with consumer protections and destructive drug wars; the pharmaceutical industry devises strategies to circumvent the new restrictions and start the cycle again. After umpteen repetitions of this cat and mouse game, it may be time to acknowledge the impossibility of establishing a safe, for-profit market for addictive drugs. Alternatives exist: state monopolies, for example, or public utility models. We need to consider these and other creative ideas for dramatically minimizing or even eliminating profit from psychoactive capitalism."

Whether a shift to models of that type is what's needed, or just better regulation, is a question for debate. But it's clear that ending drug prohibition isn't enough. Reimagining the white market is necessary, too.

Chronicle AM: Trump Anti-Drug Budget Released, MT and ND Legal Pot Inits See Changes, More... (2/11/20)

The president praises authoritarian governments that quickly execute drug dealers, the White House releases the annual anti-drug budget, a North Dakota pot legalization initiative extends its signature gathering drive, and more. 

President Trump has a soft spot for authoritarian countries that execute drug dealers. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Initiative Committee Removes Medical Marijuana Changes from Marijuana Legalization Initiative. New Approach Montana, which is proposing a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives, has revised one of them after state officials raised concerns that its statutory initiative provision lowering the tax on medical marijuana would violate the rule that initiatives only deal with a single subject. New Approach has now removed that language; the changes are reflected in the current version of the initiative.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Shifts from June Ballot Effort to November. The North Dakota Freedom of Cannabis Act campaign, which seeks to pass a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment has announced it will no longer seek a place on the June ballot, but is now aiming at November. The move came Tuesday, the final day to hand in signatures to qualify for the June ballot. By shifting to the later election date, the campaign gives itself an additional four months to come up with more signatures. It needs 26,904 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot and only had 18,000 raw signatures so far.

Medical Marijuana

Trump's FY 2021 Budget Would Remove Protection for Medical Marijuana States. As part of its just released fiscal year 2021 budget, the Trump administration is proposing an existing policy that protects state medical marijuana programs from Justice Department meddling. Since 2014, Congress has approved a rider in the department's appropriations bill that blocks it from spending funds to do so, but the Senate failed to approve it last year.

Drug Courts

Alabama Report Calls for Statewide Standards for Drug Courts. The legal advocacy group Alabama Appleseed has released a report that examined diversion programs in the state, including the resort to drug courts, and recommends that lawmakers establish uniform statewide standards for such programs, which the report found varied wildly from county to county. "We hope this report will provide a road map for tackling some really tough issues in a smarter way. We hear so much about the opioid crisis, and it is real and it devastates family and communities. We hear so much about the horrors and the violence in our prisons," said Appleseed Executive Director Carla Crowder. "If more people could be treated outside of prison for substance use issues, we could find a way to make these opportunities work for the people who need them most. It could make a difference in two huge and sometimes seemingly overwhelming issues in this state."

Drug Policy

Trump Praises China's "Powerful" Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. At a meeting with US governors at the White House Monday, President Donald Trump responded to a question about fentanyl imported from China by praising Chinese President Xi Jingping's decision to criminalize the drug and execute drug dealers. "Now they've put it into their criminal statutes. And criminal in China for drugs by the way means that's serious, they're getting a maximum penalty," said Trump. "And you know what the maximum penalty is in China for that, and it goes very quickly." He then praised countries that execute drug dealers after "fair but quick" trials: "It's interesting. Where you have Singapore, they have very little drug problem. Where you have China, they have very little drug problem," Trump said. "States with a very powerful death penalty on drug dealers don't have a drug problem. I don't know that our country is ready for that, but if you look throughout the world, the countries with a powerful death penalty... with a fair but quick trial, they have very little, if any drug problem."

Trump Drug Budget Continues to Grow; Treatment and Prevention Funds Barely Exceed Enforcement and Interdiction Funds. The White House has released the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Drug Control Budget, which requests $35.7 billion for counter-drug efforts, an increase of $94 million from the previous year. The request includes $18.6 billion for prevention and treatment efforts, and $17.1 billion for domestic law enforcement, interdiction, and international drug control efforts. 

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Criminal Justice Proposals, British Drug Deaths at All-Time High, More... (8/19/19)

Bernie Sanders rolls out a radical criminal justice reform package, marijuana legalization initiatives get moving in Arizona and South Dakota, Atlanta rejects expansion of drug-free commercial zones, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Details Released. The Arizona Dispensaries Association last Friday released details of their proposed marijuana legalization initiative, the Smart and Safe Act. Supporters will need 237,645 valid voter signatures by July 2, 2020, to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The act would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, allow adults to grow up to six plants each (with a maximum of 12 per home), and provide for expungement of past pot convictions. Employers and property owners would have the right to forbid use at their workplaces and on their property. Marijuana sales would carry a 16% excise tax.

South Dakota Legalization Initiative Advances One Step. State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) last Friday filed an official explanation of a proposed initiative to legalize marijuana. The initiative would legalize adult use through a constitutional amendment and require the legislature to pass legislation creating rules for medical cannabis and hemp. Organizers will have until November 3 to come up with16,961 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Lawrence Denney (R) announced last Friday that an initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved for signature gathering. The measure would allow qualified patients to possess up to four ounces and grow up to six plants. It also would protect medical marijuana production facilities and medical marijuana dispensaries from civil forfeitures and penalties under state law and make it illegal to discriminate against registered medical marijuana users in education, housing or employment. Organizers have until April 30, 2020, to gather some 55,000 valid voter signatures, with at least 6% of voters from all 18 state legislative districts signing on.

Criminal Justice

Bernie Sanders Unveils Proposal for Massive Overhaul of Criminal Justice System. Democratic presidential contender Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) on Sunday unveiled a sweeping plan aimed at cutting the country's prison population in half and eliminating "institutional racism and corporate profiteering" in the criminal justice system. The proposal seeks to reform the nation's prisons, police departments, courts, drug laws and treatment of people who have mental illnesses. Sanders is calling for an end to cash bail, solitary confinement, the death penalty, and civil asset forfeiture while at the same time looking to legalize marijuana and safe injection sites for hard drug users, among other proposals.

Atlanta Kills Expansion of Drug-Free Commercial Zones. The city council's Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee voted last Tuesday to kill an ordinance that would expand the geographic boundaries of Atlanta's Drug-Free Commercial Zones. Those are areas where there are heightened penalties for drug crimes and where drug offenders can be banished from returning. Opponents of the expansion cited research showing the zones exacerbate racial disparities in drug policing.

International

England, Wales Drug Overdose Deaths Hit All-Time High. The British Office of National Statistics has released drug-related death numbers for 2018 and reports there were 4,359 drug-related deaths in England and Wales last year, the highest number and the highest percentage increase (16%) since the series started in 1993. Between 2017 and 2018, there were increases in the number of deaths involving a wide range of substances, though opiates, such as heroin and morphine, continued to be the most frequently mentioned type of drug. Deaths involving cocaine doubled between 2015 and 2018 to their highest ever level, while the numbers involving new psychoactive substances (NPS) returned to their previous levels after halving in 2017.

Mexico's Top Court Demands Action on Medical Marijuana Regulation. After months of delays, the country's supreme court last week ordered the health ministry to issue regulations within six months on medical marijuana use. The court said the government's failure to act had put rights at risk for patients, including children. The health ministry said it would comply with the court order. The ruling comes as the country is moving toward recreational marijuana legalization.

(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: Drug Czar's Office Shuttered in Shutdown, DC Full Pot Legalization Bill Filed, More... (1/9/19)

The federal government shutdown shutters the drug czar's office, Trump again mischaracterizes the nature of border drug smuggling, New Jersey's highest court lends a hand to drug court graduates seeking expungement, and more.

closed down in the shutdown
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Lawmaker Files Expungement Bill. Rep Renny Cushing (D) has filed a bill, HB 399, that would let people with convictions for possessing less than three-fourths of an ounce of weed before September 2017 have their records cleared. That date is when the state law decriminalizing pot possession went into effect.

DC Lawmaker Files Full Legalization Bill. Councilmember David Grosso (I) has reintroduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act, which would allow the city to establish a system of retail marijuana sales. Such a move has been blocked by House Republicans, and its prospects this year remain uncertain, but Grosso is moving ahead anyway.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Lawmaker Files Pair of Medical Marijuana Bills. Rep. Renny Cushing (D) has filed two bills related to medical marijuana. HB 366 would add opioid addiction as a qualifying condition, while HB 364 would allow patients and caregivers to grow their own medicine.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Lawmaker Files Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) has filed House Bill 1286, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. He filed a similar bill in 2017 that passed the House, but got zero votes in the Senate after it was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who remains in office but has refused so far to comment on this year's bill.

Drug Policy

Trump Once Again Misstates How Drugs Cross the Border With Mexico. In his oval office speech Tuesday night making his case for a border wall, President Trump once again mischaracterized the nature of drug smuggling across the Mexican border. While he was correct in stating that the vast majority of drugs coming into the country come through Mexico, his own DEA reported in November that "only a small percentage" of heroin and other drugs comes through areas outside of ports of entry.

Federal Government Shutdown Shutters Drug Czar's Office. Among the casualties of the shutdown is the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). If the shutdown continues up to the end of the month, funding for important grant programs involving law enforcement and prevention could be jeopardized.

Expungement

New Jersey Supreme Court Eases Requirements for Drug Court Graduates. The state Supreme Court ruled 7-0 Tuesday that drug offenders who have successfully completed a court-ordered treatment program do not have to prove that expunging their criminal records of those offenses is in the public interest. Instead, the high court ruled, the burden to demonstrate that the public interest requirement was not met should fall on the state. "In light of the rigorous monitoring that is the hallmark of drug court, as well as the new law's overall policy in favor of expungement for successful graduates, we find that participants are entitled to a rebuttable presumption that expungement is consistent with the public interest," the court held.

Jailed for Smoking Cigarettes? A Tennessee Judge's Outrageous Abuse of the Drug Court System

A Tennessee judge has taken the questionable logic of drug courts to a ridiculous and punitive extreme by jailing drug court participants for having smoked cigarettes.

drug court in Henrico County, VA
That's right, Hamilton County Drug Court Judge Tom Greenholtz has taken it upon himself to punish people under his supervision for using a legal substance because he thinks doing so would give them "a better chance at life."

Earlier this month, he jailed "a handful" of drug court participants who came up positive for nicotine in court-mandated drug tests.

"We routinely test for nicotine as we do for other controlled substances," Greenholtz told Chattanooga TV station Newschannel 9, blithely ignoring the fact that nicotine is not a controlled substance under either state or federal law and that cigarette smoking is not a crime.

As for throwing hapless drug court victims in jail for violating his arbitrary edict: "It shows how serious we are about combatting this," he said.

Drug courts first appeared in the 1990s as a response to the overflowing jails and prisons generated by the war on drugs and were designed to keep drug users out of prison by subjecting them to intense judicial oversight replete with jail cell punishments for people who relapsed while under supervision.

But from the beginning, while prosecutors and drug court judges give lip service to the widely accepted idea that drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing medical condition, the drug court model punishes people for suffering that medical condition. And now, Judge Greenholtz has taken that paradox to a whole new level.

Now he is punishing people who may indeed be physically addicted to nicotine even though using or possessing nicotine is not a crime. That's what can happen when you let judges pretend they are doctors.

As a means of dealing with drug-addicted people, drug courts are humane only in comparison with imprisonment. The vast majority of drug court participants are there solely because they got caught using or possessing drugs. In an enlightened society, we would either offer them assistance if they desire it or just leave them alone (not arrest them in the first place) absent harm to themselves or others. Instead, with drug courts, we subject them to intense judicial scrutiny and punish them for relapsing.

As the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a damning 2014 report on drug courts:

Drug courts have spread across the country, yet available research does not support their continued expansion. Most drug courts do not reduce imprisonment, do not save money or improve public safety, and fail to help those struggling with drug problems. The drug court model must be corrected to play a more effective role in improving the well-being of people involved in the criminal justice system who suffer substance misuse problems -- while preserving scarce public safety resources.

Throwing people in jail for smoking does not appear to be "improving the well-being of people involved in the criminal justice system" or "preserving scarce public safety resources."

There is some scientific research suggesting that people who quit smoking cigarettes do better in recovering from drug dependency, but that research finds only small differences. That study found a mere 3% difference in recovery rates between people who had quit smoking and those who hadn't. And the people in the study who had quit smoking had done so voluntarily -- not under threat of imprisonment.

People who had actually participated in the Hamilton County Drug Court had a different take.

Paula Brazzell told Newschannel 9 she had been addicted to pain pills for years, it took her several attempts to get clean, and that cigarettes helped.

"I think so, yeah," she said. "It calmed me down."

One of Brazzell's friends was part of that group that Judge Greenholtz jailed for smoking this month. Brazzell couldn't believe it.

"You're taking up those cells, paid for by taxpayer dollars to put somebody in jail for failing a nicotine test? I mean come on," she said.

Drug courts are a very blunt tool with which to address drug dependency. They become even more questionable when used as social engineering to punish people who aren't committing any crime other than a social faux pas by smoking.

Clinton's and Trump's Drug Policies [FEATURE]

(This article was written prior to the election.)

One means of judging the competing presidential candidates is to examine their actual policy prescriptions for dealing with serious issues facing the country. When it comes to drug policy, the contrasts between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn't be more telling.

Donald Trump talks drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
The country is in the midst of what can fairly be called an opioid crisis, with the CDC reporting 78 Americans dying every day from heroin and prescription opioid overdoses. Both candidates have addressed the problem on the campaign trail, but, as is the case in so many other policy areas, one candidate has detailed proposals, while the other offers demagogic sloganeering.

Guess which is which.

Hillary Clinton has offered a detailed $10 billion plan to deal with what she called the "quiet epidemic" of opioid addiction. Donald Trump's plan consists largely of "build the wall."

That was the centerpiece of his October 15 speech in New Hampshire where he offered his clearest drug policy prescriptions yet (though it was overshadowed by his weird demand that Hillary Clinton undergo a drug test).  To be fair, since then, Trump has also called for expanding law enforcement and treatment programs, but he has offered no specifics or cost estimates.

And the centerpiece of his approach remains interdiction, which dovetails nicely with his nativist immigration positions.

Donald Trump wants a wall here to stop drugs and immigrants. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
"A Trump administration will secure and defend our borders," he said in that speech. "A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth."

Trump did not address the failure of 40 years of ever-increasing border security and interdiction policies to stop the flow of drugs up until now, nor did he explain what would prevent a 50-foot wall from being met with a 51-foot ladder.

Trump's drug policy also takes aim at a favorite target of conservatives: so-called sanctuary cities, where local officials refuse to cooperate in harsh federal deportation policies.

"We are also going to put an end to sanctuary cities, which refuse to turn over illegal immigrant drug traffickers for deportation," he said. "We will dismantle the illegal immigrant cartels and violent gangs, and we will send them swiftly out of our country."

In contrast, Clinton's detailed proposal calls for increased federal spending for prevention, treatment and recovery, first responders, prescribers, and criminal justice reform. The Clinton plan would send $7.5 billion to the states over 10 years, matching every dollar they spend on such programs with four federal dollars. Another $2.5 billion would be designated for the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program.

Hillary Clinton has a detailed drug policy position. (state.gov)
While Trump advocates increased border and law enforcement, including a return to now widely discredited mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders, Clinton does not include funding for drug enforcement and interdiction efforts in her proposal. Such funding would presumably come through normal appropriations channels.

Instead of a criminal justice crackdown, Clinton vows that her attorney general will issue guidance to the states urging them to emphasize treatment over incarceration for low-level drug offenders. She also supports alternatives to incarceration such as drug courts (as does Trump). But unlike Trump, Clinton makes no call for increased penalties for drug offenders.

Trump provides lip service to prevention, treatment and recovery, but his rhetorical emphasis illuminates his drug policy priorities: more walls, more law enforcement, more drug war prisoners.

There is one area of drug policy where both candidates are largely in agreement, and that is marijuana policy. Both Clinton and Trump have embraced medical marijuana, both say they are inclined to let the states experiment with legalization, but neither has called for marijuana legalization or the repeal of federal pot prohibition.

If Clinton's drug policies can be said to be a continuation of Obama's, Trump's drug policies are more similar to a return to Nixon's. 

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. 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: New England Pot Polls, First FL MedMJ Dispensary Set to Open, More... (7/20/16)

A Massachusetts poll has the marijuana legalization initiative losing, a New Hampshire poll shows record support for legalization, Florida's first dispensary gets the okay to open, Illinois protects drug court participants' opioid treatment access, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Losing, But… A new poll from Gravis Marketing has 51% opposed to the legalization initiative sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, with only 41% saying they would vote for it. The poll was commissioned by a conservative political action committee called Jobs First, and Gravis used "instant voice recognition" to conduct the survey. Gravis said the poll's margin of error was +/- 3.3%.

New Hampshire Poll Has Record Support for Legalization. A whopping 61% of respondents said they supported legalizing small amounts of marijuana in a new WMUR Granite State poll. The strong support for freeing the weed comes as even as 43% of respondents named illegal drug use as the most important problem facing the state. Illegal drug use has been cited as the state's top problem in every WMUR since October 2015.

Medical Marijuana

Florida's First Dispensary Gets Okay to Open. The state Department of Health Wednesday granted a formal Authorization to Process and Authorization to Dispense to the Trulieve dispensary in Tallahassee. The shop will begin selling low-THC marijuana products beginning immediately, with high-THC products available early next month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Protect Drug Court Participant Opioid Treatment Access. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last week signed into law a bill that will prevent drug court judges from barring participants from using medications doctors prescribe to treat opiate addiction. The measure will go into effect January 1.

Chronicle AM: Jeb Bush Releases Drug Policy, MO Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use in Pregnancy, More... (1/5/16)

Marijuana business license applications are now available online in Oregon, Illinois medical marijuana sales go past a million dollars, Jeb Bush rolls out a drug policy platform, and more.

Jeb Bush has released a drug policy platform. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Marijuana Business License Applications Now Available Online. The state Liquor Control Commission today opened the state's online application system for marijuana licenses. The state expects hundreds of people to apply for licenses to grow, process, and sell pot. The agency had originally planned for a call center with staff and policy experts to be open today, but a winter storm resulted instead in state buildings being closed today.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales at Nearly $1.7 Million in Less Than Two Months. Sales began on November 9 and totaled nearly $1.7 million by year's end. The state said 2,815 patients had been served. The state has collected about $107,000 in taxes so far.

Indiana CBD for Kids Bill Filed. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) has filed Senate Bill 72, which would grant immunity from prosecution to doctors conducting trials on the medical efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD). The bill has already been approved by an interim committee and is expected to have good prospects of passage.

Drug Policy

Jeb Bush Rolls Out Drug Policy Platform. The GOP presidential contender today released a drug control platform that calls for increased efforts at prevention, "strengthening criminal justice" (by giving the feds "the resources they need to tackle illicit drug pipelines and supply chains," increasing sentences for high-level drug traffickers, but reducing them for low-level offenders; and increasing the use of drug courts), "securing the border," and promoting treatment and recovery programs.

Reproductive Rights

Missouri Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use By Pregnant Women. Rep. Jared Taylor (R-Nixa) has filed House Bill 1903, which would make it a crime for a woman to use drugs while pregnant. Taylor said the bill is designed to get women into drug treatment, but reproductive rights activists said it could drive them away from seeking health care. The bill would make it a misdemeanor for a woman to use drugs is she "reasonably should have known she was pregnant" and a felony charge of "abuse of an unborn child" if the fetus died before birth. Taylor filed a similar bill last year; it won a committee vote, but never got a full House floor vote.

International

Argentina's New Rightist President Vows More Drug War. President Mauricio Macri today vowed to crack down on drug trafficking as the country is mesmerized by the December 26 escape of three prisoners convicted in drug-related killings. "We are committed. We will not look away. We are going to take this on with all our strength," Macri said, blaming his predecessor, Kristina Kirchner. "We all know that, unfortunately, (drug trafficking) has increased more than ever in our country because of inaction, incompetency or complicity of the previous government," he said.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. 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: OR Marijuana Sales Begin This Week, FDA Defends Oxycontin for Youth, More (9/29/15)

Half of Oregon's dispensaries will start selling marijuana to any adult beginning this week, the FDA fires back at critics of its pediatric prescribing rules for Oxycontin, a prominent UN official lists the ways the drug "problem" impacts human rights, and more.

The FDA counters critics who say its rules for pediatric prescribing will increase availability. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Michelle Rehwinke Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana. The measure is House Bill 4021. This is the second time she has filed the bill.

Oregon Dispensaries to Start Selling to Recreational Users This Week. More than half of the state's 345 medical marijuana dispensaries have told the Health Authority they plan to sell recreational marijuana starting Thursday, October 1. Recreational marijuana has been legal in the state since July 1, but recreational pot shops won't be open until next year, so the state is allowing dispensaries to fill the void.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Now Taking Applications for Medical Marijuana Businesses. As of Monday, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is accepting applications for state licenses for growers, processors, and dispensaries. The commission will issue 15 licenses for growers, up to 92 for dispensaries, and an unlimited number for processors. The deadline for applications is November 6, and dispensaries could be stocked and open by next fall. Click on the commission link for more details.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

FDA Rejects Critics on Oxycontin for Youth. In response to critics including US senators, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defended its decision last month to allow the prescribing of the powerful opioid to pediatric patients. Critics accused the agency of expanding access to the drug, but the FDA said doctors could already prescribe Oxycontin to pediatric patients and the agency was merely setting prescribing standards. "It's important to stress that this approval was not intended to expand or otherwise change the pattern of use of extended-release opioids in pediatric patients," said FDA spokesman Eric Pahon said in a statement. "Doctors were already prescribing it to children, without the safety and efficacy data in hand with regard to the pediatric population."

Drug Policy

UN Official Says Drug "Problem" Violates Human Rights in Five Areas. UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said Monday that the global drug "problem" violates human rights in the areas of the right to health, rights relating to criminal justice and discrimination, the rights of the child, and the rights of indigenous peoples. "It is clear that the world's drug problem impacts the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, often resulting in serious violations," said Pansieri, "It is, nevertheless, a positive development that human rights are increasingly being taken into account in the preparations for the General Assembly's Special Session on the world drug problem to be held in April 2016." The remarks came during her report to the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

Harm Reduction

New York Governor Signs Bill to Expand Opiate Maintenance in Drug Courts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 4239, which prohibits drug court judges from forcing defendants to withdraw from opiate maintenance treatments as a condition of avoiding prison. Click on the title link for more details.

International

New Zealand Activists Call for Party Pill Drug Testing. The New Zealand Drug Foundation is calling on the government to legalize pill testing services. Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell said it was only a matter of time until someone died taking pills of unknown provenance. He added that the government routinely tests drugs for criminal justice purposes, and that those results should be made available as a public health measure. The government said it hadn't considered pill testing, but was open to the possibility in the future.

Drug War Issues

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