Fentanyl

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Chronicle AM: DEA Takes Aim at Fentanyl Precursors, CA Governor Takes Aim at Vaping Crisis, More... (9/17/19)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issues an executive order on vaping, the DEA designates some fentanyl precursors as controlled substances, and more.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) takes aim at the vaping crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Issues Executive Order on Vaping. Responding to rising concerns over vaping-related deaths and illnesses, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday issued an executive order launching a new crackdown on the industry, for both tobacco-related companies and marijuana businesses. The order jump-starts a new public awareness campaign focused on the potential dangers of vaping both tobacco and marijuana, seeks recommendations on mandating additional warning signs on vaping products and at stores, and heightens enforcement against counterfeit e-cigs and marijuana products. It requests the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) begin developing recommendations for warnings on vaping products and at retail locations -- possibly including cannabis retailers -- and increasing enforcement against retailers that sell vaping products to minors. While Newsom focused on e-cigs, he also made clear that he was looking at the marijuana industry, too. "This is about these vaping products that are used for both cannabis and tobacco products," Newsom said. "We're getting serious about this issue and we're going to drive these issues as far as we can through executive authority."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Legislature Passes Changes to Medical Marijuana Law, Allows More Dispensaries. The legislature on Tuesday approved changes in the state's medical marijuana law that will allow for 14 medical marijuana dispensaries, and possibly more in the future. But lawmakers said they still need to make further "tweaks" in the law, including removing a state-operated "central fill pharmacy" after local officials expressed concerns about possibly violating federal laws. The state's program is supposed to be up and running by March 1, 2020.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Proposes to Control Three Precursor Chemicals Used in Illicit Fentanyl Manufacture. The DEA has proposed to control three substances used by operators of clandestine laboratories to illicitly manufacture the deadly Schedule II controlled substance fentanyl. The DEA proposed on September 13 that benzylfentanyl and 4-anilinopiperidine be controlled as list I chemicals under the Controlled Substances Act. On Tuesday, DEA proposed to designate norfentanyl as an immediate precursor (i.e., a substance from which another is formed) for fentanyl and to make it a Schedule II controlled substance under the CSA. Both Notices are based on findings that these substances are important precursors used in the illegal production of fentanyl. Most illicit fentanyl manufacturing is done outside the United States.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill, US-China Exchange Fentanal Complaints, More... (9/4/19)

Half of Arizonans area ready to legalize marijuana, a Mexican senator files a marijuana legalization bill, US and China officials trade fentanyl complaints, more.

A marijuana legalization bill has been filed in Mexico as a Supreme Court deadline looms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has 50% for Legalization. A new OH Predictive Insights poll has 50% in favor and 40% opposed, with 10% undecided. The poll comes as organizers of a 2020 legalization initiative campaign seek to qualify for the ballot. The support level is not enough to be comfortable, but greater than a narrowly defeated 2016 initiative ever had.

Foreign Policy

China Says Only "Limited" Cooperation with US on Fentanyl. Responding to complaints from Washington that it is not doing enough to stop the export of fentanyl from illicit labs there, China responded Tuesday by saying it and the United States have only "limited" cooperation on stopping fentanyl smuggling. Liu Yuejin, Vice Commissioner of the China National Narcotics Control Commission, told a news conference that China was cracking down on illicit fentanyl production: "The National Narcotics Control report states that looking at cases, counternarcotics law enforcement departments from China and the United States have for many years maintained a good cooperative relationship," Liu said. "But cooperation on investigating and prosecuting fentanyl-related substances is extremely limited." Since 2012, Liu said the US has only provided "clues" on six fentanyl smuggling cases to the Chinese government, with only three of those resulting in arrests. Liu also denied that China is the source of most fentanyl smuggled into the US.

International

Mexican Senator Files Marijuana Legalization Bill as Supreme Court Deadline Looms. Sen Julio Menchaca Salazar, a member of the ruling MORENA Party, filed a bill to legalize marijuana on Tuesday. The move comes only a month ahead of a deadline imposed by the country's Supreme Court to end marijuana prohibition. The measure also addresses hemp and medical marijuana. The bill comes as the Senate continues with a series of events designed to foster dialogue about how to legalize marijuana. The Supreme Court ruled last year that the existing ban on personal use and cultivation is unconstitutional and gave the congress until next month to remedy the country's drug laws.

Chronicle AM: No CBD for Military Members, Hawaii Decriminalizes Pot Possession, More... (8/22/19)

The Defense Department makes it crystal clear that service members can't use CBD products, Hawaii's governor fails to veto a decriminalization bill -- thus allowing it to become law -- and more.

The drug czar's office has announced new moves against fentanyl. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Decriminalizes as Governor Fails to Veto Bill. A decriminalization bill passed earlier this year by the legislature became law on Tuesday without the signature of Gov. David Ige (D). Ige didn't sign the bill, but neither did he veto it, so now it has become law. The bill decriminalizes the possession of up three grams of marijuana with a fine of up to $130. The new law will go into effect on January 11, 2020.

Hemp

Defense Department Bars Service Members from Using Hemp-Derived CBD. The Defense Department is making crystal clear that members of the armed forces are not allowed to use cannibidiol (CBD). "It's completely forbidden for use by any service member in any of the services at this point of time," said Patricia Deuster, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House Announces Actions to Crack Down on Trafficking of Fentanyl and Synthetic Opioids. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) announced Wednesday that it had sent a series of advisories to help domestic and foreign businesses protect themselves from being used to traffic illicit fentanyl and "foster deeper public-private collaboration to curb the production and sale of illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other synthetic opioids." The advisories are focused on four facets of the trafficking of illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and synthetic opioids destined for the United States: manufacturing, marketing, movement and money. It also announced that it is "identifying two Chinese nationals and a China-based Drug Trafficking Organization as significant foreign narcotics traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) and designated one associate and a China-based entity for being owned or controlled by one of the Chinese nationals."

Why Are Meth- and Cocaine-Related Overdose Deaths on the Increase? [FEATURE]

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, overdoseday.com
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released provisional data indicating that the country's overdose crisis peaked in late 2017 and actually declined by 5.1 percent between then and late 2018. While that is long-awaited good news, it's not great news: The annual number of drug overdose deaths was still more than 68,000, and that number is still more than a third higher than in 2014, when the overdose epidemic was already well underway.

The fever may have broken, but the patient is still in critical condition. And there is one bit of data in the CDC report that is definitely not good news: While overall overdose deaths finally began to decline, overdose deaths involving stimulants were on the increase. For cocaine, the death toll started rising in about 2012; for psychostimulants (overwhelmingly methamphetamine), the climb began a couple of years earlier.

But the new data show a dramatic uptick in overdose deaths with stimulant involvement last year. Fatal overdoses where cocaine was mentioned were up 34 percent and those where methamphetamine was involved were up 37 percent. That's more than 14,000 people dying with cocaine in their systems and more than 10,000 dying with meth in their systems.

What is driving this spike in stimulant-involved overdose deaths? Some of it can be attributed to rising use levels for cocaine and meth, which can in turn be linked to increased supplies. Meth seizures were up dramatically last year and recent DEA reports suggest that cocaine availability has increased steadily since 2012, particularly in the south and east coast of the US. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime suggests that cocaine production and manufacture are at the highest rates ever recorded.

"There is some research to suggest that we are seeing slightly higher rates of recent cocaine and methamphetamine use compared to rates of use just a few years ago," said Sheila Vakharia, PhD, a researcher with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "But increased rates of use do not always mean increased rates of addiction or overdose. Death rates are influenced by a variety of factors, including age of the user, the amount used, and other substances used, among other things."

They are also influenced by race, gender, and geographic location. A recent study looking at data from 2012 to 2015 and examining race and gender trends by drug found that white men had the highest rates of methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths more generally, while black men had highest rates of cocaine-involved overdose deaths. These racial differences persisted for women of each race as well, although their overdose rates were lower than the men in their racial groups.

"Methamphetamine-involved deaths are high on the West Coast and Midwest, while cocaine-involved deaths are high on the East Coast. We are actually seeing that in some Western states that methamphetamine is either the top drug involved in overdose deaths or among the top drugs included in overdose deaths," Vakharia noted.

"Based on the latest CDC data, Nevada’s overdose crisis has been driven by prescription opioids and methamphetamine for the past several years- in fact, methamphetamine has been the #1 drug involved in overdoses there since November 2016. Similarly, in November 2016, Oregon saw methamphetamine become the top drug involved in overdose deaths," she specified.

"Meanwhile, the East Coast is seeing the involvement of cocaine in overdoses increase as well. While no eastern state has cocaine driving their overdose crisis, places like DC are seeing fentanyl as the top driver of deaths followed by cocaine. Last year, while fentanyl contributed to the majority of overdose deaths, there were more cocaine-involved deaths than heroin or prescription opioids," Vakharia added.

It appears that it is not rising simulant use rates but the use of multiple substances that is largely driving the overall stimulant death toll upwards. A CDC report from May suggests that, from 2003 to 2017, almost three-quarters of cocaine-involved deaths involved an opioid while half of all methamphetamine involved deaths involved an opioid.

"Those CDC numbers are based on autopsy reports," said Daniel Raymond, deputy director of planning and policy for the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC). "In a lot of cases, there are multiple drugs involved, and just because an overdose involves a stimulant, it doesn't mean it was caused by stimulants."

Overdose deaths caused by stimulants look different from those caused by opioids, Raymond noted: "Fatal stimulant overdoses come from strokes, seizures, heart attacks, and potentially overheating," he said. "It's not like an opioid overdose with respiratory depression," he said.

"Some of this may be more a reflection that we still have lots of people dying from opioid-related overdoses, and it's just that more of them are also taking meth or cocaine, but the primary cause of death is the respiratory depression associated with opioid overdoses. In a lot of the cocaine deaths, medical examiners are finding both cocaine and opioids."

"We are seeing that toxicology reports of people who died with stimulants in their systems also had fentanyl or other opioids in their system," DPA's Vakharia concurred. She then listed a number of possible explanations:

  1. "This is accidental. Cross-contamination of a stimulant with an opioid like fentanyl could have been accidental and occurred during transport or packaging, and opioid-naïve stimulant users were accidentally exposed to opioid-contaminated stimulants."
  2. "This is due to co-use of opioids and stimulants in the form of speedballs (with cocaine) or goofballs (with methamphetamine), where both are used together for the desired effect of immediately stimulating high, followed by the euphoria of the opioid."
  3. "Stimulants are being willfully adulterated with opioids by suppliers/sellers, and stimulant users naïve to opioids are overdosing because they have no tolerance. (We at DPA dispute this theory, because it makes little sense why a seller would want to kill off a customer.)
  4. "Someone might have used a stimulant and opioids at different times within the past few days, but their toxicology could be showing the recency of use."

What Is to Be Done?

The Drug Policy Alliance and the Harm Reduction Coalition have both released reports on the rise in stimulant-involved overdose deaths, Stimulant Use: Harm Reduction, Treatment, and Future Directions from the former and Cocaine, Speed, and "Overdose": What Should We Be Doing? from the latter. Raymond and Vakharia took a few minutes to address those topics, too.

"There is no naloxone for stimulant overdose," Raymond pointed out. To reduce those overdoses "is about developing harm reduction strategies and outreach specifically targeting stimulant users," he said. "We spend so much time focusing on the opioid overdose crisis that our messages are oriented toward that. If we want to start a conversation, we need to not just tack it onto the opioid messaging. Even if you're not an opioid user, we want to talk about symptoms and warning signs."

HRC has moved in that direction, said Raymond. "We did some work on stimulant overdoses, we talked to a lot of people who used stimulants, we put out a guide -- Stimulant "Overamping”"Basics -- and went with the terms people used. Using 'overamping' opened a space for conversation for people who didn't identify as heroin users. If you talk overamping instead of overdosing, stimulant users have had that experience of using too much. Part of it is really just listening to the people who use the drugs. In harm reduction, we learn from the people we work with."

"People who use stimulants need access to sterile equipment beyond syringes, since many stimulant users smoke, so we are talking about sterile smoking equipment like pipes and filters," Vakharia said. "We need to teach users how to stay safe while using -- make sure to take breaks for hydration and to eat, get enough rest. It is easy to lose track of time when you've been up for days and when you have no appetite. This also puts undue stress on your heart and can exacerbate health issues," she noted.

"For many people, we should also talk about distributing safer sex supplies, because many people engage in risky sexual practices while they are using," Vakharia continued. "We also need to educate users on the risks associated with mixing different classes of drugs and the impact it can have on your body, knowing your limits, keeping naloxone on hand in case you are using opioids too, and not using alone."

It's not just harm reduction that's needed, though. Other policy prescriptions could help reduce the toll.

"Medicaid expansion and policies to increase access to basic health care and mental health care, as well as substance use treatment can greatly improve the health and well-being of people who use all drugs," Vakharia said. "And whether opioids are a person's primary drug or not, expanding access to naloxone helps anyone who is using them. Similarly, expanding Good Samaritan laws that reduce barriers to calling 911 can only help."

And then there's not treating drug uses like criminals.

"Decriminalizing drugs and paraphernalia would be a huge step forward," said Vakharia. "We know that contact with the criminal justice system increases harms and also presents barriers to going into recovery, which impacts job prospects, the ability to find work, and things like that."

"Drug decriminalization is crucial," said Raymond. "Criminalization just makes everything worse. It makes people more fearful of seeking help, and ends up locking so many people up in ways such that when they leave jail or prison, they're even more vulnerable. All of our work in harm reduction takes place in this context of mass criminalization. That keeps us swimming against the tide."

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

Chronicle AM: US & China Spar Over Fentanyl, Honduran President Named Trafficking Conspirator, More... (8/5/19)

Federal prosecutors accuse the president of Honduras of participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy, the US and China squabble over fentanyl, Colombia coca production declined slightly last year, and more.

The Trump administration and China are sparring over fentanyl exports and who is responsible for the opioid crisis. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Iowa Panel Backs Including Chronic Pain, But Not PTSD, Opioid Dependency. The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board last Friday approved a recommendation to add chronic pain as a qualifying condition under the state's medical marijuana law. But the board drew criticism from patients advocates for not making the same recommendation regarding PTSD, opioid dependency, and other medical conditions. The board could revisit the issue in November if more data or research is available.

Nebraska Attorney General Argues Legalizing Medical Marijuana Is Unconstitutional. State Attorney General Doug Peterson (R) issued an opinion last Thursday saying federal law preempts state medical marijuana laws and that an effort to legalize medical marijuana in the state "would be, therefore, unconstitutional." On the other hand, more than 30 states have legalized medical cannabis since 1996, but the Supreme Court has never ruled that state legalization regimes are preempted by federal law. [Ed: This Cato brief by Vanderbilt law profession Robert Mikos explains why federal law probably does not preempt state law in ways that would interfere with state legalization laws. -DB]

Foreign Policy

Trump Accuses China of Failing to Halt Fentanyl Exports to US. President Trump last Thursday accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of failing to honor a pledge to stem the flow of fentanyl from Chinese chemical factories to the United States. "My friend President Xi said that he would stop the sale of fentanyl to the United States -- this never happened, and many Americans continue to die," Trump said in a tweet. "We're losing thousands of people to fentanyl," he later told reporters. Xi had promised Trump in December that he would act, and China announced on May 1 that it had expanded its list of narcotics subject to state control to include more than 1,400 known fentanyl analogues.

China Rejects Trump Criticism on Fentanyl. Chinese state media fired back at President Trump on Sunday, with Xinhua editorializing that "the United States has only itself to blame" for the country's opioid crisis. A day earlier, Liu Yaojin, deputy director of the China National Narcotics Control Commission also hit back, saying "China is not the main resources of fentanyl in the United States… I think that the United States should solve the problem of the widespread abuse of fentanyl domestically."

[Ed: I've never been inclined to accept the word of China's government, much less of their counternarcotics officials. Nor, however, can one rely on President Trump's word about anything either. On this one, the Chinese are probably more right than wrong. As this commentary by RAND scholars Beau Kilmer and Bryce Pardo suggests (following a report on Asian drug policy, link a few paragraphs in), China's regulatory capacity (unlike its surveillance capacity) falls very far short of what's needed to monitor all the chemical companies that could be involved in fentanyl, some of which produce it legally for the medicinal market. If they were to succeed in stamping out illicit production by such businesses, it could have unintended consequences, such as sparking increased activity by groups operating entirely outside the law. -DB]

International

UNODC Reports Slight Drop in Colombia Coca Production Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported last Friday that coca production had declined by a modest 1.2% in 2018 from record levels the year before. In areas where voluntary and forced eradication took place, production dropped 18%, but that was largely offset by increases in areas dominated by violent drug trafficking organizations.

Honduran President Accused of Drug Conspiracy by US Prosecutors. In documents filed in federal court in New York City last Friday, prosecutors refer to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez as a co-conspirator in a drug trafficking scheme with his brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez, and former President Porfirio Lobo "to use drug trafficking to help assert power and control in Honduras." It says that the president and his predecessor "relied on drug proceeds" to fund political campaigns and cites "evidence of high-level political corruption." The US government has been a staunch supporter of Hernandez's government, pouring millions of dollars into security cooperation to stop cocaine headed to the US from South America.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Justice Coalition Speaks, Trump Administration Split on Fentanyl Analogues, More... (7/9/19)

Hawaii decriminalizes up to three grams of pot as of today, the Marijuana Justice Coalition lays down some principles for reform, the Trump administration is split on what to do about fentanyl analogues, and more.

Fentanyl and its analogues can be deadly, but could also have medicinal benefits. (DEA)
Marijuana Justice Coalition Asserts Statement of Principles on Federal Marijuana Reform. The Marijuana Justice Coalition consists of the ACLU, the Center for American Progress, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The coalition is calling for comprehensive federal marijuana law reform, including the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expungement and resentencing provisions, eliminating barriers to access to public benefits, provisions eliminating discrimination against marijuana users, protection of immigrants' rights, community reinvestment, and minority involvement.

Arkansas Will See Two More Marijuana Initiatives Filed. The Arkansas Drug Policy Education Group will file two initiative petitions with the secretary of state on Wednesday. The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment would legalize and regulate marijuana for adults while allowing limited home cultivation, while the Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Amendment would allow people convicted of possessing less than a pound of pot to petition for release from custody, reduction of sentence, expungement of conviction, and/or restoration of rights.

Hawaii Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession Without Governor's Signature. A bill passed by the legislature to decriminalize the possession of up to three grams of marijuana went into effect Tuesday without the signature of Gov. David Ige (D). While Ige didn't sign the bill, neither did he veto it, so it goes into effect without him.

New Mexico Legalization Push Begins This Week. A task force created by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and consisting of industry officials and policy experts will meet for the first time on Wednesday to begin crafting proposals to make marijuana legalization a reality in the Land of Enchantment. The task force should be able to give legalization a head start on the 2020 legislative session, which begins in January.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Administration Split on How to Fight Fentanyl Analogues. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have "concerns" over a DEA plan to develop tighter rules for fentanyl analogues. The DEA plan is part of a bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that would cut the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) out of the new drug review process by letting the DEA permanently classify fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs. But a NIDA expert has warned that the move not only put all analogues into Schedule I before anything is known about their medical benefits, but also would make researching them more difficult. And the clock is ticking: a DEA emergency order from 2018 placing all fentanyl analogues into Schedule I is set to expire in February.

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.

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Could Get Vote Soon, Chinese Fentanyl Will Keep Coming, More... (5/16/19)

A federal bill to protect immigrants working in the marijuana industry gets filed, the Oregon Senate approves a marijuana interstate commerce bill, the San Antonio DA is no longer prosecuting picayune drug possession cases, RAND says China will have a hard time stopping fentanyl, and more.

A deadly dose of fentanyl. China won't be able to stop exports, a RAND report says. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Congressional Bill Aims to Resolve Marijuana Industry Border Issues. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Tuesday filed a bill which would clarify that using marijuana in compliance with state or foreign law, or working in the legal industry, wouldn't disqualify people from entering the US. The legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections for Legal Entry (MAPLE) Act, updates a bill Blumenauer filed in December to protect Canadians working in the marijuana industry from being denied entry to the US. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Connecticut Could See Marijuana Legalization Vote in Next Three Weeks. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said Wednesday that the legislature could vote on legalizing marijuana in the next three weeks instead of pushing it into a special session. The regular session ends on June 5. Aresimowicz said the General Law Committee is making progress is melding together multiple bills into a single measure. "It looks as though we may have a bill that could be ready for action," Aresimowicz said. "We have the entire next week to do all these major bills and get them up to the Senate in a time that would be appropriate for action."

Oregon Senate Approves Marijuana Interstate Commerce Bill. The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow the governor to negotiate agreements with other states to export and import marijuana products across state lines. SB 582 now goes to the House.

Hemp

Texas Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Bill. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved HB 1325, which would legalize the farming of industrial hemp in the state. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Higher Education

Senate Democrats File Bill to Protect Students with Drug Convictions from Losing Federal College Aid. Four Senate Democrats, including presidential contenders Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) have filed a bill to streamline the federal student financial aid application process, which would also remove the question about prior drug convictions. The drug conviction question has cost thousands of students access to loans and grants since it was added to the form in a 1998 reform of the Higher Education Act.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Investigation into Fatal Botched Drug Raid Now Goes to Prosecutors. The Houston Police Department has ended its investigation into a January drug raid that left a middle-aged couple dead after a Houston narcotics officer apparently lied on a search warrant that a heroin buy had taken place at their home. Police found no heroin, and only personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine. Two of the officers involved have already resigned. "The Houston Police Department has completed the criminal investigation and the officer-involved shooting investigation regarding the incident at 7815 Harding Street on January 28, 2019," Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Today, each of these separate investigations have been turned in to the Harris County District Attorney's Office."

San Antonio DA Has Quit Prosecuting Miniscule Drug Possession Cases. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez has confirmed that his office is no longer prosecuting drug possession cases where the amount involved is less than a quarter gram. The policy has been in place since early this year. "I've got to make the decision as the top law enforcement officer in this county to make the best uses of the manpower that I have and the limited resources that I have," said Gonzales.

International

China Unlikely to Curb Fentanyl Exports in Short-Term. A new RAND Corporation report that examines China's pharmaceutical industry warns that it is unlikely to be able to curb fentanyl exports in the near future. "China's leaders recognize that they have a problem and appear committed to seeking solutions," report coauthor and Rand analyst Bryce Pardo said. "But it is unlikely that they can contain the illicit production and distribution of fentanyl in the short term because enforcement mechanisms are lacking. Producers are quick to adapt, impeding Chinese law enforcement's ability to stem the flow to global markets."

Mexican Drug Cartels Now Make Their Own Cocaine, Colombia Says. Colombian police report that drug traffickers are now exporting not just refined cocaine but also cocaine base, which they say means Mexican drug cartels must be operating their own laboratories to refine the drug themselves. The move comes after the Colombian government imposed tighter restrictions on precursor chemicals for refining raw coca into cocaine. Mexican authorities say they have seen no evidence of cocaine labs, though.

(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.)

DHS Considers Classifying Fentanyl as a Weapon of Mass Destruction [FEATURE]

The military affairs and news web site Task & Purpose has obtained an internal memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that shows the agency is considering designating the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) "when certain criteria are met."

fentanyl (Creative Commons)
Typically produced in China and then smuggled through Mexico or sent directly to the US via package delivery services, fentanyl has been implicated in tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths in recent years. The drug is doubly dangerous because not only is it dozens of times stronger than heroin, it is all too often mixed in with other drugs so that consumers ingest it unwittingly.

The memo obtained by Task & Purpose was dated February 22, 2019 and titled "Use of counter-WMD authorities to combat fentanyl." It was prepared for then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen by DHS Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction James F. McConnell, who sketched the background of the drug and noted how some members of the federal government see it as a potential "mass casualty weapon."

McConnell is a long-time homeland security official who has led the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office since he was appointed by President Trump in May 2018.

"Fentanyl's high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack," he wrote. "In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that '...fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals'," he wrote.

But other parts of the memo suggest DHS is considering the move not only as part of a war on fentanyl but as a means of obtaining more funding for the agency's WMD activities. Indeed, funding for the counter-WMD program has declined under Trump, whose homeland security priorities are focused on the US-Mexico border, despite crime rates at the border being lower than in other parts of the country.

"[Counter-WMD] Office efforts will focus on quantities and configurations that could be used as mass casualty weapons," McDonnell wrote as he tried to sell the idea. "However, many activities, such as support to fentanyl interdiction and detection efforts, would tangentially benefit broader DHS and interagency counter-opioid efforts. Within the past couple years, there has been a reinvigorated interest in addressing fentanyl and its analogues as WMD materials due to the ongoing opioid crisis," he added.

The Counter-WMD office could help in the fight against fentanyl by developing and managing new technologies, deploying sensors, and helping other agencies in the field, McDonnell told Nielsen. He also claimed that senior Defense Department leaders "had proposed formally designating fentanyl as a WMD material."

Neither the Defense Department nor DHS would comment to Task & Purpose on the report, but members of the counter-WMD community contacted by the web site reacted with bemusement and skepticism.

Fentanyl as a WMD is a "fringe scenario," chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense expert Dan Kaszeta reacted. There are "literally dozens" of toxic chemicals that could be easily weaponized, he said.

"This is like declaring ecstasy as a WMD," said another member of the Defense Department's counter-WMD team speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It reads like somebody is laying the administrative background for trying to tap into pots of money for detecting WMD and decontaminating WMD," Kaszeta told Task & Purpose. "It's an interdepartmental play for money, that's all it is."

But McConnell is planning to move ahead. In the memo, he said his office would continue to brief DHS on fentanyl-related counter-WMD efforts and would schedule an interagency planning event on fentanyl.

An unnamed senior Defense official told Task & Purpose that while such a meeting was probably "a good idea," it was far more likely that someone seeking a chemical WMD would instead turn to sarin or mustard gas. "Anybody with a college level degree in chemistry can manufacture chemical weapons agents," he said.

"I cannot see any scenario where a nation-state would use fentanyl on the battlefield, or for that matter, a terrorist using a really toxic chemical like fentanyl in an attack when they could just sell it for funding the purchase of firearms and explosives or steal an industrial chemical instead," the official added.

In that light, McConnell's memo appears more as a cynical bureaucratic exercise aimed at increasing program budgets rather than a serious effort to address homeland security.

Chronicle AM: CA Cities Sue State Over Pot Deliveries, Fed Bill Targets Chinese Fentanyl, More... (4/8/19)

A Hawaii decriminalization bill nears passage, some California cities are suing the state over being forced to allow marijuana deliveries, the 3rd Circuit clarifies the law on intent to distribute, and more.

A bipartisan federal bill targeting Chinese fentanyl production has been filed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Cities That Restrict Marijuana Sales Sue State Over Allowing Deliveries. Twenty-four cities that ban legal marijuana sales filed suit against the state last Thursday, arguing that allowing home deliveries in those locales violates the state's marijuana laws. The lawsuit comes after the California Bureau of Cannabis Control adopted a rule in January that permits state-licensed companies to deliver marijuana in cities that ban pot shops.

Florida Legalization Bill Killed. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the Sunshine State is dead. HB 1117, filed by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) was killed in the House Judiciary Committee, where, he said, "It got no hearing, no debate, no vote. Just like they always do."

Hawaii Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to three grams of marijuana, HB 1383. The bill has already passed out of the House and two other Senate committees and now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, it will then go to a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Organizers to Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind the failed 2018 legalization initiative, will be back in 2020, the group said last Thursday. Organizers said they hoped to have initiative language in place by mid-summer. The new measure will include possession limits, growing limits, taxes on sales, banning of edible gummies, packaging and licensing requirements and wouldn't allow any type of advertising of products.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Governor Signs Omnibus Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has signed SB 406 into law. The bill makes broad changes in the state's medical marijuana program, including allowing medical marijuana in schools and allowing licensed manufacturers to process home-grown marijuana. And it allows for reciprocity with other medical marijuana states and protects workers who are medical marijuana patients.

Prosecution

Third Circuit Tosses Heroin Dealer's Conviction, Clarifies Law on Intent to Distribute. The US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of a heroin dealer, ruling that a conviction for intent to distribute 1,000 grams or more of heroin must be based on evidence that the defendant possessed or distributed that quantity at a single time and not based on adding up several smaller possessions and distributions during the indictment period.

Foreign Policy

Bipartisan Bill Targets China Over Fentanyl. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) led a bipartisan group of senators in filing a bill that would slap sanctions on China if it fails to live up to its recent promise to regulate fentanyl as a controlled substance. The Fentanyl Sanctions Act allots $600 million to law enforcement and intelligence officials to identify producers and traffickers of the drug and would block access to US markets for Chinese chemical and pharmaceutical companies if they are caught producing the drug.

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