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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.

Marijuana Laced with Fentanyl? No, Just Cluelessness by White House Drug Policy Advisor Kellyanne Conway [FEATURE]

Among other roles in the Trump administration, Kellyanne Conway is the White House's opioid crisis czar. But a comment she made last week demonstrates how totally clueless and unqualified for the job she is.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump drug policy advisor (somehow). (Twitter)
At a news conference before briefing Trump on the latest developments in the opioid crisis, Conway took on fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid linked to an ever-increasing number of overdose deaths in the country. The presidential advisor warned that fentanyl was turning up in other drugs, which is true. The illicit drug is showing up not only in heroin, where it might be expected to add to the opioid's kick but also in other powder drugs whose users are not even looking for an opioid high, such as the stimulants cocaine and methamphetamine.

The concern about drugs being adulterated with fentanyl is warranted. But Conway went a step further in her remarks, making a claim that would require only a moment's thought (or some actual familiarity with illicit drugs) for her to realize was not only false but ludicrous.

"People are unwittingly ingesting it," she said of fentanyl. "It's laced into heroin, marijuana, meth, cocaine, and it's also being distributed by itself."

Okay, one of those drugs is not like the others, and that should have been a signal to Conway that she was spouting horse manure. Fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and meth are all drugs that come in powder form, making it easy to cut one with the other. Marijuana, on the other hand, consists of the flowering buds of a plant. Marijuana buds spotted with powdery white speckles would be obvious (and would probably have consumers wondering if that white stuff was mold).

There is also no evidence of marijuana adulterated with fentanyl despite some urban mythologizing by a handful of law enforcement officials, which was repeated by people who should know better, including Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

When questioned about Conway's fentanyl and marijuana claim, the White House press office pointed to a speech last year by Volkow. "Fentanyl is being used to lace a wide variety of drugs, including marijuana," she claimed.

When questioned about Volkow's claim, the NIDA press office cited "anecdotal reports" from law enforcement. But those "reports" were actually a single report from police in Vancouver, B.C., in 2015 that "fentanyl-laced marijuana" was killing area drug users. And despite the panic over the claim, Vancouver cops admitted a year later that they hadn't actually seen "fentanyl-laced marijuana".

Again in 2017, some Canadian officials claimed there had been fentanyl-laced marijuana deaths. The only problem with that claim is that Canadian coroners reported no such cases.

There are a couple of ways the fentanyl-laced marijuana myth could have come about. The first is that extremely sensitive fentanyl test strips, which detect concentrations as tiny as one-billionth of a gram, could have detected minuscule amounts of the drug on pot handled by people using fentanyl, much the same way $20-dollar bills are found to be widely contaminated with traces of cocaine. Just as you're not going to get high by licking a $20, you're not going to die by smoking weed contaminated by vanishingly-small traces of fentanyl.

The second link is the presence of marijuana in the bodies of some who have died of fentanyl overdoses. But that reveals only that some people use multiple drugs, not that the lethal fentanyl was in the weed.

The DEA, for its part, has not reported encountering "fentanyl-laced marijuana," but none of this has stopped Conway from making her bogus claim. She made the same claim to right activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March.

That Conway continues to spout such nonsense is disturbing for a number of reasons, drug policy experts told Buzzfeed News last week.

"It's crazy that this story is coming out from our leaders," said epidemiologist Dan Ciccarone of the University of California, San Francisco. "It shows that concerns about fentanyl have reached the level of moral panic. Fear outweighs rational evidence. There is scant evidence for cannabis laced with fentanyl."

"This is part of a wider fentanyl panic that goes beyond having alternative facts and leads to bad decisions," added Northeastern University drug policy expert Leo Beletsky. "There's this mistaken belief that law enforcement are experts on the drugs they are seizing. That's just not the case, and that's part of the problem."

That's an important and under-emphasized point. Police are no more experts on drugs because they arrest drug users and sellers than they are experts on marital relations because they arrest people for domestic violence.

"The danger in a moral panic is that we see this overreaction that leads to a replay of the mistakes of the crack cocaine crisis," Beletsky said. "We need to move beyond the universe of alternative facts."

Unfortunately, this is an administration that swims in a sea of alternative facts. The least we can do is push back hard.

Faced with Fentanyl, Is It Time for Heroin Buyers' Clubs? [FEATURE]

In the past few years, the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its derivatives have been the primary driver of the drug overdose death epidemic. A wave of addiction that began with prescription opioids two decades ago and morphed into one driven by heroin after the crackdown on pain pills one decade ago has now clearly entered a third phase: the era of fentanyl.

Pharmaceutical heroin. (Creative Commons)
Beginning in about 2014, fentanyl-related overdose death rates skyrocketed as Chinese chemical manufacturers and Mexican drug distribution gangs began flooding the country with the cheap, easily concealable narcotic—and not through unwalled borders but through points of entry and package delivery services, including the U.S. Postal Service. By 2017, fentanyl was implicated in some 28,000 overdose deaths, more than either heroin or prescription opioids, and involved in nearly half of all overdose deaths.

The responses have ranged from the repressive to the pragmatic. Some state and federal legislation seeks a harsher criminal justice system response, whether it's increasing penalties for fentanyl trafficking or charging hapless drug sharers with murder if the person they shared with dies. In other cases, the opioid epidemic has emboldened harm reduction-based policies, such as the calls for safe injection sites in cities such as Denver, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Just a couple of hours up the road from Seattle, Vancouver, British Columbia, has been grappling with the same wave of opioid addiction and now, the arrival of fentanyl. And it has arrived with a real wallop: According to the British Columbia Coroner’s Service, fentanyl was implicated in 85 percent of overdose deaths in the province last year, up from only four percent just six years earlier. And with the arrival of fentanyl and, in 2016, its cousin, carfentanil, overdose deaths in B.C. jumped more than four-fold in that same period, from 333 in 2012 to 1,489 in 2018.

But while American cities are just now moving toward opening safe injection sites, Vancouver has had them for years, part of the city’s embrace of the progressive Four Pillars strategy—prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement—of dealing with problems around drug misuse and addiction. In fact, more than a dozen safe injection sites are now operating in the city, as well as a couple of programs that involve providing pharmaceutical grade heroin or other opioids to hard-core addicts who have proven unamenable to traditional forms of treatment.

Such harm reduction programs have not prevented all overdose deaths, but they have radically reduced the toll. B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe has estimated that without those programs, B.C. would have seen triple the number of fatal overdoses.

Vancouver has been on the cutting edge of progressive drug policy reforms for the past 20 years, and now, faced with the fentanyl crisis, some researchers are proposing a radical next step: heroin buyers’ clubs.

In a report published last week, the B.C. Center on Substance Use, which has strong ties to the provincial government, called for the clubs as part of a broader plan for "legally regulated heroin sales in B.C." to protect users from fentanyl-adulterated heroin and cut the profits of organized crime.

The proposal "is inspired by cannabis compassion clubs and buyers' clubs, both of which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in response to the AIDS epidemic," the authors note.

"The compassion or buyers' club would function as a cooperative (or ‘co-op’), as an autonomous and democratic enterprise owned and operated by its members," the report explains. "A member-driven purchasing cooperative is an arrangement among businesses or individuals whereby members agree to aggregate their demand in order to purchase a certain product at a lower price from a supplier," it continues. "By aggregating their purchase orders and relevant resources, members are able to take advantage of volume discounts, price protection, shared storage and distribution facilities and costs, and other economies of scale to reduce their overall purchasing costs."

It wouldn't exactly be the Dallas Buyers Club, the 2013 film that portrayed unorthodox methods of obtaining AIDS medications in the 1980s. There would be some structure: To be accepted into the club, people addicted to opioids would have to undergo a medical evaluation, and once admitted to the club, they would still have to buy their own heroin, but with many advantages over buying black market dope. The main advantage would be that they would be receiving pure, pharmaceutical grade heroin (known as diacetylmorphine in countries where it is part of the pharmacopeia)—not an unknown substance that is likely to contain fentanyl.

Club members could inject the drug at a designated location—the report suggests that existing safe injection sites could be used—or take small amounts of the drug with them for consumption at home. The report also calls for each club to include related services, such as overdose response training, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and options for members to access social services such as detox, rehab, and other treatment options.

Not only could buyers' clubs create a safer, cheaper heroin-using experience for members, the report argues, but they could also erode the black market and its tendency to produce more potent drugs—the so-called Iron Law of Prohibition.

"Fentanyl adulteration in the illicit drug supply is a predictable unintended consequence of drug prohibition," the report concludes. "The same forces that pushed the market away from relatively bulky opium towards heroin, a more concentrated opioid that was easier to transport clandestinely, have continued to push the opioid market to increasingly potent synthetic opioids, including a range of fentanyl analogs. A cooperative could undermine the illegal market wherever it is set up."

Such a plan faces legal and political challenges in Canada, but those can be overcome if the provincial and federal governments get on board. Obstacles to such a plan being rolled out in the United States are even greater, especially given an administration hostile toward harm reduction in general that would most likely view legal heroin sales as anathema.

But here in the U.S., we're a decade or so behind Vancouver when it comes to progressive drug policies, so it's time to get the conversation started. After all, these sorts of approaches to the problem are likely to be more effective than throwing addicts in jail or building boondoggle border walls. 

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

Chronicle AM: Denver Psilocbyin Init Will Go to Voters, White House Issues Drug Strategy, More... (2/4/19)

The White House belatedly released the National Drug Control Strategy, a Denver magic mushroom initiative has qualified for the May ballot, Northeastern marijuana legalizers are busy, and more.

Denver will vote on removing criminal penalties for psychedelic mushrooms. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

World Health Organization Urges Removal of Marijuana from Drug Treaties. The World Health Organization (WHO) last Friday published a letter to the United Nations advising that marijuana and cannabis resin should no longer be considered controlled substances under international drug treaties. WHO specifically asked that the substances be moved out of Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which includes drugs thought to have no therapeutic value.

Cory Booker Enters Presidential Race With Call for Marijuana Legalization, Criminal Justice Reform. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) formally entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last Friday and called for marijuana legalization and broader criminal justice reforms. There is a need for "changing our drug laws," including "ending the prohibition against marijuana," he said. "We do not have equal justice under the law," Booker said of the disproportionate rate at which black people are incarcerated under the country's drug laws. I believe in redemption."

New York Governor Wants Marijuana Legalized by April 1. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said last Friday he wanted to see marijuana legalized by the state budget deadline of April 1. His remarks came after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that lawmakers might have to wait until after the budget to take up legalization. But Cuomo said Friday he isn't giving up on his timetable and that a lot can happen in the legislature in six weeks.

Pennsylvania Legalization Bill Coming. Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) will file a legalization bill that expunges criminal records for past pot convictions, releases inmates currently serving time for such offenses, and allows people 21 and over to use, buy, and grow marijuana.

Vermont Attorney General Supports Legalizing Pot Sales. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana legislatively last year but did not legalize marijuana commerce. Now, there's an effort underway to do so with SB 54, and Attorney General TJ Donovan supports it. "We have to have a regulated market," he said last Thursday. "This is common sense." The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Barlow has filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana, HB 278. The bill would create a strictly regulated system for the use and distribution of medical marijuana in the state.

Psychedelics

Denver Will Vote on Magic Mushroom Initiative in May. City officials announced last Friday that the Decriminalize Denver initiative to make adult use and possession the lowest law enforcement priority and bar the city from using its resources to arrest and prosecute people for the hallucinogenic fungi has qualified for the ballot and will go before voters in the May municipal election. This marks the first time any jurisdiction in the US will have voted on decriminalizing psychedelics.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Unveils National Drug Control Strategy. The White House last Thursday released its long-awaited National Drug Control Strategy, which typically is released annually, but which the Trump administration failed to do last year. The document contains little new policy but instead emphasizes existing Trump priorities: reducing drug supply through stricter law enforcement, lowering first-time opioid prescription rates, and expanding access to addiction treatment. Despite its emphasis on supply reduction, it acknowledges the risk of reducing access for chronic pain patients. Although it talks about drugs coming across the Mexican border, the strategy does not contain the words "border wall."

Drug Testing

North Dakota School Board and Employee Drug Testing Bills Die. A pair of bills that would have mandated random, suspicionless drug tests for school employees and school board members have been killed in the Senate. SB 2310 was aimed at school employees, while SB 2337 was aimed at board members.

Sentencing

Mississippi Bill Targets People Who Provide Drugs in Fatal Overdoses. After a conviction for "depraved heart" murder in the case of a fatal overdose was overturned on appeal, state legislators have filed HB 867, which would allow sentences of 20 years to life without parole for people charged with selling drugs that result in the deaths of others. The bill would also increase penalties for the sale of heroin or fentanyl. The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week and is now headed for the House floor.

(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.)

Of All People: The DEA Demolishes One of Trump's Main Claims About the Border Wall

As the president attempts to make his case for a wall on the US-Mexico border, one of his main selling points is that the wall would reduce the flow of illicit drugs into the country. Of all people, it's not our favorite agency that has rebutted the claim.

That agency is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which in its 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment released just two months ago makes clear that at best Trump is uninformed and at worst that he is lying to the American people.

The vast majority of drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico come through ports of entry. (Creative Commons)
"Remember drugs. The drugs are pouring into this country. They don't go through the ports of entry. When they do, they sometimes get caught," Trump claimed at a Rose Garden news conference last Friday.

It's not a new claim for the president; it has been a pillar of his claim that there is a "crisis" on the border. But repeating a false claim doesn't make it any less false. What is true, as the DEA reports, is that the southwest border "remains the primary entry point for heroin into the United States," but it is not being lugged across the desert via a wall-less border.

According to the DEA, "the majority of the flow is through POVs [privately owned vehicles] entering the United States at legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods. Body carriers represent a smaller percentage of heroin movement and they typically smuggle amounts ranging from three to six pounds taped to their torso, or in shoes and backpacks."

To be clear, the body carriers the DEA is talking about are people coming through ports of entry -- not across an open border. The agency reported that only "a small percentage of all heroin seized" along the border was seized between ports of entry.

It's the same thing with fentanyl. According to the DEA, which says fentanyl imports are split between China and Mexico, Mexican drug traffickers "most commonly smuggle multi-kilogram loads of fentanyl concealed in POVs before trafficking the drugs through Southwest Border ports of entry." In the San Diego sector, which saw the biggest fentanyl seizures, 74 percent off seizures were from cars at ports of entry. In the Tucson sector, which had the next highest fentanyl seizure numbers, that figure was 91 percent.

Claiming that building a border wall would reduce the flow of drugs into the country is probably not the biggest lie Trump and his allies have told about the wall, but it is patently false.

The Year in Drugs I: The Top Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2018 [FEATURE]

This is a year that just about everybody is eager to see come to an end, but when it comes to drug policy, 2018 hasn't been half-bad, at least in the US. (Check back next week for our Top International Drug Policy Stories.)

We've seen marijuana legalization spread further, we're on the verge of seeing Congress pass major sentencing reform legislation, and the ban on domestic hemp cultivation is coming to an end, among other things.

A lot went on in drug policy in 2018. Here are eight stories that helped define the year:

1. Overdose Deaths Remain Unconscionably High But Appear to Have Leveled Off

That's enough fentanyl to kill you. It killed thousands this year. (dea.gov)
The nation's fatal drug overdose crisis is far from over, but it now looks like it at least didn't get any worse this year. Driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl, overdose deaths reached a stunning 72,000 in 2017, a figure ten times the number in 1980 and double that of only a decade ago.

But preliminary reports on the 2018 overdose numbers suggest that this may be the year the crisis began to ease. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing that overdose deaths had declined for six straight months, dropping 2.8 percent from their 2017 peak. That report also found that opioid overdose deaths had declined by 2.3 percent.

With both heroin and prescription opioid deaths declining, fentanyl has emerged as the most common drug involved in overdoses, being implicated in about a quarter of all drug overdose deaths. While the apparent decline in opioid overdose deaths this year is good news, the recent increases in cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths is not. And while any break in a years-long climb in overdose deaths is certainly welcome, another 70,000 or so Americans will still have died from them this year. We have a long, long way to go.

2. Safe Injection Sites Draw Nearer, But Feds Fire Warning Shots

Safe injection sites -- also known as supervised consumption sites, among other names -- where drug users can consume their doses under medical supervision and with an opportunity to engage with social services are a proven harm reduction intervention. More than a hundred cities around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia have resorted to such facilities as a means of providing better outcomes, not only for drug users but also for the communities in which they live.

There are no legally permitted safe injection sites in the United States (although some underground ones are reportedly operating in Seattle, and there may be more in hiding), but this year saw mounting pressure and serious efforts to get them up and running in a number of American states and cities. It also saw mounting resistance from federal officials.

At the state level, California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York all saw safe injection site bills filed. Only the bill in California made it out of the legislature, but to the great frustration of reformers, it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who cited long outdated beliefs about substance use in his veto message. Still, the fact that bills are being filed shows the issue is gaining momentum.

The momentum is even stronger among a handful of major cities. Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle have all taken steps to clear the way for safe injection sites this year, although none are yet in place.

While like California's Gov. Brown, some state and local level political figures are hesitant to embrace them, a major reason none is yet in place is federal hostility. As the clamor for the facilities grows louder, so does opposition from the Trump administration. As Denver publicly pondered opening one, the local DEA and the US Attorney loudly warned they would be illegal, and the Philadelphia US Attorney did the same thing. Early in the year, the DEA in Washington issued a warning against safe injection sites, and in August, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authored an op-ed in the New York Times issuing similar dire threats.

3. A Major Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Is Set to Pass

A rare example of bipartisanship on the Hill. (Creative Commons)
The first major federal sentencing reform bill in eight years is now one vote away from passing Congress. The bill, known as the First Step Act (S.3649), is the culmination of years of work by the likes of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and includes prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. It very nearly died earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he would not bring it to a Senate floor vote, but under broad pressure, including from President Trump, McConnell relented, and the bill passed the Senate Tuesday

The sentencing reforms include retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years.

The late word is that the bill will pass the House easily, but that hasn't happened as of this writing. If and when it does, the country will have taken a significant step toward a more just and humane federal criminal justice system. The passage has also drawn major media attention as a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington today.

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

At the beginning of the year, marijuana for adult recreational use was legal in eight states, all in the West or New England and all thanks to the initiative process. As 2018 comes to a close, that number has jumped to ten, with Vermont in January becoming the first state to legalize it through the legislature and Michigan in November becoming the first Midwest state to legalize it.

The initiative process is available in only half the states, and when it comes to legalizing weed, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. A legalization initiative in conservative Nebraska went down to defeat this year, and remaining initiative states like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are among the most socially conservative and least likely to free the weed. But prospects are rosier in initiative states Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio. We are likely to see pot on the ballot in all three in 2020.

Vermont remains the sole state to legalize it legislatively, but a handful of states edged ever closer close this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted pot legalized in his first 100 days. That didn't happen, and legalization hasn't gotten through the legislature yet, but there is a small chance it could still happen this year and a very good chance it will be a done deal by early next year. Legislatures throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and Northeast grappled with the issue, laying the groundwork for next year and the year beyond, and just this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for legalization next year. The long march continues.

5. Marijuana Is Still Federally Illegal, But the Crackdown Never Came

As the year comes to end, legal weed is still here and Jeff Sessions isn't. President Trump's first attorney general was an avowed foe of marijuana (as well as drug and criminal justice reform in general), but despite rescinding the Obama-era Cole memo, which basically told federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, the much-feared crackdown on the industry never came.

Federal prosecutors, for the most part, continue to view legal marijuana businesses as a low priority, especially when faced with much more serious drug problems, such as the opioid overdose epidemic. But Sessions was also undercut by his own boss, who in April arranged a deal with Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in which he agreed to support a bill protecting states that have broken with federal pot prohibition in return for Gardner's allowing Justice department appointments to move forward.

This year saw a plethora of federal marijuana reform bills, but with Republican leadership in both houses firmly opposed, the Capitol was where marijuana reform went to die. With Democrats in control of the House next year, things promise to be different next year, although the GOP-led Senate will remain an obstacle. But with pot consistently polling in the 60s, those Republican senators may grudgingly start coming on board.

6. Marijuana Legalization is Nice, But We Need Social Justice, Too

This year saw social justice concerns around marijuana legalization move front and center in two distinct ways: demands for the expungement of marijuana arrest records for people whose offenses are no longer crimes and demands for restorative racial justice from communities that have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs.

The year started with two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, leading the way on expungement. The, in September, California became the first state to put state-level automatic expungement into effect. Delaware and Rhode Island, which have both decriminalized but not legalized pot, also passed expungement bills this year. Expungement is also a contentious issue in the ongoing battle to get legalization passed in New Jersey.

After a half-dozen years of legalization and well-heeled white guys making bank off legal weed, the call for racial justice, whether in terms of set-asides to guarantee minority participation in the industry or for funding streams aimed at restoring drug war-ravaged communities, is growing too loud to be ignored. This is an ongoing struggle now being played out not only in pot-legal states, but especially in states on the cusp of legalization. Moving forward, it's likely that every successful state legalization bill is going to have to address issues of social and racial justice. As they should.

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

The sun rises on the American domestic hemp industry. (votehemp.org)
Finally, the absolutely most ridiculous aspect of federal marijuana prohibition is dead. Recreational marijuana's country cousin, hemp can't get anyone high, but is extremely useful in a broad range of industries, from foods to textiles and beyond. Thanks to a lawsuit from hemp interests more than a decade ago, hemp could be imported for American firms to use in their products, but because the DEA refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and recreational marijuana, American farmers were forced to stand on the sidelines as their competitors in China, Canada, and other countries raked in the rewards.

But having a hemp-friendly senator from a hemp-friendly state allowed hemp legalization to move this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually fought for the hemp bill, shepherding it into the must-pass farm appropriations bill and keeping it in there through negotiations with the House. President Trump has signed the farm bill, including the hemp provision, into law.

8. Here Come the 'Shrooms

Initiative campaigns to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms began popping up in 2018. Actually, the first state-level initiative came last year in California, but this past summer it failed to qualify for the fall ballot.

Right now, there are two psilocybin initiatives in the signature-gathering phase, a municipal initiative in Denver that would decriminalize the use, possession, and cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the statewide Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would decriminalize possession of psilocybin, allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin. The Denver initiative would go before voters in May 2019, while the Oregon initiative aims at the 2020 election.

If psilocybin initiatives follow the pattern set by marijuana legalization initiatives, the first time may not be the charm. But more will follow.

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