Welfare

RSS Feed for this category

AZ Churches Sue Feds Over Ayahuasca Seizures, Schumer's Legalization Bill Coming Within Days, More... (7/20/22)

Indonesia's Constitutional Court rejects medical marijuana but calls for "immediate" study, DC Mayor signs bill providing workplace protections for marijuana users, more.

Weed will be on the Senate's mind next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Hearing on Marijuana as Filing of Legalization Bill Looms. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms." The hearing, led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a strong proponent of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's pending legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, comes amid word that the bill will drop any day now. Schumer has blocked incremental marijuana reforms, such as the SAFE Banking Act, saying he wants a full-blown legalization bill.

Kentucky Democrats Announce Plan for Legalization Bill. Frustrated by the failure of the Republican-controlled state legislature to act even on medical marijuana, state Democrats announced Thursday they will be filing legislation to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use. They said they would fill "LETT's Grow" bills in both house. LETT is short for Legalizing sales, Expunging crimes, Treating medical needs, and Taxing sales. "Our legislation is the comprehensive plan that Kentuckians deserve, and it builds on what's worked in other states while avoiding their mistakes," said Rep. Roberts of Newport. "This would be a boon for our economy and farmers alike, plus give state and local governments a major new source of revenue."

DC Mayor Signs Bill Providing Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law a bill that most employers from firing or refusing to hire workers because they use marijuana. The bill would "prohibit employers from firing, failing to hire, or taking other personnel actions against an individual for use of cannabis, participating in the medical cannabis program, or failure to pass an employer-required or requested cannabis drug test, unless the position is designated safety sensitive or for other enumerated reasons." There are exceptions for police, safety-sensitive construction workers, people whose jobs require a commercial drivers' license, and people who work with children or medical patients. The new law must still be approved by Congress before it can go into effect.

Psychedelics

Arizona Churches Sue Over Seizure of Sacramental Ayahuasca. Two Arizona churches, the Arizona Yagé Assembly and the Church of the Eagle and the Condor, have filed suit in federal court over the seizure of ayahuasca, a key element in their religious practice, by federal agencies. In separate lawsuits, the two churches charge that the federal government has violated the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law bars the government from burdening the exercise of religion unless there is a compelling government interest and only if that action if the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The Church of the Eagle and the Condor says that US Customs and Border Protection has been seizing and destroying its ayahuasca since 2020. The churches say drinking ayahuasca is "an essential mode of worship" for members, but federal agencies say any possession of ayahuasca, a Schedule I substance, violates the Controlled Substances Act. "The church and its members are aware that their sacrament is proscribed by law, but they have partaken in their sacrament both before and after the United States made a credible threat of enforcement of the CSA against them," the suit says. "Plaintiffs are violating and intend to continue to violate applicable law, rather than compromise or terminate their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices."

International

Indonesia High Court Rejects Medical Marijuana But Calls for Immediate Study. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday nixed a judicial review of the country's drug law that could have opened the door for medical marijuana. Three mothers of children with cerebral palsy backed by civil society groups had sought the review, arguing that marijuana could be used medicinally to treat medical conditions. The court held there was insufficient research to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but called on the government to "immediately" conduct research on the medicinal use of the herb… The results of which can be used to determine policies, including in this case the possibility of changing the law," said judge Suhartoyo.

SD House Votes to Ban MedMJ Home Grows, MN Usual Suspects Form Anti-Marijuana Coalition, More... (1/25/22)

Life just got a bit easier to Empire State medical marijuana patients, a Wisconsin GOP lawmaker wants to reinstate drug testing of some welfare recipients, and more.

South Dakota medical marijuana patients will not be able to grow this at home under a bill that just passed the House. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Groups Unite to Oppose Marijuana Legalization. The usual suspects are at it again. Faced with a renewed push for marijuana legalization by Democratic lawmakers, the state's police and peace officers association, the state Catholic Conference, and business interests have formed a coalition to oppose any such move. Calling themselves Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization, the coalition is warning of truck drivers driving under the influence amid a lack of roadside drug tests and workers failing drug tests, thereby exacerbating worker shortages because of the pandemic.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Program Expands. The State Office of Cannabis Management launched a new certification and registration system for the state's medical marijuana program on Monday, expanding patient access and eligibility as it did so. Now, doctors, dentists, and nurse practitioners can recommend medical marijuana for any condition if they think it will benefit a patients instead of being limited to a list of specified conditions. The office has also doubled the amount of medical marijuana patients can obtain and it permanently waived patient and caregivers registration fees.

South Dakota House Votes to Override Will of Voters, Ban Medical Marijuana Home Cultivation. The House on Monday voted 41-29 to approve House Bill 1004, which bans the home cultivation of medical marijuana by patients and caregivers. The vote directly contravenes the will of the voters, who approved Initiated Measure 26 legalizing medical marijuana with home cultivation with nearly 70 percent of the vote. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Republican Files Bill to Require Drug Testing for Welfare Beneficiaries. State Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) has released a bill that would reinstate drug testing and work requirements for people receiving benefits under the state's FoodShare program. The measure is part of a larger package of legislation introduced by Republicans that seeks to undo an expansion of welfare benefits during the pandemic. The state already had such requirements for some welfare recipients, but Democratic Governor Tony Evers waived those requirements until September, saying the state doesn't have enough jobs for those seeking them. Born's bill, LRB 5571, would require Evers to begin implementing the existing work and drug testing requirements, including withdrawing any waiver or suspension of the requirements.

White House Removes Buprenorphine Restrictions, BC Formally Requests Drug Decrim, More... (4/27/21)

A new poll has record support for marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, House Republicans file a bill to protect gun rights of state-legal marijuana users, House Democrats file a bill to end the lifetime ban on federal cash and food benefits for people with drug felonies, and more.

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

House Republicans File Gun Rights Bill for Marijuana Users. A group of House Republicans have filed a bill, HR 2830, that would allow marijuana users to purchase guns in states where marijuana is legal. "There's no reason somebody who uses marijuana responsibly and legally should be barred from purchasing a firearm, we're past that," Guns Save Life Executive Director John Boch said."We shouldn't be removing the constitutional rights of people to keep and bear arms just because they're using a drug or recreational marijuana," he added.

Pennsylvania Poll Has Record Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Muhlenberg College annual public health poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, the highest level of support for legalization since the poll began tracking the issue. "The trend on public support for legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania is clear, with support growing for the eighth year in a row," Chris Borick, director of the college's Institute of Public Opinion, said in a statement accompanying the survey results. "As the state government considers this policy option, the public is increasingly coming to the conclusion that they support legalization."

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Legislature Approves Resolution Seeking Medical Marijuana Exemption from DEA. The state legislature has adopted a resolution, HCR 132, asking the state Health Department to seek an exemption from the DEA to permit it to run its medical marijuana program without fear of federal interference. The resolution asks the Health Department to seek an "exception to regulations" and to seek a DEA rulemaking process to protect the state's medical program from violating the Controlled Substances Act's requirements for drugs in Schedule I.

Drug Policy

House Democrats File Bill to End Ban on Federal Assistance for People with Drug Felonies. A handful of Democratic congressmen on Monday filed the Making Essentials Affordable and Lawful (MEAL) Act (not yet on the congressional web site) to stop states from imposing a lifetime ban on people with drug felonies from receiving federal cash and food assistance. Most states have already waived the ban, but the drug war-era law that imposes the ban remains on the books.

Drug Treatment

Biden Administration to Allow Nearly All Doctors to Prescribe Buprenorphine. The administration announced on Tuesday that it intends to dramatically deregulate the opioid maintenance treatment drug buprenorphine. The move was first proposed by the Trump administration back in January and would allow just about any doctor to treat patients with the drug, which is considered the most effective medication for opioid addiction.

International

British Columbia Formally Requests Permission from Canadian Federal Government for Provincial Drug Decriminalization. Five years to the day after the province declared a public health emergency because of overdose deaths, British Columbia has formally requested a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs. The province is specifically seeking a province-wide exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession. "Stigma drives people to hide their drug use, avoid health care and use alone," Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said. "Through province-wide decriminalization, we can reduce the fear and shame that keep people silent about their drug use, and support people to reach out for help, life-saving supports and treatment."

Virginia Legalizes Marijuana, California Safe Injection Site Bill Advances, More... (4/8/21)

Medical marijuana bills advance in several states, Virginia legalizes marijuana, a West Virginia bill to continue mandatory drug screening and testing of welfare recipients passed the House, and more.

California could see pilot safe injection site programs if a bill in the state Senate passes. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Legalizes Marijuana. With a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), the state Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1406, which legalizes marijuana in the state. The legislature also approved amendments by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that included moving up the date of the legalization of pot possession from 2024 to this coming July. Virginia now becomes the 16th state to have legalized marijuana (New Mexico has passed a bill but it has not been signed into law yet.)

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A medical marijuana bill that has already passed the Senate, Senate Bill 46, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. The bill now goes to the House Health Committee before heading for a House floor vote. The bill would allow the use of marijuana by people with specified qualifying conditions.

Georgia Legislature Approves Bill to Allow Marijuana Oil Dispensaries. With a final vote in the Assembly, the legislature has passed House Bill 738, which will allow for the production and distribution of marijuana oil. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Brian Kemp (R).

South Dakota Governor Still Wants Changes in Medical Marijuana Program. Despite being rebuffed by lawmakers during the last legislative session, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) says she wants a special session convened to address the same proposed changes lawmakers just rejected. She wants to set the maximum number of plants grown at three, she wants the Department of Health to be the rule-making authority for the program, and she wants to bar people under 21 from being eligible to use medical marijuana.

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Advances. A bill that would expand the state's compassionate use program for medical marijuana, House Bill 1535, has passed the House Public Health Committee. The bill would expand the program, which currently only applies to terminal cancer patients, to include other cancer patients, veterans with PTSD, and chronic pain that would otherwise be treated by an opioid.

Hemp

Idaho Legislature Approves Hemp Bill. With a final vote in the Senate Wednesday, the legislature approved a bill to legalize hemp production in the state, House Bill 126. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Brad Little (R). Idaho is the only state that has yet to legalize hemp production.

Drug Testing

West Virginia House Approves Bill to Extend Drug Testing Requirement for Welfare Recipients. The House of Delegates on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 387, which would keep in place a requirement that first time applicants of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) pass a drug test if a drug screening suggests they may be drug users. The Senate version of the bill would only extend the program for one year, so the bill is going to have to go back to the Senate to resolve the difference.

Harm Reduction

California Bill to Allow Safe Injection Site Pilot Programs Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Public Safety Committee on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). The bill would legalize safe injection sites as pilot programs in Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate Health Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote. If passed, it may have to overcome federal hurdles too.

WA Supreme Court Throws Out Felony Drug Possession Law, Clock Ticking on VA Marijuana Legalization, More... (2/26/21)

Asset forfeiture reform is moving in Arizona, the Connecticut governor's marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing, the Nevada legislature looks at ending the federal ban on food stamps for drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing, Police Chiefs Oppose. The Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill supported by Gov. Ned Lamont (D), SB 888. At the same time, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association is formally opposing the bill, saying it is worried legalization would make the highways less safe and invoking the opioid crisis.

Montana Lawmakers Consider Tightening Limits on Legal Marijuana. The House Business and Labor Committee on Wednesday heard testimony of HB 568, which would impose numerical and distance restrictions on legal marijuana businesses. The bill would cap the number of adult sales stores to one per 10,000 residents, with only one shop in counties with fewer than 10,000 residents. The bill would also require pot shops to be 1,000 feet away from places of worship, schools, preschools, day care facilities, parks, recreational facilities and playgrounds. The committee took no action on Wednesday.

South Dakota Lawmakers Advance Marijuana Banking Bill. The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted Thursday to approve HB 1203, which would let state-chartered banks do business with legal marijuana and industrial hemp businesses. The bill has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Virginia House, Senate Seek Compromise on Marijuana Legalization as Saturday Deadline Looms. Legislators have about 24 hours to come to agreement on competing marijuana legalization bills passed by the House and Senate before a Saturday deadline. It looks like lawmakers will go with the House on timing, agreeing to defer legalization until January 1, 2024, while the Senate bill called for legalization on July 1. The two chambers remain split, though, on whether five current medical marijuana operators will be allowed to sell recreational weed. The House opposes such vertical integration, but the Senate would allow it if the operators pay $1 million into a Cannabis Equity Business Fund. The clock is ticking.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota House Approves Bill Delaying Implementation of Medical Marijuana Legalization. The House voted to approve a bill delaying implementation of voter-approved medical marijuana, HB 1100. The bill was the brainchild of Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who sought a one-year delay, but the bill was amended in the House to create only a six-month delay "in the spirit of compromise."

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona House Passes Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House on Wednesday approved a bill to end civil asset forfeiture in the state, HB 2810, which would require that the state actually convict somebody of a crime before seizing their property. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Nevada Lawmakers Take Up Bill to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. The Assembly is considering a bill that would let the state opt out of a federal 1996 "welfare reform" that banned people convicted of drug offenses from being able to receive assistance such as food stamps. AB 138, which was heard Wednesday, removes the prohibition. The bill would have originally required persons to show they were not "currently possessing, using or distributing controlled substance," but Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), the primary sponsor for the legislation, eliminated that section. No vote was taken.

Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Strikes Down State's Drug Possession Law. The state Supreme Court on Thursday throw out the state's felony drug possession law because it did not mandate that prosecutors prove that someone knowingly or intentionally possessed drugs. The ruling came in the case of a Spokane woman who was given a pair of jeans that had a small bag of meth in one pocket. "Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature's powers, Chief Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote for the majority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID Impacts Cocaine Trade, Bolsters Dark Web Drug Market, More... (5/28/20)

Coronavirus is having differential impacts on the illicit drug trade, Michigan groups push to end the state's drug felon foodstamp ban, Colombian rebels call for a coronavirus ceasefire, and more.

Coca prices are down because of the pandemic, but the cocaine trade keeps on keeping on. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Boost from Federal Judge's Signature-Gathering Ruling. A federal judge ruled Monday that a marijuana legalization initiative campaign, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, can do electronic signature-gathering because of excessive burdens on in-person signature-gathering due to coronavirus pandemic social distancing. The judge ruled that the secretary of state must accept signatures not gathered in person or notarized. The campaign says it was on a path to gather sufficient signatures before in-person signature-gathering was suspended. It has until July 3 to hand in signatures.

Drug Policy

Michigan Bill Would Hike Heroin, Fentanyl Sales Penalties. State Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) has filed a bill, HB 5627, that would increase penalties for the manufacture and delivery of heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic opioid drugs. The bill is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Michigan Groups Call on Governor to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons. A coalition of 25 organizations led by the Center for Employment Opportunities is calling on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and legislative leaders to end a longtime state policy that permanently bans residents with two or more drug felony convictions from receiving food stamps. The ban is federal, but most states have already moved to receive waivers to avoid enforcing it. The groups say the ban makes it more difficult for people to make the transition from prison to civilian life.

International

Coronavirus Drives Dealers Online as Drugs Supply Soars. The cyber intelligence company Sixgill is reporting that dark web drug sales offers soared nearly 500% over the first few months of this year as drug dealers took to the web to continue doing business in a time of social distancing. The number of drug items for sale on dark websites monitored by Sixgill jumped from 4,154 in December 2019 to more than 24,000 by April 2020. MDMA postings more than doubled, marijuana postings increased more than five-fold, and cocaine postings jumped 10-fold. "Feedback, while an imperfect metric for purchase volume, is a reliable indicator of the rate of transactions," Sixgill explained. "Feedback volume for cannabis, cocaine, and MDMA all nearly doubled over the past half year."

Coronavirus Hits the Cocaine Supply Chain. The coronavirus pandemic is destabilizing the delicate balance in the Andes that the cocaine trade relies on. Lockdowns enforced by soldiers and police have caused trafficking routes to constrict, driving down the price of coca for the more than 237,000 families in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia who depend on it. In the latter two countries, the price of coca has dropped to from one-third to one-sixth of previous levels. "We're concerned about feeding our families because the price of coca continues to drop," said Bolivian coca union leader Albino Pinto. "We face restrictions in moving coca and other goods to the central market. This is blocking both local consumption and export, but our production continues at the same level." But the cocaine trade continues: "Drug traffickers have become more agile in shifting routes and modifying strategies," according to Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network. "Given the harsh reality for those who survive at the lowest rungs of the cocaine trade, pandemic control, just like drug control doesn't stop this business."

Colombia ELN Rebels Would Back Temporary Ceasefire to Help Contain Spread of Coronavirus. The National Liberation Army (ELN), which remains in rebellion against the government in Bogota and is involved in coca and cocaine production, has said it would be willing to take part in a three-month ceasefire to help quash the coronavirus. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire back in March. The ELN said it was waiting for a response from the government of President Ivan Duque.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy Alliance Names New Leader, HI House Passes Drug Defelonization Bill, More... (3/4/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance has a new executive director, Mexico's effort to legalize marijuana stalls in the Senate, the Oklahoma House moves to regulate kratom, and more. 

Kassandra Frederique is the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. (DPA)
Kratom

Oklahoma House Passes Bill to Regulate—Not Ban--Kratom. The House on Monday passed House Bill 2846, which would regulate kratom. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names Kassandra Frederique as New Executive Director. Ten-year Drug Policy Alliance veteran Kassandra Frederique has been named executive director of the group following the resignation of Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno earlier this year. Frederique was managing director of policy, advocacy, and campaigns before being named executive director. "Kassandra is well suited to lead DPA," the group said in a press release. "Kassandra started at DPA a decade ago as an intern. Her exemplary work propelled her meteoric rise through the organization... In New York, she ran the campaign that reduced marijuana arrests in NYC by 84%. Through strategic advocacy, she shifted the politics around the issue, even bringing skeptic Gov. Cuomo around to the point that New York is now poised to legalize. Kassandra is the architect of innovative campaigns to roll back mass criminalization and expand the debate around overdose. Her voice leads national conversations about the complex interplay between race and the overdose crisis."

Hawaii Senate Approves Drug Defelonization Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that turns low-level drug possession felonies into misdemeanors. House Bill 2581 would create a new fourth degree misdemeanor category for people caught with less than two grams of a controlled substance. Currently, possession of any amount of drugs except marijuana is a felony. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Idaho House Passes Bill Relaxing Mandatory Minimums for Heroin, Enacting Them for Fentanyl. The House on Monday passed House Bill 469, which relaxes mandatory minimum sentences for heroin, but added them for fentanyl. In the last two legislative sessions, the House voted to end mandatory minimums, but those bills never moved in the Senate. Now, we'll see if this one does.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Stalled in Senate. With less than two months to meet a Supreme Court deadline to legalize marijuana, legislation to get it done has stalled in the Senate. That's according to opposition Senator Miguel Angel Mancera, who said there is no consensus between the parties. “[Legislation for] recreational use is not moving. It’s more difficult than outsourcing,” the former Mexico City mayor said, referring to a congressional battle over outsourcing last year.

Fentanyl Trade Fuels Cartel Battle in Central Mexico. Five competing drug trafficking groups are fighting over control of the fentanyl trade in the north-central state of Zacatecas, and it's leaving a toll of dead. The number of killings in the state reached 666 last year, more than double the figure from a decade ago. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel dominate the trade, but three other groups are trying to muscle in. They are the Gulf Cartel and two offshoots of the Zetas, known as the Talibanes and the Northeastern Cartel.

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

Chronicle AM: Northeastern Governors Hold Legalization Summit, SC Judge Throws Out Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (10/17/19)

At least five governors have marijuana on their minds this week, Canada allows marijuana edibles and vapes to go on sale, a South Carolina judge rules the state's civil asset forfeiture law unconstitutional, and more.

Marijuana is on the minds of governors in the Northeast -- and New Mexico, too. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Governors of Four Northeastern States Hold Summit to Coordinate Marijuana Legalization Plans. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) have been joined at a Thursday meeting by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) as the state chief executives discuss how best to move forward with marijuana legalization. The governors' marijuana summit is divided into five sessions: on vaping and related issues, market regulation and social justice issues, public health consequences of cannabis, public safety issues and a "best practices" panel led by Colorado representatives.

New Mexico Governor's Working Group Releases Marijuana Legalization Proposal. A working group on marijuana legalization appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) released its recommendations Wednesday. The group is recommending, among other things, the automatic expungement of past marijuana convictions, exempting medical marijuana patients from taxation, a low-income subsidy program for patients, and either a ban or a licensing requirement for home cultivation. The state will see a 30-day legislative session early next year, and the release of the recommendations could pave the way for passage of a legalization bill then.

Asset Forfeiture

South Carolina Judge Rules Civil Asset Forfeiture Unconstitutional. A South Carolina circuit court judge in Horry County has ruled the state's civil asset forfeiture law unconstitutional, in violation of the US Constitution's 4th, 5th and 14 amendments. 15th Circuit Court Judge Steven H. John found that South Carolina's forfeiture laws violate both the federal and state constitutional protections against excessive fines by allowing the government to seize unlimited amounts of cash and property that aren't proportionate to the alleged crime. The ruling sets the scene for an appeals court ruling down the road.

International

Australian Plan to Drug Test Welfare Recipients Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle. A government bill to begin a pilot program requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug tests has been approved by the lower house and is now on its way to the Senate -- where it is likely to be defeated.

Canada Legalizes Marijuana Derivatives. One year after legalizing marijuana, Canada has now finalized regulations for marijuana products such as edibles, marijuana-infused beverages, and vape products, and those products will now be available to Canadian consumers as the country moves to "Legalization 2.0."

Chronicle AM: DEA Proposes Big Cuts in Opioid Production, Increase in Research Marijuana, More... (9/11/18)

The DEA has come out with proposed quotas for marijuana and prescription opioids for 2020, a Florida legalization initiative has already raised a million dollars, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DEA Wants 3.2 Million Grams of Marijuana Legally Grown In 2020. The DEA has set a quota of 3.2 million grams of marijuana to be grown legally for scientific research purposes next year. That's a bit more than 7,000 pounds, and it's up more than 30% over this year's quota of 2.45 million grams. "This will meet the need created by the increase in the amount of approved research involving marijuana," DEA said in a press release. "Over the last two years, the total number of individuals registered by DEA to conduct research with marijuana, marijuana extracts, derivatives and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has increased by more than 40 percent, from 384 in January 2017 to 542 in January 2019."

Florida Legalization Campaign Has Raised $1 Million. Make It Legal Florida (MILF), the group behind the Adult Use of Marijuana initiative, has already raised more than $1.09 million for its effort to put the measure on the 2020 ballot, almost entirely from two major players in the legal marijuana industry, Surterra Wellness and MadMen, Inc. The information comes from campaign finance filings on September 1. Another group, Sensible Florida, is sponsoring a competing marijuana legalization initiative. It has raised $177,883 and received $245,725 in in-kind contributions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Proposes Reductions in Opioid Manufacturing for 2020. The DEA is proposing to reduce the amount of five Schedule II opioid controlled substances that can be manufactured in the United States next year compared with 2019. The agency proposes to reduce the amount of fentanyl produced by 31%, hydrocodone by 19%, hydromorphone by 25%, oxycodone by 9%, and oxymorphone by 55%. Combined with morphine, the proposed quota would be a 53% decrease in the amount of allowable production of these opioids since 2016.

International

Australian Government Proposes Drug Testing for Welfare Benefits. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has filed a bill in parliament to drug test welfare recipients. The legislation, which would run trial programs in several districts -- all controlled by the Labor party -- would restrict benefits to a debit card following the first positive, and require participation in a drug treatment program following the second. It has been criticized by health experts and drug policy reformers for stigmatizing welfare recipients while diverting from addressing the root causes of addiction. Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "This is a trial. We are trying to work out if this can work. I am really puzzled by the level of opposition to the government trying to tackle a problem of drug addiction for people who are not in work and helping them get over it with referral to proper services and funding those services in those trial areas."

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School