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Chronicle AM: Opioid Maker Ordered to Pay $572 Million, Purdue Pharma Offers Billions to Settle, More... (8/27/19)

Big Pharma companies that deal in opoids are taking a hit, California moves to get rid of a vestige of the dope squad days, and more.

Purdue Pharma is offering to settle thousands of claims arguing that it jumpstarted the nation's opioid crisis.
Drug Policy

California Senate Passes Bill to End State Narcotics Registry. The state Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to approve AB 1261, which would abolish the state's narcotics registry. A vestige of dope squad days, the registry was a requirement that anyone convicted of a drug felony, including marijuana cultivation, register with their county sheriff for five years after release. The measure has already passed the Assembly but has to go back for a final vote after changes were made in the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Oklahoma Judge Finds Johnson & Johnson Liable for Opioid Epidemic. In the first of more than a thousand lawsuits against Big Pharma over its role in the opioid epidemic to be settled, a district court judge ruled Monday that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state's opioid crisis and ordered the company to pay a whopping $572 million. "The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma," Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman said before announcing the judgment. "It must be abated immediately." Johnson & Johnson said it planned to appeal.

Purdue Pharma Offers to Settle Opioid Lawsuits for $10-12 Billion. Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, and its owners, the Sackler family, have offered to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits pending against the company for $10 to $12 billion. The lawsuits, brought by states, cities, and counties, allege that the company and the Sacklers are liable for starting and sustaining the opioid crisis. They maintain that the company's sales practices were deceptive and at least partly responsible for the opioid crisis. In a statement, the company said: "While Purdue Pharma is prepared to defend itself vigorously in the opioid litigation, the company has made clear that it sees little good coming from years of wasteful litigation and appeals. The people and communities affected by the opioid crisis need help now. Purdue believes a constructive global resolution is the best path forward, and the company is actively working with the state attorneys general and other plaintiffs to achieve this outcome."

Kratom

Michigan Bill Would Require a Prescription for Kratom. A Republican state senator has filed a bill that would require kratom users to get a prescription for the herbal supplement. Sen. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek) filed SB 433, calling kratom "dangerous and addictive" in a news release. He also cited "an alarming increase recently in the number of deaths from this relatively unknown drug," but in almost all cases of fatal overdoses involving kratom, other drugs were present, making it difficult to determine kratom's role -- if any -- in those deaths.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Foreign Policy

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

Harm Reduction

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

Transportation Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Psychedelics

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

Chronicle AM: Urge NC Gov to Veto Overdose Homicide Bill, Mexico Wants Out of Plan Merida, More... (5/9/19)

Congressmembers call on DEA to permit more research marijuana grows, the Denver magic mushroom initiative comes up short (or so we thought at publishing time), Mexico's president wants an end to Plan Merida and economic development help instead, and more.

Mexico wants less drug war aid, more economic development. (Borderland Beat)
Marijuana Policy

Majority of State Attorneys General Tell Congress to Pass Marijuana Banking Bill. Attorneys General from 38 states and territories have called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow marijuana businesses to gain access to the financial system. "Businesses are forced to operate on a cash basis. The resulting grey market makes it more difficult to track revenues for taxation and regulatory compliance purposes, contributes to a public safety threat as cash-intensive businesses are often targets for criminal activity, and prevents proper tracking of billions in finances across the nation," the attorneys general wrote in a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Members Call on DEA to Approve More Marijuana Growers. Some 30 members of Congress have sent a letter to the Justice Department and the DEA Tuesday asking the agencies to speed the process of approving new federally authorized marijuana growers. There is currently only one authorized cultivation facility, at the University of Mississippi. Although new applications are supposed to be approved, the representatives called the process "arduous and long."

House Committee Votes on Veterans Medical Marijuana Bills Canceled. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, cancelled votes on two bills concerning medical marijuana and veterans that were set for Wednesday. He said he now plans to hold a later hearing on the legislation but gave no reason for canceling the votes or the delay.

Texas House Passes Second CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Tuesday gave final approval to HB 3703, which would add multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity to the list of debilitating conditions that qualify for cannabis oil. It passed a similar bill, HB 1365, on Monday. Both now head to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

ONDCP Releases Report on the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a report on the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The report "outlines the progress the Trump Administration has made to curb addiction and tackle drug demand and the opioid crisis through prevention, interdiction, and treatment." It cites an ad campaign, decreases in opioid prescribing, prosecutions of fentanyl traffickers, and an increase in access to buprenorphine, among other highlights.

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Opioid Package. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rolled out the CARE Act on Wednesday, a $100 billion plan to fight the opioid crisis. "The ongoing opioid crisis is about health care. But it's about more than that. It's about money and power in America -- who has it, and who doesn't. And it's about who faces accountability in America -- and who doesn't," Warren wrote. "If the CARE Act becomes law, every single person would get the care they need… We should pass it -- not in two years, not after the 2020 elections -- but immediately." The measure would provide $100 billion in federal funding over the next decade, with $2.7 billion annually for what Warren described as the "hardest hit" counties and cities, including those with the highest rates of overdoses. It would also give $500 million each year to expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) filed a companion bill in the House.

Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decriminalization. Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang is calling for the decriminalization of opioids as part of his platform. "We need to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of opioids," Yang says. "Other countries, such as Portugal, have done so, and have seen treatment go up and drug deaths and addiction go down. When caught with a small quantity of any opioid, our justice system should err on the side of providing treatment."

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Narrowly Defeated. [Update: Last-minute mail-in ballots put the initiatve over the top by the following morning.] An initiative that would have effectively decriminalized the possession of magic mushrooms and psilocybin was defeated at the polls Tuesday. The initiative would have made the drugs law enforcement's lowest priority. It lost by a preliminary margin of 52% to 48%.

Sentencing

North Carolina Overdose Homicide Bill Goes to Governor. A bill that would make people who provide drugs to others who later overdose on them subject to murder charges has passed the legislature and is now on the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (R). Harm reductionists are calling for the measure, HB 474, to be vetoed and urging folks to let the governor know their opposition.

International

Mexico President Wants End to Plan Merida, Economic Development Aid Instead. Mexican President Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador said Tuesday he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. "We want the Merida Initiative to be completely reoriented, because it hasn't worked. We don't want cooperation on the use of force, we want cooperation on economic development. We don't want the so-called Merida Initiative," Lopez Obrador told a press conference. "The proposal we're making is a development plan for southeastern Mexico and Central America. We want investment dedicated to productive activities and job creation. We don't want attack helicopters."

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

Chronicle AM: VA Governor Vetoes Overdose Homicide Bill, VT Legal MJ Sales Bill Advances, More... (5/3/19)

A Vermont bill to legalize recreational cannabis sales takes another step forward, a New Hampshire bill to let patients grow their own goes to the governor's desk, Virginia's governor vetoes an overdose homicide bill, and more.

Twenty states have passed overdose homicide laws. Virginia won't be next, but North Carolina might. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers Demand End to Policy Punishing Immigrants Working in Marijuana Industry. Four Colorado US representatives have sent a letter to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security asking them to end a policy that bars immigrants who work in the state-legal marijuana industry from gaining US citizenship. The US Customs and Immigration Service has ruled that working in the industry means immigrants lack the "good moral character" required for citizenship.

Vermont Recreational Sales Bill Wins First House Committee Vote. The House Committee on Government Operations voted 10-1 Thursday to approve a bill that would legalize marijuana sales in the state, SB 54. The bill would tax marijuana sales at 16% and give localities the option of adding another 2%. The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means and Appropriations committees before getting a House floor vote. The bill has already passed the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Home Cultivation. The Senate on Thursday approved HB 364, which would allow patients to grow up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings at home. The House has already passed the bill but will have to vote again to approve amendments made in the Senate. If it does so, the bill will then head to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA, Drug Distributors Team Up to Block Release of Opioid Delivery Information. The DEA and the nation's largest drug distributors worked together Thursday to block the public release of information that would show the number of opioid pain pills the companies delivered to pharmacies across the country. Lawyers for the Washington Post and two West Virginia newspapers had sued for release of the information, arguing that distributors and DEA only sought to withhold the information because it would be embarrassing for companies that shipped massive amounts of opioids to states and towns that were arguably unjustifiable, and the DEA doesn't want to explain its actions. In oral arguments in the US 6th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, judges hearing the case expressed skepticism about DEA and distributor claims, but issued no ruling.

Pharmaceutical Company Founder, Executives Found Guilty of Bribing Doctors to Prescribe Opioids. Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor and four colleagues were found guilty by a federal jury in Boston Thursday of participating in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe its fentanyl spray, Subsys. The bribery scheme involved retaining doctors to act as speakers at sham events that were supposedly meant to educate other doctors about the drug. They're looking at 20 years in federal prison. but maintain their innocence and plan to appeal.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) on Thursday signed into law a bill reforming civil asset forfeiture, HB 1286. The bill doesn't end civil forfeiture but raises the evidentiary standard for seizures from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." It also includes a proportionality test to block seizing property worth more than the criminal penalty for the offense. And it adds reporting requirements for courts, prosecutors and the attorney general.

Drug Policy

Amy Klobuchar Releases $100 Billion Proposal to Fight Drug Addiction. Democratic presidential contender and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Friday released a $100 billion policy proposal for tackling drug addiction. While short on specifics, the proposal focuses on funding prevention programs and treatment centers across the country. She also calls for bringing down the price of naloxone and curbing "doctor shopping." Klobuchar's father was an alcoholic, and that makes the issue personal for her. "The one thing I hear over and over again across the country is people’s stories of battling with mental health and addiction," she said in a statement. "People need help, but they just can't get it. I believe everyone should have the same opportunity my dad had to be pursued by grace and get the treatment and help they need." [Ed: Sometimes what's called "doctor shopping" is really pain patients whose doctors they went to are afraid to provide the prescriptions they need.]

Sentencing

North Carolina Senate Approves Homicide by Overdose Bill. The Senate voted on Thursday to approve SB 375, which would allow people who distribute a drug that results in an overdose death to be charged with murder. That means that drug users who share with friends, partners who use from the same supply of drugs, and people who sell to support a drug habit could face murder charges even when the death is an accident. The bill now heads to the House.

Virginia Governor Vetoes Homicide by Overdose Bill. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday vetoed HB 2528, which would have made it easier for state prosecutors to go after drug dealers with a felony homicide charge when users die of an overdose. "The disease of addiction has long devastated our communities," Northam said in his veto message. "While I share the goal of addressing the opioid crisis and ensuring drug dealers are punished for supplying dangerous drugs, this bill goes beyond drug dealers and would punish individuals who are themselves struggling with addiction. The way to help individuals struggling with addiction is to ensure they receive proper treatment."

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

Chronicle AM: VT Legal Sales Compromise Broached, MI Forfeiture Reform Passes, More... (4/26/19)

Vermont could yet end up with a regulated marijuana market, Iowa gets ready to grow some hemp, asset forfeiture reform advances in Michigan and North Dakota, and more.

Iowa is about to become the next state to legalize industrial hemp. Only seven states have failed to do so. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Democrats Could Compromise on Driver Saliva Testing to Get Legal Sales Bill Passed. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said last week that he would not sign a bill to create a regulated legal marijuana market unless it included saliva testing of drivers, and now Democratic legislative leaders are signaling that they may support the testing, but only if police officers are required to obtain a search warrant before doing the testing. "I don't see any way the Senate would support saliva testing without a search warrant," said Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and cosponsor of the bill, SB 54.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Senate Committee Advances Home Grow Option. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients and caregivers to grow some of their own medicine has passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. HB 364 now heads for a Senate floor vote. The House passed a similar bill last month. The Senate bill allows up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Implementation Bill Advances. A key piece of legislation that sets the framework for municipal enforcement of the state's medical marijuana laws has passed the House on the final day for non-appropriations bills to pass. Senate Bill 1030, by Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) instructs police on how to handle drivers in possession of marijuana without their medical marijuana licenses and sets limits on local zoning laws. The bill also cuts the state excise tax from 7% to 6% and lowers the state sales tax from 4.5% to 1% to give room for local governments to add their own taxes.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Pushed to Next Year After Flurry of Late Amendments. The Compassionate Care Act, SB 366, is being pushed to next year, the second year of the legislative session, after the Senate Medical Affairs Committee was swamped with a deluge of last-minute amendments, including one that would that would drop herbal marijuana from the bill, instead allowing only oils and creams. "We're in the first year of a two-year process," said bill sponsor Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort). "We have a comprehensive amendment that addresses a lot of concerns that people have expressed. Time is on our side here."

Hemp

Iowa Hemp Bill Passes, Heads for Governor's Desk. The House on Thursday gave final approval for a bill to legalize industrial hemp farming, HF 781. A companion measure has already passed the Senate. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is expected to sign the legislation into law.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Poll Examines Public Attitudes Over Opioid Epidemic. A new NPR/Ipsos poll examining American attitudes toward the opioid crisis has a slight majority (56%) saying pharmaceutical companies should be held responsible for making the opioid crisis worse, and nearly three-quarters said drug companies should help fund opioid addiction treatment (73%) and distribute naloxone kits (72%). A strong majority (71%) said they were willing to have the government intervene to restrict opioid redistribution, while 66% said they supported more widespread distribution of naloxone. More than one in three (35%) said they had been personally affected, while nearly a quarter (23%) said they knew someone who had overdosed. The survey is not reported to have asked about pain patients' problems with accessing opioid medications.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Bills to End Most Civil Asset Forfeiture Pass Legislature. A trio of bills that would end most civil asset forfeiture in the state has passed both houses of the legislature and is now headed for the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has signaled she will sign the bills into law. The bills require a criminal conviction before police can keep assets worth less than $50,000 seized in connection with a crime.

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes House Over Sponsor's Objections. The House on Friday approved HB 1286, which reforms the state's asset forfeiture laws, but only after diluting it to such a degree that the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), ended up voting against it. The bill would require a higher evidentiary standard of clear and convincing evidence for forfeiture, and it includes a provision to not forfeit property worth more than the associated criminal penalty. But it also allows seizure of property if there is evidence "beyond reasonable doubt" of the property's criminal involvement. "It's very, very confusing. It's a very odd loophole," Becker said of the latter exception. "It's putting a criminal proceeding standard into a civil proceeding with no trial."He also criticized the bill's reporting requirements as too weak. "I'm looking at the words in front of me," Becker said. "We had such good opportunity for real reform, and I'm happy to come back in two years and try again."

Chronicle AM: New CBS Pot Poll, CO Drug Defelonization Passes House, More... (4/19/19)

A new CBS poll has record support for marijuana legalization, Vermont's governor throws up an obstacle to the tax and regulate bill, the US immigration agency says using marijuana or even working in the state-legal industry makes immigrants "morally unfit" to become citizens, and more.

Marijuana is all over the news today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New CBS Poll Has Support for Legalization at All-Time High. The latest annual CBS news poll on attitudes toward marijuana legalization has support at 65% -- an all-time high for the poll. Most respondents also viewed marijuana as less dangerous than alcohol. Legalization is now favored even by Republicans (56%), and the only age group to not have majority support for legalization -- people 65 and older -- is now evenly split with support at 49%.

Federal Bill Would Let People Use Marijuana in Public Housing in Legal States. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has filed the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act, which would allow people who use marijuana in compliance with state laws to live in public housing. Current federal law prohibits people using federally illegal drugs from being admitted to public housing and allows their eviction if caught. The Norton bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Montana 2020 Legalization Initiative Planned. A new group calling itself Coalition406 has announced plans to create a 2020 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Big Sky Country. The latest polling has support for legalization at 51%. "Coalition406 will sponsor a statewide listening tour over the coming weeks to discuss preliminary thoughts for a November 2020 initiative to hear from real Montanans on this issue," said Coalition406 campaign manager Ted Dick, a former executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.

Vermont Governor Won't Support Regulated Marijuana Without Saliva Testing for Drivers. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said for the first time Thursday that he would not sign legislation to tax and regulate marijuana unless it had a provision that would allow saliva testing of motorists. The tests are opposed by many civil rights and liberties groups, but the House Judiciary Committee that same day reviewed a draft proposal for language around saliva testing that could be inserted in SB 54, the tax and regulate bill that has already passed the Senate.

Wisconsin Legalization Bill Filed. For the fourth time, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) has filed a marijuana legalization bill. The bill would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce as well as a process for expungement of old marijuana convictions. "Far too many lives and communities have been damaged by out of date and backwards cannabis policies, and we must take this important and necessary step towards rectifying these damages," Sargent said in a press release. "The simple truth is, the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal." A January Marquette University poll has support for legalization at 59%, but the Republican-controlled legislature does not favor the proposal.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads to House Floor. A bill that would add over a dozen conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana, HR 1365, is heading for a House floor vote after passing its last committee hurdle on Wednesday. The bill would add cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis to the list of qualifying conditions.

Drug Treatment

Pennsylvania Bill Would Bar Addiction Centers from Requiring Positive Drug Tests Before Treatment. State Rep. Jack Rader (R-Monroe County) has cosponsored a bill that would ban addiction treatment centers from requiring people to test positive for opioids or other drugs in order to get admitted for care. Rader said he cosponsored the bill after a constituent told him her son had applied for drug treatment but had been required to test positive for opioids in order to begin treatment. He had gotten off opioids while waiting for treatment, but then used some to qualify for treatment and instead overdosed and died. The measure is HB 1024.

Immigration Policy

Using State-Legal Marijuana or Working in the Industry Makes Immigrants Morally Unfit to Be US Citizens, Federal Agency Rules. In a rules clarification Friday, US Citizenship and Immigration Services held that using marijuana or working in the industry even in states where it is legal violates the requirement that immigrants demonstrate five years of "good moral character" before applying for citizenship. In a memo detailing the ruling, USCIS said that "violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing [good moral character] for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law." That includes working in the state-legal marijuana and medical marijuana industries. There is an exception for one-time possession of less than an ounce.

Sentencing Policy

Colorado House Approves Bipartisan Bill to Lower Penalties for Drug Possession Offenses. The House on Thursday approved HB 19-1263, which would defelonize drug possession in the state. The measure passed the House on a 40-25 vote and now heads to the Senate.

Chronicle AM: Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decrim, Denver Moves to Expand Pot Social Clubs, More... (4/16/19)

The Denver city council is trying to make it easier for marijuana social consumption businesses to open, a Colorado drug defelonization bill advances, a Democratic presidential contender calls for opioid decriminalization, and more.

The Denver city council is trying to find room for more social consumption spaces. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Moves to Boost Social Consumption Businesses. More than two years after voters approved social use of marijuana in licensed businesses, only two such businesses exist, and now, the City Council is moving to boost their prospects. The Council voted 9-2 on Monday to advance a proposal that would allow such businesses to operate closer to rec centers, day cares, and other such facilities. The law approved by voters required that such establishments be at least 1,000 feet from schools, but city officials added similar requirements for day care, rec centers, and addiction treatment centers. Under this bill, that distance requirement is dropped to 500 feet for all categories except schools.

Hemp

Nebraska Hemp Bill Advances. State lawmakers have given a first approval to a measure to legalize hemp production, LB 657. The bill advanced on a 37-4 vote despite a filibuster from a senator who warned it was a stalking horse for marijuana legalization. The bill enjoys bipartisan support and Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) says his administration is working with bill sponsor Sen. Justin Wayne (D-Omaha) to get the bill through. It still needs two more votes before going to the governor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Presidential Contender Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decriminalization. Startup veteran, Venture for America founder, and Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang used a CNN town hall Sunday night to flesh out an earlier proposal to decriminalize opioids. Calling opioid addiction "a plague," Yang said the goal of decriminalization was to get more Americans in treatment and out of jail. "We need to decriminalize opiates for personal use," Yang said. "I'm also for the legalization of cannabis."

Sentencing Policy

Colorado Drug Defelonization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill that would shift drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors was approved by the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday. That's the final committee vote before HB19-1263 heads for a House floor vote. The bill has already been approved by the House Finance and House Judiciary committees.

(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.)

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.

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