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Chronicle AM: DEA Emergency Ban on Fentanyl Analogs, Fox Legalization Poll, More... (2/7/18)

A Fox poll has support for legalization at an all-time high, Colorado's governor ponders freeing marijuana prisoners, the DEA emergency bans fentanyl analogues, New York's governor bans synthetic cannabinoids, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Fox News Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Record High. A new Fox News poll has the poll's highest numbers yet in support of freeing the weed. Some 59% said legalize it, up from 51% in 2015, 46% in 2013, and 26% in 2001. The Fox poll results are in line with other national polls, which are now typically showing support for legalization in the high 50s or low 60s.

Colorado Governor Ponders Freeing Marijuana Prisoners. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is considering releasing nearly 40 prison inmates serving time for nonviolent marijuana offenses. "Right now, we have not enough room left in our prisons. So if what these people are serving serious time for wasn't violent -- is no longer illegal -- maybe we should be looking at (whether) it safe to release them," he said in an interview with The Denver Post. "We are talking about going out and finding people who are still in prison, and saying, 'If you want to apply we think your application will have favor,'" Hickenlooper said.

Virginia Poll Has Strong Support for Decriminalization. A new poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University has support for decriminalization at 76%, with even 60% of Republicans in favor. The poll comes a week after Republicans in the state Senate killed a decriminalization bill.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Emergency Schedules All Illicit Fentanyl Analogs. The US Drug Enforcement Administration this week placed all illicit fentanyl analogues not already regulated by the Controlled Substances Act into Schedule I -- the category for substances with no currently accepted medical use -- for two years, with the possibility of a one-year extension. The action is intended to reduce these substances' flow into the country and slow the alarming increase in overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids, but time will tell.

Kratom

FDA Ramps Up Warnings on Kratom, Calls It "Opioid." The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday ramped up its warnings about kratom, saying that new research says the herb has "opioid properties" and is linked to 44 deaths. "We feel confident in calling compounds found in kratom, opioids," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. New data has reinforced the agency concerns about kratom's "potential for abuse, addiction and serious health consequences, including death."

New Synthetic Substances

New York Governor Uses Temporary Budget Amendment to Ban Sales of Synthetic Cannabinoids. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Wednesday a 30-day budget amendment to add 36 different synthetic cannabinoids to the state's controlled substance list. While the substances are banned federally, only some New York counties had banned them. "As the manufacturers of this poison continue to evolve and find new and insidious ways to skirt the law, New York's statutes must continue to keep pace," Cuomo said. "With this action, we'll continue to identify and crack down on hazardous compounds that emerge in our communities, and give law enforcement the tools they need to end this public health threat."

International

Canada Legalization Rollout Could Be Delayed. Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Tuesday that recreational marijuana sales will only begin a few months after legalization later this year because the new legal sales system will take time to begin working properly. The Liberal government wants the new law in place by July 1, but if it takes until that date, legal sales could be pushed back to the fall.

Israel Prime Minister Blocks Medical Marijuana Exports, Calls for More Studies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended plans to allow Israeli medical marijuana growers to export their crops pending new reviews by the Health Ministry and the chairman of the National Economic Council. The move came after a Sunday meeting where Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan presented data on the diversion of medical marijuana into recreational markets.

Chronicle AM: Trump Administration Wants Expanded Unemployment Drug Testing, More... (1/3/18)

The Trump Labor Department is moving to expand drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits, Bangladeshi officials calls for drug addicts to be shot on sight, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill to Be Rewritten to Gain Passage, Sponsor Says. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-South Wilmington), a lead sponsor of the legalization bill, House Bill 110, said Wednesday that the bill is being rewritten in a bid to ensure passage. Her comments came after the final meeting of Adult Use Cannabis Task Force, which has been studying how to tax and regulate marijuana in the state. The task force's final report, which could bolster Keeley's efforts, is due out at the end of February.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) has filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1106, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana program in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Looks to Expand Unemployment Drug Testing. The Labor Department has indicated it wants to widen the number of occupations that can drug test for unemployment. A 2016 Obama era rule limited testing to certain types of occupations, such as public transit drivers, pilots, and professions that require the use of firearms, but the Labor Department wants to redefine and expand the range of occupations for testing.

International

Bangladesh Minister Says Drug Addicts Should Be Shot on Sight. Bangladeshi Primary and Mass Education Minister Mostafizur Rahman has taken a page from the book of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and called for the killing of drug users. He also compared drug use to terrorism and claimed it was worse: "Some people say that drug abuse may be far worse a problem than militancy. They are right -- drug abuse is more menacing than militancy, because militancy can be eradicated one day. If I were the home minister, I would have eliminated drug addiction, and the only way to do it is to adopt the 'shoot at sight' policy against drug addicts," he said while addressing the 28th founding anniversary program of the Department of Narcotics Control at Tejgaon area in Dhaka on Tuesday. He added that such a policy would only be necessary in a handful of localities, which would serve as an example.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Top Ten US Drug Policy Stories of 2017 [FEATURE]

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Tens of thousands die of drug overdoses, hundreds of thousands get arrested for drugs, yet marijuana is seeing boom times. As we bid adieu to 2017, here are the year's drug policy highlights:

Drug overdoses killed record numbers of Americans in 2017. (Wikimedia)
1.The Opioid Crisis Deepens, With Overdose Deaths at an All-Time High

The country's opioid crisis showed no signs of abating in 2017, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating 66,000 overdose deaths this year, up from 63,000 in 2016. To be clear, only about two-thirds of fatal drug overdoses are linked to heroin and prescription opioids, but opioid overdoses surged in 2016 by 28%. It's too early for final data on 2017 overdoses, but there is little reason to doubt that opioids were driving the increase this year. The high levels of overdose deaths have led to a fall in US life expectancy for the past two years, only the third time that has happened in the past century. Policy efforts to curtail the problem have sometimes included regressive moves to up drug sentences, and have generally given only limited consideration to the needs many patients have to access these substances. But public health measures like naloxone distribution and "Good Samaritan" non-prosecution policies have also advanced.

2. Fentanyl is Killing More and More People

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs are implicated in an increasingly large number of opioid overdose deaths. While deaths involving prescription opioids are decreasing, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by an average of 88% a year since 2013. Illicitly imported fentanyl from labs in China or Mexico is mixed with heroin with lethal results: Half of the increase in heroin-related overdose deaths is attributable to heroin cut with fentanyl, the CDC reported in September. There were nearly 20,000 deaths attributable to fentanyl and other illicit opioids in 2016; the 2017 numbers are likely to be even worse.

3. Key Federal Drug Policy Positions Remain Unfilled, and Kellyanne is In Charge

The Trump administration has not nominated anyone to head the DEA, and the agency is currently being led by Acting Administrator Robert Patterson after Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator when Trump took office, resigned in September, saying he didn't want to work with the administration any longer. Similarly, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is without a permanent head after Trump's nominee, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino went down in flames in October in the wake of reports he steered a bill through Congress that impeded the DEA from going after pharmaceutical drug distributors. Neither the White House nor anyone else seems very interested in filling the position, in part, perhaps, because earlier in the year, Trump floated the notion of cutting ONDCP's budget by nearly 95%. But not to worry: Trump pollster, counselor, and apologist Kellyanne Conway is now leading the administration's fight against opioids -- even though she has no public health experience whatsoever.

So far, Attorney General Sessions' bark is worse than his bite when it comes to marijuana policy. (senate.gov)
4. Attorney General Sessions Revives the Federal War on Drugs…

Under President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder presided over a ratcheting down of harsh federal drug prosecutions and sentences, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doing his best to undo those reforms. In May, Sessions announced that he had directed federal prosecutors to seek the most severe penalties possible in drug cases, including mandatory minimum sentences.

5. …But Fails to Implement a War on Weed, So Far

For all the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and dire predictions of a Sessions war on weed, it hasn't happened yet. The attorney general has made no secret of his dislike for the demon weed, but that has yet to translate into any firm policy positions or federal crackdowns on marijuana in states where it is legal, for either medical or recreational use. Congressional action continues to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana, although the future of that law after January 22nd remains in doubt. But there was no bar on going after state-legal recreational marijuana, yet it didn't happen. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee in November that the Obama-era Cole memo remains in effect. That memo directs prosecutors to pretty much leave state-legal marijuana alone except for specified concerns, such as the involvement of youth, violence, or diversion. Later in November, Sessions said the Justice Department was still examining the Cole memo, so all is not safe, but today legal marijuana is still standing.

6. Legal Marijuana's $10 Billion Dollar Year

In December, marijuana market watchers Arcview Market Research estimated that retail marijuana sales would hit $10 billion in 2017, up 33% over 2016. But that's just the beginning, Arcview said. With huge recreational markets such as California (pop. 39 million) and Canada (pop. 36 million) coming online next year, the group expects North American sales to top $24.5 billion by 2021. It's hard even for a pot-hating attorney general to get in front of that economic juggernaut.

7. Pot is More Popular than Ever

Just ask Gallup. The venerable polling firm has been tracking support for marijuana legalization since 1969, when it was at just 12%. In its latest poll, from October, Gallup now has support for marijuana legalization at 64%. What is really impressive is the rapid increase in support in the past 20 years: In 1996, support was at 25%; by 2012, it had doubled to 50%; and it's gained another 14 points in the five years since. Other pollsters are reporting similar current levels of support for marijuana legalization. And this could be another reason the attorney general hesitates to crack down on weed.

8. No State Legalized Weed, But 2018 Should Be Different

After 2016 saw marijuana legalization initiatives win in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada -- losing only in Arizona, closely -- anticipation was high that 2017 would see more states come aboard. It didn't happen. There are two explanations for this: First, it was an off-off election year and no initiatives were on the ballot, and second, it's hard to move controversial legislation though the state house. Still, the Vermont legislature actually passed a legalization bill, only to see it vetoed by a Republican governor, and that governor now says he is ready to sign a legalization bill. That could happen as early as next month. Likewise, a number of other states saw legalization bills make serious progress, and we could see those efforts come to fruition in places like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. And 2018 will most likely see at least one legalization initiative. Activists in Michigan have already handed in signatures and should have enough of a cushion to qualify for the ballot.

9. Safe Injection Sites in the US Draw Ever Nearer

The harm reduction intervention has been proven to save lives, increase public health and public safety, and get hardcore drug users in touch with medical and social service help, and the message is finally on the verge of getting though in the US. At least two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are advancing plans to open such facilities -- although not without staunch opposition -- and, under the progressive leadership of young Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca, New York, is making similar plans.

10. The War on Drugs Rolls On

Despite the legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana in various states, despite various sentencing reforms at the state and federal level, despite the growing recognition that "we can't arrest our way out of this problem," the drug war just keeps on going. The FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report in November, and while the numbers are from 2016, this year's numbers are unlikely to be any better. More than 600,000 people got arrested for marijuana offenses in 2016, down from a peak of nearly 800,000 in 2007, but still up by 75,000 or 12% over 2015. It's the same story with overall drug arrests: While total drug arrest numbers peaked at just under 1.9 million a year in 2006 and 2007 -- just ahead of the peak in prison population -- and had been trending downward ever since, they bumped up again last year to 1.57 million, a 5.6% increase over 2015.

Chronicle AM: NJ, PA Move to Increase Opioid Sentences, Canada Legal Pot Delayed?, More... (12/20/17)

Mid-Atlantic state politicos are moving toward harsher sentences for some opioid offenses, Canada's July 1 marijuana legalization date may get bumped back, California's Humboldt County rejects safe injection sites, and more.

Make way! Moves are afoot in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to toughen opioid sentences. (supremecourt.gov)
Harm Reduction

California's Humboldt County Rejects Safe Injection Sites. At its meeting Tuesday, the county board of supervisors voted to send a letter to the sponsor of a state bill that would allow for safe injection sites telling her they weren't interested. The measure, Assembly Bill 186, filed by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), would allow certain cities and counties, including Humboldt, to authorize such programs. Some supervisors had moral objections, while others raised cost concerns. Most public commenters at the meeting also opposed the plan.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Pennsylvania DAs Want Tougher Fentanyl Laws. The state District Attorneys Association is getting behind a push by Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) for harsher sentences for fentanyl-related crimes. "Stiffer penalties for fentanyl would go a long way in helping us," Shapiro said during a recent roundtable discussion on drugs. The DAs backed him up a few days later, tweeting that "An increase in sentencing guidelines for #fentanyl will help prevent deaths. PA Sentencing Commission is considering changes."

New Jersey Bill Could Quadruple Prison Sentences for Opioid-Related Offenses. Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill, Assembly Bill 5264, that would dramatically increase sentences for some opioid offenses. Under the bill, the sentence for possessing five grams of heroin would double from a maximum of five years to a maximum of 10 years. People caught possessing 10 grams would see their maximum sentences quadrupled, from five years to 20.

Drug Policy

Acting Chief of Staff at Drug Czar's Office Fired. Lawrence "Chip" Muir, the acting chief of staff and general counsel for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), was suddenly fired Tuesday afternoon. ONDCP has been without a new drug czar since the Trump administration took office, and now it lacks a chief of staff, too. It's not clear why Muir got canned.

International

Canada Not Wedded to July 1 Deadline for Marijuana Legalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to back away from the long-anticipated July 1 rollout date for legal marijuana in an interview Tuesday night. "It won't be July 1," he said, but will happen "next summer." The House of Commons approved legalization legislation last month, but the bill is now being studied by the Senate, which could modify it and possibly delay final adoption.

Indian Government to Craft New Drug Rehab Policy for Addicts. Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot told congress Tuesday that the country's 2001 law on rehabilitating drug addicts is under review and that a survey of drug addicts nationwide was underway. An action plan to rehabilitate addicts is now being prepared he said.

Indonesia Officials Threatens "Shoot to Kill" Policy for Drug Dealers Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno has threatened to kill drug dealers who resist arrest. "We are serious [in fighting drugs], we will '810' drug dealers who try to avoid authorities' pursuit," he said, referencing the police code for shooting and killing suspects who try to flee arrest. According to Amnesty International, Indonesian police have killed 80 suspected drug dealers this year, five times the number killed in 2016.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Hints at Marijuana Enforcement Changes, ND Legalization Init Filed, More... (11/29/17)

The attorney general hints at changes in federal marijuana enforcement policy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren challenges Trump's HHS nominee on medical marijuana and opioids, North Dakota activists file a legalization initiative, and more.

The attorney general is making news on both the marijuana and the opioid fronts. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Hints at Changes in Federal Marijuana Enforcement. At a press conference Wednesday on new measures to address opioid use, Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled that the Justice Department's laissez-faire approach to marijuana in states where it is legal may soon be changing. Justice is looking "very hard right now" at the Cole memo, an Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors that told them to generally make enforcement a low priority in legalization or medical states, Sessions said. "We had meetings yesterday and talked about it at some length. It's my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and it's subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges we face," he said. "We'll be working our way through to a rational policy. But I don't want to suggest in any way that this department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it."

Connecticut Gubernatorial Candidates Support Legalization. In the first debate of the 2018 gubernatorial campaign Tuesday night, several candidates said they supported marijuana legalization, a step current Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) has been unwilling to take. "Yes, I will sign a bill to legalize it,'' said Democrat Dan Drew. "There are an awful lot of people who use cannabis for a variety of reasons… wouldn't it be better if we control the process on the front end, if we were able to regulate it?" Another Democrat, former consumer protection commissioner Jonathan Harris also said he supports marijuana legalization. Only Republican candidate Prasad Srinivasan quailed at the prospect, saying he had concerns about public safety and public health.

North Dakota Activists File Legalization Initiative. Grand Forks resident David Own delivered a proposed petition to begin an initiative campaign to legalize marijuana to the secretary of state's office on Tuesday. The petition calls for the "full legalization" of marijuana and expungement of records for any crime that would be legalized by the measure. If approved for signature gathering, the initiative will need some 13,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

San Francisco Approves Legal Marijuana Regs; Sales to Begin January 5. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve regulations for recreational marijuana sales and set January 5 as the date when legal sales could begin. Supervisors voted for a 600-feet buffer between stores and schools -- much less than what some members of the Chinese immigrant community had lobbied for -- and rejected provisions that would have let neighborhoods limit the number of pot shops or ban them outright.

Medical Marijuana

Elizabeth Warren Wants Marijuana Answers From Trump Health Nominee. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has sent a letter to Alex Azar, President Trump's nominee to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggesting the administration study how marijuana legalization could reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths. The letter also asks Azar to answer questions about what he would do to study marijuana as an alternative to opioids, whether he is committed to implementing evidence-based policies, and what steps he would take to "improve our knowledge of the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana when used for medical purposes."

Iowa Announces First and Only License for Medical Marijuana Manufacturer. The Department of Public Health announced Tuesday it will issue a CBD manufacturing license to MedPharm Iowa. That is the first license to grow marijuana and create CBD products in the state and the only one that will be issued.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA to Open First New Field Office in 20 Years to Fight Epidemic. At a press conference Wednesday addressing the opioid crisis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DEA will open a new field office in Louisville, its first new field office in two decades. Sessions also announced new federal grants totaling $12 million to fund anti-heroin task forces and said that all 94 US attorneys across the country would name officials to coordinate opioid enforcement operations in their areas.

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

Chronicle AM: CA Magic Mushroom Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering, More... (11/7/17)

The Maine legislature fails to override the governor's veto of the pot regulation bill, a California initiative to legalize magic mushrooms gets the okay for signature gathering, North Dakotans will wait another year for their medical marijuana, and more.

These could be legal in California soon if an initiative makes the ballot and is approved by voters. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Fails to Override Veto of Marijuana Regulation Bill. The House voted Monday to sustain Gov. Paul LePage's (R) veto of a bill providing a legal regulatory framework for marijuana commerce. What happens next is unclear. A moratorium on recreational sales expires on February 1. The legislature reconvenes in January, but there is little indication political dynamics will change between now and then. If the moratorium is not extended and a new bill passed, the law as passed by voters in 2016 would go into effect. "I feel like we legalized gasoline, but not gas stations," Rep. Martin Grohman told the Portland Press-Herald.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Says Medical Marijuana Still a Year Away. The state Health Department Monday announced proposed administrative rules for such things as lab testing, security requirements, and transportation regulations, and added that the proposed rules will be open for public comment until December 26. The department also said it doesn't expect the drug to be available for sale to patients for another year -- two years after it was approved by voters.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida's Largest Insurer Stops Covering Oxycontin. The state's largest health insurance company will stop covering OxyContin, the brand name prescription opioid, beginning January 1, in a bid to reduce overdoses and opioid dependence. Instead, Florida Blue will start covering an alternative opioid that isn't crushable for injection or snorting, reducing its potential for abuse, the company said Monday. That other drug is Xtampza ER, which also contains oxycodone, but which is designed to deter abuse because the pills cannot be crushed for snorting or injection.

Psychedelics

California Magic Mushroom Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. An initiative that would legalize psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, has been approved for signature gathering by state officials. The California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative needs 365,880 valid voter signatures by April 30 to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Sentencing Reform Bill Filed. House leaders Monday proposed sweeping changes to the state's criminal justice and sentencing laws. It's a mixed bag: Some provisions would allow for the expungement of marijuana offenses and end some mandatory minimum drug sentences, but others would increase sentences for dealing in opioids. The bill also includes pre-trial diversion programs and bail reforms. The House will debate the measures next week. The Senate has already passed its own version of a criminal justice reform bill.

International

Canada's Newest Safe Injection Site Approved in Ottawa. Health Canada has given final approval for a safe injection site in Ottawa, which will be housed in a trailer in a hospital parking lot. Operators said they expected to begin welcoming clients today.

Dutch Localities Line Up for Regulated Marijuana Cultivation Pilot Project. Some 25 of the country's 380 local authorities have applied to participate in pilot schemes to allow the regulated growth of marijuana to supply the nation's fabled cannabis cafes. Among those councils which have come forward are Breda, the Noord-Brabant town of Cuijk, and Rotterdam, where mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb wants the experiment to cover distribution as well. The government is expected to announce which locales win spots in the pilot program next year.

Chronicle AM: DPA Decries Resort to Drug Courts, OSU Creates Drug Policy Center, More... (11/02/17)

The Drug Policy Alliance takes aim at some of the opioid commission's recommendations, Michigan dispensaries can stay open during the shift to the new regime, Ohio State creates a Koch-funded drug policy center, and more.

Pennsylvania patients are a step closer to being able to legally buy their medicine. (Sondra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Budget Plan Would Use Pot Tax Money to Fund Task Force Aimed at Illegal Marijuana Operations. Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D) budget proposal for FY 2018-2019 includes directing $1.2 million in pot tax revenues to create a task force with the state Bureau of Investigation to "investigate black marker marijuana operations across Colorado." Such operations are on the increase, the governor complained.

Medical Marijuana

FDA Cracks Down on Marijuana Cancer Treatment Claims. The Food and Drug Administration sent letters Tuesday to four companies warning them they cannot market their products as treatments for cancer. The letter is directed at companies who claim their products can combat tumors and kill cancer cells. "We don't let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we're not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Can Stay Open During Shift to New Regime. After ferocious blowback from patients concerned they could lose access to their medicine, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs on Wednesday reversed an earlier decision forcing dispensaries to shut down while the licensing process for them under a new state law is completed. Now, the dispensaries will be able to stay open past December 15, the day they were supposed to have to shut down.

Pennsylvania Starts Signing Up Patients. The state Health Department announced Wednesday that it had launched its patient and caregiver registry, bringing patients one step closer to being able to legally access their medicine. Medical marijuana should be available for patients by May 1, the department said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Advocates Denounce White House Opioid Commission's Emphasis on Drug Courts and Proposed Increase in Drug Sentences. The Drug Policy Alliance attacked the emphasis on drug courts, saying research does not support their continued expansion. "Most drug courts do not reduce imprisonment, do not save money or improve public safety, and ultimately fail to help people struggling with drug problems. Today's drug courts are no more effective -- but are considerably more costly -- than voluntary treatment, with participants often spending more time behind bars than those whose cases are handled by conventional courts. While the commission has recommended that drug courts provide access to medication-assisted treatments, it would be far more valuable to offer such treatments on a voluntary basis, without subjecting people who are struggling with addiction to the criminal justice system," the group said in press release Wednesday.

Drug Policy

Ohio State Creates Center to Study Impact of War on Drugs. The Ohio State University announced Wednesday the creation of a center to study the social impacts of the war on drugs. The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center will be funded with a $4.5 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. It will be headed by Professor Robert Berman, who has had a long-term interest in drug policy reform and is perhaps best known as the author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

Chronicle AM: Trump Declares Opioid Emergency, SF SIJ Could Come Soon, More... (10/26/17)

The president declares the opioid crisis an emergency, but not enough of one to actually need funding; lawmakers go after the DEA over West Virginia pain pill deliveries, a St. Louis alderman files a marijuana legalization measure, the US Sentencing Commission issues a report on mandatory minimums, and more.

President Trump declares a public health emergency, but not a national emergency, on opioids. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

St. Louis Ordinance Would End Local Marijuana Prohibition. Alderman Megan Green has filed an ordinance that would end enforcement of any laws that allow "the civil or criminal punishment for the use or possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia against any individual or entity," with some specified exceptions. Under the bill, pot could be used, sold, and grown in the city. The bill gets a first reading Friday, and Green says she's confident it can pass in coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers Call for VA to Research Medical Marijuana for Veterans. A group of lawmakers who sit on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee wrote a letter Thursday to Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin urging him to use his agency to research medical marijuana. The VA "is uniquely situated to pursue research on the impact of medical marijuana on veterans suffering from chronic pain and PTSD given its access to world class researchers, the population it serves, and its history of overseeing and producing research resulting in cutting-edge medical treatments," the lawmakers wrote. Shulkin has yet to respond.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency, But Provides No Funds. President Trump announced Thursday that he had directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency around the opioid crisis. But he declined to declare a national emergency, which would have allowed for the rapid allocation of monies to address it. Trump's declaration carries no funding with it, but would allow some grant money to be used to combat opioid abuse.

Lawmakers Take DEA to Task Over Spread of Opioids. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee threatened to subpoena the DEA over its slow response to their questions about how wholesale drug distributors poured millions of opioid pain pills into West Virginia. Members said the committee had been waiting six months for answers from the DEA about which companies had sent nine million pills to the town of Kermit, WV (pop. 392), over a two-year period. Members did not express any concerns about how a crackdown on pain pill prescribing might impact chronic pain patients.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Could See Safe Injection Sites Within a Year, Official Says. Safe injection sites in the city could be open in eight to 12 months if a proposal to create them gets approved, Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia told supervisors on Wednesday. Even if the plan was approved immediately, it would take time to obtain funding, establish protocols, hire and train staff, and set up the program, she said.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Issues Report on Mandatory Minimums. The US Sentencing Commission has issued a report on the use and impact of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. The report finds, among other things, that mandatory minimums continue to be imposed and result in long sentences in the federal system, but that they were being used less often last year. The report also noted that mandatory minimums may be applied more broadly than Congress intended, but that laws allows for departures from the harsh sentences "result in significantly reduced sentences when applied."

International

Colombia Will Move to Decriminalize Small-Time Coca Farming. The government will introduce legislation that would make the cultivation of up to just under ten acres of coca a non-punishable offense. More than 100,000 families earn a living from coca farming, with the average planting being less than an acre. This move would provide some breathing room for farmers caught between drug gangs on one hand and police on the other. The move was part of the peace deal agreed to with the leftist rebels of the FARC, but this is the first step toward actually implementing it.

Chronicle AM: DEA Annual Threat Assessment Released, Trump Opium Event Thursday, More... (10/24/17)

The White House could announce a national opioid emergency on Thursday, the DEA releases its annual drug threat assessment, the Maine legislature approves a marijuana regulation bill, and more.

The opioid epidemic is front and center in the drug policy debate, and in the eyes of the DEA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Regulation Bill, Governor May Veto. The legislature approved a bill to regulate the state's impending legal marijuana market Monday, but not by big enough a margin to withstand an expected veto by Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would set up a licensing system and set a 10% sales tax and a weight-based excise tax for transactions between growers and retailers. If LePage vetoes the bill, the result could be "chaos" that would throw "oxygen onto the fire of the black market," said Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) in remarks reported by the Bangor Daily News. LePage has said he wants to postpones retail sales until next year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House to Host Opioid Event on Thursday. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has announced that it will host an event Thursday on "the nationwide opioid crisis." The announcement did not make clear what the event will be, but could be the declaration of a national emergency around the opioid crisis. President Trump surprised his advisors last week by saying he would make such an announcement this week.

Trump Opioid Commission Member Not Optimistic. In an interview Monday, Trump opioid commission member former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) said he was not optimistic that any recommendations from the commission will lead to any effective action to ameliorate the opioid crisis. Kennedy told the Washington Post "the worry is that" the commission's final recommendations, set for release next week, "won't be adopted."

Drug Store Group Offers Recommendations to Ease Opioid Crisis. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which has been criticized on some fronts for contributing to the crisis, has suggested four public policy initiatives that could help rein it in. Among the policy prescriptions are a seven-day limit for initial opioid prescriptions, nationwide electronic prescription monitoring, the use of manufacturer-funded envelopes to return unused opioids, and regulation of synthetic opioids. The association did not address the impact such policy prescriptions could have on chronic pain patients.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. The agency released its annual report Monday, and it concentrates on the opioid crisis. The report notes the high number of prescription opioid overdose deaths, warns that heroin is a "serious public health and safety threat," notes the rise of fentanyl, says "the methamphetamine threat remains prevalent," "the cocaine threat continues to rebound," and that the emergence of new psychoactive substances remains "a challenge," among other findings. It qualifies Mexican drug trafficking organizations as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

Chronicle AM: New Zealand to Vote on MJ Legalization, Peru Congress OKs MedMJ, More... (10/20/17)

A new doctors' group is calling on the medical community to be open to marijuana legalization, kratom activists file a FOIA on the DEA, New Zealand's new prime minister says she will hold a referendum on marijuana legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Doctors' Group Advocates for Marijuana Legalization. A newly formed physicians' group is calling on organized medicine to be open to legalizing and regulating marijuana. Doctors for Cannabis Regulation includes as members former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and former US Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Westley Clark.

Maine Governor Wants to Delay Legal Marijuana Sales. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has proposed that lawmakers delay recreational marijuana sales instead of trying to pass a legislative rewrite of the voter-approved 2016 legalization initiative. LePage is proposing pushing the sales date back to January 2019. Lawmakers have already pushed the sales date back to February 2018.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump's Vow to Deliver Emergency Opioid Proclamation Is News to His Advisors. When President Trump announced Monday he would deliver an emergency proclamation on the opioid crisis next week, he blindsided his advisors, who are now scrambling to actually develop a plan. Despite Trump's remarks, it is unclear how or if it will be done, when it will be announced, and whether there is permanent leadership in place to execute it. "They are not ready for this," a public health advocate told Politico, which reported that top officials were "stunned" by Trump's off-script remarks.

Kratom

Citing DEA "Shadow Campaign," Kratom Backers File FOIA Request. Charging that the DEA is involved in a "shadow campaign" against the herb, the American Kratom Association has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all records of kratom-related communications between the DEA and state lawmakers, law enforcement officials, coroners, and medical examiners. The association believes a recent claim of a "kratom-related death" by a local coroner is "part of a larger behind-the-scenes push against kratom by the DEA in the wake of its decision last year to suspend an emergency scheduling push that would have effectively banned the legal botanical product," according to its press release.

Criminal Justice

In Speech to Oklahoma Sheriffs, Sessions Praises Asset Forfeiture, Denies Need for Sentencing Reform. Addressing the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association in Midway City Wednesday, Attorney General Sessions praised President Trump as a "law and order president," defended federal asset forfeiture, and denied that the country has a mass incarceration problem. "If you want to bring down our prison population, then we should bring down crime," Sessions said in prepared remarks.

International

Colombia Coca Farmers, Social Organization Call General Strike. Upset by the government's failure to fully implement peace accords signed with the leftist FARC rebels 11 months ago, dozens of groups, including the National Coordinator for Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana Growers; the National Coordinator of Communities and Afrodescendant Organization, and the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples have called an indefinite strike. "This national strike is to demand compliance with the agreement. We hope that the Government respects our right to protest, "said the spokesman of the National Association of Peasant Reserve Zones, Cesar Jerez, in a statement issued by Patriotic March.

New Zealand Will Hold Referendum on Marijuana Legalization. Incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has said the country will hold a referendum on marijuana legalization at some point in the next three years. She has not taken a position on the issue herself, but said she wanted to hear the view of the public.

Peru Congress Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The Congress approved a bill Thursday that would legalize medical marijuana in the Andean nation. The move has the support of President Pablo Kuczynski, who proposed it after a scandal erupted when police cracked down on a group of mothers making cannabis oil in a home factory to treat their epileptic children.

Drug War Issues

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