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Chronicle AM: Mexico Supreme Court Ends Marijuana Prohibition, Feds Reject WI Medicaid Drug Tests, More... (11/1/18)

Mexico's Supreme Court strikes a fatal blow against marijuana prohibition, medical marijuana is now available by prescription in the United Kingdom, a Colorado jury rejects an effort to blow up the state's legal marijuana system, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Federal Jury Throws Out RICO Case Threatening State Marijuana Law. That didn't take long. A Denver federal court jury took only a few hours Wednesday to reach a verdict against a couple who claimed a marijuana cultivation operation was ruining their property values and threatening their lifestyle. The couple, aided by anti-marijuana attorneys, had attempted to use federal RICO statutes to undermine the state law, arguing that because marijuana is still federally illegal, its production violates federal racketeering laws. But the jury didn't buy it.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor's Plan to Require Drug Testing for Medicaid Rejected. The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has rejected a proposal from Gov. Rick Scott (R) to require drug testing as a condition for receiving Medicaid benefits. Walker had proposed several changes to the state program, known as BadgerCare, and the administration approved requiring childless adults to work or lose coverage, but not the proposed drug testing. Instead of requiring drug screening and testing, Medicaid applicants will now have to complete a health assessment with questions about drug use. If the assessment indicates concerns about drug use, the applicant will be referred to treatment, but not required to go.

Harm Reduction

New York City Legislation Would Expand Opioid Treatment at Homeless Shelters. City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) Wednesday filed legislation to increase access to opioid treatment at city homeless shelters. The bill would allow for easier access "We can't continue to sit by and do nothing," said Levin. "As we've seen in New York City and throughout the country, the status quo is not working. People are overdosing on opioids every day in New York City -- more than homicides and traffic fatalities combined."

International

Mexico Supreme Court Strikes Down Marijuana Prohibition. In a pair of rulings Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that the country's ban on marijuana violates individual autonomy protections in the Mexican constitution. The court said adults have the right to grow, possess, and use marijuana, but that the government retains the right to regulate consumption. It also directed the federal health agency to begin to develop regulations reflecting the decision. The ruling does not legalize marijuana commerce; it would be up to the Mexican congress to take up that issue.

Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Great Britain. As of Thursday, November 1, some medical marijuana patients will be able to legally seek and obtain their medicine. Legal access to medical marijuana will be limited to patients who have "an unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products." It will be up to a special panel to determine who meets that condition, but there are worries that the system may prove too unwieldy to satisfy the needs of hundreds of thousands of potential patients.

Chronicle AM: FDA Grants "Breakthrough Therapy" Status for Psilocybin, MI Pot Poll, More... (10/29/18)

The Michigan marijuana initiative still has a healthy lead as Election Day nears, the FDA has granted "breakthrough therapy" status for psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, and more.

The FDA thinks there could be something magic in these mushrooms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Legalization Initiative With Comfortable Lead. A new Detroit Free Press poll has the Proposal 1 legalization initiative favored by a margin of 57% to 41%. That's nearly unchanged from the previous Detroit Free Press poll in September, which had the issue winning 56% to 41%. "Even though there are some law-enforcement groups and others that are putting out information against the proposal, it seems to have pretty solid support," the pollsters noted. "There has always been a perception that there are far too many people in jail for a minimal amount of use and that it prohibits the police from spending time on more serious crimes."

Michigan Marijuana Foes Spending Big Bucks. The organized opposition to Proposal 1, known as Healthy and Productive Michigan, has collected more than $1 million in the past quarter, nearly double the $529,000 raised by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Coalition, which is leading the "yes" campaign. The opposition still has $600,000 in the bank, which it is using for a series of cable TV ads. But the polling suggests the ads aren't working. Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) ponied up more than $600,000 to defeat the measure, while executives from DTE Energy have donated more than $300,000.

Oregon County's Lawsuit Challenging State Legalization Thrown Out. A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from Josephine County contending that federal law criminalizing marijuana preempts the state's law allowing commercial production and sales. US District Court Judge Michael McShane ruled last Thursday that cities and counties don't have standing to sue a state in federal court. The county has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Celebrate First Day of Legal Sales. The Sooner State saw its first legal medical marijuana dispensary sales last Friday. Some 600 dispensary licenses have already been approved, but only a handful of stores were actually open on opening day. That will change in the coming months.

Psychedelics

FDA Grants "Breakthrough Therapy" Status for Psilocybin to Treat Depression. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy status to psilocybin -- the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms -- for use in treating depression after early experimental results showed promise. The designation allows the FDA to expedite research and review of psilocybin-based treatments. It is aimed specifically at a Phase IIb trial currently underway investigating the optimal dose range for psilocybin used for severe treatment-resistant depression.

Chronicle AM: NY Senate Report on Opioids, WY Marijuana Poll, More... (10/25/18)

A new poll has marijuana legalization on the cusp of majority support even in Wyoming, the New York state Senate releases its report on the state's opioid crisis, and more.

Will Russia join the list of medicinal opium producers? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Marijuana Activists Urges Quick Action on Legalization. As the governor and the legislature work to find an agreement on a marijuana legalization bill, legalization supporters are growing impatient. "There's been hearings, there's been committee meetings, there's a lot of discussions, there's a lot of science behind it but right now it's getting very frustrating," said. New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder. "We understand the process takes time -- but enough is enough. "We need to get past this, we need to resolve some of these issues. It's very frustrating." Gov. Phil Murphy (D) had called for legalization within 90 days of his January inauguration, then it was supposed to be voted on this month, and the latest is by year's end. Stay tuned.

Wyoming Poll Has Legalization on Cusp of Majority Support. A new poll from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming shows nearly half of Wyoming residents -- 49 percent -- support legalization of marijuana for recreational use. That number is significantly higher when the question comes to medical marijuana, with 86 percent supporting legalization in that form. And 69 percent of residents think possession of a small amount of the drug shouldn't lead to jail time. The poll also notes that there has been a a statistically significant increase in positive views on marijuana legalization compared to polls from 2014 and 2016.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Senate Heroin Task Force Releases Recommendations, Findings in New Report. The State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction on Wednesday released its 2017-2018 report, including 11 recommendations on ways the state should address the opioid crisis. The committee wants the state to create "Centers for Excellence on Substance Use Disorder" as a way to improve access to treatment in rural parts of the state, as well as increasing resources to healthcare workers trained to treat substance abuse disorders. The task force also calls for reducing the cost of Naloxone, limits on opioid prescriptions, and tougher penalties for dealers whose drug sales result in fatal overdoses.

International

Russia Moves Toward Allowing Medicinal Opium Planting. A government commission has approved a draft law that would allow the cultivation of opium for medicinal purposes, citing the fact that most legal medicinal opium producing countries are participating in sanctions against Russia. "It is proposed to abolish the existing ban and determine the order of cultivation of plants for the production for medical purposes and veterinary medicine of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances," the government press service reported.

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Opioid Bill, CA Cops Face Racial Profiling Charges, More... (10/4/18)

Congress sends an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk, the DEA has another Colombia scandal, the San Francisco police and Los Angeles sheriff's deputies face charges of racial profiling, and more.

Congress has sent an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Blocks Medical Marijuana License Process. A Tallahassee judge Wednesday agreed to block state health officials from moving forward with the application process for medical marijuana licenses. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson two months ago had found the state's licensing cap "directly contradicts" the amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and had set a Wednesday deadline for either health officials or the legislature to resolve deficiencies in the law. When that didn't happen, Dodson issued a verbal order halting the application process.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Reach Deal With Legislative Leaders, LDS Church Representatives, and Utah Medical Association. Backers of the Utah medical marijuana initiative joined other organizations and lawmakers at a press conference Thursday to announce they have reached an agreement on an alternative medical cannabis law that will be enacted in a special session following the election. Proposition 2 will still appear on the 2018 ballot, but it will no longer determine the final outcome for Utah medical cannabis patients. Instead, a compromise medical marijuana bill will be enacted during a special session after the 2018 election,

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Sweeping Opioids Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a sweeping opioids package on a 98-1 vote. The bill now goes to the desk of President Trump. The omnibus opioids bill combines dozens of smaller proposals and expands and reauthorizes programs and policies across the federal government, as well as creating new programs aimed at treatment, prevention, and recovery. One portion of the bill likely to have a big impact requires US postal inspectors to screen packages shipped from overseas -- mainly from China -- for fentanyl. The bill passed the House last week.

Law Enforcement

DEA Colombia Staff Facing Three Separate Misconduct Probes. At least three DEA agents based in Bogota have left in recent months amid separate investigations into alleged misconduct. One is accused of using government resources to hire prostitutes. Ironically, that agent, Robert Dobrich, the agency's top-ranking official in Latin American, was brought in in 2015 in the wake of a scandal about agents participating in sex parties with prostitutes. A former DEA agent assigned to Colombia, Jose Irizarry, is being investigated for passing information on to drug cartels. Irizarry resigned after his activities in Cartagena were curtailed earlier this year. Meanwhile, Dobrich's deputy, Jesse Garcia, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

ACLU Sues San Francisco Police Over Racially Motivated Drug Arrests. The ACLU of Northern California has filed a lawsuit on behalf of six black people arrested during anti-drug operations in the Tenderloin between 2013 and 2015. The six were among 37 arrested in the stings -- every one of whom was black -- and federal public defenders raised concerns over selective enforcement. The lawsuit cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users that found about half were black, but 20% were Latino and 17% were white. Charges against 12 of those arrested were dropped in January 2017 after a judge found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement, but the dropping of the charges meant a full accounting of police misconduct never happened.

Los Angeles County Deputies Accused of Racially Profiling Hispanics in I-5 Traffic Stop Drug Searches. LA County deputies stopped thousands of Latinos on the I-5 freeway in hopes of making their next drug bust, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. The sheriff's Domestic Highway Enforcement Team seized lots of drugs, but it also searched the vehicles of more than 3,500 drivers who had no drugs or other illegal items, the overwhelming majority of them Latino. Some of the teams' drug busts have been thrown out of federal court as the credibility of deputies came under fire and judges found they violated the rights of motorists by conducting unconstitutional searches. The Times examined data from every traffic stop done by the team from 2012 through 2017 -- more than 9,000 of them -- and found that Latinos accounted for 69% of stops, and that two-thirds of Latinos had their vehicles searched, compared to less than half of other drivers. Though Latinos were much more likely to be searched, deputies found drugs or other illegal items in their vehicles at a rate that was not significantly higher than that of black or white drivers. The sheriff's department said racial profiling "plays no role" in the deputies' work.

International

Canada Drug User, Advocacy Groups Call for Opioid Decriminalization. Some 93 groups representing drug users assembled in Edmonton this week have called for the federal government to move toward decriminalizing opioids. The coalition is calling for Ottawa to expand legal access to safe drugs for people with substance use disorder, decriminalize possession of all drugs for personal use, and expand the availability of harm reduction services.

Chronicle AM: Ohio Moves To Ban Kratom, ONDCP Says Pot Review Will Be Objective, More... (10/3/18)

The drug czar's office tells a US senator a multi-agency review of marijuana will be "objective," protestors target Rep. Andy Harris over his opposition to allowing medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction, Ohio regulators take a first step toward banning kratom, and more.

Ohio regulators want to ban kratom. If they succeed, the state will be the seventh to have done so. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

White House Vows Objective Marijuana Study, Colorado Senator Says. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) said Monday that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has offered assurances that a federal marijuana policy panel will be objective and dispassionate as it reviews the impact of legalization in some states. The request for assurance came after Buzzfeed last month reported that the panel had asked 14 federal agencies and the DEA to submit "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" about marijuana and its national "threat."

Michigan Bill to Ban Marijuana-Infused Alcohol Drinks Goes to Governor's Desk. The House on Tuesday approved House Bill 4668, which would bar the use, possession or sale of marijuana-infused beer, wine, liquor, and mixed drinks. That was the final legislative vote on the bill. The House had approved it earlier, then the Senate amended it, and now the House has approved those changes. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder (R). Foes of the bill say it addressed a problem that doesn't exist.

Medical Marijuana

Protestors Target Rep. Andy Harris Over Opposition to Using Medical Marijuana as Opioid Treatment. Red-capped protestors affiliated with the marijuana reform group DCMJ protested outside the office doors of Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) Tuesday. DCMJ said the protestors were there to protest his opposition to using medical marijuana as a treatment for the opioid crisis. After Harris refused to meet with them, as fellow protestors waved signs accusing Harris of working for "Big Pharma," two women laid down in the hallway to represent friends who had fatally overdosed. One of the women was temporarily handcuffed. The smell of marijuana wafted through the air. Harris later complained that: "Today's aggression by protesters who disagree with my position on the legalization of recreational marijuana demonstrates the problem with political discourse today. We all must agree to have a civilized debate when disagreement occurs. My parents fled communist Eastern Europe where people with different political opinions were harassed and punished, and it has no place in America."

Kratom

Ohio Moves to Ban Kratom. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to classify kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance after it concluded that the drug has no accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse, and is a public health risk. The Monday vote begins a months-long process of approving new rules and regulations for kratom. The board has already received more than 1,500 comments about the proposed ban, mostly in opposition. Six other states and the District of Columbia have banned kratom: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. The board is accepting the first round of comments until October 18 at [email protected].

International

Jamaica Makes First Shipment of Medical Marijuana Extract to Canada. A shipment of medical marijuana extract oil has left Jamaica on route to Canada. The shipment was authorized through an import permit issued by the Canadian government via Health Canada and an export permit authorized by the Jamaican Ministry of Health. The shipment is the first step in Jamaica's bid to become a medical marijuana hub for the world.

Chronicle AM: South Africa Legalizes Pot Possession, Senate Passes Opioid Bill, More... (9/18/18)

South Africa just became the first country on the continent to legalize marijuana possession, New Jersey wants to be the next state to legalize marijuana, the Senate passes a limited opioid bill, and more.

South Africans celebrate Constitutional Court ruling legalizing private pot possession and use Tuesday. (The Smokers Club)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Goucher Poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. Only 33% were opposed. The poll also had majority support for a $15 an hour minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, and single-payer health care, and 71% disapproving of President Trump. Expect the legislature to try again to pass legalization next year.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Almost Ready. A bill to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce is "98% done," one of the state's leading marijuana advocates said Monday. Scott Rudder, head of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said the remaining issue is whether to impose a 25% retail tax right away or to start with a lower tax rate that goes up over time. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) also expressed optimism about prospects for a bill. "I continue to believe it’s this year," Murphy said. "Doing it is important but doing it right is more important and that’s going to be key." Legislative leaders have vowed to get a bill to Murphy's desk by the end of the month, but the clock is ticking.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Lifts Limits on Number of Patients for Whom Each Doctor Can Recommend Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Medical Examiners on Monday got rid of a rule that limited the number of patients to whom doctors can recommend medical marijuana. The board also agreed to remove a restriction that would have required patients to see their doctor every 90 days in order to renew their order for medical cannabis.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Passes Opioid Bill. The Senate on Monday approved legislation aimed at addressing the opioid crisis. The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (S.2680) The bill includes provisions increasing scrutiny of incoming international mail, eases the way for the National Institutes of Health to speed research on non-addictive pain relievers, allows the Food and Drug Administration to require pharmaceutical companies to package smaller quantities of opioids, and creates new federal grants for treatment, training emergency workers, and research on prevention. Funding for the anticipated spending will have to be provided in separate spending bills. The House passed its own opioid bill earlier this year. Now, congressional leaders will have to hammer out a compromise in conference committee.

Drug Policy Expert Says Senate Bill is Not Enough. While the opioid bill referenced above authorizes $500 million a year in grants states will have to compete over, the amount is well below the massive outlay of funds used to combat the AIDS crisis in the 1990s, and the Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would be revenue-neutral. That irked Stanford psychiatry professor and former Obama drug policy advisor Keith Humphreys. "How much money was Congress willing to spend on the worst opioid epidemic in US history? None," he said. "Given that there was no consensus in Congress in favor of a really big investment such as we employed for AIDS, the two sides did the next best thing, which was agree on many second-tier policies that were smaller bore," Humphreys said. "There are good things in the bill that will save lives, but it will not be transformational."

International

South Africa High Court Legalizes Marijuana Possession. In a case brought by three marijuana users who argued marijuana prohibition "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres," the country's Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. >"It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling. Thousands of predominantly poor and black South Africans are arrested for marijuana offenses each year.

Chronicle AM: No MedMJ for Vets This Year, Senate Takes Up Opioid Package, More.... (9/11/18)

A congressional conference committee has killed medical marijuana for veterans, the Senate is set to take up a package of opioid bills, the West African Commission on Drugs releases a model law for drug decriminalization, and more.

West African Commission on Drugs founder Kofi Annan. He may be gone, but his work lives on. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Pot Shops That Sell to Minors. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday vetoed a bill that set mandatory minimum penalties for marijuana shops caught selling weed to minors. The bill would have imposed mandatory 15-day license suspensions for a first offense, 25-day suspensions for a second, and revocation for a third offense. But "this bill is not necessary," Brown said. "The bureau already has the authority to revoke, suspend, and assess fines if a licensee sells to a minor."

Medical Marijuana

Congress Removes Military Veteran Medical Marijuana Provision from Funding Bill. A conference committee working on final details for the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill has decided not to include a provision allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. The Senate bill included the provision, but the House version did not. Two years ago, both houses passed VA spending bills that included versions of the provision, but that, too, was excised in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Expected to Vote on Opioid Legislation This Week. Senate leaders announced late last week they had reached an agreement to bring a package of bills aimed at the opioid crisis to a Senate floor vote this week. The Senate will consider a substitute amendment to the opioids package that passed the House in June. Progress had stalled over Democratic concerns that a grant program would benefit only one addiction advocacy group. That has now changed. There remains a divergence between the House and Senate packages regarding requirements for Medicaid to cover treatment at more inpatient facilities and loosening privacy protections for medical records for substance abuse patients.

Sentencing Policy

Ohio Governor Candidates Clash Over Drug Possession Defelonization Initiative. Buckeye State voters will have a chance to vote to defelonize drug possession in November with the Issue 1 constitutional amendment initiative. The amendment would also bar any jail time for a first or second offense within 24 months. Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, opposes it, saying it "takes vital tools away from judges." Democratic candidate for governor Richard Cordray, however, supports it, saying its passage would "set the way toward a policy of being smart on crime in the future, smart on how we use taxpayers' dollars, smart on how we build people's potential to be productive citizens in our society."

International

Expert Group Publish Blueprint for West Africa Drug Decriminalization. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has published a "model law" for decriminalizing drug possession and reducing related harms in West Africa. The commission is currently chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said on Tuesday: "West Africa faces three dangers from drugs: organized crime, corruption, and harms to people who use drugs. Our current laws increase those harms rather than help,"

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: NYC Overdose Action March, US Sentencing Commission Sets Priorities, More... (8/31/18)

The police chief in Oklahoma City wants pot busts downgraded, the US Sentencing Commission sets policy priorities for the next 18 months, marchers demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo take action on the state's overdose crisis, and more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in the crosshairs Thursday as marchers demanded action on the state overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wants to Quit Arresting Pot Possessors. Police Chief Bill Citty is calling for adjusting city ordinances so that police officers will not have to jail people caught with small amounts of marijuana. He is backing a move to reduce the penalty for possession from a $1,200 fine and up to six months in jail to just a $400 fine. "Right now, we're taking all possessions of marijuana, and it would be a Class B offense and it would actually, they would be arrested," said Citty. "We've been arresting every single one of them. This would stop that practice. By lowering it to $400, this allows us to basically take it out of that court of record trial and we're able to assign citations for the possession of marijuana. Now, that will be if they don't have a state permit or license that allows them to have it for medical use." The proposed ordinance will be up for discussion on September 11 and again on September 28.

Utah Governor Calls for Federal Rescheduling of Marijuana. As voters in the state prepare to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a medical marijuana initiative in November, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is calling on Congress to reschedule it. "I'd like to see the federal government get out of the way," he said on Thursday during his monthly news conference. "We ought to call upon our congressional delegation (to) take it off the Schedule I list. Let's do the studies, let's do the clinical trials. Are they not paying attention in Washington? Evidently not," he said.

Wisconsin Voters Will Have a Chance to Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana. Voters in 16 counties and two cities will have a chance to vote on non-binding advisory referenda for or against legalizing marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. The referenda are on local ballots scattered across the state, from Milwaukee and Dane to LaCrosse and Langlade counties, as well as the cities of Racine and Waukesha.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists March from City Morgue to Governor's Office to Call for Action on Overdose Crisis. Activists and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose marched through Manhattan on International Overdose Awareness Day to demand Gov. Cuomo (D) take action on the overdose crisis. Amid the seventh straight year of increased overdose deaths in NYC -- 2017 being the deadliest year on record -- the community brought pictures and stories of their loved ones to Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office and demanded he takes action with evidence-based public health interventions to end the crisis.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Finalizes 2018-2019 Priorities. In a notice printed in the Federal Register Thursday, the US Sentencing Commission laid out is policy priorities for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019. The priorities include reexamining sentencing guidelines in the wake of the Booker decision, implementing its 2016 recommendations on sentencing enhancements to focus on actual violent offenders, and continuing its efforts to implement reforms in mandatory minimum sentencing, among others.

The Opioid Crisis Could Cost a Half Million Lives in the Next Decade

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in mid-August, showed a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths last year, with 49,000 related to heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids. According to the authors of a study released last week in the American Journal of Public Health, that could be the new normal.

The study, by Stanford researchers Allison Pitt, Keith Humphreys, and Margaret Brandeau, attempts to assess the number of opioid-related deaths we could expect to see over the next decade, as well as the impact of different policy responses on reducing the death toll.

The researchers said there are steps that can be taken to reduce the death toll, but also that some seemingly simple solutions, such as cracking down on opioid prescribing for chronic pain, could actually increase the toll. And even those policies that could cut the opioid death rate are likely to do so only marginally.

Using a mathematical model, the researchers estimate that some 510,000 people will die over the next decade because of opioid use. The number includes not only drug overdoses but also other opioid-related deaths, such as HIV infections caused by shared needles.

Even including the non-overdose deaths, the number is staggering. Last year was the worst year ever for opioid-related overdose deaths, but this research suggests we are going to see year after year of similar numbers.

Making the overdose reversal drug naloxone more widely available could cut opioid-related deaths by 21,200 over the next decade, allowing greater access to medication-assisted therapies with drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone would save another 12,500 lives, and reducing opioid prescribing for acute pain would prevent another 8,000 deaths, the researchers said. But those three policy moves combined would shave less than 10 percent off the overall death toll.

"No single policy is likely to substantially reduce deaths over 5 to 10 years," the researchers wrote.

While harm reduction interventions such as those above would save lives, some aspects of tightening opioid prescribing would actually increase opioid-related deaths by as much as the tens of thousands -- because they increase heroin deaths more than they cut painkiller deaths. Moves such as reducing prescribing for chronic pain, up-scheduling pain relievers to further restrict their prescribing, and prescription drug monitoring programs all tend to push existing prescription opioid users into the illicit heroin and fentanyl markers all end up contributing to net increases in opioid deaths over the 10-year period, the researchers found.

On the other hand, other interventions on the prescribing front, such as reducing acute prescribing for acute pain (pain that may be signficant but is short-term), reducing prescribing for transitional pain, reformulating drugs to make them less susceptible to misuse, and opioid disposal programs, appear to prevent more deaths than they cause.

Ultimately, reducing the opioid death toll includes reducing the size of the opioid-using population, the researchers say. That implies making addiction treatment more available for those currently using and preventing the initiation of a new generation of opioid users. Restrictions on prescribing, while possibly driving some current users to dangerous illicit markets, can have a long-term impact by reducing the number of people who develop a dependence on opioids.

Whether that's a tolerable tradeoff for those pain patients who don't get the relief they need from other medications -- or for patients and others who end up dying from street heroin but might have lived despite their prescription opioid use -- is a different question.

By all appearances, when it comes to the loss of life around opioids, it looks like a pretty sad decade ahead of us.

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

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Signs Opioid Bill, VT Dems Want Full MJ Legalization, More... (8/27/18)

An Arizona prosecutor gets challenged for trying to profit off small-time pot offenders, Oregon regulators slash the daily purchase amounts for medical marijuana patients, a Louisiana prisoner featured in the Chronicle years ago gets a break, and more.

Oregon patients will only be able to buy one ounce a day under new emergency rules. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona County Attorney Sued Over Drug Court Diversion Program for Smalltime Marijuana Offenders. The Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, and a local law firm have sued Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery. They allege that he and the county drug court diversion program are preying on and profiting off people charged with minor pot possession offenses. Under the state's harsh laws, possession of even small amounts is a felony, but first- and second-time offenders are eligible for a diversion program. The problem is the diversion program has a $1,000 fee, and those who cannot pay the entire fee linger in the program, paying $15 to $20 fees for drug testing as often as several times a week and face being tried as felons if they fail to complete the program. "The complaint explains that the marijuana diversion program operated by TASC Inc. and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office represents a two-tiered legal system," Civil Rights Corps Attorney Dami Animashaun said in a statement. "Wealthy people buy their way off diversion quickly, while poor people risk being expelled from the program and prosecuted for a felony solely because they cannot afford to pay."

Vermont Democrats Call for Taxed, Regulated Legal Marijuana Sales. Vermont has already legalized the personal possession and home cultivation of marijuana, and now the state's Democratic Party has formally endorsed expanding legalization to include taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales. "We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity," reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party's platform convention on Sunday.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Regulators Slash Daily Purchase Limit for Patients. In a bid to reduce leakage into the black market, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last Thursday dramatically reduced the amount of medical marijuana patients can purchase each day. Medical cardholders may now buy only one ounce a day, not the 24 ounces that had been the limit. The emergency change is in effect until December 27.

Illinois Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Saturday signed a bill legalizing industrial hemp, the Illinois Hemp Act. "Legalizing the farming of industrial hemp just makes good sense," Rauner said in a statement. "Roughly 38 states -- including our neighbors in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee -- have allowed or are considering allowing cultivation of this crop for commercial, research or pilot programs. Our farmers should have this option as well." The state Department of Agriculture will issue licenses to farmers who want to grow it, and regulators will establish rules for THC-level testing of industrial hemp crops.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Legislation To Expand Use Of Rehabilitation And Diversion Services To Combat Heroin And Opioid Epidemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed legislation (A.10403/S.8760) to help in the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic by diverting substance-dependent individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system. This legislation provides another form of support to prosecutors and law enforcement officers as they seek treatment and counseling for people who are addicted to opioids. These diversion models include law enforcement assisted diversion, known as LEAD, and other programs treating substance abuse and addiction. The legislation expands the allowable use of funding from seized or forfeited assets by law enforcement and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse."We must use every tool at our disposal to combat this nation's opioid epidemic and the underlying issues that lead people to commit crime, and this legislation makes available additional funding to help New Yorkers in need," Governor Cuomo said. "By helping New Yorkers turn their lives around, this program helps strengthen communities, increase public safety and break the vicious cycle of recidivism once and for all."

Sentencing

One Louisiana Man Gets a Sentence Cut. A Louisiana man sentenced to life in prison for marijuana possession as a habitual offender has received a sentence reduction that will allow him to go free in a matter of weeks. Jody Butler's case was covered by the Chronicle's Clarence Walker back in 2013, but it took until now for justice to be done. New Orleans Parish District Attorney, who made a career of imposing long sentences on small-time drug offenders, raised no objection to a sentence reduction in Butler's case, the latest in which he has backpedaled away from his earlier, harsher stance.

Drug War Issues

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