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Chronicle AM: Legal Pot Bill This Week in NJ, Global Drug War Human Rights Guidelines Issued, More... (3/18/19)

A New Mexico pot legalization bill dies and the governor says she will take it up next year, Minneapolis will quit charging small-time pot offenders, UN bodies and member states issue drug war human rights guidelines, a federal prisoner sues for access to methadone treatment, and more.

The state of New Jersey is banking on marijuana tax revenues. Now, to get that bill passed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Democrats Unveil Legalization Package. A group of House Democrats held a press conference last Thursday to unveil a proposed package go bills to allow marijuana to be grown, processed, and sold to consumers in the state. The draft bills include a pilot plan for adult sales, but do not include letting people grow their own.

New Jersey Legalization Committee Votes Begin Today. The compromise legalization bill agreed to by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders is due for committee votes Monday, with an eye toward final passage next Monday if all goes well. The bill would allow adults to possess up to an ounce, but not grow their own. It would also expunge records of past pot offenses and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Goes to Governor, But Legalization Bill Dies. In last minute action this past weekend, the legislature passed a pot decriminalization bill, SB 323, and sent it to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D). That’s some small consolation for the failure of a legalization bill, HB 356, which passed the House but died in the Senate Finance Committee.

New Mexico Governor Adds Marijuana Legalization to 2020 Agenda. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Sunday she will add marijuana legalization to the agenda of next year’s 30-day short session. The move comes after a bipartisan marijuana legalization bill managed to pass the House this session, only to be stalled in the Senate until the session expired on Saturday.

Minnesota’s Most Populous County Won’t Charge Small-Time Pot Offenders. Prosecutors in Hennepin County, the home of Minneapolis, will no longer prosecute people caught with small amounts of pot, County Attorney Mike Freeman said last Thursday. Under state law, possession of up to 42.5 grams is a misdemeanor, but possession of as little as 45 grams can be charged as a felony. Freeman said he will no longer charge anyone caught with less than 100 grams; instead, defendants will be considered for a diversion program.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Posts Draft Rules for Medical Marijuana Program. The Department of Health and Senior Services released more drafts of rules for the state's emerging medical marijuana system last Thursday. The rules cover marijuana cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and medical marijuana establishments in general. Click on the link for a detailed analysis of the proposed regulations.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Rules into Law.  Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last Thursday signed into law new regulations for the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry. The legislation sets guidelines for inventory testing and tracking, advertising, and packaging and labeling, among other things. It also allows employers to fire medical marijuana users in certain safety-sensitive positions, such as fire fighters and heavy machinery operators.

Hemp

Idaho Hemp Bill Moving. A bill to legalize hemp production, HB 122, passed out of a pair of committees last Thursday and is now headed for a House floor vote. The 2018 farm bill legalized hemp production, and 41 other states have already legalized hemp production.

Psychedelics

Oakland Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative in Planning Stages. A coalition of advocacy groups in hosting a series of meetings in coming months aimed at building support for an initiative to decriminalize not only magic mushrooms but all “entheogenic plants, fungi, and natural sources.” The campaign is called Decriminalize Nature.

Drug Treatment

Incoming Federal Prisoner Sues Over Policy Banning Methadone Treatment. A Massachusetts woman who is about to enter federal prison and will not be permitted to continue methadone treatment for opioid addiction under prison rules has filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons over the policy. Stephanie DiPierro has to do a year for collecting disability benefits and food stamps without reporting income from a job and has been on methadone since 2005.

Massachusetts Bill Would Block Courts from Jailing Defendants in Treatment Who Fail Drug Tests. After the state’s highest court ruled last year that judges could order jail time for defendants who violate probation by using drugs, legislators have responded with S. 397, which would bar judges from incarcerating people who are in treatment and fail mandatory drug tests while on probation. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Human Rights

UN Member States, UN Bodies, and Human Rights Groups Launch International Legal Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. A coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Monday launched a landmark set of international legal standards to transform and reshape global responses to the world drug problem. The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy introduces a comprehensive catalogue of human rights standards. They are a guide for governments to develop human rights compliant drug policies, covering the spectrum of cultivation to consumption. Harnessing the universal nature of human rights, the document covers a range of policy areas from development to criminal justice to public health.  

International

Philippines Quits International Criminal Court Over Drug War Investigation. A year after the Philippines told the United Nations it was quitting the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal because it is investigating human rights abuses in the bloody war on drugs led by President Rodrigo Duterte it has now officially withdrawn from the International Criminal Court. Manila moved to quit after the body launched a preliminary examination in 2018 into President Rodrigo Duterte's drug crackdown that has killed thousands and drawn international censure. However, the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue.

Chronicle AM: CND Delays Vote on Pot Rescheduling, RI Drug Defelonization Push, More...(2/26/19)

San Francisco moves to expunge more than 9,000 pot convictions, Rhode Island's attorney general wants to defelonize drug possession, Peruvian farmers are leaving the coffee fields for the coca fields, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Baltimore Mayor Pressed to End Marijuana Arrests. Fourteen local advocacy groups have sent a letter to Mayor Catherine Pugh urging her to direct the police commissioner to stop arresting people for small-time pot offenses. The letter comes after Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced a new policy of not prosecuting such cases, only to have interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, a former DEA agent, refused to order police to stop making the arrests. Tuggle is gone now, but it's unclear what his replacement, Michael Harrison, will do, thus the letter to the mayor urging her to lead on the issue.

San Francisco Will Expunge More Than 9,000 Marijuana Convictions. City prosecutors announced Monday that they would move to expunge some 9,300 marijuana possession convictions dating back to 1976. The move comes after a yearlong review of pot convictions in the city. The effort was bolstered by the city's decision to work with a Code for America, a nonprofit that uses technology to make government more efficient. Coders created an algorithm that combed through the city's decades worth of criminal records in minutes—and automatically filled out the required forms to be turned in during the expungement process.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Publishes First Draft Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Department of Health and Human Services has posted its first draft rules for the state medical marijuana system approved by voters in November 2018. The first batch of draft rules deals with requirements for ID cards for the program. There will be public hearings before the rules are finalized. The state has until June 4 to begin taking applications for ID cards.

Treatment

West Virginia House Approves Drug Treatment Bills. The House on Monday passed two bills related to drug treatment and amended a third. HB 3132 exempts certain providers from some of the medication-assisted treatment licensing requirements. HB 3133 would mandate that probationers with history or symptoms of addiction to attend support services for at least 60 days. The bill that was amended was HB 2991, which authorizes the continuation of an addiction prevention and recovery fund. That bill requires any proceeds from settlements with drug manufacturers or distributors to go into the fund; the amendment would allow state agencies to recover reasonable administrative costs.

Sentencing

Rhode Island Attorney General Plans Bill to Defelonize Drug Possession. State Attorney General Peter Neronha has announced plans to introduce legislation that would make possession of up to an ounce of any drug other than marijuana a misdemeanor. "There is a significant difference between those who traffic in drugs and those who possess them," explained Neronha at a press conference at the attorney general’s office in Cranston. "I learned how difficult it is for somebody getting out of prison, or somebody with a felony conviction to get back into the workforce. To get housing. To get back on their feet," he said.

International

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Delays Vote on WHO Marijuana Rescheduling Recommendation. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs will not vote on the World Health Organization's marijuana recommendations during its March session in Vienna That news comes after the release of the recommendations, which had been expected in December, was delayed. Several counties asked for more time to consider the recommendations saying they only received the rescheduling recommendation in late January. If the recommendations had come out in time, countries would have had three months to study them before the Vienna meeting.

Peru Farmers Are Abandoning Coffee Crops to Work in Coca Fields. Slumping coffee prices and delays in certifying organic beans are pushing Peruvian coffee growers out of the business and into the coca fields, the country's main coffee growers' association said Monday The Junta Nacional del Café said farmers started migrating to coca growing regions in December and hundreds have since abandoned their coffee fields. "Coffee ... exports are in real trouble, and we lack the support of the government with clear actions to overcome them," said the JNC’s head, Tomas Cordova. "This foments poverty, unemployment and the expansion of illegal crops."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: El Chapo Convicted on All Counts, NY Legal Pot Politics Heats Up, More... (2/12/19)

The former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel has been found guilty on all counts at his trial in New York City, Sri Lanka advertises for hangmen as the president there vows to resume drug executions, South Dakota House members defy their governor and approve a hemp bill, and more.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman being arrested in Mexico. He's now been found guilty in a court in New York. (sedena.gov.mx)
Marijuana Policy

New York Pot Legalization Foes Lobby in Albany. Groups opposed to marijuana legalization gathered at the Capitol Monday to urge lawmakers to reject the idea. Led by Kevin Sabet of Smart About Marijuana, foes warned that legalization would lead to increased use among schoolchildren—even though that hasn’t been the case in early legalization states such as Colorado and Washington. Sabet was joined at the Capitol by representatives of the state PTA, the Police Conference of New York and representatives of groups that deal with drug and alcohol addiction, all of which oppose legalization.

New York Coalition Urges Governor Cuomo to Improve Marijuana Legalization Bill to Center Racial and Economic Justice. Members of the Start SMART NY coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) Tuesday laid out their vision for a just marijuana industry and demanded that Governor Andrew Cuomo incorporate the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (A.1617) into his proposed recreational marijuana legalization plan. The act is model legislation to create a taxed and regulated adult-use marijuana market that not only creates economic opportunities for all New Yorkers but also addresses the harms of decades of prohibition. 

Hemp

South Dakota House Ignores Governor, Passes Hemp Bill. Rejecting advice from Gov. Kristi Noem (R) to leave hemp alone this year, the House on Monday voted 65-2 to pass HB 1191, which would give farmers and producers the green light on hemp production beginning July 1. The bill now heads to the Senate, where GOP leaders say it will likely pass.

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Convicted on All Counts. Joaquin Guzman Loera, known by various aliases, including “El Chapo” and “El Rapido,” was convicted today by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York of being a principal operator of a continuing criminal enterprise – the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Sinaloa Cartel – a charge that includes 26 drug-related violations and one murder conspiracy.  Guzman Loera was convicted of all 10 counts of a superseding indictment, including narcotics trafficking, using a firearm in furtherance of his drug crimes and participating in a money laundering conspiracy.  The verdict followed a 12-week trial before U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan.  Guzman Loera faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Sentencing has been set for June.

Pregnancy

Tennessee Bill Would Prosecute Mothers for Drug Use While Pregnant. A bill filed last week, SB 659, would authorize a woman to be prosecuted for assault based on the person using a narcotic drug illegally while pregnant if the child is born addicted to or harmed by the drug used. A woman could avoid prosecution under the bill if she was actively enrolled in an addiction recovery program before the child was born if she remained in the program after delivery and successfully completed the program. An identical bill has been filed in the House.

International

Sri Lanka Advertises for Hangmen as President Pushes for Harsher Drug War. The government has begun advertising for hangmen after President Maithripala Sirisena said last week he wanted to resume capital punishment for drug traffickers within 60 days. Although drug trafficking is already a capital offense in the country, no one has been executed for any crime there since 1976. Last month, during a visit to the Philippines, Sirisena praised President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Psychedelics

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

Drug Policy

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

Drug Testing

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

Sentencing

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

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

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Sentencing Reform Bill, NM Sued Over MedMJ Rules and Fees, More... (12/19/18)

A major sentencing reform bill takes a major step toward becoming law, a New Mexico medical marijuana producer is suing the state over rules and fees, and more.

Some federal drug prisoners will get relief under the bill passed by the Senate Tuesday. (nadcp.org)
Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Delays Dispensary License Announcement. The state Medical Marijuana Commission announced Tuesday it would delay its meeting to announce licenses for state dispensaries. The commission was originally scheduled to meet today but postponed that meeting until January 9. The state plans to allow dispensaries to operate in somewhere between 20 and 32 sites.

New Mexico Sued Over Edibles Rules. The state's largest medical marijuana producer has filed a lawsuit against the state health department over regulations governing edibles, salves, lotions, and other products infuse with marijuana. Ultra Health argues that the department doesn't have the authority to license legal marijuana manufacturers and that the fees are too high.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DC Council Votes to Approves Opioid Treatment Bill. The DC Council voted Tuesday to advance the Opioid Use Disorder Treatment & Safe Access Amendment Act of 2018, legislation that would help curb the overdose crisis in the Nation's capital. The omnibus bill includes provisions that make the temporary emergency measure that decriminalizes drug checking kits permanent, removes restrictions on syringe exchange programs, and expands access to medication-assisted treatment in the District. The bill now goes to the mayor for final approval.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Passes Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill. The Senate approved the First Step Act (S.3649) on a vote of 87-12 on Tuesday. The bill contains prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses, including retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years; and eliminating "stacking" for firearm offenses, meaning that prosecutors cannot add sentencing enhancements to individuals who may possess a firearm while committing their first federal offense. The bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to easily pass, and then to the desk of President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Wants Legal Marijuana in 2019, UT Offenders' Drug Treatment Report, More... (12/17/18)

The governors of New Hampshire and New York have very different views on marijuana legalization, New Jersey doubles the number of dispensaries, a new report examines drug treatment for criminal offenders in Utah, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now says free the weed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Bill to Ban Marijuana Home Grows Defeated. A bid by the outgoing Republican Senate to undo the will of the voters by amending the state's new marijuana legalization law to ban home cultivation has failed by failing to obtain a supermajority. The bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-Grand Rapids) needed three-quarters of the vote to pass. Meekhof is sad now: "I'm very disappointed. I knew it would be a heavy lift," he said. "What we're going to be allowing to happen is going to make our society less safe," he complained without explaining how or why.

New Hampshire Governor Rails Against Legalization. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) isn't exactly climbing on the marijuana bandwagon. In remarks over the weekend, he said preventing legalization would be one of the biggest fights for his administration, and that he would "absolutely" veto any legalization bill "regardless of what the language looks like." Still, he was cognizant that the trends aren't on his side. "But then there's a good chance that veto could get overruled," he conceded.

New York Governor Calls for Legalization in 2019. In a Monday speech outlining his 2019 agenda, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for freeing the weed. "Let's legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana, once and for all," Cuomo said. He is also reportedly exploring whether to make expungement part of the push.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Just Approved Six More Dispensaries. The state Department of Health on Monday effectively doubled the size of its medical marijuana program by approving six additional dispensaries. There are only six in the state right now. Click on the link to see the list.

Drug Treatment

Utah Report on Treating People in the Criminal Justice System. The Utah Foundation has released Rethinking Rehabilitation: Improving Outcomes for Drug-Addicted Offenders in Utah. The report explains efforts to address addiction within the context of the justice system in Utah and explores alternative approaches for people struggling with substance use disorders. It also sets forth policy guidance for future action. Among the report's key findings are that efforts to reduce the state prison population appear to be bearing fruit. However, the populations of local jails in Utah are rising, and local facilities often lack the drug treatment programs found in state prisons. Another key finding is that investments in drug rehabilitation for offenders can yield significant savings to taxpayers in the long run.

Study: Crackdowns on Heroin, Pain Pills Gave Rise to Fentanyl Overdose Epidemic [FEATURE]

A new report on illicit US drug markets from researchers at the University of San Francisco has found that that the spread of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid implicated in nearly 29,000 overdose deaths last year alone, is tied to enforcement-driven shortages of heroin and prescription opioids, as well simple economics for drug distributors -- not because users particularly desire the drug.

meet the law of unintended consequences (Creative Commons)
Illicit fentanyl has swept through American drug markets in waves -- the super strong "China white" heroin of the 1970s was actually a heroin-fentanyl mixture -- most recently in the past decade after rising levels of opioid addiction and the spread of "pill mills" prompted multifaceted moves to restrict opioid prescribing.

From a drug distributor's perspective, fentanyl is a most excellent substitute for heroin or prescription pain pills. Produced entirely in labs or chemical factories, it is far more powerful and cheaper to produce than heroin. Because it's more potent, it is easier to smuggle -- often coming into the US via postal and delivery service parcels, not by the semi load. And it doesn't require months of growing time and period of intense peasant labor in lawless regions of weak states.

Fentanyl is typically sold deceptively -- marketed as heroin or prescription drugs such as OxyContin or Xanax -- and users and street-level dealers often don't even know that the drugs they are using or selling contain fentanyl, the researchers found. Fentanyl is making its way into the supply chain at the wholesale, not the retail level. That, the researchers said, suggests that demand is not the key driver in the drug's spread.

"Fentanyl is rarely sold as fentanyl," said Sarah Mars, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF. "The dealers selling fentanyl directly to the users often don't know what's in it. Not only is this particularly dangerous, but it also means penalizing low-level dealers isn't going to make any difference in the fentanyl poisoning epidemic."

According to Mars, users are split on fentanyl, which produces a more sudden and powerful high than heroin, but one that fades faster. Some said fentanyl brought back the euphoria they had lost the ability to feel with long-term heroin use, but others said they feared fentanyl and found its effects too harsh.

"Whether or not they prefer fentanyl, users don't have any influence over what drugs are being sold," Mars said. "Without accurate information about these drugs, they can't make an informed choice about what they are buying. Also, very little drug slang has developed to describe fentanyl, which lends support to the notion that this is not a demand-driven epidemic."

The presence of drugs adulterated with fentanyl is uneven, Mars said.

"Most of the illicit fentanyl has been in the Northeast and Midwest," she specified. And that's where opioid overdose death rates are the highest.

Another contributing factor to the fentanyl overdose toll is that it has dozens of analogs with wildly varying potency. Some, like carfentanil, are amazingly powerful, as much as 10,000 times as potent as morphine. Some are so new they have not yet been made illegal.

"We believe it's the fluctuation in the potency of the drugs containing fentanyl that makes them so dangerous," said Daniel Ciccarone, MD, MPH, a professor of family and community medicine at UCSF and senior author of an ongoing National Institutes of Health-funded study, Heroin in Transition. "You might have one dose that had hardly any fentanyl in it or none at all. Then, you might have one with a different fentanyl analog, of different potency, or even mixtures of multiple fentanyls and heroin."

Here is the paradox of drug prohibition: Trying to crack down on drugs tends to lead not to less drug use but to more dangerous drugs, and in the case of opioids, tens of thousands of dead drug users. There is an inexorable logic at play: The more law enforcement comes down on a drug, the greater the tendency for suppliers to make it more potent and compact -- and dangerous.

Perhaps that's why we now see mainstream calls for a radically different approach, such as the one from Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle earlier this week. In her column "The Incredibly Unpopular Idea That Could Stem Heroin Deaths," McArdle argues that current drug policy is only running up the overdose death toll and that we need "to start talking about ways to make safe, reliable doses of opiates available to addicts who aren't ready to stop."

That would involve increasing access to opioid substitutes such as methadone and buprenorphine, "but lowering the death toll may require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates," McArdle writes.

"Prescription heroin?" she continues. "Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don't like it, either -- and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the US illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We'll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved."

There is a better way to deal with the opioid crisis than relegating tens of thousands of American opioid users to early, preventable deaths. We know what it is. Now it's a matter of implementing smarter, more humane policies, and that's an ongoing political struggle -- one where lives are literally at stake.

Chronicle AM: Denver to Expunge Pot Convictions, Columnist Calls for Prescription Heroin, More... (12/5/18)

 A Washington Post columnist calls for prescription heroin, the federal hemp bill will apparently ban the participation of people with drug felonies, Denver joins the movement to expunge old pot convictions, and more.

Prescription heroin--Washington Post columnist suggests it could save lives in the face of fentanyl. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Denver Becomes Latest City to Expunge Low-Level Marijuana Offenses. Mayor Michael Hancock announced Tuesday that his administration will "move to vacate low-level marijuana convictions for Denver residents." The move comes after months of preliminary work by the Office of Marijuana Policy and the City Attorney's Office. "For too long, the lives of low-income residents and those living in our communities of color have been negatively affected by low-level marijuana convictions," Hancock said in a press release. "This is an injustice that needs to be corrected, and we are going to provide a pathway to move on from an era of marijuana prohibition that has impacted the lives of thousands of people."

Industrial Hemp

Federal Bill to Legalize Hemp Bans Drug Felons from Participating. Congressional negotiators have agreed on compromise language for the hemp provision of the farm bill that would ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry. The ban was inserted into the Senate version of the bill late in the process and over the objections of drug policy reformers. It's not quite a done deal—the language could be changed in conference committee—but at this point, it looks like the ban is in.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Washington Post Columnist Calls for Prescription Heroin. In a piece published Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle has called for access to prescription heroin in a bid to prevent fentanyl-related overdose deaths. In the column titled An Incredibly Unpopular Idea That Could Stem Heroin Deaths, McArdle notes that "most people don't want addiction made safer or easier; they want it stopped, cold…but you don’t free slaves by killing them, and as long as fentanyl suffuses the illicit drug markets, that’s what a 'tough love' policy amounts to." Harm reduction measures and increased access to treatment would help, McArdle writes, but "lowering the death toll may well require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates. Prescription heroin? Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don’t like it, either — and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the U.S. illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We’ll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved."

Asset Forfeiture

Nashville Bends to Police Pressure, Extends Federal "Equitable Sharing" Program. Under pressure from local law enforcement and seeking to avoid raising taxes, the Nashville Metro Council voted 25-5 to renew its participation in the federal asset forfeiture equitable sharing program, which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to divert drug-related cash seizures to the federal government, which in turn returns 80% of the booty back to the seizing agency. 

Chronicle AM: First Step Act Fight Continues, MI Gets Legal Marijuana December 6, More... (11/28/18)

Senate Republicans are trying to find a way to keep the First Step Act alive, marijuana use and possession becomes legal in Michigan next week, and more.

Will the First Step Act get a Senate vote this year? And if it does, will it pass? Stay tuned. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Goes into Effect December 6. As of a week from tomorrow, it will be legal to possess and use small amounts of marijuana. But it will probably take until sometime in 2020 for pot shops to open for business. The state says it will start taking business applications late in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

Psychedelics

Oregon Attorney General Approves Psilocybin Ballot Measure Language. An initiative that would allow licensed medical professionals to administer psilocybin for therapeutic purposes has had its ballot language approved. The next step is signature-gathering to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The measure will need 140,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Federal Court Judge Orders Jail to Provide Methadone. A federal court in Massachusetts granted a preliminary injunction this week, requiring that the plaintiff in the case be provided continued access to methadone treatment for his opioid use disorder while incarcerated. The ruling requires a jail in Essex County to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to a man who is about to be sentenced for conduct that occurred two years ago, before he first started his recovery. The court held that the plaintiff is likely to succeed on his claim that the jail's refusal to provide methadone treatment violates both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Republicans Seek Way to Get Sentencing Reform Bill Moving Again. Senate Republicans are pondering changing the First Step Act (S.2795) to make it more palatable for some conservatives, but which could blow up the bipartisan compromise that supports the bill as is. Some of the changes being discussed include tightening the safety valve provision, getting tougher on fentanyl offenders, and backing away from an ending the "stacking" regulation, which adds more time to sentences of people convicted of drug offenses while possessing a firearm. President Trump, meanwhile, continues to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a Senate vote.

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