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Chronicle AM: 2019 Ohio Init Gears Up, Fed Treatment Bill Advances, More... (5/19/18)

Michigan legalization initiative foes urge the legislature to legalize it, an Ohio legalization initiative can begin signature gathering, a federal drug treatment bill exclusively targeting opioids advances, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalization Initiative Foes Urge Legislature to Pass Legalization. In a surprise move, a campaign committee formed to oppose the pending marijuana legalization initiative is now asking the legislature to preemptively pass legalization. Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools issued a press release Thursday calling on the legislature to approve the initiative. Under state law, the legislature can just pass the initiative, or, if it rejects it or fails to act, the initiative would go before voters in November. State Republicans worry that interest in the initiative will drive turnout at the polls, worsening their chances in the election.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. The state Ballot Board on Thursday cleared a legalization initiative, the Marijuana Rights and Regulation Act, for signature gathering. Campaigners need to come up with some 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the initiative. The deadline to make the November ballot is in July, but campaigners say there are instead aiming at 2019.

Medical Marijuana

House Panel Approves Medical Marijuana Protections. The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an amendment from Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) to continue to protect state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The amendment is now part of the House's Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill. The amendment, previously known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, bars the expenditure of federal funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana.

Illinois Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana in Schools. The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana in elementary and middle schools. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). The bill would let parents administer marijuana-infused products, but not smoked marijuana, to their child on school grounds.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. A medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1554, has died in conference committee, leaving the path open for at least one medical marijuana initiative to go before the voters in November. The bill came as an amendment to a healthcare bill and would only have allowed patients with terminal illnesses to use non-smokeable marijuana.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Panel Advances Bill to Expand Drug Treatment, But Only for Opioids. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday advanced a bill that would free up Medicaid dollars for spending on treatment for opioid addictions, but some lawmakers warned that the country is facing a polydrug crisis. "I'm troubled that this bill would expand treatment only to people with opioid use disorder as opposed to those with other substance use disorders like alcohol, crack-cocaine, methamphetamine," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). "This bill is not only blind to the reality faced by people suffering from substance use disorder but it's also discriminatory." The measure is HR 5797.

Chronicle AM: NYC Marijuana Arrest Disparities Continue, Drug Protests Shake Tbilisi, More ... (5/14/18)

New York City has yet to escape from racially disproportionate marijuana arrests, the Mormon Church picks a fight with medical marijuana, nursing homes can't discriminate against people taking addiction medications, protests rock the capital of Georgia after a massive weekend drug bust, and more.

NYPD seems to think marijuana users only come in the colors black and brown. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. A Tulsa-based group calling itself Green the Vote is now collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. Campaigners will need nearly 124,000 valid voter signatures by September 8 to qualify for the November ballot. A medical marijuana initiative is already set to go before the voters next month.

New York City Pot Bust Racial Disparities Aren't Going Away. A major investigation by the New York Times has found continued racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and arrests in every neighborhood in the City. "Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people."

Medical Marijuana

Mormon Church Ups the Ante in Fight Against Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The church last Friday doubled down on its opposition to the medical marijuana initiative set for the November ballot. The church released a seven-page memorandum raising dozens of complaints it says "raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted."

Drug Treatment

Justice Department: Nursing Facilities Can't Exclude Patients Using Addiction Medication. The Justice Department has reached a settlement with a skilled nursing facility in which the facility agreed to pay a fine for excluding a patient because the patient was being treated for opioid use disorder with suboxone and agreed not to discriminate in the future. "Our office is committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, which includes those in treatment for an Opioid Use Disorder," United States Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said. "As Massachusetts faces this overdose epidemic, now more than ever, individuals in recovery must not face discriminatory barriers to treatment."

International

Taliban Kill Dozens of Afghan Police in Opium Trafficking Areas. In attacks late last week, Taliban fighters attacking Afghan police bases in Farah province, killing more than 30 police. The province, in the west of the country, contains vital opium smuggling routes into neighboring Iran. Opium from Afghanistan's primary opium province, Helmand, moves north into Farah before heading for the Iranian border.

Georgia Sees Mass Protests After Weekend Mass-Arrest Drug Raids. The capital, Tbilisi, was rocked by mass protests all weekend long after interior ministry police raided two popular nightclubs and arrested more than 60 people on drug charges. Protesters were demanding the freedom of those arrested and a liberalization of the country's drug policies, and were only persuaded to stop -- at least until next weekend -- after Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia promised the government would start working on drug reforms today. The protests also saw the emergence of ultra-rightist thugs who came out to counter-demonstrate.

Chronicle AM: British Medical Journal Calls for Drug Legalization, Ohio Marijuana Init, More... (5/11/28)

One of the world's most prestigious medical journals comes out for drug legalization, an Ohio legalization initiative aimed at 2019 gets initial approval, Quebec will take a look at festival pill testing, and more.

What's in those Ecstasy pills? Quebec may start a pilot pill testing program at festivals to help users find out. (Erowid)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Has Final Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization Saturday. A meeting tomorrow in Paramus will be the last chance for members of the public to get their opinions on marijuana legalization heard by legislators. The Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations Committee will take testimony from invited speakers and the public on the impact at the meeting at Bergen Community College at 10:00am.

Ohio Attorney General Okays Legalization Initiative. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has certified a marijuana legalization as being "fair and truthful," the first step in putting the measure before voters. The Marijuana Rights and Regulations Act now goes to the Ohio Ballot Board, which will determine if it constitutes one or multiple ballot questions. If approved by the board, campaigners would then have to gather nearly 306,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. But because the deadline for signatures for initiatives appearing on the 2018 ballot is July, campaigners are instead aiming for the 2019 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan to Now Regulate CBD Oil as Marijuana. State regulators announced Thursday that CBD cannabis oil products will be covered by the state's medical marijuana laws. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs declared that state law allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil -- if it comes from marijuana plants, not hemp plants. "We received lots of questions about if CBD was going to be regulated along with marijuana and how hemp plays into that," said department spokesman David Harns. "Now is the right time to send out an advisory bulletin."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Minnesota Senate Approves Bill to Fund Opioid Treatment With Drug Company Fees. The Senate voted 60-6 Thursday to approve Senate File 730, which would raise $20 million a year from licensing fees on drug distributors and manufacturers to fund opioid treatment. A companion measure in the House awaits a final committee vote before heading to the House floor.

International

British Medical Journal Calls for Drug Legalization. The BMJ, one of the world's most prestigious medical journals, on Thursday published an editorial calling for illegal drugs to be legalized, taxed, and regulated. The editorial cited a BMJ opinion piece by Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) UK members, as well as the recent call by the Royal Academy of Physicians for drug decriminalization. "This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad. It is an evidence based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime… The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard."

Canada's Quebec Authorizes Research into Allowing Festival Pill Testing. The Quebec Health Ministry has announced that it has authorized a $100,000 study to examine the potential outcomes of allowing people to have their drugs tested at festivals, night clubs, and LBGT venues. The study will end in 2020 and then make recommendations to the provincial government about going ahead with a pilot pill testing program. The practice is currently illegal under Canadian law unless the federal government grants an exemption.

Chronicle AM: Federal Hemp Bill Gets Fast-Tracked, Google to Vet Drug Rehab Ads, More... (4/17/18)

Google is restoring drug treatment advertising but with vetting, the federal hemp bill is moving fast, fighting over coca results in a state of emergency in a Colombian province, and more.

Sometimes it pays to be the Senate Majority leader. Mitch McConnell's hemp bill has been fast-tracked. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska House Votes to Limit Access to Old Marijuana Convictions. The House voted Monday to approve House Bill 316, which would not expunge old pot convictions, but would restrict access to those records. Bill sponsor Rep. Harriet Drummond (D) said she filed the bill to ensure that Alaskans are not passed over for jobs or promotions for possessing a substance that is now legal. Convictions that would be hidden would be those for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Approves Vaping Flowers and Buds. State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced Monday she will approve the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board's recommendation to allow the sale of medical marijuana in in leaf or flower form. State law forbids patients from smoking it, but vaping would be okay.

Hemp

McConnell's Hemp Bill Gets Fast-Tracked. Sometimes it pays to be the Senate Majority leader. Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) hemp bill, Senate Bill 2667, is getting fast-tracked. Using a procedural move known as Rule 14, the bill introduced last week was placed on the Senate calendar on Monday. The move allows the bill to skip the committee process and head directly to the Senate floor. Companion legislation has been filed in the House.

Drug Treatment

Google to Vet Drug Rehab Ads. Nearly a year after it suspended advertising for drug treatment centers because of numerous deceptive and misleading ads, Google announced Monday that it would resume accepting such ads. But they will first have to be vetted by an outside firm, LegitScript of Portland, Oregon. The new rules apply to in-person treatment facilities, crisis hotlines, and support groups. They will have to pass scrutiny on numerous criteria, including criminal background checks and license and insurance verification, as well as providing written policies and procedures demonstrating a commitment to best practices, effective recovery and continuous improvement."

International

The Hague Bans Pot Smoking in the City Center. For the first time, a Dutch city has banned public pot smoking. The Hague has banned pot smoking around its city center, central railway station, and major shopping areas. The move came about because of "many complaints" from residents and visitors, a spokesman for The Hague Mayor Pauline Krikke said. Amsterdam and Rotterdam ban pot smoking near schools, but do not have general bans.

Colombian Province in State of Emergency as Rebel Groups Fight Over Coca. William Vallamizar, governor of Norte de Santander province, has declared a state of emergency because fighting between two rebel groups over control of a coca-growing region. He said a thousand families had to flee the fighting, and 4,000 children were blocked from going to school. The dispute is between leftist guerrillas of the EPL (Popular Liberation Army) and ELN (Army of National Liberation), both of which hope to take over an area that had formerly been under control of the FARC. The FARC has transformed from a guerrilla army to a political party, but its demobilization has left power vacuums in the countryside.

Australian Federal Government Rejects Green Party Call for Marijuana Legalization. The federal government isn't interested in the Green Party's call for marijuana legalization, the health minister said Tuesday, resorting to discredited myths as he did so. Health Minister Greg Hunt said the party should withdraw its suggestion because it risks the health of Australians. "Marijuana is a gateway drug. The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented," he said.

Culture Shock: American Activists Confront Compassionate Portuguese Drug Policy [FEATURE]

The American activists couldn't wrap their heads around it. Sitting in a dingy office in a nondescript building in central Lisbon, they were being provided a fine-grained explanation of what happens to people caught with small amounts of drugs in Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of drugs 17 years ago.

partial view of Lisbon, looking toward the Tagus River (Wikimedia)
The activists, having lived the American experience, wanted desperately to know when and how the coercive power of the state kicked in, how the drug users were to be punished for their transgressions, even if they had only been hit with an administrative citation, which is what happens to people caught with small quantities of drugs there.

Nuno Capaz was trying to explain. He is Vice Chairman of the Lisbon Dissuasion Commission, the three-member tribunal set up to handle people caught with drugs. He had to struggle mightily to convince the Americans that it wasn't about punishment, but about personal and public health.

"The first question," he explained, "is whether this person is a recreational user or an addict."

If the person is deemed only a recreational user, he may face a fine or a call to community service. If he is deemed an addict, treatment is recommended -- but not required.

"But what if they don't comply?" one of the activists demanded. "Don't they go to jail then?"

No, they do not. Instead, Capaz patiently explained, they may face sanctions for non-compliance, but those sanctions may be little more than a demand that they regularly present themselves to a hospital or health center for monitoring.

In a later hallway conversation, I asked Capaz about drug users who simply refused to go along or to participate at all. What happens then? I wanted to know.

Capaz shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing," he said. "I tell them to try not to get caught again."

Welcome to Portugal. The country's low-key, non-headline-generating drug policy, based on compassion, public health, and public safety, is a stark contrast with the US, as the mind-boggled response of the activists suggests.

Organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and consisting of members of local and national groups that work with the organization, as well as a handful of journalists, the group spent three days in-country last month seeing what an enlightened drug policy looks like. They met with high government officials directly involved in creating and implementing drug decriminalization, toured drug treatment, harm reduction, and mobile methadone maintenance facilities, and heard from Portuguese drug users and harm reduction workers as well.

The Portuguese Model and Its Accomplishments

They had good reason to go to Portugal. After nearly two decades of drug decriminalization, there is ample evidence that the Portuguese model is working well. Treating drug users like citizens who could possibly use some help instead of like criminals to be locked up is paying off by all the standard metrics -- as well as by not replicating the thuggish and brutal American-style war on drugs, with all the deleterious and corrosive impacts that has on the communities particularly targeted for American drug law enforcement.

Here, according to independent academic researchers, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Monitoring Center of Drugs and Drug Abuse, is what the Portuguese have accomplished:

Drug use has not dramatically increased. Rates of past year and past month drug use have not changed significantly or have actually declined since 2001. And Portugal's drug use rates remain among the lowest in Europe, and well below those in the United States.

Both teen drug use and "problematic" drug use (people who are dependent or who inject drugs) have declined.

Drug arrests and incarceration are way down. Drug arrests have dropped by 60% (selling drugs remains illegal) and the percentage of prisoners doing time for drug offenses has dropped from 44% to 24%. Meanwhile, the number of people referred to the Dissuasion Commission has remained steady, indicating that no "net-widening" has taken place. And the vast majority of cases that go before the commission are found to be non-problematic drug users and are dismissed without sanction.

More people are receiving drug treatment -- and on demand, not by court order. The number of people receiving drug treatment increased by 60% by 2011, with most of them receiving opiate-substitution therapy (methadone). Treatment is voluntary and largely paid for by the national health system.

Drug overdose deaths are greatly reduced. Some 80 people died of drug overdoses in 2001; that number shrunk to just 16 by 2012. That's an 80% reduction in drug overdose deaths.

Drug injection-related HIV/AIDS infections are greatly reduced. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of new HIV cases shrank from nearly 1,600 to only 78. The number of new AIDS cases declined from 626 to 74.

"We came to the conclusion that the criminal system was not the best suited to deal with this situation," explained Capaz. "The best option should be referring them to treatment, but we do not force or coerce anyone. If they are willing to go, it's because they actually want to, so the success rate is really high. We can surely say that decriminalization does not increase drug usage, and that it does not mean legalizing drugs. It's still illegal to use drugs in Portugal, it's just not considered a crime. It's possible to deal with these users outside the criminal system."

Dr. Joao Goulao, who largely authored the decriminalization law and who is still General Director for Intervention on Addictive Behaviors -- the Portuguese "drug czar" -- pointed to unquantifiable positives resulting from the move: "The biggest effect," he said, "has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear."

They Take the Kids! (with them to treatment)

The American activists know all about fear and stigma. And the cultural disconnect -- between a country that treats drug users with compassion and one that seeks to punish them -- was on display again when a smaller group of the activists met with Dr. Miguel Vasconcelos, the head psychologist at the Centro Taipa, a former mental hospital that now serves as the country's largest drug treatment center.

As Dr.Vasconcelos explained the history and practice of drug treatment in Portugal, one of his listeners asked what happened to drug users who were pregnant or had children.

"They take the kids," Vasconcelos said, smiling. But his smile turned to puzzlement as he saw his listeners react with resignation and dismay.

For the Americans, "they take the kids" meant child protective services swooping in to seize custody of the children of drug-using parents while the parents go to jail.

But that's not what Vasconcelos meant. After some back and forth, came clarity: "No, I mean they take the kids with them to treatment."

Once again, the Americans, caught firmly in the mind set of their own punishing society, expected only the worst of the state. But once again, light bulbs came on as they realized it doesn't have to be like that.

Now that cadre of activists is back home, and they are going to begin to try to apply the lessons they learned in their own states and communities. And although they had some abstract understanding of Portuguese drug decriminalization before they came, their experiences with the concrete reality of it should only serve to strengthen their desire to make our own country a little less like a punitive authoritarian state and bit more like Portugal.

Chronicle AM: NJ Opioid Fight Plan, WI Forfeiture Bill Signed, NJ Pot Poll, More... (4/4/18)

Alaska regulators return to the issue of social use, a Tennessee medical marijuana bill dies, New Jersey's governor outlines a plan to fight opioid abuse, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) outlines a plan to take on the opioid crisis. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Take Up Social Clubs Again. The state's Marijuana Control Board will be meeting the rest of this week to discuss whether to allow on-site marijuana use at authorized retail stores. The board adopted rules in 2015 to allow for such use, but never finalized them. Under the current proposal, use could only take place in a designated area of the store, and people could only use marijuana purchased at the store.

New Jersey Poll Shows Residents Evenly Split on Legalization. A new poll from the Stockton Polling Institute of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy has Garden Staters split nearly down the middle on pot legalization. The poll had 49% in favor, with 44% opposed. The poll also found that one out of four respondents would try the herb if it were legal, or continue to use it if they currently do.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. The sponsor of a medical marijuana bill has pulled it, saying he didn't have the support to move it in the Senate. Senate Bill 1710 sponsor Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) was blunt: "Unfortunately, I do not have the votes." A companion measure is still alive in the House, but there will be no medical marijuana in the Volunteer State this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New Jersey Governor Outlines Plan to Fight Opioids. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced a plan to spend $100 million on a range of anti-addiction programs, including new funding for community-based treatment providers, as well as more housing and job training for residents with -- or without -- drug dependency problems. In terms of dollars, the proposal includes $56 million for front-line prevention, treatment and recovery programs; $31 million for job training and to address social risk factors like homelessness; and $13 million to improve data collection and other state infrastructure.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday signed into law Senate Bill 61, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but puts limits on how long police can hold property before someone is charged and reduce the amount of money police can keep when they sell seized property.

Chronicle AM: DEA Deploys Against Opioids, NY Gov's Criminal Justice Plan, More... (3/29/18)

Mucho medical marijuana, a Connecticut legalization bill gets a hearing, the DEA is deploying 250 agents to fight opioids, Louisiana could get a full-fledged needle exchange program, and more.

The DEA is ready to fight some more drug war.
Marijuana Policy

Third Connecticut Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A marijuana legalization bill that also includes funding for drug treatment and prevention got a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday. House Bill 5394 calls for drafting a plan to legalize and regulate weed by October 1, as well as requiring a treatment and prevention plan by the same date.  The bill did not get a vote. Two other legalization bills before the legislature do not contain the treatment and prevention funding provisions.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Judge Puts Hold on State Medical Marijuana Program. A state judge last week put the state's program on hold because of objections to the licensing process, but was apologetic for imposing the delay. "Amendment 98 to the Constitution of Arkansas, an initiative by the people, exists because Arkansans want to provide medical marijuana to persons who suffer from chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening health challenges," Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen wrote in his order last week. "The prospect that Arkansans must now endure more delay before gaining much needed access to locally grown medical marijuana should be unpleasant to anyone concerned about providing relief to people who suffer from serious illnesses."

Kansas House Votes Down Medical Marijuana. As they debated changes to the state's drug laws, lawmakers in the House voted down an amendment that would have allowed the use of medical marijuana. The amendment was offered by Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Lenexa), who said her own daughter, who suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, could benefit from access to the medicine. "Please don’t make us lawbreakers," Holscher said. "Give us an option for something that has been proven to work." But the underlying bill contains a provision that allows for the limited use of CBD cannabis oil.

Louisiana House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana for Autism. The House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would add certain types of autism to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The move comes as dispensaries are set to open in the state just four months from now. The measure, House Bill 627, now goes to the full House.

New Hampshire Senate Approves Bill to Add More Dispensaries. The state Senate last week approved a bill that would allow for two additional dispensaries in the state.  The state currently has four medical marijuana outlets. The bill now goes to the House.

South Carolina Senate Committee Advances Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee approved a medical marijuana bill on Thursday. The measure, Senate Bill 212, now heads for a Senate floor vote.  But advocates worry the bill will die for lack of action in the House. The House has declined to hear its own medical marijuana bill so far this year, and the deadline for doing so is April 10.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Second House Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 1749, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a dozen qualifying conditions.  The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Utah Poll Shows Enduring Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. More than three-quarters (77%) of Utahns "strongly" or "somewhat" favor legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones & Associates. The poll is in line with other recent state polls show high levels of support, undaunted by the legislature's passage of a bill that allows for a "right to try" medical marijuana for terminally ill patients. An initiative that would create a full-blown medical marijuana system in the state will likely be on the ballot in November.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Spending Plan Has Nearly $5 Billion to Deal With Opioid Crisis. The omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Trump last week contains some $4.6 billion. The biggest chunk of the money will go to states and tribes, especially those with the highest overdose mortality rates. Some 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year. The funding is less than the $7 billion for fighting AIDS, which killed 42,000 Americans last year.  

DEA Deploying 250 Additional Agents to Fight Opioid Crisis. The DEA announced Tuesday that it is deploying 250 additional task force officers and dozens of analysts across the country in a bid to crack down on opioids. The additional agents and analysts will go to areas hardest hit by the epidemic.

Oregon Governor Signs Opioid Bills into Law. Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Tuesday signed into law two bills and an order setting deadlines for a drug policy commission that has been plagued with staffing and other issues. The order declares addiction a public health crisis in the state. Two bills, House Bill 4137 and House Bill 4143, cover similar ground and require studying barriers to addiction treatment.

Criminal Justice

New York Governor Launches Campaign to Overhaul Criminal Justice System. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Monday launched a "Campaign to Restore Fairness in New York’s Criminal Justice System." The governor's package would eliminate cash bail for misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses, ensure access to speedy trials, improve the disclosure of evidence, reform asset forfeiture, and improve reentry programs for people leaving prison.

Harm Reduction

Louisiana House Approves Needle Exchange Bill. A bill that would expand needle exchange programs by allowing them without seeking approval from local governments was approved by the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice on Wednesday. House Bill 661 also expands the types of materials and programs a needle exchange can offer, including access to naloxone. The bill now heads for a House floor debate and vote next week.

International

Colombia Coca Growers Threaten to Suspend Cooperation With Peace Process. The federation that represents coca growers, COCCAM, said in a statement on Tuesday it is consulting its members "to define whether to suspend our participation" with the government program that seeks to substitute legal crops for coca.  The federation cited continuing violence, noting that more than 200 coca farmers have been killed since the beginning of the peace process in December 2016. The growers are also unhappy with the government's response to their complaints with Justice Minister Enrique Gil for proposing a law shielding coca growers from criminal prosecution, but which excludes families that have already signed up for the program. The bill also more than halved the amount of land to be considered a small grower, changes the federation called a "flagrant betrayal of the peasants, Afro-descendants and indigenous people who put their trust in the peace process by joining the program."

Georgia Drug Decriminalization Bill on Hold After Controversial Rewrite. A bill that would decriminalize drug use and possession has been held up after an interagency commission expressed support for a new draft drug policy law that activists say no longer talks about decriminalization.  The new draft also fails to differentiate quantities of drugs for personal use from those for distribution except in eight cases, meaning people caught with any amount of other drugs face years in prison. "Nobody mentioned decriminalisation at today’s hearing, which is alarming," Guram Imnadze, a lawyer from local rights group the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC) said after it was over. The current draft doesn't address the key problem with the country's drug policy, which, he said, was that "people spend years in prison for drugs they intended for personal use."

Chronicle AM: HHS Sec Says "No Such Thing" as MedMJ, OR Opioid Treatment Bill, More... (3/5/18)

Seattle will join San Francisco is expunging past petty pot possession convictions, the HHS secretary denies the reality of medical marijuana, the DOJ wants to toughen up a bill aimed at opioid makers and distributors, Colombia and the US reach an agreement on drug policy goals, and more.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar, formerly of Eli Lilly, says "there is no such thing as medical marijuana." (Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Pot Legalization Hearing Today. The Assembly Oversight Committee is holding a hearing today on marijuana legalization, the first step in getting a legalization bill through the legislature. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) has filed Senate Bill 380, which would legalize the possession of small amounts of pot and allow for taxed and regulated sales, but other bills could also be filed, including bills that only decriminalize—not legalize—marijuana.

Oregon Senate Approves Bill to Fund Enforcement Against Black Market Operations. The state Senate voted last Friday to approve Senate Bill 1544, which would create the Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant Program within the Criminal Justice Commission. The program would offer $1.5 million a year over six years to help local governments with costs incurred in going after illicit cultivation and production. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Seattle to Expunge Misdemeanor Pot Possession Convictions. Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced last Thursday that they will clear the records of people who were prosecuted for misdemeanor pot possession prior to the legalization of marijuana in 2012. The city estimates some 500 to 600 convictions dating back to 1977 will be overturned.

Medical Marijuana

Health and Human Services Secretary Says "No Such Thing" as Medical Marijuana. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar refused last Friday to acknowledge that marijuana has any medicinal uses. In response to a question at an Ohio press conference about opioids about the role of medical marijuana in treating them, he replied: "There really is no such thing as medical marijuana," he said at an Ohio press conference on opioids. "There is no FDA-approved use of marijuana, a botanical plant. I just want to be very clear about that."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Wants Congress to Stiffen Opioid Legislation. In a letter last Wednesday to the head of a congressional committee investigating the opioid industry, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd urged Congress to rewrite a bill passed with the pharmaceutical industry's blessing that the DEA says undermines its efforts to go after companies suspected of violating the drug laws. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act was pushed through Congress in 2016 by a small group of lawmakers backed by drug companies, including then Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who was forced to back away from a nomination to head the drug czar's office after a CBS News investigative report on the law last fall.

Oregon House Approves Opioid Treatment Access Bill. The House last Thursday approved House Bill 4143, which "requires Director of Department of Consumer and Business Services to study barriers to effective treatment for and recovery from substance use disorders, including addictions to opioids and opiates, and to report and make recommendations to Legislative Assembly not later than June 30, 2018." The bill now goes to Gov. Kate Brown (D) for her signature.

Pennsylvania Governor Says State Will Ease Access to Opioid Treatment Medications. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced last Thursday that the state is ending a policy that slowed treatment for people addicted to opioids. The state's Medicaid program will no longer require doctors to get prior approval when prescribing drugs such as Suboxone and Vivitrol, used in what's known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). "MATs work — they’re part of an overall strategy that can help all kinds of people," Wolf said. "This step that I’m announcing today is going to increase access to this lifesaving treatment for those who suffer from substance use disorder across the commonwealth."

Foreign Policy

US, Colombia Agree to Expand Anti-Drug Cooperation, Set Goal of 50% Coca Reduction. The United States and Colombia reached an agreement last Friday on cooperation in their joint anti-drug campaigns. The two countries pledged to expand their anti-drug cooperation, which has as an expressed goal or reducing the country's coca and cocaine production by 50% by 2023.

Chronicle AM: Call to End New Medicaid Work Requirement, Israeli Pot Decrim Advance, More... (2/20/18)

Public health, mental health, and drug reform groups call for an end to a new policy requiring Medicaid recipients to work, a key congressional Democrat calls for a progress report from Trump's opioid commission, Israeli marijuana decriminalization crosses a major hurdle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Bar Pot Shops From Selling Customer Data to Third Parties. Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose) has filed Assembly Bill 2402, which would ban retail marijuana shops from selling customer data to third-party vendors without the customer's consent. "The focus of this piece of legislation is around privacy," Low said. "So, while now cannabis is legal in California, there are many individuals who want to make sure that cannabis and their use of cannabis is not made public for many reasons. If you shop at retail stores, you magically start to get emails and snail mail from other similarly focused retail stores," Low added. "And so we wanted to make sure that we don't do that with cannabis without consent."

Maryland Legalization Constitutional Amendment Gets Hearing Today. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing today on House Bill 1264, which, if approved, would set up a statewide referendum on marijuana legalization. The House bill was filed by Delegate David Moon (D-Takoma Park); the Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Bob Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who heads the Senate committee hearing the bill.

Massachusetts Lawmaker Blasts Some Draft Regs. State Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree), who helped write the state's legalization implementation law, has criticized the Cannabis Control Commission and some of its proposed draft regulations. He wrote to the commission saying he has "grave concerns" over draft regulations around social consumption, local control, and licensing for delivery services and micro-businesses. The local control regulations ignore state law requiring localities to first seek voter approval, he said. He also lambasted proposals for on-site consumption, saying a new referendum would have to be passed. Voters legalized marijuana in the state nearly 15 months ago now.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Strikes Down Detroit Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Wayne County circuit court judge last Friday overturned a voter-approved initiative that would have relaxed restrictive local controls on medical marijuana businesses in the city. Proposal B would have allowed pot shops and processing businesses in all business and industrial districts, including downtown and Midtown. The judge cited state court precedent that zoning questions could not be decided by voter initiatives.

Industrial Hemp

Alaska House Passes Hemp Bill. The House on Monday approved Senate Bill 6, which legalizes industrial hemp and establishes a pilot program for its growth and production. The Senate has already approved the bill, but since the House amended the bill, it now goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Lab Forfeits $1 Million for Unnecessary Drug Tests. State Attorney General Martha Healey (D) announced last Friday that Precision Testing Laboratories, Inc. will forfeit more than a million dollars to settle claims it billed for medically unnecessary drug tests. It paid $400,000 to Massachusetts and will pay more than $650,000 to Connecticut. The lab will also be barred from participating in the two states' Medicaid programs for the next 10 years. The company had promoted itself as providing urine drug testing services to people in recovery, but that it used very expensive drug tests and "aggressively marketed an expensive and unnecessarily complex drug testing package to sober houses, despite the fact that they knew that the tests were for residential sobriety monitoring, a violation of MassHealth regulations."

Missouri Bill Would Criminalize Synthetic Urine. State Rep. Nate Tate (R-St. Clair) has filed a bill that would make the sale of synthetic human urine a criminal offense. Under House Bill 1810, all drug test-cheating products would be banned, and anyone who provides them with the intent to defraud a drug test would be subject to a Class B misdemeanor. Prosecutors like the bill.

Drug Treatment

Public Health, Drug Reform Groups Protest Federal Policy Imposing Work Requirements on Medicaid Recipients. More than 160 organizations in the public health, mental health, addiction treatment, and drug reform fields have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Aszar decrying the new federal policy. They argue the policy would hinder access to Medicaid by people with chronic health problems, especially those fighting substance abuse and mental health disorders. "This is deeply troubling given the devastating and escalating opioid overdose crisis that President Trump has designated as a national public health emergency," the letter said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Leading Congressional Democrat Wants Hearing on Trump's Opioid Panel's Progress. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-NC) last Friday urging him to request that presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway brief the committee on the work done by the president's opioid commission. "I understand that President Trump has designated Kellyanne Conway as his point person on this issue, so her input would help the Committee with its ongoing efforts to evaluate the status of the Commission's recommendations," Cummings wrote.

International

Israeli Marijuana Decriminalization Advances. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, people caught with pot would pay a $282 fine and would not be subject to arrest until a fourth offense. Legalizatin advocate MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who heads the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, was pleased: "When we started our struggle, people disrespected us, but the Ministerial Committee's decision today is proof that a real, persistent struggle succeeds in the end," said Zandberg. "This bill is far from being perfect, but it is a foot in the door on the way to full legalization."

Chronicle AM: San Francisco SIJs Coming Soon, House Dems Want Pot Hearing, More... (2/6/18)

Safe injection sites are coming to San Francisco, House Democrats want a hearing on Sessions' backwards-looking marijuana policies, CBD bills pass in Indiana and Virginia, and more.

Kellyanne Conway. This is who is effectively running White House opioid policy. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee Democrats Demand Hearing on Sessions Marijuana Policy. In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), eleven Democratic members of the committee called on him to hold a hearing of the full committee to discuss recent moves by Attorney General Sessions to roll back laissez-faire Obama-era policies regarding enforcement of federal drug laws in marijuana-legal states. In the letter, the Democrats said they feared new Justice Department policies "will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states."

Delaware's Governor Remains Opposed to Marijuana Legalization. After months of meeting with legalization supporters, Gov. John Carney (D) has rebuffed their efforts to get him on board. "There are a lot of people who are pushing that. I don't think it's a good idea to be out ahead of that, [to be] one of the lead states there," Carney told WHYY-TV. "I've talked to my colleagues, governors from Colorado and the state of Washington, and they talk about some of the unintended negative consequences." While he did not say he would veto a legalization bill, he remains strongly opposed: "I just don't think we ought to be a leader there. Again, as we're trying to strengthen our workforce, create an environment where companies can be successful to make Delaware stronger, I don't think that will do it."

California Bill Would Allow For Consumption at Special Events. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) has filed a bill that would allow for the sale and consumption at temporary special events. Assembly Bill 2020 would allow a state agency to issue temporary event licenses allowing sales and consumption. "These events support local economies and small businesses," Quirk said in a statement. "Despite the fiscal and communal benefits such events bring to a city or local community, current law prohibits local governments from approving applications for cannabis sales at special events if they are held anywhere but county property," he added. The measure is also sponsored by the city of Oakland.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Senate Joins House in Passing CBD Bill. The Senate voted 35-13 Monday to approve Senate Bill 294, which would allow any state resident to purchase and use CBD cannabis oil. Similar legislation passed the House last week on a unanimous vote.

Virginia Senate Passes CBD Bill. The Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve Senate Bill 726, which would allow doctors to recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil or THC-A oil. The House passed a companion bill, also unanimously, last Friday. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Czar's Office Frozen Out of Trump Administration's War on Opioids. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has effectively taken control of the administration's opioids agenda, largely sidelining the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), according to a report in Politico. The report says Conway is "quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address" the opioid crisis. The main response so far has been to demand a border wall and to suggest a sort of "just say no" program. The administration is expected to propose massive cuts in the drug czar's office this month.

West Virginia Governor Sets New Plan, Names New Drug Policy Director. Gov. Jim Justice (D) said Monday the state will take a different approach to the opioid crisis by focusing a pilot program on two of the state's hardest hit counties. Justice said there wasn't enough funding to fight the crisis in all 55 counties, but that statewide efforts would continue. "We know that everything we've tried so far has failed," he said. Justice also announced the appointment of Dr. Michael Brumage as the new director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy.

Drug Testing

Vermont GOP Bill Would Require Drug Screening, Testing for Public Assistance. House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) has filed a bill, House Bill 866, that would require people seeking public assistance to undergo screening for substance abuse and undergo drug testing if the screening process suggests drug use. Those who failed drug tests cold still receive assistance if they agreed to and completed drug treatment, but refusing treatment or failing to complete it would result in loss of benefits.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Should See Safe Injection Sites by July.San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said Monday the city is on track to open its first two safe injection sites around the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. She said she is working with six to eight nonprofits that already operate needle exchanges and other drug addiction services and will choose two of them to open safe injection sites. The sites will initially be privately funded, which will help the city avoid liability, since intravenous drug use is a crime under both state and federal law. Opening the sites will not require the approval of the city's Board of Supervisors or other city officials, she said.

International

British Columbia Sets More Legal Pot Rules. The provincial government announced Sunday that marijuana will not be sold in the same stores as alcohol and that in urban areas, licensed retailers would only be able to sell marijuana and accessories -- not other products, such as food, gas, clothing, and lottery tickets. Rural areas will qualify for exceptions to the general rule. Also, people 19 and over will be able to possess up to 30 grams in public, and smoking will generally be allowed in public spaces where smoking is allowed. Adults will be able to grow up to four plants per household, but landlords will be able to bar tenants from growing.

Colombia Says Armed Groups Impeding Coca Crop Substitution. Colombian Post-Conflict Minister Rafael Pardo said Sunday that illegal armed groups are impeding the country's efforts to replace illicit coca crops with legal ones. The comments came after a United Nations verification team was attacked last week by dissident FARC guerrillas. Pardo also pointed a finger at Marxist ELN guerrillas. Both groups, as well as rightist paramiitaries, continue to try to benefit from the illicit coca and cocaine trade.

Drug War Issues

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