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Chronicle AM: House Dems Want Action on Naloxone Pricing, German Decrim Hint, More... (5/21/18)

There's too much marijuana in Oregon, Utah medical marijuana foes try another tack to block the initiative, Africa gets its first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

Price gouging on the opioid overdose reversal drug needs to stop, Democratic House members say. (PA Health Department)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon US Attorney Warns of "Significant Overproduction" of Legal Marijuana, Will Target Diversion. US Attorney Billy Williams said last Friday that the state has a "significant overproduction" problem and that he would prioritize enforcement of overproduction, diversion to other states, and organized crime. The state currently has nearly a million pounds of marijuana buds in inventory, and it's estimated that Oregon's billion dollar a year industry includes about $300 million worth of pot to diverted to the black market.

Pennsylvania State Senator Calls on DAs to Quit Prosecuting Small-Time Pot Cases. One of the Keystone State's leading voices for marijuana law reform, state Sen. Daylin Leach (D), last Friday published an open letter to the state's district attorneys urging them to quit prosecuting pot possession and smoking cases. Leach cited the nine states that have already legalized marijuana and warned, "If people are convicted this year, and legalization occurs next year or the year thereafter, thousands of people will have a stain on their record that will be extremely difficult or impossible to remove."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Foes Sue to Block Initiative from Going to Voters. Drug Safe Utah, a group formed to oppose the medical marijuana initiative, went to court last Thursday to try to block it. In court filings, the group argued that the lieutenant governor, whose office oversees elections, doesn't have the authority to allow campaigners to gather signatures. Drug Safe Utah argued that state officials couldn't act on the initiative because it "conflicts with federal law."

Harm Reduction

House Democrats Call on Trump Administration to Lower Naloxone Price. A group of House Democrats led by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Peter Welch (D-VT) have sent a letter to White House Kellyanne Conway asking for executive action to curb rising prices for naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. "Federal agencies have the authority to use patented inventions… when in the interest of the public good," the lawmakers wrote. "The current opioid crisis requires invoking this provision."

International

German Drug Official Hints at Move Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. In a report released last week, German drug commissioner Marlene Mortler appeared to call for marijuana decriminalization. "Anyone caught by the police in the future for possession of cannabis for personal consumption should be allowed to choose whether to pay a fine or voluntarily seek help from the expert," she said. German drug arrests were up more than 6% last year, while marijuana arrests were up 14%. About 80% of all marijuana cases were for simple possession.

Africa Gets First Medical Marijuana Dispensary. A medical marijuana dispensary has opened in Durban, South Africa, making it the first on the continent. The store is currently only selling products without THC. "We want to break the stigma on cannabis, to showcase that cannabis can be used effectively to treat a number of conditions and to integrate medical professionals as well as traditional healers to allow the whole of South Africa a holistic approach to health care," said dispensary spokesperson Kirithi Thaver.

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.

One of the World's Most Prestigious Medical Journals Just Called for Legalizing All Drugs

Embracing a harm reduction and public health perspective, one of the world's most prestigious medical journals has released a signed editorial calling for the legalization, taxation, and regulation of currently illegal drugs.

In a editorial last Thursday entitled Drugs Should Be Legalised, Regulated, and Taxed, Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal, notes that under drug prohibition, the global trade "fuels organized crime and human misery," and asks, "Why should it not instead fund public services?"

Citing an opinion piece in the same issue of the BMJ from British members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP, formerly known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) Jason Reed and Paul Whitehouse, Godlee notes that in the United Kingdom (as in the United States) "vast sums are spent prosecuting individuals and trying vainly to interrupt the flow of drugs into cities" while that money would be much better "spent on quality control, education, treatment for drug users, and child protection." Under legalization, "revenues could be diverted from criminal gangs into government coffers," she writes.

Godlee notes that the global drug prohibition consensus is fraying around the edges, and points to the example of Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001. There, drug use remains in line with levels in other European countries, but the harms associated with drug use under prohibition have decreased dramatically, particularly in terms of fatal drug overdoses and the spread of injection drug-related infectious disease.

Godlee also pointed to the Netherlands, the United States, and soon, Canada, where "regulated markets for the sale of cannabis generate substantial tax revenues."

Again returning to the opinion piece by Reed and Whitehouse, Godlee writes that "when law enforcement officers call for drugs to be legalized, we have to listen." Ditto for when doctors speak up, she adds, noting that just last month, the Royal College of Physicians came out in favor of drug decriminalization, joining the British Medical Association, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal Society of Public Health in supporting drug policy reform.

"This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad," Godlee concludes. "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."

Unfortunately for the BMJ and the other public health advocates, as in the United States, the political class in the United Kingdom isn't yet on board with evidence-based best practices on drug policy. But this editorial loosens another brick in the wall -- on both sides of the Atlantic.

Chronicle AM: McConnell Just Says No to Legal Weed, Walmart Tightens Prescribing, More... (5/9/18)

Mitch McConnell just says no, a House committee advances a VA medical marijuana bill, Pennsylvania's governor and attorney general aren't down with a Philadelphia safe injection site, and more.

Mitch McConnell is down with hemp, but not pot. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Mitch McConnell Confirms GOP Still the Party of "No" on Legal Marijuana. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he was not interested in legalizing marijuana, even though his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has endorsed it. "I do not have any plans to endorse legalization of marijuana," McConnell said. McConnell is pushing for the legalization of hemp, though: "These are two entirely separate plants," McConnell said. "I hope everybody understands that. It is a different plant. It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace."

Medical Marijuana

House Committee Advances Veterans Affairs Medical Marijuana Research Bill. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee Tuesday unanimously approved a measure that aims to increase VA research on medical marijuana. The bill would specify that the agency has the ability to research the herb for conditions including PTSD. The measure is part of a package of bills lawmakers hope to pass this month.

Missouri Senate Gives Initial Approval to Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Tuesday gave initial approval to House Bill 1554, which would allow people suffering from specified serious illnesses to use non-smokeable medical marijuana. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the Senate Committee on Health and Pensions for a second reading. If it survives that, it then goes to the full Senate for a floor vote.

Utah "Right To Try" CBD Medical Marijuana Law Now in Effect. A limited medical marijuana law is now in effect. Under House Bill 195, which passed in March, terminally ill patients will be able to access CBD cannabis oil under a provision that expands the state's 2015 Right to Try Act. Also now in effect is House Bill 197, which establishes a medical marijuana cultivation program in the state. Both of these laws could soon be irrelevant, though: A much broader medical marijuana initiative will be on the ballot in November.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study: Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs Have Little Effect on Overdose Deaths. A new study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health finds that prescription drug monitoring programs may be only "marginally effective" in reducing drug overdose deaths. "What it really offers is this cautionary tale that says a few things. One, the amount of money and resources that are going into these programs need to be evaluated to understand what their ultimate costs are," social epidemiologist David Fink said. "Studies have come out in the past looking at reduced prescribing behavior, but we're taking it to the next level -- looking at fatal or nonfatal overdoses. And what we're seeing is that when you actually look at the literature, it isn't that strong to support" the programs. The study also found that half the studies looking at heroin overdose rates found a significant increase after prescription drug monitoring programs were implemented.

Walmart Tightens Opioid Prescription Policies. The nation's largest pharmacy chain announced Monday that beginning within 60 days, it will only fill first-time acute opioid prescriptions for a week or less nationwide. It will also limit dosages to 50 morphine milligram units per day. Walmart didn't say what it would do about patients who require greater dosages than that.

Harm Reduction

Officials in Philadelphia want a safe injection site in a bid to reduce drug overdoses that killed more than 1,200 people in the city last year, but the Democratic governor and attorney general aren't on board. A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf said the idea "presents a number of serious public health and legal concerns, while a spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro said changes in federal law would have to come before he could support a safe injection site.

NYC Mayor de Blasio Endorses Safe Injection Site Plan

Just a day after close to a hundred community activists, reform advocates, and local elected officials took to the streets outside New York City's City Hall Wednesday to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) move on a long-delayed feasibility study on safe injection sites, the mayor has moved -- and further than they expected.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio comes out for safe injection sites. (Flickr)
On Thursday evening, the mayor's office announced de Blasio's support for a plan to open four of the sites, which the office refers to as Overdose Prevention Centers, a year from now, after a period of consultation with stakeholders.

"After a rigorous review of similar efforts across the world, and after careful consideration of public health and safety expert views, we believe overdose prevention centers will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction," de Blasio said in a statement.

Safe injection sites (SISs) -- or safe injection facilities or supervised injection facilities or supervised consumption sites or overdose prevention centers -- allow drug users to inject (or sometimes inhale) their own drugs under medical supervision. They typically also have a social services component that aims to assist drug users in finding drug treatment and other services.

Operating in around 90 cities in Europe, Australia, and Canada, they are a proven harm reduction intervention. Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown they reduce public disorder; increase access to treatment, reduce the risk of HIV, Hep C, and bacterial infections; reduce drug overdose deaths; and reduce medical costs thanks to a reduction in disease and overdose, while at the same time increasing access to cost-saving preventive healthcare. What SISs don't do, the studies have found, is increase crime, injection drug use, or the initiation of new drug users.

Yet no such sites operate in the United States. Pushes are underway in several cities, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle, but all have faced challenges ranging from moralism and NIMBYism to the fact that they would appear to violate federal law. Just this week, DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson said they violate the Controlled Substances Act and are "subject to being prosecuted." Given the proclivities of the Trump administration, that is probably not a threat to be taken lightly.

Still, the cities are willing to push on the issue, the American Medical Association has endorsed the notion, and legislatures in a number of states are pondering bills to allow them. And now, with the country's largest city coming on board, momentum for the sites is only growing stronger.

In New York City, where the SIF NYC Campaign, a coalition of dozens of community, drug reform, public health, medical, and religious groups has been pressuring the administration to act for months, the mayor's announcement was greeted with relief.

"Mayor de Blasio's embrace of safer consumption spaces is a critical step forward in preventing overdose deaths in New York City. We know that safer consumption spaces are an evidence-based solution that can help dramatically in saving lives, reducing criminalization, and improving public health," said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. "New York can and must be a leader now in saving lives by opening safer consumption spaces swiftly."

That will take some political acumen in dealing with city district attorneys and the state Health Department, which answers to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with whom de Blasio's relations are strained at best. It will also take some political fortitude in taking on the Sessions Justice Department and the DEA.

De Blasio's announcement marks the successful culmination of the campaign to bring the city on board with safe injection sites as a harm reduction and overdose prevention measure, but it's just the beginning of the fight to actually get them up and running.

Chronicle AM: Feinstein Comes Around on Legalization, Synthetic Opioids Fuel ODs, More... (5/2/18)

Maine's legislature overrides a veto to pass a bill implementing legal marijuana sales, California's senior senator finally comes on board with legalization, Canada's legalization push faces some hiccups, and more.

Dianne Feinstein. California's senior senator finally hops on the marijuana train. (Wikimedia Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Dianne Feinstein Drops Opposition to Legal Marijuana. California's senior US senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a longtime foe of marijuana legalization, has seen the light. In an interview Tuesday with McClatchy, she said she was now open to considering federal protection for state-legal marijuana. "Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law," said Feinstein, who is facing a primary challenge from Kevin de Leon, who supports marijuana legalization.

Maine Legislature Overrides Governor's Veto of Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. Both the House and Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Paul LePage's (R) veto of LD 1719, the bill designed to allow the state's legal marijuana industry to get up and running. The bill would establish a system of licensed retail marijuana outlets to sell marijuana to adults. Recreational marijuana sales would be taxed at 20%, while medical marijuana patients would continue to pay a 5.5% tax.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Synthetic Opioids Fueling Rise in Overdose Deaths. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are now the most common drug involved in fatal drug overdoses, researchers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported Tuesday. Fatal overdoses involving synthetic opioids accounted for 14% of all overdose death in 2010, but 46% in 2016. Of more than 42,000 opioid-related overdose deaths, synthetics were implicated in more than 19,000, prescription opioids in more than 17,000, and heroin in more than 15,000. The numbers add up to more than 42,000 because many ODs involve multiple drugs.

Drug Testing

Trucking Industry Wants Hair Testing for Drivers. The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, also known as the Trucking Alliance, has announced it will push for a new federal drug testing law to undergo drug testing to prove they have been free of opioids or other illegal drugs for at least 30 days. That means testing hair follicles, which allows drug use dating back weeks or months to be spotted. The industry complains that urinalysis drug testing isn't catching enough opioid addicts or "lifestyle" drug users.

International

Canada Prime Minister Leaves Door Open for Possible Legalization Delay. Faced with calls from two Senate committees to delay the marijuana legalization bill, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left the door open for a possible slowdown in enacting the government's marijuana legalization bill. The Senate aboriginal peoples committee has called for a one-year delay for broader consultations with indigenous communities, and a separate committee has called for a delay to clarify what will happen to Canadians trying to enter the US. Trudeau didn't reply directly when asked about a possible delay, but said, "We'll continue to consult a broad range of Canadians, and as our parliamentary secretary Bill Blair says regularly, legalization is not an event, it's a process. And that process will continue," he said.

Colombia Coca Eradication Falls Far Short of Goal. The government will successfully eradicate only about 60% of the coca plantings it pledged to eradicate last year, President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday. And it will take longer than the government first announced. Colombia had vowed to eradicate 125,000 acres of coca planting by the end of last year, but Santos said it would only eradicate about 75,000 acres, and that would be by the of this month.

(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 web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM:Mitch McConnell Files Hemp Bill, Mexico Minister Says Legalize It, More... (4/13/18)

A pair of senators demand that Jeff Sessions quit blocking marijuana research, Mitch McConnell files a federal hemp bill, Mexico's tourism minister says his country should allow states to legalize weed, and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell files a bill to allow for domestic hemp cultivation. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Pair of Senators Call on Sessions to Stop Blocking Marijuana Research. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) sent a letter Thursday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to demand that he stop blocking efforts to ramp up research on marijuana's medical benefits. "The benefits of research are unquestionable," Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) wrote, taking Sessions to task for blocking applications for new research grows. "Nineteen months have elapsed since the DEA announced its request for expanded marijuana research," they noted, demanding that Sessions respond by May 15 about the status of the research application reviews.

Louisiana House Approves Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program. The House on Thursday approved House Bill 579, which expands the list of qualifying conditions to include Parkinson's Disease, chronic pain, severe muscle spasms, and PTSD. That means the number of qualifying conditions would rise from 10 to 14. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Hemp

Mitch McConnell Files Federal Hemp Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has filed Senate Bill 2667, which aims to allow for domestic hemp production by removing non-psychoactive marijuana varieties known as hemp from the Controlled Substance Act. Cosponsoring the bill are Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Companion legislation in the House was filed by McConnell's home state homeboy Rep. Jim Comer (R-KY).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Making Opioids Tougher to Abuse Led to Spike in Heroin Deaths, Study Finds. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that a 2010 effort to deter opioid abuse led to a jump in heroin overdoses. The paper studied what happened after OxyContin was reformulated to be more abuse-resistant and found that "each prevented opioid death was replaced with a heroin death."

Law Enforcement

DEA Gouged Taxpayers, Benefited Ex-Employees, Audit Finds. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has found that the DEA's Asset Forfeiture Program farmed out contracts to recently retired former employees, paying them more than half a million dollars more than they would have been paid if they had remained at the agency. The former employees worked for a private contractor called Maximus Inc., which was paid $85 million between 2013 and 2017 to handle asset forfeiture cases. Many of the ex-employees went to the same offices they had worked at as DEA employees, and former DEA employees accounted for 40% of Maximus's asset forfeiture workforce.

International

Mexico Tourism Minister Says Country Should Let States Begin to Legalize Weed. Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid said Wednesday that Mexico should allow states to begin legalizing marijuana, in part to address record cartel violence. "I think in Mexico we should move towards regulating it at state level," he said, calling it "illogical" to divert funds from fighting kidnapping, rape and murder to arrest people using marijuana.

Chronicle AM: NJ Gov Says Legalize It This Year, Duterte Pulls Out of ICC, More... (3/14/18)

New Jersey pot legalization politics heats up, the CDC reports a big jump in opioid overdoses, the Sentencing Commission ponders increasing fentanyl penalties, Duterte pulls the Philippines out of the International Criminal Court, and more. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says legalize it this year. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Filed. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) has filed Assembly Bill 3581, which would legalize the possession of marijuana, allow for home cultivation, and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The bill envisions some 400 pot shops across the states.

New Jersey Governor Budgets for Legal Weed, Wants It This Year. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wants the legislature to legalize marijuana this year and has included $60 million in tax revenues from legal weed in his state budget proposal. "I am committed to working with you to get this passed this year," Murphy said in his budget address at the Statehouse in Trenton.

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Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Sued Over Denial of Cultivation License. A would-be medical marijuana provider who failed to win a license from the state has sued the Medical Marijuana Commission. Natural Health filed suit Thursday in Pulaski County Circuit Court charging the selection process was "plagued by unlawful and inconsistent procedures" and that members of the commission were biased or had conflicts of interest. . 

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CDC Reports Opioid Overdoses Jumped 30% in 14 Months. Opioid overdoses in the US increased by about 30% over the course of 14 months, according to a report issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Data collected in 16 states across the country show some emergency rooms experienced as high as a 109% increase (Wisconsin) in overdoses between July 2016 and September 2017 while others — including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — reported declines. "This fast-moving epidemic affects both men and women, and people of every age. It does not respect state or county lines and is still increasing in every region in the United States," said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Ponders Increased Penalties for Fentanyl Dealers. The Sentencing Commission is holding a hearing today on whether to lengthen prison sentences for people caught dealing fentanyl. Under the proposal, first-time offenders caught selling a half ounce of fentanyl would face up to five years in prison—more than twice the current sentence. While the Justice Department supports the proposal, the Drug Policy Alliance says that implementing the plan would have "perverse public health impacts."

International

Experts at UN Side Event Call for Access to Morphine for Severe Pain. The Organization for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS), a Swiss think-and-do tank, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies (IDHDP), a London-based network, are holding a side event with expert panelists during the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, titled "Ending the Agony: Access to Morphine as an Ethical and Human Rights Imperative." The groups are calling for a centralized strategy for access to opioid pain relievers, better balance between access and control, "an ambitious scale-up of training and oral morphine distribution," and destigmatizing the use of morphine and other opiates.

Duterte Will Withdraw Philippines from International Criminal Court. In a statement Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the Philippines will withdraw from the ICC. The move comes weeks after the ICC announced it was investigating allegations the Duterte government committed crimes against humanity in its bloody war on drugs, which has left thousands dead since he took office in May 2016.

Panamá Opens the Door to CBD Medicinal Marijuana with a Proposed Law. The government has filed a bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil, Bill 595. It was prompted out of concern for children suffering from epilepsy. The bill could be amended by the National Assembly.

Chronicle AM: CA Licenses First Legal Marijuana Shops, US ODs at Record High, More... (12/15/17)

California starts rolling out recreational marijuana business licenses, Maryland approves more dispensaries, Michigan starts accepting dispensary applications, the Mexican Senate approves a bill letting the military keep playing a policing role, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Issues First Recreational Marijuana Business Licenses. The state's Bureau of Cannabis Control issued 20 retail marijuana business licenses Thursday, paving the way for consumers to buy legal weed at pot shops as early as January 1. On the list were medical and recreational adult use distributors, retailers, and "microbusinesses." Among first day retail licenses were KindPeoples in Santa Cruz, 530 Cannabis in Shasta Lake, and Torrey Holistics in San Diego.

Denver Arrests 12, Shutters 26 Marijuana Stores in Criminal Investigation. Police in Denver shut down 26 Sweet Leaf marijuana stores Thursday and arrested 12 people in an ongoing criminal investigation related to allegations the shops were selling larger amounts of marijuana than allowed under state law. The shops involved all received orders to close the business, the first time the city has issued an open-ended suspension to a legal pot business. The DEA was not involved.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve a Dozen More Dispensaries. The state's Medical Cannabis Commission has given the go-ahead for another 12 dispensaries to open their doors. The state currently has 10. Another 60 dispensaries that have received preliminary licenses are still awaiting final approval. The state has more than 10,000 registered patients and existing dispensaries have had a hard time keeping up with demand.

Michigan Starts Accepting Medical Marijuana Applications. The state's Medical Marihuana Licensing Board is now accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses under the new regime approved by the legislature earlier this year. Existing dispensaries will not have to shut down while their licenses are approved, a process that could take three or four months.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise. At least 66,324 people died of drug overdoses during the 12-month period ending in May 2017, up 17 percent from the 56,488 who died between May 2015 and May 2016, according to data released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics. Fentanyl and other synthetics overtook heroin as the leading killer, accounting for some 23,000 deaths compared to heroin's 15,525 and another 14,467 deaths from prescription opioids.

International

Mexico Senate Votes to Keep the Military in Police Role. Despite soaring violence and human rights abuses, the Mexican Senate voted early Friday to approve the "internal security law" even as protestors surrounded the Senate to decry the measure, which they say will militarize the country and harden a failed strategy of using soldiers to fight drug cartels. The bill now returns to the lower house, where passage is expected to be a formality. "We are concerned that the bill gives the armed forces a leadership and coordination role in certain circumstances, rather than limiting their role to aiding and assisting civilian authorities," said a statement issued by the UN high commissioner for human rights. "[It] does this in the absence of solid control mechanisms to ensure that operations are carried out with full respect for human rights." The proposal comes as Mexico suffers its most murderous year on record -- despite having the military involved in the fight against the cartels for the past 11 years.

Looking Back: The Biggest International Drug Policy Stories of the Past 20 Years [FEATURE]

With a thousand issues of Drug War Chronicle under our belts, we look back on the biggest international drug and drug policy stories of the past 20 years. (A companion piece looks at the biggest US domestic drug policy stories.) Here's what we find:

The 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. We've made some progress since then. (Creative Commons)
1. Global Prohibitionist Consensus Starts to Crumble

In 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), with anti-prohibitionist voices in the room but metaphorically on the outside, pledged itself to eradicating drugs in 10 years. That didn't happen. Now, nearly 20 years later, it is duly chastened, and the chorus of critics is much louder, but the UN still remains a painfully slow place to try to make change in global drug policy.

Yet, despite the foot-dragging in Vienna and New York, albeit at a glacial pace. The 2016 UNGASS couldn't bring itself to actually say the words "harm reduction," but acknowledged the practice in its documents. It couldn't bring itself to resolve to be against the death penalty in drug cases, but a large and growing number of member states spoke out against it. It couldn't officially acknowledge that there is "widespread recognition from several quarters, including UN member states and entities and civil society, of the collateral harms of current drug policies, and that new approaches are both urgent and necessary," even though that's what the UN Development Program said. And the UN admitted to having dropped the ball on making opioid analgesics available in the developing world.

It certainly wasn't ready to talk about drug legalization in any serious fashion. But despite the rigidity within the global anti-drug bureaucracy, driven in part by the hardline positions of many Asian and Middle Eastern member states, the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Many European and Latin America states are ready for a new direction, and some aren't waiting for the UN's imprimatur. Bolivia has rejected the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs' provision criminalizing the coca plant, and Canada and Uruguay have both legalized marijuana with scant regard for UN treaty prohibitions. And of course there is Portugal's broad decriminalization system, encompassing all drugs.

There's a real lesson in all of this: The UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, have proven to be toothless. There is no effective mechanism for punishing most countries for violating those treaties, at least not relative to the punishing effects they suffer from prohibition. Other countries will take heed.

2. Afghanistan Remains the World's Opium Breadbasket

When the US invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, it entered into a seemingly endless war to defeat the Taliban and, along with it, the opium trade. Sixteen years and more than a trillion dollars later, it has defeated neither. Afghanistan was already the world's leading producer of opium then, and it still is.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2000, the country produced more than 3,000 tons of opium. The following year, with the Taliban imposing a ban on poppy planting in return for US aid and international approval, production dropped to near zero. But in 2002, production was back to more than 3,000 tons, and Afghan poppy farmers haven't looked back since.

In the intervening years, Afghanistan has accounted for the vast majority of global opium production, reaching 90% in 2007 before plateauing to around 70% now (as production increases in Latin America). It has consistently produced at least 3,000 tons a year, with that amount doubling in selected years.

For years, US policymakers were caught in a dilemma, and drug war imperatives were subordinated to anti-Taliban imperatives. The problem was that any attempt to go after opium threatened to push peasants into the hands of the Taliban. Now, the Trump administration is bombing Taliban heroin facilities. But it hasn't bombed any heroin facilities linked to corrupt Afghan government officials.

Holland's famous cannabis cafes were the first break with global marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
3. Movement Toward Acceptance of Recreational Marijuana

Twenty years ago, only the Netherlands had come to terms -- sort of -- with marijuana, formally keeping it illegal, but, in a prime example of the Dutch's policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), with possession and sale of small amounts allowed. (The Dutch are only now finally dealing with the "backdoor problem," the question of where cannabis cafes are supposed to get their supplies if it can't be grown legally).

The first entities to legalize marijuana were the US states of Colorado and Washington in 2012, and Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana in 2014. Canada will become the second country to do so next year. In the meantime, six more US states and the District of Columbia have also jumped on the bandwagon.

While full legalization may yet be a bridge too far for most European and Latin American countries, marijuana decriminalization has really taken hold there, with numerous countries in both regions having embraced the policy. Marijuana has now been decriminalized in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia (you can possess up to 22 grams legally), Costa Rica, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Equador, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine, among others. Oh, and Iran, too.

4. Andean Whack-A-Mole: The Fruitless Quest to Quash Cocaine

The United States, and to a much lesser degree, the European Union, have spent billions of dollars trying to suppress coca leaf cultivation and cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. It hasn't worked.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca leaf cultivation was just under 500,000 acres in 1998; this week, UNODC reported that coca leaf cultivation was at 470,000 acres last year -- and that's not counting the 75,000 acres under legal cultivation in Bolivia.

When it comes to actual cocaine production, it's pretty much the same story: Again according to the UNODC, cocaine production was at 825 tons in 1998, peaked at just over a million tons a year in 2004-2007, and is now at just under 800 tons. There have been peaks and troughs, but here we are, pretty much in the same place we started.

Military intervention didn't stop it. Military and anti-drug assistance hasn't stopped it. Alternative development programs haven't stopped it. The global cocaine market is insatiable, and nothing has been able to tear Andean peasant farmers from what is by far their best cash crop. Bolivia, at least, has largely made peace with coca -- although not cocaine -- providing a legal, regulated market for coca farmers, but in Peru and Colombia eradication and redevelopment efforts continue to spark conflict and social unrest.

5. Mexico's Brutal Drug Wars

During the 1980s and 1990s, accusations ran rampant that in a sort of pax mafiosi, the Mexican government cut deals with leading drug trafficking groups to not so much fight the drug trade as manage it. Those were the days of single party rule by the PRI, which ended with the election of Vicente Fox in 2000. With the end of single party rule, the era of relative peace in the drug business began to unravel.

As old arrangements between drug traffickers and political and law enforcement figures fell apart, so did the informal codes that governed trafficker behavior. When once a cartel capo would accept his exemplary arrest, during the Fox administration, the gangsters began shooting back at the cops -- and fighting among themselves over who would control which profitable franchise.

Things took a turn for the worse with the election of Felipe Calderon in 2006 and his effort to burnish his political credentials by sending in the army to fight the increasingly wealthy, violent, and brazen cartels. And they haven't gotten any better since. While American attention to Mexico's drug wars peaked in 2012 -- a presidential election year in both countries -- and while the US has thrown more than a billion dollars in anti-drug aid Mexico's way in the past few years, the violence, lawlessness, and corruption continues. The death toll is now estimated to be around 200,000, and there's no sign anything is going to change anytime soon.

Well, unless we take leading 2018 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) at his word. This week, AMLO suggested a potential amnesty for cartel leaders, indicating, for some, at least, a pax mafiosi is better than a huge, endless pile of corpses.

6. Latin America Breaks Away from US Drug War Hegemony

The US imports its drugs and exports its prohibition-related violence, and the region grows tired of paying the price for America's war on its favorite vices. When once Latin American leaders quietly kowtowed to drug war demands from Washington, at least some of them have been singing a different tune in recent years.

Bolivia under Evo Morales has resolutely followed its own path on legalizing coca cultivation, despite bellows from Washington, successive Mexican presidents weary of the bloodshed turn an increasingly critical eye toward US drug war imperatives, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sees what Washington-imposed prohibitionist policies have done to his county and cries out for something different, and so did Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina before he was forced out of office on corruption charges.

Latin American countries are also increasingly pursuing their own drug policies, whether it's constitutionally protected legalization of personal use amounts of drugs in Colombia, decriminalization of marijuana across the continent, or downright legalization in Uruguay, Latin American leaders are no longer taking direction from Washington -- although they generally remain happy to take US anti-drug dollars.

A North American first: Vancouver's safe injection site opened in 2003. (Creative Commons)
7.Safe Injection Sites Start Spreading

The notion of providing a place where intravenous drug users could shoot up under medical supervision and get access to referrals to public health and welfare services was derided by foes as setting up "shooting galleries" and enabling drug use, but safe injection sites have proven to be an effective intervention, linked to reduced overdoses, reduced crime, and moving drug users toward treatment.

These examples of harm reduction in practice first appeared in Switzerland in the late 1980s; with facilities popping up in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1990s; Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, and Spain in the 2000s; and, most recently, Denmark and France.

By now, there are nearly a hundred safe injection sites operating in at least 61 cities worldwide, including 30 in Holland, 16 in Germany, and eight in Switzerland. We are likely to see safe injection sites in Ireland and Scotland very soon.

It looks like they will soon be appearing in the United States, too. Officials in at least two cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are well on the way to approving them, although the posture of the federal government could prove an obstacle.

8. And Heroin Maintenance, Too

Even more forward looking as a harm reduction measure than safe injection sites, heroin maintenance (or opiate-assisted treatment) has expanded slowly, but steadily over the past two decades. The Swiss did the first trials in 1994, and now such programs are available there (after decisively winning a 2008 referendum on the issue), as well as Germany and the Netherlands.

Such programs have been found to reduce harm by helping users control their drug use, reducing overdoses, reducing drug-related disease, and promoting overall health and well-being, while also reducing social harms by reducing crime related to scoring drugs, reducing public use and drug markets, and promoting less chaotic lifestyles among participants, leading to increased social integration and better family life and employment prospects.

A Canadian pilot program, the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) produced similar results. Maybe the United States will be ready to get it a try one of these years.

9. New Drugs, New Markets

So far, this has been the century of new drugs. Known variously as "research chemicals," "designer drugs," or fake this and that, let's call them new psychoactive substances (NSPs). Whether it's synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, synthetic benzodiazepines, synthetic opioids, or something entirely novel, someone somewhere is producing it and selling it.

In its 2017 annual review, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) reported in was monitoring 620 NSPs, up from 350 in 2013, and was adding new ones at the rate of over one a week.

These drugs, often of unknown quality or potency, in some cases have wreaked havoc among drug users around the world and are a prime example of the bad things that can happen when you try to suppress some drugs: You end up with worse ones.

The communications technology revolution that began with the world wide web impacts drug policy just as it impact everything else. Beginning with the infamous Silk Road drug sales website, the dark web and the Tor browser have enabled drug sellers and consumers to hook up anonymously online, with the drugs delivered to one's doorstep by Fedex, UPS, and the like.

Silk Road has been taken down and its proprietor, Ross Ulbricht, jailed for decades in the US, but as soon as Silk Road was down, new sites popped up. They got taken down, and again, new sites popped up. Rinse and repeat.

European authorities estimate the size of the dark web drug marketplace at about $200 million a year -- a fraction of the size of the overall trade -- but warn that it is growing rapidly. And why not? It's like an Amazon for drugs.

10.Massacring Drug Suspects in Southeast Asia

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn international condemnation for the bloody war he unleashed on drug suspects upon taking office last year. Coming from a man who made his reputation for leading death squads while Mayor of Davao City, the wave of killings is shocking, but not surprising. The latest estimates are that some 12,000 people have been killed.

What's worse is that Duterte's bad example seems to be gaining some traction in the neighborhood. Human rights groups have pointed to a smaller wave of killings in Indonesia, along with various statements from Indonesian officials expressing support for Duterte-style drug executions. And most recently, a Malaysian member of parliament urged his own country to emulate Duterte's brutal crackdown.

This isn't the first time Southeast Asia has been the scene of murderous drug war brutality. Back in 2003, then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a war on drugs that saw 2,800 killed in three months.

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