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Chronicle AM: MedMJ Researchers Stalled, MS Court Rejects Fatal Overdose Conviction, More... (9/10/18)

It's just about all medical marijuana news today, except for a Mississippi appeals court throwing out a drug-induced homicide-style conviction.

The DOJ is stalling medical marijuana research, and Congress is set to act on the issue, but perhaps too restrictively. (DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Research Applications Go Nowhere at Justice Department. The DEA began accepting applications from researchers seeking to grow marijuana two years ago, but as of this week, none of the applications have been responded to. Some two dozen applications have been left in limbo by the Justice Department, the DEA's parent agency, during the tenure of anti-marijuana Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Marijuana Research Bill Scheduled For Congressional Vote This Week. The House Judiciary Committee will vote Thursday on HR 5634, Rep. Matt Gaetz's Medical Cannabis Research Act. Gaetz says the bill will expand the amount of research-grade marijuana available to researchers, but drug reformers are calling foul over some provisions, including one that bars people with a felony or drug-related misdemeanor conviction from any affiliation with research cultivation operations and another that requires cultivators to get a letter of good standing from a local law enforcement agency. They argued that those provisions should be removed, but Gaetz doesn't look likely to do that.

Connecticut Federal Court Holds That Refusing To Hire Medical Marijuana User Constitutes Employment Discrimination. A federal court in Hartford held last Wednesday that refusing to hire a medical marijuana user who tested positive on a pre-employment drug test violates the state's medical marijuana law. Under the state's law, "[n]o employer may refuse to hire a person or may discharge, penalize or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person's or employee's status as a qualifying patient."

New Mexico Health Secretary Rejects Medical Marijuana for Opioid Addiction. Department of Public Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher has rejected the idea of treating opioid addiction with medical marijuana, saying there isn't enough research to justify using it for addiction treatment. Her decision overrides the state's Cannabis Advisory Board, which recommended 5-1 that it be approved.

Sentencing Policy

Mississippi Appeals Court Throws Out Dealer's Murder Conviction in Overdose Death. The state Court of Appeals has overturned the murder conviction of a man who had been convicted of the crime after a friend died from taking a new psychoactive substance provided by the man. "The evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to support a conviction for either depraved-heart murder or the lesser-included offense of culpable negligence manslaughter," Judge Jack Wilson wrote for an 8-2 majority of the court. The court found that even though the man had provided two doses of the drug to his friend, that wasn't enough to support the murder charges because there was no evidence the man believed the drug would put his friend at risk. The case could spark efforts in the legislature to pass a drug-induced homicide law.

Medical Marijuana Update

A group of federal lawmakers asks the VA to study medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, Michigan could loosen up a bit, Ohio sees delays, and more.

National

Lawmakers Ask VA Secretary to Research Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids. A bipartisan group of legislators sent a letter last Thursday to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie asking him to begin a "rigorous clinical trial" of medical marijuana for PTSD and chronic pain. "We believe VA has the authority, ability, and capacity to carry out such a study," they wrote. "Many of our nation's veterans already use medicinal cannabis, and they deserve to have full knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of this alternative therapy." Signatories to the letter were Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN)., Sen. Dan Sullivan, (R-AK), along with Democrats Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota.

Connecticut

Connecticut Regulators Add New Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has released updated medical marijuana regulations that add new qualifying conditions for adults and children. The conditions include spasticity or pain associated with fibromyalgia, severe rheumatoid arthritis, post-herpetic neuralgia, hydrocephalus with intractable headache, neuropathic facial pain, and muscular dystrophy.

Michigan

Michigan Regulators Propose Allowing Online Orders, Home Delivery. The state's Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation has proposed a rule to allow online orders and home delivery. The rule is aimed at helping people who don't live near a marijuana supplier. A public hearing is set for next month.

Ohio

Ohio Regulators Say State Will Not Meet Saturday Deadline for Medical Marijuana. Officials with the State Medical Board, Board of Pharmacy, and Board of Commerce say they will not be able to meet a Saturday deadline for getting the state's medical marijuana program up and running. Some licenses have been issued, but no growers yet have crops ready to go to market.

Utah

Utah Initiative Campaign Files Election Complaint Over Opposition Radio Ad. The Utah Patients Coalition Tuesday filed a complaint with the lieutenant governor's office about an ad from Drug Safe Utah that declares "Prop 2 is actually about recreational use and not medical." "DSU has published a false statement in relation to Prop 2, a ballot measure, that will affect how people vote in the November election. We therefore request the Elections Division to order DSU to immediately cease and desist all such claims regarding Prop 2 being an attempt to legalize 'recreational use,'" the complaint reads. Drug Safe Utah said it stood by its ad.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Malaysia Death Sentence for Cannabis Oil, OH MedMJ Delays, More... (9/5/18)

A Malaysian court has sentenced a man to death for providing cannabis oil to patients, a group of lawmakers asks the VA to study medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, and more.

Ohio medical marijuana patients will have to wait a little longer.
Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers Ask VA Secretary to Research Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids. A bipartisan group of legislators sent a letter last Thursday to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie asking him to begin a "rigorous clinical trial" of medical marijuana for PTSD and chronic pain. "We believe VA has the authority, ability, and capacity to carry out such a study," they wrote. "Many of our nation's veterans already use medicinal cannabis, and they deserve to have full knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of this alternative therapy." Signatories to the letter were Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), Sen. Dan Sullivan, (R-AK), along with Democrats Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota.

Ohio Regulators Say State Will Not Meet Saturday Deadline for Medical Marijuana. Officials with the State Medical Board, Board of Pharmacy, and Board of Commerce say they will not be able to meet a Saturday deadline for getting the state's medical marijuana program up and running. Some licenses have been issued, but no growers yet have crops ready to go to market.

Utah Initiative Campaign Files Election Complaint Over Opposition Radio Ad. The Utah Patients Coalition Tuesday filed a complaint with the lieutenant governor's office about an ad from Drug Safe Utah that declares "Prop 2 is actually about recreational use and not medical." "DSU has published a false statement in relation to Prop 2, a ballot measure, that will affect how people vote in the November election. We therefore request the Elections Division to order DSU to immediately cease and desist all such claims regarding Prop 2 being an attempt to legalize 'recreational use,'" the complaint reads. Drug Safe Utah said it stood by its ad.

International

Death Sentence for Malaysia Man Who Gave Patients Free Cannabis Oil. A Malaysian court has sentenced a man to death for processing cannabis oil and distributing it to patients. Muhammed Lukman was sentenced on August 30 after being convicted of possessing, processing, and distributing cannabis oil. There is no allegation that Lukman profited from his activities, but he was still found guilty of violating a provision of the country's Dangerous Drug Act that mandates the death penalty. Malaysia is one of at least 33 countries that resort to the death penalty for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Colombia Moves Backwards on Drug Policy, NYPD Pot Arrests Now Halted, More... (9/4/18)

Colombia's new president moves resolutely backward on drug policy, New York City's era of mass marijuana possession arrests is over, the California legislature has been busy, and more.

The era of New York City as the world's marijuana arrest capital has come to an end. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Lawmakers Pass Bill that Will Support Local Cannabis Equity Programs to Increase Representation in the Industry by Persons from Communities Most Harmed by Cannabis Prohibition. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 1294, which helps create equity in the cannabis industry through the distribution of grants to localities offering assistance to persons most harmed by cannabis prohibition and generational poverty. SB 1294 will offer grants to localities with existing equity programs -- such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco -- to support them as they offer equity-qualifying applicants and licensees business loans and grants, regulatory compliance and technical assistance, and licensing fee waivers. SB 1294 reflects a nationwide movement to ensure that this growing industry is representative and accessible to all persons, no matter their financial or criminal history background. Advocates, entrepreneurs, and local governments now call on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign this important measure.

Delaware Governor Signs Marijuana Expungement Bill Into Law. Gov. John Carney (D) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 197, which "provides mandatory expungement eligibility to individuals who were convicted of the possession [of one ounce or less], use or consumption of marijuana prior to Delaware's decriminalization of these offenses." The provision only applies to people who have no other criminal convictions on their records.

New York City Change in Marijuana Arrest Policy Now in Effect. As of Saturday, the NYPD is no longer arresting people for small-time marijuana use or possession in most cases. The city arrested more than 10,000 people on such charges last year. Officials said the change came because the arrests had nothing to do with public safety and were racially disproportionate. "Our new policy, we're going to see a humongous drop in people in communities of color being arrested for marijuana," NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison said. "And that was one of the whole goals of this whole new policy."

New Psychoactive Substances

DEA Makes Synthetic Cathinone Schedule I Substance. The DEA last Friday announced it was placing the synthetic cathinone N-Ethylpentylone into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This is a temporary scheduling action good for up to 24 months, during which time research will be conducted to see if the drug should be permanently scheduled. DEA said the drug was linked to 151 deaths in the US since 2015.

Sentencing Policy

California Lawmakers Pass Bill Giving Judges the Power to Set Aside Ineffective and Punitive Five-year Sentence Enhancement. The legislature last Friday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1393, which would restore judicial discretion to the application of a five-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony on a person's criminal record. Current law requires judges to add an additional five-years to cases, even when the judge believes that the punishment is unjust and unwarranted. If signed into law, judges would have maximum flexibility during the penalty phase of a trail to impose, or not impose, the additional five-years. A coalition of people who are directly impacted, their families, service providers, and advocates now call on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign this important measure.

International

Colombian President Moves to Recriminalize Drug Possession. President Ivan Duque announced on Sunday measures to give police the power to seize personal use quantities of drugs that had previously been legalized. "This week will sign the decree through which, in development of the police code 02 of the 2009 legislative act, we will give the authorities tools to confiscate any dose of drugs or hallucinogens in the streets of Colombia, and thus face the root of micro-trafficking problems," said Duque. The measures would appear to contradict rulings by the country's Constitutional Court, which in 2012 approved the decriminalization of small amounts of cocaine and marijuana for personal use.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

Sentencing

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

Chronicle AM: CA Ends Cash Bail But It May Be Worse, Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Passes, More.... (8/30/18)

California ends cash bail for criminal defendants -- but cash bail opponents don't think it was worth it -- the Northern Marianas Islands legislature passes a marijuana legalization bill, Oregon activists look forward to cannabis cafes, and more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs landmark legislation essentially ending cash bail for prisoners awaiting trial. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Announces Series of "Listening Sessions" on Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has announced that state officials will hold a series of "listening sessions" about marijuana legalization beginning next week. "Community input is critical as we work to draft balanced and comprehensive legislation on a regulated marijuana program in New York," Cuomo said in a press release. "The multi-agency report identified the benefits of a regulated marijuana market, and with these listening sessions, we are taking another important step to develop a model program for New York. We look forward to hearing what New Yorkers in every corner of the state have to say." The announcement comes a day after the Assembly announced it would hold a series of public hearings on the issue this fall.

Northern Marianas Legislature Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Northern Marianas' Commonwealth Legislature has approved a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult and medical use. H.B. 20-178 will now be sent to Gov. Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres for his consideration. The House approved the bill 18-1-1 on August 8 and the Senate approved it 6-0-2 on Thursday. The bill allows adults to possess up to an ounce of weed and register to grow up to six mature and 12 immature plants at home. It also directs the legislature to set taxes and fees on regulated marijuana businesses.

Oregon Activists Want Cannabis Cafes, Could Go Initiative Route if Legislature Doesn't Act. The marijuana advocacy group the New Revenue Coalition says it will push lawmakers next year to legalize the existence of cafes and lounges dedicated to onsite marijuana consumption. The group also plans to begin gathering signatures for a 2020 initiative as a back-up plan." Cannabis consumers deserve a place to use their cannabis safely and legally. This is a social justice issue that disproportionately affects the poor, patients and communities of color," said Madeline Martinez, a national board member for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and executive director of Oregon NORML.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Regulators Add New Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has released updated medical marijuana regulations that add new qualifying conditions for adults and children. The conditions include spasticity or pain associated with fibromyalgia, severe rheumatoid arthritis, post-herpetic neuralgia, hydrocephalus with intractable headache, neuropathic facial pain, and muscular dystrophy.

Michigan Regulators Propose Allowing Online Orders, Home Delivery. The state's Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation have proposed a rule to allow online orders and home delivery. The rule is aimed at helping people who don't live near a marijuana supplier. A public hearing is set for next month.

Criminal Justice

California Governor Signs Bill to End Cash Bail. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Tuesday signed into law a bill that almost entirely ends the state's cash bail system. Instead, judges will have greater power to decide who should remain behind bars awaiting trial. Senate Bill 10 would virtually eliminate cash bail. "Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly," Brown said in a statement. Human Rights Watch was among the criminal justice reform groups who don't see it that way. In mid-August they pulled support for the bill, saying it would substitute one bad system for another.

Medical Marijuana Update

Oregon drastically reduces the daily purchase limit for patients, Oklahoma continues to try to get its nascent system up and running, and more.

Illinois

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill to allow patients to use medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids. "Opioid abuse disorder is taking the lives of Illinoisans, thousands of lives. Opioid abuse disorder is disrupting and destroying families across our state and across the country," Rauner said at the bill signing at the Chicago Recovery Alliance. "We've got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic, and today, I'm proud to sign a bill that helps us stop this epidemic. Medical cannabis creates an opportunity to treat pain in a less intrusive, less obstructive way than opioids."

Oklahoma Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations Now Open for Public Comment. State officials are now asking the public for its input on the regulation and implementation of medical marijuana in the state. "Lawmakers in the legislative working group are seeking a path forward to implement State Question 788 in a way that conforms to the desires of voters who passed the law," said Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka). "To do that effectively, the working group needs as much input as possible from citizens -- supporters, advocates, patients, health-care providers, public safety and law enforcement officers and even those who have concerns. I would encourage all Oklahomans who have an interest in this issue to use this opportunity to share input and have their voices heard." Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Messages will then be shared with members of the working group.

Oregon

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

Utah

Mormon Church Sends Out Letter Opposed Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Latter Day Saints has mailed a letter to church members urging a "no" vote on the state's November medical marijuana initiative. The letter claims the measure would create "a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: White House's Anti-Pot Committee, IL Gov OKs MedMJ for Opioids, More... (8/29/18)

The Trump administration has a secret committee to trash pot, Canada okays a roadside drug testing device for motorists, Illinois becomes the latest state to allow medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Trump Administration Has Secret Committee to Trash Pot. The White House has created a multi-agency committee to combat rising public support for marijuana legalization and make legalization initiatives look bad, according to a report today in Buzzfeed News. The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee has instructed federal agencies including the DEA to come up with and submit "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" about marijuana and the "threat" in poses to the country. Reports from the committee will be used to brief Trump "on marijuana threats." The committee is being coordinated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

New Jersey Attorney General Issues Guidance on Marijuana-Related Prosecutions. The Office of the Attorney General issued guidance to municipal prosecutors regarding prosecution of marijuana-related cases. This guidance comes after Attorney General Gurbir Grewal convened a working group on marijuana prosecutions earlier this summer. The guidance reaffirms that local prosecutors cannot decriminalize marijuana possession, but they can use their discretion on a case-by-case basis "based on the particular facts and applicable law, and consistent with their ethical obligations to the state, the defendants, and the courts." The guidance merely highlights the need for the state to actually pass marijuana legalization, advocates said.

New York Assembly to Hold Public Hearings on Marijuana Legalization. The Assembly will hold four public hearings this fall on whether and how to legalize marijuana. These hearings will follow a well-attended hearing in the Assembly on the topic earlier this year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has recently embraced legalization, and a legalization bill is before the Assembly.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill to allow patients to use medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids. "Opioid abuse disorder is taking the lives of Illinoisans, thousands of lives. Opioid abuse disorder is disrupting and destroying families across our state and across the country," Rauner said at the bill signing at the Chicago Recovery Alliance. "We've got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic, and today, I'm proud to sign a bill that helps us stop this epidemic. Medical cannabis creates an opportunity to treat pain in a less intrusive, less obstructive way than opioids."

International

Canada Approves First Roadside Drug Test Device for Marijuana. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has approved a device designed to detect whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana. The device is the Drager Drug Test 5000, which allows police to check drivers' saliva for the presence of THC, as well as amphetamines, opioids, cocaine, and methadone. The device has plenty of critics, who say it is prone to false positives and false negatives. Officials will also have to determine what level of THC indicates impairment and whether the results will hold up in court.

Study: Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths "Bad Criminal Justice Policy" [FEATURE]

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history -- more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose -- or sometimes just the people who shared it -- with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Drug-induced homicide charges are a regression to the lock 'em up policies of last century's drug war. (ussc.gov)
Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, "America's Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis" concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective -- it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in US history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking -- yet completely unsurprising -- finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount -- or totally disregard -- legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into US jurisprudence, however."

"Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Sentencing

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

Drug War Issues

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