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Chronicle AM: OK Medical Marijuana Kerfuffle, UK Gov Won't Block Festival Pill Testing, More... (7/12/18)

Oklahoma voters approved a medical marijuana initiative last month, but now a new battle is brewing; the British government says it will not block pill testing at clubs and festivals, and more.

The battle over medical marjuana is just beginning in Oklahoma. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts US Attorney Says Enforcement of Federal Pot Laws Will Be Limited. US Attorney Andrew Lelling warned that he won't "immunize" state residents from federal law enforcement, but that he will focus on overproduction, targeted sales to minors, and organized crime. Lelling also said that fighting opioid addiction remains his highest priority.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Strict Medical Marijuana Rules. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Wednesday signed rules regulating medical marijuana that include banning the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries and requiring a pharmacist at dispensaries. "These rules are the best place to start in developing a proper regulatory framework for medical marijuana, with the highest priority given to the health and safety of Oklahomans. They are also the quickest and most cost-efficient way to get the process actually started as required by the law passed by the people. I expect modifications could occur in the future. I know some citizens are not pleased with these actions," Fallon said in a statement.

DEA Says Oklahoma Pharmacists Dispensing Marijuana Would Violate Federal Law. Although Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Wednesday signed into law regulations requiring that a pharmacist be present at medical marijuana dispensaries, the DEA's Special Agent in Charge in Oklahoma, Rich Salter, warned that the medical marijuana program as a whole violates federal law. Any pharmacist who dispensed an illegal drug would be at risk of losing his or her license, he added.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Groups Vow To Take Action In Last-Minute Regulation Changes. The Oklahoma Cannabis Trade Association and the Oklahomans for Health, the group that spearheaded the successful medical marijuana initiative, held a news conference Wednesday to decry regulations imposed by the state Board of Health and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R). "Those are not reasonable," said medical marijuana advocate Nora Sapp. "We the people spoke on July 26th. We didn't ask permission. We told them what we are going to do." The two groups said they would fight the regulations.

International

British Government Says It Won't Block Pill Testing at Festivals. The British government has said it "would not stand in the way" of pill testing at music festivals and clubs. Policing minister Nick Hurd said that the Home Office would defer to the judgment of local officials in allowing festivals and live music venues to allow illicit drugs to be evaluated for safety. "The fact that chief constables in Avon, Cumbria, Somerset, and Hampshire have stepped forward and said… we do want to cooperate with this, sends a strong signal."

Chronicle AM: Oklahoma Legalization Init, New DEA Opioid Regs, Sri Lanka to Hang Drug Dealers, More... (7/11/18)

An Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative is in the midst of signature gathering, the DEA announces new regulations aimed at the opioid crisis, Sri Lanka cites the Philippines' "success" as it moves to resume hanging drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Has a Month Left to Meet Signature Requirement. A marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 797, has until August 8 to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Organizers need 123,724 valid voter signatures to qualify, and have gathered more than 80,000 in two months of canvassing. To have a safe cushion, organizers need to roughly double their signature count in the remaining weeks.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Issues Cultivator Licenses. The state Medical Marijuana Commission has awarded cultivation licenses to five medical marijuana businesses. The move comes after an injunction blocking the move was lifted. Another 90 potential medical marijuana businesses were out of luck, but the commission will keep their applications on hand in case one of the five awarded licenses is revoked or if the commission decides to award the three additional licenses it could issue.

Oklahoma Approves Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana, Bans Sale of Smokable Medicine. The state Board of Health on Tuesday approved a proposed draft of emergency rules for the state's new medical marijuana program, but also voted to prohibit the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries. Licensed medical marijuana patients could still smoke it if they grew their own.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Department of Justice Announces Regulatory Steps to Address Opioid Epidemic. The Department of Justice announced new guidelines that it says will enable the DEA to clamp down on diversion of prescription opioids. The announcement doesn't address whether patients who need the drugs for pain will still be able to get them:

 

"The Department of Justice today announced the finalization of an April proposal to improve the Drug Enforcement Administration's ability to control the diversion of dangerous drugs in the midst of the national opioid crisis. Announced in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the final rule sent for publication today in the Federal Register establishes that DEA will take into consideration the extent that a drug is diverted for abuse when it sets its annual opioid production limits," the DEA said in a press release Tuesday. "If DEA believes that that a particular opioid or a particular company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, this allows DEA to reduce the amount that can be produced in a given year. These revised limits will encourage vigilance on the part of opioid manufacturers, help DEA respond to the changing drug threat environment, and protect the American people from potentially addictive drugs while ensuring that the country has enough opioids for genuine medical, scientific, research and industrial needs."

 

International

Philippines Wants to Drug Test All High School, College Students. In what is actually a retreat from an earlier proposal to require mandatory drug testing for students as young as elementary school, the Philippines DEA is now proposing the mandatory drug testing of all high school and college students. But the move would require a change of law. Current Philippines law only allows for random -- not universal -- drug testing of students.

Sri Lanka to Begin Hanging Drug Dealers. President Maithripala Sirisena told his cabinet Wednesday he was "ready to sign the death warrants" of repeat drug offenders. "From now on, we will hang drug offenders without commuting their death sentences," he said. While the death penalty for drugs remains on the books in Sri Lanka, no one has been executed for a drug offense since 1976. The government said it would try to replicate the "success" of hardline drug policies in the Philippines.

Chronicle AM: Vermont Marijuana Legalization in Effect, Acting DEA Head Named, More... (7/2/18)

Vermont becomes the 9th legal marijuana state, the DEA gets a new acting administrator, Mexico elects a new president who has new ideas for ending drug war violence, and much, much more.

You can now legally grow your own marijuana in Vermont. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Issues First Pot Shop License. The state's Cannabis Control Commission on Monday approved its first license for a retail marijuana outlet. The commission approved a license for Cultivate Holdings to open a retail shop. The shop already exists but has operated as a medical marijuana dispensary up until now.

North Dakota Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November. A little-noticed legalization initiative now looks like it may qualify for the November ballot. Organizers with Legalize ND say they have 16,000 raw signatures and are aiming at 20,000 before they turn them in next week. The initiative needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Northern Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Advances. The island US territory's House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations has recommended passage of a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 20-62. Now, the measure awaits a go-ahead from Speaker Ralph Demapan (R) for it to head for a House floor vote.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Is Now in Effect. As of Monday, it is legal to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana. People 21 and over can possess up to an ounce and two mature and four immature plants. But commercial sales have not been legalized.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Says No Special Session for Medical Marijuana. Despite saying before the June 26 election that the successful medical marijuana initiative would require a legislative special session to be implemented, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said last Friday that she and House and Senate leaders have decided that a special session isn't necessary. Instead, the Health Department will be charged with promulgating emergency rules.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Foes Seek Emergency Restraining Order to Block it from Ballot. The Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah, which includes the Utah Medical Association, the Eagle Forum, the Utah Police Chiefs Association and other law enforcement groups, last Friday asked US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups to issue an emergency injunction. They argued marijuana remains illegal under federal and state law. But the state attorney general's office opposes the injunction. "There is no emergency," argued Assistant Utah Attorney General David Wolf. "The election is months away, and the voters may reject the Initiative and moot the constitutional issues that, in Plaintiffs' view, justify an emergency (preliminary) injunction."

Drug Policy

Acting DEA Head Named. The White House has named Uttam Dhillon as acting DEA administrator. Dhillon is a former career federal prosecutor who has also served in the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Trump White House.

International

South Australia to Crack Down on Marijuana. Resolutely moving firmly backward, South Australia's Liberal government is moving to crack down on marijuana users as part of a larger drug war offensive. Under a proposal from Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, fines could increase from $500 to $2,000, and users could face up to two years in jail. Another member of the Liberal government, Health Minister Greg Hunt, even resurrected the hoary old "gateway drug" canard. "Marijuana is a gateway drug. The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented," Hunt said.

Indonesia Taking Softer Line on Drugs?. The National Narcotics Agency and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced last week that the country would now push for drug users to be rehabilitated rather than imprisoned. UNODC country manager Collie F. Brown said both institutions agreed that the best way to stop the spreading of drugs is through rehabilitation of drug addicts, rather than sending them to prison. [Ed: Does that mean they're going to stop killing people?]

Luxembourg Approves Medical Marijuana. A bill legalizing medical marijuana passed the parliament on June 28. The bill specifies qualifying conditions including chronic pain, chemotherapy-related nausea and muscle spasm as a result of multiple sclerosis. The marijuana will be imported from Canada and will only be available by prescription from pharmacies located within one of four hospitals in the 98-square mile country.

Mexico Elects President Who Will Likely Try New Approaches to Drug War. Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) was overwhelmingly elected president of Mexico on Sunday. During the campaign, AMLO suggested a willingness to negotiate peace and even offer amnesty to some people in the drug trade. On Sunday night, he talked in the same terms. "The failed strategy of combating insecurity and violence will change," Lopez Obrador said. "More than through the use of force, we will tend to the causes that give rise to insecurity and violence," the president-elect added. He said his team will immediately begin consulting with human rights groups, religious leaders and the United Nations to develop a "plan for reconciliation and peace."

Chronicle AM: Acting DEA Chief Stepping Down, NYC to Change Marijuana Arrest Policy, More... (6/19/18)

A second acting DEA administrator is set to resign, New York City Mayor de Blasio has a plan to reduce Big Apple marijuana arrests, the Canadian legalization bill heads for the goal line, and more.

NYC Mayor de Blasio announces plan to reduce marijuana arrests, but activists say it's not enough. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York City Mayor Announces New Policy to Reduce Marijuana Arrests. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that the NYPD will not arrest many people caught smoking pot under a new policy set to begin September 1. But people on probation or parole or who have open arrest warrants would still be arrested. Around 17,500 people are arrested for marijuana possession each year; de Blasio said the policy shift would turn about 10,000 of those arrests into citations instead.

Advocates Slam Mayor de Blasio's New Marijuana Arrest Plan. The Drug Policy Alliance and VOCAL-NY said the mayor's announced move doesn't go far enough and does not address the racial disparities in arrests that prompted the policy shift in the first place. "It's frustrating that as the New York State Health Department moves toward legalization, the City is continuing its shameful history of racist marijuana enforcement. It is also confusing because the new policy does not appear to address racial disparities at all, which was the issue that supposedly prompted this in-house review," said Civil Rights Campaign Director Nick Encalada-Malinowski and Drug Policy Alliance New York Director Kassandra Frederique. "The exceptions that the Mayor has laid out -- arrests for people on parole or probation, people with criminal records, people with warrants or lacking ID, or for 'officer discretion' -- will compound existing collateral consequences and all but guarantee the status quo of racial disparity continues."

Medical Marijuana

Florida Smokable Marijuana Ban is On Again. The on again-off again ban on state medical marijuana patients using smokable forms of marijuana is on again. A state appeals court has ruled that the state's ban will remain in effect "pending final disposition of the merits of (a recent) appeal." A circuit court judge had invalidated the ban, but the state Health Department appealed that decision, and now the ban is on until the case is decided.

Drug Policy

Acting DEA Head to Step Down. Acting DEA administrator Robert Patterson told staff at the agency Monday he is retiring. Patterson said in an email to staff that he "realized that the administrator of the DEA needs to decide and address priorities for years into the future -- something which has become increasingly challenging in an acting capacity." Patterson is a 30-year veteran of the agency who replaced the previous acting administrator, Chuck Rosenberg. Rosenberg resigned over policy differences with the Trump administration.

International

Canada House of Commons Votes to Legalize Marijuana, Sends Bill Back to Senate. The House of Commons voted 205-82 Monday to approve some Senate amendments to the C-45 legalization bill, sending the bill back to the Senate for continued debate and a final vote. The Commons rejected the Senate's proposed ban on marijuana companies selling branded merchandise and allowing provinces to ban home cultivation.

Making Matters Worse: DEA's Move to Restrict Opioid Prescriptions Pushed Users to the Dark Web

By the end of 2013, the country's quiet opioid addiction crisis was no longer so quiet. Opioid overdose deaths that year topped 16,000, more than four times the same statistic for 1999. That prompted a number of measures at the state and federal level to rein in opioid prescriptions, including a move by the DEA in October 2014 to tighten its policies around some of the most commonly prescribed opioids.

Dark Web fentanyl sales rose after the DEA restricted some prescription opioids. (Creative Commons)
The new DEA policy -- aimed at popular opioids such as Vicodin and Lortab -- imposed restrictions on doctors' prescribing and made it more difficult for patients to get refills. In one sense, the policy was a success: Prescriptions for those drugs decreased almost immediately. But new research adds to an increasing body of evidence that restricting opioid prescribing has not solved the opioid crisis but instead worsened it.

Since the DEA policy shift, opioid overdose deaths continued to grow with more than 40,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016. And while prescription opioid overdose deaths have slightly decreased -- there were about 14,000 that year -- overdose deaths from heroin and non-prescription synthetic opioids such as fentanyl went through the roof. Heroin and illicit synthetics accounted for nearly two-thirds of all opioid overdose deaths in 2016.

In the new study, published this week in the British Medical Journal, researchers examining the impact of the DEA policy shift found evidence that while the change indeed lowered prescribing rates for the opioids in question, it was also linked to an increase in illicit online sales of those drugs in Dark Web drug markets.

The researchers used software called DATACRYPTO to crawl encrypted Dark Web marketplaces where people can anonymously buy damned near anything, from drugs to guns to credit card numbers. DATACRYPTO harvested data on which drugs were for sale, their country of origin, and the number of customer comments on each seller's comments page. Researchers used that last figure as a proxy for how much of a drug that seller sold. They examined sales of prescription opioids, sedatives, stimulants, and steroids, as well as heroin. It was only with prescription opioids that they found a significant Dark Web sales bump.

Here's what they found: "The sale of prescription opioids through US cryptomarkets increased after the schedule change, with no statistically significant changes in sales of prescription sedatives, prescription steroids, prescription stimulants, or illicit opioids."

According to their data, prescription opioids doubled their market share of U.S. Dark Web drug sales thanks to the DEA policy change. By July 2016, opioids represented 13.7% of all drug sales in U.S. cryptomarkets, compared with a modeled estimate of 6.7% of all sales.

While the researchers were careful to not make claims of causation -- only correlation -- their conclusion speaks for itself: "The scheduling change in hydrocodone combination products coincided with a statistically significant, sustained increase in illicit trading of opioids through online US cryptomarkets. These changes were not observed for other drug groups or in other countries. A subsequent move was observed towards the purchase of more potent forms of prescription opioids, particularly oxycodone and fentanyl."

Not only is the DEA policy change linked to increased Dark Web opioid sales, it is also linked to a move toward more powerful, and thus more dangerous, opioids. The researchers noted that while fentanyl was the least purchased Dark Web opioid in the summer of 2014, it was the second most frequently purchased by the summer of 2016. Fentanyl killed as many people as prescription opioids that year.

This study -- one of the few that examines supply reduction (as opposed to demand reduction) as a means reducing drug use -- strongly suggests that supply-side interventions carry unintended consequences, especially the resort to more dangerous and more powerful substitutes. The study's authors refer to this effect as "the iron law of prohibition, whereby interventions to reduce supply, such as increased enforcement and changes to drug scheduling, lead to illicit markets dominated by higher potency products."

Perhaps better than restricting opioid prescriptions, which has deleterious impacts on the tens of millions of Americans suffering chronic pain, or other supply-side interventions, would be increased access to addiction treatment, as well as greatly expanded harm reduction measures to try to get people off opioids and keep them alive in the meantime.

Chronicle AM: MO MMJ Inits Hand in Beaucoup Signatures, OH Racial Profiling Drug Dogs, More... (5/7/18)

Two separate Missouri medical marijuana initiatives appear set to qualify for the November ballot, the Utah medical marijuana initiative is generating organized opposition -- including the DEA -- Canada's prime minister says it's full steam ahead for marijuana legalization, and more.

Black drivers in Ohio are more likely to get drug dogs sicced on them than white ones, official data shows. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Missouri Initiative Campaigns Hand in Many Signatures. New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure, the folks behind a pair of medical marijuana initiatives (they differ only on how regulations would work and where tax dollars would go), announced last Friday that they had handed in roughly double the number of signatures they need to come up with 160,000 valid voter signatures. Find the Cure said it had handed in more than 300,000 signatures, while New Approach Missouri said it had handed in more than 370,000. Although initiative petitions occasionally see half of their signatures get disqualified, it's far more typical for them to lose a third. If both initiatives make the ballot, the one with the most votes on election day wins.

Michigan Regulators Recommend Approving 10 New Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marihuana Review Panel has recommended the approval of 10 new conditions that could qualify people to use medical marijuana. That's out of a list of 22 conditions people had asked the panel to review. The conditions include obsessive compulsive disorder, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, Parkinson's, Tourettes, spinal cord injury, autism, and chronic pain. The recommendations now go to Shelly Edgerton, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, who has until July 10 to make a final decision.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Organized Opposition, Including the DEA. Organized opposition to the Utah Patients Coalition's medical marijuana initiative has emerged, and it includes a local DEA task force, raising questions about a federal agency interfering in a state-level ballot question. Drug Safe Utah is recruiting paid canvassers to try to get voters who signed initiative campaigns to retract their signatures. Its members include the Utah Medical Association and the DEA's Salt Lake City Metro Narcotics Task Force.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Three Democratic Senators Urge FDA to Pull High-Dose Opioids from Market. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Ed Markey (D-MA) are urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove ultra-high dose opioids from the market because of concerns about "accidental ingestion, borrowed medication, and recreational use." The senators said patients who need high dose opioids could just take more pills, patches, or other formulations. "We believe these ultra-high dose opioids can be removed from the market without imposing hardship on those with legitimate pain needs," the senators wrote. But the Academy of Integrative Pain Management disagreed, saying the pulling the high dose opioids would "in some situations, create a greater danger because patients would be required to have several times more pills available to meet their needs. The burden of this would fall on the sickest patients, including those with cancer and/or receiving palliative/hospice/end-of-life care, whose quality of life would be diminished."

Racial Profiling

Ohio Highway Patrol More Likely to Use Drug Dogs on Black Drivers. The Associated Press has examined records on highway stops that show the state Highway Patrol uses drug-sniffing dogs on black drivers at a disproportionate rate. Blacks account for about 13% of the state population and 14% of drivers stopped by troopers, but 28% of stops where drug dogs were used. The AP made the records request after a federal appeals court criticized the arrest of a black driver on the Ohio Turnpike in 2014 and threw out the evidence used to convict him.

International

Canadian PM Says Marijuana Legalization Plan Will Proceed Without Delay. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last Thursday that his plan to legalize marijuana this summer will proceed without delay, despite misgivings being voiced in the Senate. "We're going to continue to move forward. We're going to bring in legalization as we've committed to this summer on schedule," Trudeau said.

Nigeria Bans Codeine. Responding to the rising recreational use of codeine-based cough syrups, the Nigerian federal government last week banned further imports of codeine into the country. The move comes as the country attempts to rewrite its drug and mental health policies.

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: DOJ to Clamp Down on Pain Pills, Sanders Files Opioid Bill, More... (4/18/18)

Maine lawmakers pass another legal marijuana implementation bill, this time with veto-proof majorities; the Justice Department eyes a crackdown on pain pill production, Bernie Sanders takes aim at opioid makers and distributors, and more.

The Justice Department wants to crack down on pail pill production. And Congress is eyeing action, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill, Governor Vows Veto. The state Senate on Tuesday approved the bill that would finally allow retail marijuana sales. The bill passed the House earlier and now goes to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage, who has threatened to veto it because it doesn't combine the state's adult use marijuana and medical marijuana regimes. LePage vetoed a similar bill last year. But this time around, the bill passed with enough support to overcome a veto. LePage has 10 days to sign, veto, or let the bill become law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to Let VA Study Medical Marijuana Filed. A group of House Democrats and Republicans have filed HR 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The bill would clarify that the Veterans Administration has the authority to study medical marijuana and encourages the agency to do so. The bill would require the VA to report regularly to Congress about its progress on medical marijuana research. The bill is being championed by leaders in the House Veterans Affairs Committee and has 34 cosponsors.

Massachusetts High Court Urges Lawmakers to Clarify Law on Home Cultivation. In an opinion in a case of a medical marijuana patient arrested for growing 22 pot plants, the state's Supreme Judicial Court has urged lawmakers to revisit the law around home grows by patients. The law allows patients to grow enough marijuana to create a 60-day supply, defined in the state as 10 ounces. But the justices found the current law problematic and suggested a plant-based limit would be clearer. "Statutory and regulatory clarification would be most beneficial," wrote Justice Scott Kafker in the opinion in the case, Commonwealth vs. Richardson.

Hemp

Oklahoma Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Senate on Tuesday approved House Bill 2913, which would legalize industrial hemp production. The measure has already passed the House, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Proposes New Regulations to Limit Prescription Opioid Production. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday proposed new regulations for how the DEA sets opioid production quotas that could severely limit the amount of pain pills produced. "Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make," Sessions said in prepared remarks. The proposed change must still go through the federal rule-making process before going into effect. It will be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment in coming days.

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to Rein in Big Pharma on Opioids. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday filed Senate Bill 2961, which would ban drug companies from marketing opioids as non-addictive and fines them 25% of their profits if they violate the rule. The bill also seeks to stop pharmaceutical companies from distributing amounts of opioids "not medically reasonable," in a bid to stop distributors from flooding small towns with pills. "We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured," Sanders said in a statement. "They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients," he said. "Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year."

Harm Reduction

Maine Bill to End Age Restrictions on Naloxone Heads to Governor's Desk. Both houses of the legislature have approved Legislative Document 1892, which ends age restrictions on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Gov. Paul LePage (R) wants to limit naloxone access without a prescription to people 21 and over and has vetoed other naloxone access bills, but this bill has passed with a veto-proof majority. LePage has 10 days to act.

International

The Bangladeshi Department of Narcotics Control has proposed new drug legislation for the country which includes the use of the death penalty for people caught selling more than 200 grams of methamphetamine. Under current law, the maximum punishment is 15 years in prison. Bangladeshi law already allows the death penalty for some other drug offenses, including heroin trafficking, but its use is actually very rare in the country. The last execution for a drug offense was in 2009.

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: 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."

Drug War Issues

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