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Chronicle AM: Coalition to Fight House "Drug War" Provision, Colombia Coca Crop at Record High, More... (9/20/18)

A provision in the House opioid bill that would let the attorney general set sentences for synthetic drug offenses generates opposition, Colombia's coca production was at record levels last year, the DEA has okayed the import of Canadian marijuana for research purposes, and more.

Colombia peasand farmer in his coca field. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Sheriff's Resignation After Racist Weed Comments. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is calling for the resignation of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino after a tape emerged of him making racist comments about black people around the topic of marijuana legalization. Although Saudino's remarks were made back in January just after Murphy's inauguration, a recording of them just went public on Wednesday. Here's what he said, referencing Murphy's inaugural address: "He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state…better criminal justice reform. Christ almighty, in other words, let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don’t worry about it," Saudino said. "You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops."

Medical Marijuana

DEA Gives Green Light for Canadian Company to Import Research Marijuana to US. The DEA has granted permission to Canadian marijuana producer Tilray, Inc. to export medical marijuana to California for scientific research purposes. The Food and Drug Administration also signed off on the deal. The marijuana is headed for Dr. Fatta Nahab, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of California San Diego medical school.

Drug Policy

Left-Right Coalition Builds to Block House Opioids Bill's "Drug War" Provision. As the House and Senate seek to reconcile their versions of bills to address the nation's opioid crisis, groups on the left and right are uniting behind an effort to undo an especially egregious provision in the House version of the bill. Organizations such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are joining forces with right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union to remove language that would give the attorney general the power to create a special category for synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and set penalties for those who make or sell them. That would essentially put sentencing policy for those drugs in the hands of the attorney general. "We don’t want any attorney general to have this kind of power," said Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch US Program. "But I think specifically when we have an attorney general who is so out of touch with this century’s expert thinking on these issues, there should be red flags for that."

International

UNODC Says Colombian Coca Cultivation at All-Time High. The amount of acreage devoted to coca growing in Colombia increased 17% last year to hit a new record high, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said Wednesday. Some 423,000 acres were under cultivation last year, UNODC said, the largest figure since the UN began keeping records. That will produce more than 920 metric tons of cocaine, a US government report earlier this year said. The figures come as new conservative Colombian President Ivan Duque prepares to attack the drug trade, likely including aerial fumigation of crops with glyphosate. "Our goal in the next four years is to have concrete results," he said Wednesday. "So we can at least eradicate more than 70 percent of what we have today."

Medical Marijuana Update

The Justice Department is sitting on marijuana research applications, Congress refuses again to let VA docs recommend medical marijuana to vets, a bizarre Arizona appeals court ruling gets appealed, and more.

National

Senate Bill Would Legalize Medical Marijuana For Military Veterans. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HA) last Wednesday filed the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, under which Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors could issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans in states where it is legal. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

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.

Congress Removes Military Veteran Medical Marijuana Provision from Funding Bill. A conference committee working on final details for the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill has decided not to include a provision allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. The Senate bill included the provision, but the House version did not. Two years ago, both houses passed VA spending bills that included versions of the provision, but that, too, was excised in conference committee.

Arizona

Arizona Patient Appeals Ruling That Edibles Are Illegal. Rodney Jones, who was convicted of possessing 0.05 ounces of hashish and sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison, is appealing a state Court of Appeals ruling that upheld his conviction. In that ruling, the appeals court held that hashish and edibles made from marijuana extracts are not covered by the state's medical marijuana law and their possession remains a crime. Jones spent a year behind bars awaiting trial and has since been released, but he still wants the conviction overturned and the appeals court's interpretation of the law thrown out.

Connecticut

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."

Mississippi

Mississippi 2020 Initiative Drive Gets Underway. A group called Medical Marijuana 2020 plans to start collecting signatures for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment next week, according to state Rep. Joel Bomgar, a Republican who is on the group's steering committee. The initial draft of the initiative appears very business-friendly, with no caps on the number of dispensaries or processors.

New Mexico

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.

Utah

New Utah Poll Shows Continuing Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Despite the Church of Latter Day Saints coming out against the Proposition 2medical marijuana initiative, support for the measure remains strong, a new poll finds. The poll had 64% either "somewhat" or "strongly" in support of the measure.

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

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.

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: 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.

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.

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