Fentanyl

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Chronicle AM: NY State Report Calls for Marijuana Legalization, DOJ Fentanyl Crackdown, More... (7/13/18)

Wine and liquor wholesalers endorse legalizing marijuana "like alcohol," a New York state report calls for marijuana legalization, Attorney General Sessions announces a crackdown on fentanyl, and more.

Jeff Sessions continues to wage last century's drug war as he tries a crackdown on fentanyl. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Wine and Liquor Wholesalers Endorses Marijuana Legalization If Regulated Like Alcohol. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) trade group is is urging Congress to pass legislation that adopts a number of regulatory components for cannabis that are similar to those for beverage alcohol. They include a minimum purchase age of 21; driving under the influence standards; licensing for producers, processors, distributors, and retailers; policies to prevent vertical monopoly/integration; hours and days of sale in parity with alcohol; tax collection and enforcement mechanisms; labeling requirements; advertising restrictions; product tracking; restrictions on common carrier delivery; and measures to prevent diversion of cannabis to other states.

New York Governor Releases Report Recommending New York State Legalize Marijuana for Adult Use. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and the New York State Department of Health released an impact assessment of marijuana legalization. The report concludes that the benefits of taxing and regulating marijuana far outweigh any potential negative consequences. The study was commissioned by Governor Cuomo and announced in his address on the executive budget proposal.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana for Opioid Addiction. Gov. David Ige (D) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana treatment for opioid and substance abuse disorders. Senate Bill 2407 passed the legislature with large majorities in May, but Gov. Ige announced in June he planned to veto it. Now he has.

New York Enacts Emergency Rules Allowing Medical Marijuana as Opioid Replacement. State regulators have moved to allow patients who would normally be prescribed opioids to use medical marijuana instead. "Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard said. "Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state."

Oklahoma Advocates File Lawsuits Over Medical Marijuana Rules. Green the Vote, the people behind the successful June medical marijuana initiative, filed two lawsuits Friday against the state over its restrictive rules and regulations. "The lawsuit filed today is our endeavor to undo the wrongful acts of the Oklahoma Department of Health in adopting amendments to the regulations implementing State Initiative 788. It is our hope that this lawsuit will quickly resolve the improper regulations and allow Oklahoma citizens to exercise their rights to manage their own health care," the group announced in a news release.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Will Target Ten Areas in Crackdown on Fentanyl. In a move right out of last century's war on drugs playbook, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he has ordered federal prosecutors in ten areas to bring federal drug dealing charges against anyone suspected of dealing fentanyl, no matter how small the quantity. An additional assistant US attorney will also be sent to each of the designated areas in New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maine, and California.

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.

Four Ways Fentanyl Could Radically Disrupt the Global Drug Trade

The synthetic opioid fentanyl isn't just killing American drug users by the thousands. Its emergence also signals a shift in the decades-old contours of the global drug trade, with ramifications not only for traditional drug-producing countries and drug trafficking networks but also for US foreign policy.

Black market fentanyl is not just wreaking havoc on the streets of American cities. (Creative Commons)
Synthesized from chemicals -- not from papaver somniferum, the opium poppy -- fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin and is severely implicated in the country's drug overdose crisis, accounting for almost 20,000 deaths in 2016.

Illicit fentanyl is typically mixed with other opiates, such as heroin, resulting in much stronger doses of opioids than users expect, thus leading to opioid overdoses. But it is also increasingly also showing up in non-opiate drugs, resulting in fentanyl overdose deaths among unsuspecting methamphetamine and cocaine users.

But the havoc super-potent fentanyl is wreaking among drug users pales in comparison with the dramatic changes it could prompt in the global illicit drug production industry. As academic researchers Vanda Felbab-Brown, Jonathan Caulkins, and Keith Humphreys write in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, fentanyl's rise has the potential to cause disruption and innovation in black markets.

Here are four ways fentanyl alters the illegal drug production and distribution status quo:

1. It doesn't require an agricultural base. Virtually all of the other opioids on the black market, from heroin to morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, require land to grow poppies on. And they require land that is outside cdthe effective control of the state. Non-state actors who can control such areas, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the drug cartels in southern and western Mexico, reap the profits and power of that control. With the ascent of lab-produced fentanyl made out of chemicals, traditional opiate producers should see their profits and their influence undermined.

2. It doesn't require a large workforce. Traditional opium production requires a large seasonal workforce of people to plant and tend the poppies, score the pods and scrape off the leaking opium, and then process and package the raw opium. Other workers will get jobs processing raw opium into heroin. All of those jobs bring money into the hands of poor agricultural families and political capital to the traffickers, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the cartels in Mexico. With fewer job opportunities to offer up, the traffickers lose clout.

3. It doesn't require an elaborate smuggling infrastructure. Because fentanyl is so potent, small amounts of the drug can contain huge numbers of doses, and that means it doesn't require transportation networks of trucks, planes, and boats to get an agricultural crop from the valleys of Afghanistan or the mountains of Mexico to consumers in the US Fentanyl is so potent, medicinal doses are measured in micrograms, and packages of it worth hundreds of thousands of dollars can fit inside a Priority Mail envelope. With smuggling fentanyl as easy as dropping a package in the mail, international drug smuggling organizations now have competition they never had before.

4. All of this can change the dynamics of US foreign policy. If plant-based opiates lose market share to synthetics in the future, this can weaken both insurgencies (Afghanistan) and criminal networks (Mexico). Ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, drug warriors have been constrained in their efforts to go after the Afghan opium crops because of fears it would drive poppy-dependent peasants into the hands of the Taliban. If opium production becomes relatively less important vis-à-vis fentanyl production, that constraint on an aggressive US response to Afghan opium production is weakened. Similarly, in Mexico, to the degree that fentanyl displaces peasants and processors and weakens the link between drug cartels and rural populations, it increases the ability of the Mexican government and its American backers to crack down even harder on the cartels.

Under drug prohibition, there is a strong impetus to come up with more pure, more potent, and more compact products. Fentanyl is the ultimate expression of that imperative, and its arrival is changing the contours of the global drug industry. Who knows how it will play out?

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

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

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Rollin' With the Dragon: Opioids Are Gaining Popularity in the Club Scene

The club kids have found a new high. According to a new study from electronic dance music (EDM) drug use watcher Dr. Joseph Palamar, opioids are becoming increasingly popular among people in the throbbing beat scene.

Nearly 10% of them reported using opioids in the past year, a rate 2 ½ times the national average, and 5% reported using them in the past month.

Oxycontin was the most commonly used opioid in the EDM scene, followed by Vicodin, Percocet, codeine, and Purple Drank (also known as Sizzurp or Leans), which also contains codeine.

In the study, researchers surveyed nearly a thousand fans (ages 18 to 40) as they were about to enter EDM parties at nightclubs and festivals in New York City. Attendees were asked about their nonmedical use of 18 different opioids, from prescription pain pills to black market heroin and fentanyl.

The EDM scene has long been known for drug use, but the researchers warned that the turn to opioids is a dangerous trend that should not be ignored.

"'We've always known that electronic dance music party attendees are at high risk for use of club drugs such as ecstasy or Molly, but we wanted to know the extent of opioid use in this population," said Dr. Palamar, the study's lead author and an associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine.

The most popular prescription opioid reported in this scene was OxyContin, which, like many prescription opioids, is used to relieve pain, but also produces euphoric effects, inducing relaxation and happiness. Following close behind were Vicodin, Percocet, codeine, and Purple Drank. About 15% of opioid users reported snorting them, while 11% reported injecting them, both forms of ingestion more likely to result in dependence.

People who had already used opioids reported a much higher propensity for using them again than did people who had never used them. Among previous users, nearly three-quarters (73.4%) said they would do them again, while only about 6% of non-users said they would try them if offered.

'This population of experienced drug users needs to be reached to prevent initiation and continued use, which can lead to riskier and more frequent use, dependence, and deleterious outcomes such as overdose - particularly if opioids are combined with other drugs,"Palamar warned. "Many individuals in this population are experienced with drugs such as ecstasy, but due to their experience with various drugs, they may underestimate the addictive potential of opioids, which are typically not used as 'club drugs,' Palamar added.

The study comes as the US finds itself in the midst of an opioid crisis where nearly two million people are dependent and more than a hundred are dying of overdoses every day.

'The population in general needs better education about opioids," said Palamar. 'Taking opioid pills is much different from taking ecstasy and it needs to be understood that opioids are not party drugs."

Trump Says He Wants to Execute All Drug Dealers

President Trump has been making some disturbing authoritarian and bloodthirsty private remarks about what he'd like to do to drug dealers, according to a new report from Axios. Worse yet, his dark fulminations may foreshadow some repressive policy prescriptions not too far down the road.

Trump aligns himself with the world's drug war authoritarians. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
The president is apparently a big fan of the Singapore approach, where there is a mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking offenses. According to the report, he's been telling acquaintances for months that that's the reason the country's drug use rate is so low.

"He says that a lot, said one source close to the Trump. "He says, 'When I ask the prime minister of Singapore do they have a drug problem [the prime minister replies,] 'No. Death penalty'."

It's not just Singapore that has caught the president's eye. He also reportedly has a soft spot for other hardline countries, such as China, the world's leading executioner, and the Philippines, where the bloody drug war led by President Rodrigo Duterte has left at least 12,000 dead and resulted in an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

According to "a senior administration official," Trump envies their approaches: "He often jokes about killing drug dealers... He'll say, 'You know the Chinese and Filipinos don't have a drug problem. They just kill them.'"

As is so often the case, the president is misinformed about the success of harshly repressive drug policies. The Chinese government itself qualified its illicit drug situation as "severe and growing" last May, and an unusual public trial and execution of drug offenders in Lufeng, southern China, last December, was described by analysts as showing that "authorities are frustrated and desperate in their fight against illegal drugs."

Similarly, while the Philippines had a methamphetamine problem before Duterte unleashed his drug war, it still has a meth problem. And despite all the arrests and killings, the price of meth on the street is cheaper than ever.

Trump seems obsessed with fighting drugs, according to the Axios report. It cites five sources who've spoken with Trump on the subject who say "he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty" and that softer approaches to drug reform will never work.

Instead, "Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America, though he's privately admitted it would probably be impossible to get a law this harsh passed under the American system."

Trump's opioid policy point person, Kellyanne Conway, who spoke on the record with Axios, said his position is actually more nuanced, with the president talking about "high-volume dealers who are killing thousands of people."

But the legislation Conway said he may back would increase mandatory minimum sentences for people dealing in as little as two grams of fentanyl. Under current federal law, it takes 40 grams of the drug to trigger a five-year mandatory minimum.

"There is an appetite among many law enforcement, health professionals and grieving families that we must toughen up our criminal and sentencing statutes to match the new reality of drugs like fentanyl, which are so lethal in such small doses," Conway said. "The president makes a distinction between those that are languishing in prison for low-level drug offenses and the kingpins hauling thousands of lethal doses of fentanyl into communities, that are responsible for many casualties in a single weekend."

Conway may claim the president has a nuanced approach, but the Axios reporting on his diatribes suggest otherwise. Trump doesn't really do nuance, and his natural tendency is toward the billy club. This doesn't bode well for progressive drug polices as long as his administration is around, although Democrats taking control of at least one house of Congress could seriously hinder his ability to do damage on this -- and many other -- fronts.

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants to Execute Drug Dealers, Brazil Drug War Targets Rio Slums, More... (2/26/18)

The president makes downright scary remarks about killing drug dealers, the Brazilian army and cops roar into Rio's favelas, California's Democratic Party reaffirms its support of legal pot, and more.

Iranian drug executions -- Trump's solution to the drug problem? (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the state was snuffed out last week by House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Eddie Farnswoth (R-Chandler). The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2037 would, if passed, have put the issue directly before voters in a referendum.

California Democrats Reaffirm Commitment to Legal Marijuana, Diss Anti-Pot Feinstein. Meeting over the weekend, the California Democratic Party approved numerous platform planks in support of marijuana legalization, including one that says they "support the ongoing legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol, while prioritizing the health, education, and safety of California's communities and the country over revenue or profits." In other action, the state party failed to provide its endorsement to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who has lagged far behind other state Democrats when it comes to marijuana policy.

Maine Legalization Implementation Bill Kills Off Social Clubs, Tax Revenue Sharing. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee took a final vote on the overhauled implementation bill Friday. The final version of the bill contains no provision for marijuana social clubs, nor does it allow for the sharing of marijuana tax revenues to the state with localities that allow marijuana businesses. The excise tax on wholesale marijuana is set at 21.5%, or about $335 a pound at current prices. The measure will go before the whole legislature in a few weeks.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Be Delayed to 2019 or 2020. At a press conference last Friday, Cincinnati businessman Jimmy Gould, the man behind the failed 2015 "monopoly marijuana" legalization initiative, said his plans to get another initiative on the ballot may not come to fruition this year. He said language for the proposed measure was not yet set and the initiative may not appear on the ballot until 2019 or 2020. The deadline to hand in enough vote signatures to qualify for the ballot this year is July 4.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee has approved House Bill 577, which would legalize the possession of low-THC CBD oil for medical use. The bill advanced despite the opposition of law enforcement and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

Trump Says He Wants to Execute All Drug Dealers. President Trump has been making some disturbing authoritarian and blood-thirsty private remarks about what he'd like to do to drug dealers, according to a new report from Axios. Worse yet, his dark fulminations may foreshadow some repressive policy prescriptions not too far down the road. Trump seems obsessed with fighting drugs, according to the Axios report. It cites five sources who've spoken with Trump on the subject who say "he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty" and that softer approaches to drug reform will never work.

Arizona Bill Would Impose Mandatory Minimums on First Time Heroin, Fentanyl Sellers. A bill that would create five-year mandatory minimum sentences for first-time heroin and fentanyl sellers passed the House last week. House Bill 2241 now heads to the Senate.

International

Brazilian Army, Rio de Janeiro Cops in Massive Anti-Drug Operation. The army and the state police have launched a massive anti-drug operation in several favelas (shantytowns) on the west side of the city, military spokesmen announced last Friday. More than 3,000 soldiers and police are taking part in the operations in Vila Alianca, Coreija, and Vila Kennedy. In the latter, there have been at least 13 shoot outs between drug traffickers and police since January. The operation started just days after an army sergeant and police commander were killed there last week.

Colombia Coca-Country Clashes Are Creating Refugee Flows. Three-way fighting between rightist paramilitaries, leftist ELN guerrillas, and the Colombian military in the coca-rich Bajo Cauca region some 80 miles north of Medellin has displaced some 1,500 people already, with the prospect of more to come. "The clashes between the armed groups continue to cause fear amongst the indigenous communities and rural populations," said the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is assisting victims of the violence.

Manila Demonstrators Protest Philippines Drug War. Thousands of marchers organized by Catholic groups took to the streets of Manila Saturday in a "walk for life" to protest the thousands of killings that have occurred under President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. "We will not tire in walking for life even if the path ahead is winding and soaked in blood," Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Philippines Police Kill Ten in Night of Bloody Drug Raids. In the single bloodiest night of the country's drug war since police resumed participation in December, police said they killed 10 suspected drug dealers and arrested 63 more last Wednesday night. The operations took place in Bulacan, north of Manila, the capital. Police said the suspects were killed in eight separate towns during 45 "buy-bust" incidents.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Marijuana Petition, Dutch Bank Gets Huge Money Laundering Fine, More... (2/9/18)

A Bernie Sanders petition calls for marijuana legalization and an end to the drug war, a Dutch bank gets hit with a massive fine for cartel money laundering, New York's governor takes flak from drug reform groups on a couple of fronts, and more.

Bernie Sanders launches a petition calling for marijuana legalization and end to the drug war. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Petition Asks Congress to Legalize Marijuana. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has sent out an online petition to his email list subscribers asking Congress to legalize marijuana and "end the war on drugs." In 2015, Sanders filed the first ever marijuana legalization bill in Congress. Even though the petition is unlikely to lead to any results while Republicans control the Congress, it will help Sanders burnish his credentials as a leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Arizona Legalization Bill Filed. Reps. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) and Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) filed a marijuana legalization bill Thursday. HCR 2037 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, allow for the cultivation of up to six plants, and create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and sales. Voters narrowly rejected a legalization initiative there in 2016.

New Jersey Legalization Hearing Set for Next Month. Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen (D-Somerset), chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations Committee, said Thursday the committee will hold a hearing on marijuana legalization on March 5. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on marijuana legalization and reiterated that pledge during his inaugural address last month.

Seattle to Expunge Past Marijuana Convictions. Following the lead of San Francisco, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Thursday the city is moving to automatically clear past misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession. "For thousands of people in Washington state, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction had huge implications: It could be a barrier to housing, to getting credit, to getting good jobs and education," Mayor Jenny Durkan told a news conference. "It is a necessary step to right the wrongs of what was a failed war on drugs." Voters in Washington state approved marijuana legalization in 2012.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Bill to Let People Prescribed Opioids Get Temporary Medical Marijuana Cards Advances. The Senate Executive Committee approved Senate Bill 336 on Wednesday. The bill would allow people who have been prescribed opioids to apply for a temporary medical cannabis card. If passed, those prescribed opioids would be able to participate in the program if their applications are approved by the state. The background check and fingerprinting process normally required for applicants of the program would also be waived that first year because of the urgency of the crisis.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Drug Reform, Harm Reduction Groups Criticize Governor's Move to Stiffen Fentanyl Analog Penalties. The Harm Reduction Coalition, the Drug Policy Alliance, and VOCAL-NY are among the organizations calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) over his move to add 11 fentanyl analogs to the state's controlled substances schedule, a change that would increase the number of fentanyl varieties that would garner top felony charges. "The governor boasts about giving law enforcement the tools they need to make more arrests, but says nothing about providing people at risk of overdose the tools they need to survive," Daniel Raymond of the Harm Reduction Coalition said Thursday. "We won't end the overdose crisis by filling up jail cells."

New Synthetic Substances

New York Drug Reform Groups Criticize Governor's Move to Further Criminalize Synthetic Cannabinoids. The Manhattan-based Drug Policy Alliance and the drug user group VOCAL-NY are opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) call to further criminalize the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, also referred to as "synthetic marijuana" or "K2." Such laws do little to curb use, do nothing to increase public health and safety in New York State, and undermine the ability of the state to effectively prevent minors from obtaining the substances, the groups said. The state should just legalize marijuana instead, the groups said.

International

Dutch Bank Hit With $369 Million Fine for Laundering Mexico Drug Cartel Money. The Dutch bank Rabobank has been fined $369 million by the US government after it admitted handling millions in illicit funds, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. The bank also pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation in trying to avoid repeating sanctions imposed on it in 2006 and 2008 for "nearly identical failures," DOJ said. "When Rabobank learned that substantial numbers of its customers' transactions were indicative of international narcotics trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering activities, it chose to look the other way and to cover up deficiencies in its anti-money laundering program," Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said. A former Rabobank vice president, George Martin, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the US concerning his role in the case, according to the DOJ. He admitted -- in a federal court in San Diego in December -- to playing a role in setting up the policies that prevented additional controls. The bank will also have to pay a $50 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Chronicle AM: VT Legalizes Without Sales, Sentencing Commission Proposes Upped Fentanyl Penalties, More... (1/22/18)

Vermont becomes the 9th legal marijuana state, Illinois lawmakers take up legalization, the US Sentencing Commission proposing increasing fentanyl penalties, and more.

Vermont just turned New England a little greener. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal has support for marijuana legalization at 60% nationwide, up from 55% the last time the media outlets asked the question, in 2014.

Illinois Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. A joint legislative committee began a hearing on marijuana legalization Monday morning. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told legislators she supported it: "Legalizing marijuana is an important step in right-sizing our criminal justice system, reducing racial disparities in prosecuting non-violent drug offenses, targeting our scarce resources on prosecuting violent crime and lessening the social dislocation we see in too many of our communities," Preckwinkle said. The only relevant bill currently before the legislator is Senate Bill 2275, which would authorize a non-binding statewide referendum on the topic of legalization.

Vermont Legalizes Marijuana; Becomes First State to Do So Via Legislative Process. With Gov. Phil Scott's (R) signature on House Bill 511 Monday, the state legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, becoming the first state to free the weed via the legislature. The new law goes into effect July 1. The new law does not legalize the taxed and regulated commercial production and sale of marijuana. Instead, the bill calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31. Then lawmakers would have to go to work again to get that passed.

Buffalo Campaigners Call for Police to Deprioritize Marijuana Possession Arrests. A nonprofit group called Open Buffalo has begun a petition campaign to urge Mayor Byron Brown to tell the police department to deprioritize enforcement of marijuana possession laws. The group is close to its goal of 600 signatures; when it hits that goal, it will deliver the petition to the mayor.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Proposes Stiffening Fentanyl Penalties. Last Friday, the Sentencing Commission announced it was proposing to increase penalties for fentanyl offenses by setting the offense level for fentanyl equal to the higher offense level currently assigned to fentanyl analogs. The commission is also proposing a sentencing guidelines enhancement for misrepresenting fentanyl or fentanyl analogs as another substance. The commission also proposed a class-based approach to synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids and established a single marijuana equivalency for each class. Public comment on the proposals is open until March 6, and the commission will hold public hearings in February and March. The commission is expected to vote on the proposals before May 1.

Chronicle AM: Govs Seek Fed Help for Opioid Crisis, KY GOP Leader Files Legal MJ Bill, More... (1/18/18)

Governors call for more help with the opioid crisis from the federal government, a Kentucky GOP leader files a marijuana legalization bill, the ACLU of Montana warns an overzealous prosecutor, and more.

The nation's governors want Trump and the Congress to step up on dealing with the opioid crisis. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Congressmen Reintroduce Bill to Protect Marijuana from Civil Asset Forfeiture. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) reintroduced the Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act on Wednesday. The bill would block seized funds from being used to in the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression program. This year's version of the bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but the 2015 version is available here.

Kentucky Republican Leader Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale), a member of the Republican leadership team, filed a marijuana legalization bill on Wednesday. The bill would allow people 21 and over to legally use marijuana, and it would also legalize the production and sales of pot. The measure is Senate Bill 80.

New Jersey Legalization Bid Must Overcome Democratic Wavering. Newly seated Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office, but he's going to have to whip some Democratic senators into shape first. At least a half dozen Democratic senators say they plan to vote against any legalization bill. The state Senate has 40 seats; the Democrats hold 25 of them. If all six Democrats actually vote no, that means passage would depend on at least two Republicans voting yes. There are two GOP senators, Chris Brown of Atlantic and Dawn Addiego of Burlington, who have said they are leaning toward supporting the bill.

Wisconsin Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Would Pardon Marijuana Offenders. A leading contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, former state Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn, said Wednesday he would pardon all low-level, non-violent marijuana offenders if elected. Flynn has repeatedly called for marijuana legalization in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Voters Ready for Full-Fledged Medical Marijuana Program, Poll Finds. A new poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution finds that more than three-quarters of those surveyed want to see the state's limited medical marijuana program expanded. Some 77% said they want greater access to medical marijuana. The poll comes as the legislature considers a measure, House Bill 645, that would allow for medical marijuana dispensaries. The poll also found that support for recreational marijuana was at an all-time high in the state, with 50% saying legalize it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Governors Call on Trump, Congress to Do More to Solve Opioid Crisis. In its first coordinated response to the opioid crisis, the National Governors Association called Thursday for the administration and Congress to provide more money and coordination to fight against it. "While progress has been made, the consequences of opioid addiction continue reverberating throughout society, devastating families and overwhelming health care providers, law enforcement and social services," the governors said as they released a set of 22 recommendations. Among other suggestions, the governors are calling for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, increased efforts to block illicit fentanyl shipments into the country, and a requirement that drug prescribers undergo substance abuse training and register to use state prescription monitoring databases.

Law Enforcement

Montana ACLU Vows to Challenge County DA's Crackdown on Pregnant Drug and Alcohol Users The ACLU of Montana said Wednesday it will fight any action by Big Horn County Attorney Jay Harris to arrest or incarcerate pregnant women based on alleged harm to the fetus. Harris announced last week that he would seek protection orders barring pregnant women from using any non-prescribed drugs or alcohol and seek contempt orders and jail for any woman who violates them. The ACLU called Harris's move "an egregious abuse of power" and noted that a similar effort in Ravalli County in 2014 was killed in the courts. "If these reports are accurate, then Big Horn County's 'crackdown' on pregnant women is not only counterproductive, paternalistic and cruel, it is also illegal. If your office actively attempts to enforce such a policy, ACLU is prepared to challenge those actions in Court," the group said in a letter sent to Harris.

Sentencing

New Jersey Enacts Law to Examine Racial and Ethnic Impact of Sentencing Changes. On his last day in office, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed racial and ethnic impact statement legislation this week that will provide an opportunity for lawmakers to address the state's high rate of racial disparity in incarceration. Similar to fiscal or environmental impact statements, racial impact statements provide legislators with a statistical analysis of the projected impact of criminal justice policy changes prior to enactment. Armed with the data analysis, policymakers can make more informed decisions about public safety issues without aggravating existing racial disparities. Four other states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oregon -- have similar policies.

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