Harm Reduction

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Chronicle AM: CO Drug Defelonization Bill Advances, Mexico Murders, Colombia Massacres, More... (4/23/19)

Drug prohibition is engendering new levels of violence in Mexico and Colombia, the Denver city council deals a blow to would-be social consumption business operators, the FDA approves generic naloxone, and more.

The black market in cocaine is fueling violence in Mexico and Colombia. (USCBP)
Marijuana

Denver City Council Rejects Easing Restrictions on Social Consumption. A resolution to make it easier for businesses offering on-premises consumption by halving the 1,000-foot buffer between them and daycare centers, drug treatment centers, and city-owned parks has failed in the city council. The council voted 7-5 to approve the measure, but because it would have amended the city's voter-approved 2016 social consumption, it needed nine votes to pass.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves First Generic Naloxone. The Food and Drug Administration announced last Friday that it has approved the first generic formulation of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. The agency also said it will prioritize its review of other applications for generic variants of products intended to treat opioid overdoses. "In the wake of the opioid crisis, a number of efforts are underway to make this emergency overdose reversal treatment more readily available and more accessible. In addition to this approval of the first generic naloxone nasal spray, moving forward we will prioritize our review of generic drug applications for naloxone," the FDA said.

Sentencing Reform

Bipartisan Drug Defelonization Bill Advances in Colorado Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill 3-2 Monday that would reduce the penalties for drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The bipartisan legislation, HB19-1263, which was approved by the full House on April 18, will now advance to the Senate Finance Committee.

International

UN Report Finds Massacres on the Increase in Colombia. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued a report revealing a large increase in massacres carried out in Colombia, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country. OHCHR noted just 11 massacres in 2017, but that number nearly tripled to 29 cases last year. Most of the massacres occurred in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Norte de Santander and Caquetá, areas particularly affected by Colombia's ongoing armed conflict. In the wake of the peace agreement between the FARC and the government, old and newly emerging criminal groups are fighting over who will control coca and poppy-growing areas and distribution.

Mexico Murder Rate Keeps Increasing. Data released this week from the National System for Public Security show that the homicide rate in the country has soared in the first two months of this year. Some 8,493 people were killed between January 1 and March 3, a 9.6% jump over the same period in 2018. Most -- but not all -- of the violence is related to fighting between rival cartels and clashes between cartels and members of the state security apparatus. The previous two years had both seen record numbers of killings, with some 33,341 reported last year, but if the rate seen in early numbers this year continues, the toll could reach 50,000 by year's end.

Chronicle AM: NC Overdose=Murder Bill Hearing Set, Malay MedMJ Provider Escapes Death Penalty, More... (4/22/19)

It's a step back for harm reduction in one Michigan county, a potential step back in North Carolina, a Malay medical marijuana provider escapes the death penalty but stil faces hard time, and more.

People who share drugs that result in a fatal overdose could be charged with murder under a North Carolina proposal. (CC)
Harm Reduction

Michigan County Blocks Needle Exchanges. Commissioners in Grand Traverse County voted last week to block needle exchanges in the county. In a 3-2-1 vote, the commission voted against allowing the county health department to contract with a private provider to implement a needle exchange program and to stop Harm Reduction Michigan from expanding its existing program. Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley opposed the initiative, saying: "The majority of these users are probably illegal drug users. This only serves to promote safe illegal drug use. The sheriff's office is in the business of stopping illegal drug use whether it's safe or not… By approving this, you are endorsing safe, illegal drug use."

North Carolina Overdose Equals Murder Bill Gets Hearing Friday. A bill that would allow people who distribute a drug that results in an overdose death to be charged with murder gets a hearing this Friday, and harm reductionists are gearing up to fight it. HB 474 would make even drug users buy jointly or share with friends liable for murder. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition is calling on people to attend the hearing to tell legislators to vote no.

International

US Arrests Guatemalan Presidential Candidate for Seeking Help from Sinaloa Cartel. Guatemalan presidential candidate Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana was arrested with one other man at the Miami airport last Friday and charged with soliciting campaign funds from the Sinaloa cartel. Estrada Orellana was allegedly seeking between $10 and $12 million in exchange for providing "state-sponsored support" for the group's trafficking activities. Estrada also pledged "unfettered access" to the country's ports and airports. Estrada is running as a candidate for the center-right National Change Union.

Malaysian Medical Marijuana Provider Escapes Death Sentence, But… A man who once headed a medical marijuana group has gotten something of a reprieve. Mohd Zireen Zainal was caught with two pounds of medical marijuana and originally faced the death penalty after being charged with drug trafficking. But he has now been allowed to plead guilty to possession only and will have to serve 15 years in prison and absorb 10 strokes of the cane. He's already been in prison for more than five years.

Chronicle AM: FDA Eases Opioid Rules to Allow Tapering, Ciudad Juarez Violence Spikes, More... (4/17/19)

Decriminalization bills are alive in Alabama and North Carolina, the Iowa Senate approves hemp, the FDA eases opioid prescribing rules, Ciudad Juarez sees a bloody weekend, and more.

Hydrocodone. New FDA rules will allow docs to taper patients off opioids, instead of going cold turkey. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved SB 98, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. People caught with less than an ounce would face a maximum $250 fine for the first two offenses, but possession of between one and two ounces would be a Class A misdemeanor and possession of more than two ounces would be a Class C felony worth up to 10 years in prison.

Michigan Bills Would Cut Sentences for Pot Prisoners, Probationers. A package of bills from Sen. Sylvia Santana (D) would allow people on probation or in prison for marijuana offenses to have their sentences reduced or eliminated. While there are only three people in state prison who would be affected, more than 1,300 people are on probation for marijuana offenses. "We have already legalized marijuana in the state so therefore this is just the right thing to do," Santana said.

North Carolina Decriminalization Bill Filed. Four state representatives have cosponsored HB766, which would "decriminalize possession of four ounces or less of marijuana and allow for the expunction of possession of marijuana offenses involving possession of four ounces or less of marijuana." It's been referred to the House Rules Committee.

Hemp

Iowa Senate Passes Hemp Legalization. The Senate voted 49-1 to approve SF 599, the Industrial Hemp Act. The hemp industry would be regulated by the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The bill now goes to the House.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Eases Opioid Policy to Allow for Tapering. The Food and Drug Administration has issued labeling changes for prescription opioids that instruct physicians to taper opioid prescriptions rather than cut them down or off. The agency also acknowledged that a 2016 CDC guideline restricting opioid prescriptions had resulted in harms to patients. "Recently, the FDA has received reports of serious harm, including serious withdrawal symptoms, uncontrolled pain and suicide, in patients who are physically dependent on opioid pain medicines when these medicines are suddenly discontinued or when the dose is reduced too quickly, often without adequate patient communication, follow-up or support," the FDA said in an April 9 announcement. "These practices have also been associated with patients attempting to find other sources of opioids in order to minimize their withdrawal symptoms or self-medicate for pain," the statement said.

Harm Reduction

California Bill Would Let Localities Veto Needle Exchange Programs. State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Orange County) has filed a bill that would require city or county officials to sign off before needle exchanges could operate in their jurisdictions. SB 689 is opposed by public health advocates, who fear it could lead to increased HIV and Hep C transmission and even overdose deaths. The bill is set for a hearing before the Senate Health Committee next week.

International

Mexico Sees Bloody Weekend in Ciudad Juarez. Ciudad Juarez saw its bloodiest weekend of the year so far, with 19 people killed last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That brings the death toll for the month so far to 79 as warring cartel factions fight over the lucrative plaza, or control of drug smuggling and retail sales operations.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legal Pot Bill Moving, Trump Administration Backs Needle Exchange, More... (3/19/19)

Pot legalization bills advanced in the New Jersey legislature, an Oregon initiative would allow for social consumption spaces and protect workers, smokable medical marijuaan comes to Florida, Arkansas passes a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

The Trump administration doesn't like safe injection sites, but it's down with needle exchanges. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bills Advance. Marijuana legalization bills advanced in the legislature Monday. The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved A 4497, while the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its companion measure, S 2703. The victories come a week after Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders reached an agreement on what legalization should look like. Final floor votes could come as early as next Monday.

Oregon Initiative Would Allow Indoor Pot Smoking, Protect Workers. Marijuana industry leaders have filed an initiative, the Legalization Justice Act of 2020, which would, among other things, allow for social consumption spaces, provide protections for workers who use marijuana off the job, and urge the state to protect its homegrown marijuana industry. Now, organizers must collect 1,000 signatures before the secretary of state's office drafts a ballot title. Once that step is completed, organizers will then have to gather 112,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Pennsylvania Legalization Bill Details Announced. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D) have released details of their pending legalization bill. The measure would allow for social consumption sites and the home cultivation of up to six plants. A tax rate has not been set, but the goal is a rate that "balances the need to undermine any illegal market and the needs to both pay for regulation of the industry and invest in those harmed by prohibition." There would be no cap on marijuana business licenses and their would be a tiered licensing system to help communities adversely affected by the war on drugs.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor Signs Smokable Medical Marijuana Bill into Law. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Monday signed into law SB 182, which ends a legislatively-mandated ban on smoking medical marijuana. The ban had been thrown out in the courts, but former Gov. Rick Scott (R) had appealed to reinstate it. DeSantis had threatened to drop the appeal if the legislature didn't act, but the legislature has acted and now the ban is dead.

Asset Forfeiture

Arkansas Legislature Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform. The House last week unanimously approved SB 308, which will require police and prosecutors to win a criminal conviction in most cases before they can seize someone's property. The Senate approved it last month. It now is on the desk of Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R).

Harm Reduction

Trump Administration Backs Needle Exchange. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday the Trump administration is backing needle exchange programs as part of its effort to end HIV transmission but will continue to oppose safe injection sites. The move represents a policy shift among Republicans, who have traditionally opposed needle exchanges, but Azar said they were necessary: "Syringe services programs aren’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a Republican health secretary, but we’re in a battle between sickness and health, between life and death," Azar said.

Chronicle AM: Legal Pot Bill This Week in NJ, Global Drug War Human Rights Guidelines Issued, More... (3/18/19)

A New Mexico pot legalization bill dies and the governor says she will take it up next year, Minneapolis will quit charging small-time pot offenders, UN bodies and member states issue drug war human rights guidelines, a federal prisoner sues for access to methadone treatment, and more.

The state of New Jersey is banking on marijuana tax revenues. Now, to get that bill passed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Democrats Unveil Legalization Package. A group of House Democrats held a press conference last Thursday to unveil a proposed package go bills to allow marijuana to be grown, processed, and sold to consumers in the state. The draft bills include a pilot plan for adult sales, but do not include letting people grow their own.

New Jersey Legalization Committee Votes Begin Today. The compromise legalization bill agreed to by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders is due for committee votes Monday, with an eye toward final passage next Monday if all goes well. The bill would allow adults to possess up to an ounce, but not grow their own. It would also expunge records of past pot offenses and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Goes to Governor, But Legalization Bill Dies. In last minute action this past weekend, the legislature passed a pot decriminalization bill, SB 323, and sent it to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D). That’s some small consolation for the failure of a legalization bill, HB 356, which passed the House but died in the Senate Finance Committee.

New Mexico Governor Adds Marijuana Legalization to 2020 Agenda. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Sunday she will add marijuana legalization to the agenda of next year’s 30-day short session. The move comes after a bipartisan marijuana legalization bill managed to pass the House this session, only to be stalled in the Senate until the session expired on Saturday.

Minnesota’s Most Populous County Won’t Charge Small-Time Pot Offenders. Prosecutors in Hennepin County, the home of Minneapolis, will no longer prosecute people caught with small amounts of pot, County Attorney Mike Freeman said last Thursday. Under state law, possession of up to 42.5 grams is a misdemeanor, but possession of as little as 45 grams can be charged as a felony. Freeman said he will no longer charge anyone caught with less than 100 grams; instead, defendants will be considered for a diversion program.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Posts Draft Rules for Medical Marijuana Program. The Department of Health and Senior Services released more drafts of rules for the state's emerging medical marijuana system last Thursday. The rules cover marijuana cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and medical marijuana establishments in general. Click on the link for a detailed analysis of the proposed regulations.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Rules into Law.  Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last Thursday signed into law new regulations for the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry. The legislation sets guidelines for inventory testing and tracking, advertising, and packaging and labeling, among other things. It also allows employers to fire medical marijuana users in certain safety-sensitive positions, such as fire fighters and heavy machinery operators.

Hemp

Idaho Hemp Bill Moving. A bill to legalize hemp production, HB 122, passed out of a pair of committees last Thursday and is now headed for a House floor vote. The 2018 farm bill legalized hemp production, and 41 other states have already legalized hemp production.

Psychedelics

Oakland Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative in Planning Stages. A coalition of advocacy groups in hosting a series of meetings in coming months aimed at building support for an initiative to decriminalize not only magic mushrooms but all “entheogenic plants, fungi, and natural sources.” The campaign is called Decriminalize Nature.

Drug Treatment

Incoming Federal Prisoner Sues Over Policy Banning Methadone Treatment. A Massachusetts woman who is about to enter federal prison and will not be permitted to continue methadone treatment for opioid addiction under prison rules has filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons over the policy. Stephanie DiPierro has to do a year for collecting disability benefits and food stamps without reporting income from a job and has been on methadone since 2005.

Massachusetts Bill Would Block Courts from Jailing Defendants in Treatment Who Fail Drug Tests. After the state’s highest court ruled last year that judges could order jail time for defendants who violate probation by using drugs, legislators have responded with S. 397, which would bar judges from incarcerating people who are in treatment and fail mandatory drug tests while on probation. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Human Rights

UN Member States, UN Bodies, and Human Rights Groups Launch International Legal Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. A coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Monday launched a landmark set of international legal standards to transform and reshape global responses to the world drug problem. The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy introduces a comprehensive catalogue of human rights standards. They are a guide for governments to develop human rights compliant drug policies, covering the spectrum of cultivation to consumption. Harnessing the universal nature of human rights, the document covers a range of policy areas from development to criminal justice to public health.  

International

Philippines Quits International Criminal Court Over Drug War Investigation. A year after the Philippines told the United Nations it was quitting the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal because it is investigating human rights abuses in the bloody war on drugs led by President Rodrigo Duterte it has now officially withdrawn from the International Criminal Court. Manila moved to quit after the body launched a preliminary examination in 2018 into President Rodrigo Duterte's drug crackdown that has killed thousands and drawn international censure. However, the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue.

Chronicle AM: AK Okays Pot Social Consumption, Trump Slashes Drug Czar Budget, More... (3/13/19)

Alaska gives final approval for on-site consumption at pot shops, San Francisco approves pot smoking at events where people like to smoke pot, President Trump ponders designating Mexican cartels as terrorists, South Dakota legislators come up short in a bid to override the veto of a hemp bill, and more.

The drug czar's office is on the budgetary cutting block again.
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Social Consumption Gets Final Approval. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) Tuesday signed off on new regulations allowing on-site marijuana use in retail pot shops, the final step in approving social consumption in the state. This makes Alaska the first state to approve such use statewide. Consumers can’t bring their own but will have to purchase the pot on-site and consumption areas will have to be ventilated and separated from other parts of the store. The first on-site consumption should come by mid-July, state officials said.

New York Black Lawmakers Won’t Vote for Legalization Without Racial Equity. Black lawmakers are demanding that racial equity provisions be written into any legalization bill or they won’t vote for it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mentioned racial injustice in pot law enforcement in calling for legalization, but lawmakers representing minority communities say his proposal doesn’t go far enough in addressing how racial inequities would be repaired.

San Francisco to Allow Pot Smoking at Events Where People Like to Smoke Pot. Seems like common sense. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a special permit to allow people to sell and smoke marijuana at public events that have traditionally seen a lot of pot smoking, such as the 4/20 celebration on Hippie Hill and the Outside Lands music festival, both in Golden Gate Park. The ordinance gives the Office of Cannabis the authority to grant temporary waivers to the city’s tough no-smoking laws.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers Fall Short on Bid to Override Hemp Bill Veto. After Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoed a bill to legalize industrial hemp production over the weekend, lawmakers sought to override the veto. In votes Tuesday, the House supported the override on a 55-11 vote, but the Senate came up short, voting 20-13 to override when it needed 24 votes to be successful.

Drug Policy

Trump’s Drug Budget Again Slashes Funding for Drug Czar’s Office. For the second year in a row, the White House’s proposed drug budget for Fiscal Year 2020 virtually zeroes out funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar’s office). Congress restored the funding for ONDCP last year, allotting it slightly more than $120 million, about the same as the previous year. But this year’s proposed budget allocates only $14.9 million.

Foreign Policy

Trump Thinking “Very Seriously” About Designating Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorists. In an interview published Tuesday in Breitbart News, President Trump is thinking “very seriously” about designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorists. "We are. We are," Trump said. "We're thinking about doing it very seriously. In fact, we've been thinking about it for a long time. . . . As terrorists - as terrorist organizations, the answer is yes. They are."

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Senate Approves Good Samaritan Expansion Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill, SB 106, that would clarify the state’s 2013 Good Samaritan law to specify that the people who actually suffer drug overdoses have the same legal immunity from criminal charges as the people who call for help. The bill now heads to the House.

Chronicle AM: AZ Pot Poll, SD Hemp Passes, IA Needle Exchange Bill Advances, More... (3/7/19)

An Arizona poll has its first majority for marijuana legalization, the South Dakota legislature passes a hemp bill, an Iowa bill to allow needle exchanges is moving, and more.

There could be hemp fields in South Dakota next year if the governor stays out of the way. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has First Time Majority for Legalization. A new OH Predictive Insights poll has support for marijuana legalization in the state at 52%, the first time the poll has registered a majority for freeing the weed. In two 2016 OH Predictive Insights polls, only 43% supported legalization.

Maryland Legalization Bills Get Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on two marijuana bills Wednesday. HB 656, sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke (D), would allow adults 21 and older to grow, possess, and purchase marijuana. Legal possession would be limited to one ounce of buds and five grams of concentrate, and individuals could grow up to four plants at a time. HB 632, sponsored by Del. David Moon (D), would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana for adult use -- which would require voters to approve the measure via a ballot question. No votes were taken, and supporters said they were aiming at 2020, but laying the groundwork now.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve HB 136, which would legalize the use of medical marijuana in the state, but not in its smokable form.

Hemp

South Dakota Hemp Bill Passes But Faces Possible Veto. The state Senate voted Wednesday to approve HB 1191, which would legalize industrial hemp farming, on a vote of 21-14. The bill has already passed the House but will have to go back there to approve changes made in the Senate. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) doesn't like it, but legislators are hopeful enough of her concerns were addressed that she won't veto it. If she does, hemp will have to pick up three more yes votes in the Senate; it passed the House overwhelmingly.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Needle Exchange Bill Advances. A bill that would add the state to the list of 40 others that allow the harm reduction measure advanced just ahead of a critical deadline Wednesday, meaning it stays alive for the rest of the session. SF 500 would authorize a pilot program in five cities for five years.

Chronicle AM: ND Gets First MMJ Dispensary, MI Asset Forfeiture Package Moving, More... (3/4/19)

No legal pakalolo for Hawaii this year, North Dakota sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, asset forfeiture reform advances in Michigan, and more.

The British Labor Party is calling for pilot safe injection sites like this one in Vancouver. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Legalization Bill Dies. A legalization bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English (D) and cosponsored by half the Democrats in the Senate died last Friday after the Senate Health Committee did not schedule a meeting to hear any bills that day. Friday was the deadline for bills to be considered by the full Senate, so the inaction effectively killed the bill.

Vermont Senate Approves Legalizing Marijuana Sales. The state Senate last Friday approved S.54, which would establish a taxed and regulated market for legal marijuana sales. The bill now goes to the House. This is the sixth time the Senate has passed a tax and regulate proposal, only to see them die in the House. But this year, 40 House members are supporting H. 196, a separate legalization bill that is slightly different from the Senate bill.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The secretary of state's office last Friday approved a medical marijuana initiative for signature gathering. The initiative would "amend the Nebraska Constitution to provide the rights to use, possess, access, and safely produce cannabis, and cannabis products and materials, for serious medical conditions as recommended by a physician or nurse practitioner," according to the ballot title. To qualify for the ballot, 10% of registered voters must sign the petition. It must also have signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in at least 38 out of the state's 93 counties.

North Dakota's First Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens. The state's first dispensary opened last Friday in a mini-mall in Fargo. Voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016, but it took the state more than two years to create a regulatory structure.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. Two weeks after the state Senate passed an asset forfeiture reform package that would end civil forfeiture unless the assets are worth more than $50,000, the House has now passed a similar package. The two bodies will meet in conference committee to hash out minor differences before sending the legislation to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).

Utah Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in House Committee. A bill that would reform asset forfeiture practices in the state breezed through the Senate only to die last Friday in a House committee after the DEA and Utah narcotics officers blasted the bill. SB 109 would have required law enforcement to file cases only in state court to prevent police from giving cases to the feds to avoid state laws.

International

British Labor Party Calls for Safe Consumption Site Pilot Programs. The Labor Party has come out will a call for pilot programs for safe consumption sites. Calls for their introduction have grown louder as the United Kingdom grapples with its own overdose death crisis. Some 4,678 people died of drug overdoses in the kingdom last year.

Chronicle AM: WV OD Reporting Bill Advances, NH House Approves Legal Marijuana Bill, More... (2/27/19)

The Granite State gets one step closer to marijuana legalization, Vermont gets one step closer to allowing taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales, West Virginia gets one step closer to speeding up overdose reporting requirements, and more.

New England is a real hotbed of marijuana-related legislation these days. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill. A bill to end marijuana prohibition and regulate it for adult use was approved by the House in a 209-147 vote Wednesday. in New Hampshire passed in the state House of Representatives Wednesday with a strong majority (209-147). HB 481 will now be referred to the House Ways and Means Committee for further consideration of the proposed regulatory system and tax structure. If the bill gets through the legislature, it faces a veto threat from Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

Vermont Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana Sales Heads for Senate Floor Vote. Vermont legalized personal marijuana possession and cultivation last year, and now a bill that would expand legalization to include taxed and regulated marijuana sales is headed for a Senate floor vote after passing out of committee Tuesday. SB 54 would create a Cannabis Control Board to regulate the legal marijuana market and set up five types of licenses for various businesses. Similar legislation, HB 196, is before the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Marijuana Normalization Bills Get Senate Hearing. A raft of bills authored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore) and aimed at normalizing medical marijuana usage in the state got a Senate hearing Tuesday. One bill says medical marijuana patients should not be denied the right to purchase or possess firearms, another would prohibit landlords from denying leases to medical marijuana patients, and yet another would restrict employers’ right to fire or not hire medical marijuana users. No votes were taken.

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Home Grow Bill Advances. The House Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee voted to approve HB 364, which would allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own medicine. The bill called for allowing patients or caregivers to grow up to two mature plants and 12 seedlings but was amended in committee to allow up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Senate Approves Bill to Speed Fatal Overdose Reporting. The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would require fatal overdoses to be reported to the state Office of Drug Control Policy within 72 hours. SB 520 now heads to the House. Under current state law, overdoses only need to be reported within three months. 

Faced with Fentanyl, Is It Time for Heroin Buyers' Clubs? [FEATURE]

In the past few years, the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its derivatives have been the primary driver of the drug overdose death epidemic. A wave of addiction that began with prescription opioids two decades ago and morphed into one driven by heroin after the crackdown on pain pills one decade ago has now clearly entered a third phase: the era of fentanyl.

Pharmaceutical heroin. (Creative Commons)
Beginning in about 2014, fentanyl-related overdose death rates skyrocketed as Chinese chemical manufacturers and Mexican drug distribution gangs began flooding the country with the cheap, easily concealable narcotic—and not through unwalled borders but through points of entry and package delivery services, including the U.S. Postal Service. By 2017, fentanyl was implicated in some 28,000 overdose deaths, more than either heroin or prescription opioids, and involved in nearly half of all overdose deaths.

The responses have ranged from the repressive to the pragmatic. Some state and federal legislation seeks a harsher criminal justice system response, whether it's increasing penalties for fentanyl trafficking or charging hapless drug sharers with murder if the person they shared with dies. In other cases, the opioid epidemic has emboldened harm reduction-based policies, such as the calls for safe injection sites in cities such as Denver, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Just a couple of hours up the road from Seattle, Vancouver, British Columbia, has been grappling with the same wave of opioid addiction and now, the arrival of fentanyl. And it has arrived with a real wallop: According to the British Columbia Coroner’s Service, fentanyl was implicated in 85 percent of overdose deaths in the province last year, up from only four percent just six years earlier. And with the arrival of fentanyl and, in 2016, its cousin, carfentanil, overdose deaths in B.C. jumped more than four-fold in that same period, from 333 in 2012 to 1,489 in 2018.

But while American cities are just now moving toward opening safe injection sites, Vancouver has had them for years, part of the city’s embrace of the progressive Four Pillars strategy—prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement—of dealing with problems around drug misuse and addiction. In fact, more than a dozen safe injection sites are now operating in the city, as well as a couple of programs that involve providing pharmaceutical grade heroin or other opioids to hard-core addicts who have proven unamenable to traditional forms of treatment.

Such harm reduction programs have not prevented all overdose deaths, but they have radically reduced the toll. B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe has estimated that without those programs, B.C. would have seen triple the number of fatal overdoses.

Vancouver has been on the cutting edge of progressive drug policy reforms for the past 20 years, and now, faced with the fentanyl crisis, some researchers are proposing a radical next step: heroin buyers’ clubs.

In a report published last week, the B.C. Center on Substance Use, which has strong ties to the provincial government, called for the clubs as part of a broader plan for "legally regulated heroin sales in B.C." to protect users from fentanyl-adulterated heroin and cut the profits of organized crime.

The proposal "is inspired by cannabis compassion clubs and buyers' clubs, both of which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in response to the AIDS epidemic," the authors note.

"The compassion or buyers' club would function as a cooperative (or ‘co-op’), as an autonomous and democratic enterprise owned and operated by its members," the report explains. "A member-driven purchasing cooperative is an arrangement among businesses or individuals whereby members agree to aggregate their demand in order to purchase a certain product at a lower price from a supplier," it continues. "By aggregating their purchase orders and relevant resources, members are able to take advantage of volume discounts, price protection, shared storage and distribution facilities and costs, and other economies of scale to reduce their overall purchasing costs."

It wouldn't exactly be the Dallas Buyers Club, the 2013 film that portrayed unorthodox methods of obtaining AIDS medications in the 1980s. There would be some structure: To be accepted into the club, people addicted to opioids would have to undergo a medical evaluation, and once admitted to the club, they would still have to buy their own heroin, but with many advantages over buying black market dope. The main advantage would be that they would be receiving pure, pharmaceutical grade heroin (known as diacetylmorphine in countries where it is part of the pharmacopeia)—not an unknown substance that is likely to contain fentanyl.

Club members could inject the drug at a designated location—the report suggests that existing safe injection sites could be used—or take small amounts of the drug with them for consumption at home. The report also calls for each club to include related services, such as overdose response training, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and options for members to access social services such as detox, rehab, and other treatment options.

Not only could buyers' clubs create a safer, cheaper heroin-using experience for members, the report argues, but they could also erode the black market and its tendency to produce more potent drugs—the so-called Iron Law of Prohibition.

"Fentanyl adulteration in the illicit drug supply is a predictable unintended consequence of drug prohibition," the report concludes. "The same forces that pushed the market away from relatively bulky opium towards heroin, a more concentrated opioid that was easier to transport clandestinely, have continued to push the opioid market to increasingly potent synthetic opioids, including a range of fentanyl analogs. A cooperative could undermine the illegal market wherever it is set up."

Such a plan faces legal and political challenges in Canada, but those can be overcome if the provincial and federal governments get on board. Obstacles to such a plan being rolled out in the United States are even greater, especially given an administration hostile toward harm reduction in general that would most likely view legal heroin sales as anathema.

But here in the U.S., we're a decade or so behind Vancouver when it comes to progressive drug policies, so it's time to get the conversation started. After all, these sorts of approaches to the problem are likely to be more effective than throwing addicts in jail or building boondoggle border walls. 

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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