Prescription Opiates

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Chronicle AM: Warren Slams Trump on Opioids, White House Says No Drug Legalization, More... (6/19/18)

A leading Democratic senator scolds the White House on the opioid crisis, the White House rejects drug legalization, the Lebanese consider legalizing marijuana cultivation for medicine, and more.

A Lebanese hash field. It could be turned into medical marijuana soon. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Festival Investigated for Allowing Marijuana Consumption. The Alaska Hempfest held last month allowed attendees who wanted to indulge on-site to smoke marijuana in a tent on the festival grounds, and that now has the festival in hot water with the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office. State law and industry regulations prohibit public consumption of marijuana. Festival organizers have been notified that an investigation is underway and that they will likely face a fine of several thousand dollars.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Elizabeth Warren Slams Trump on Lame Response to Opioid Crisis. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has ripped into President Trump over his lack of effective responses to the opioid crisis. In a letter released Thursday, Warren wrote: "Experts and observers have concluded that your efforts to address the crisis are 'pathetic' and 'ambiguous promises' that are falling far short of what is needed and not… addressing the epidemic with the urgency it demands. I agree and urge to move quickly to address these problems."

Drug Policy

White House Rejects Drug Legalization. In response to a question about Mexico's incoming president's openness to discussing drug legalization as an alternative to the bloody status quo south of the border, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made clear Wednesday that the Trump administration wasn't interested in anything like that. "I don't have a specific policy announcement on that front," Sanders said at the daily White House press briefing. "However, I can say that we would not support the legalization of all drugs anywhere and certainly wouldn't want to do anything that would allow more drugs to come into this country."

International

Lebanon's Parliament Will Take Up Legalizing Marijuana Cultivation for Medical Purposes. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday the parliament is considering legalizing marijuana cultivation for medical purposes in a bid to boost the economy. "The Lebanese Parliament is preparing to study and adopt the legislation necessary to legislate the cultivation of cannabis and its manufacture for medical uses in the manner of many European countries and some US states," Berri's office said, reporting on comments made in a meeting with the US ambassador in Beirut.

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.

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.

Trump Country Is Opioid Country

The two fevers gripping the land -- opioid addiction and support for Donald Trump -- are related. A new study from University of Texas researchers finds that counties with the highest opioid prescription rates were also more likely to favor Trump in the 2016 election.

One more sign that social distress may drive Trump support. (Creative Commons)
The study was published Friday in JAMA Network Open. The cross-sectional analysis examined data from the Census Bureau, Medicare Part D, and uselectionatlas.org to try to understand what has been deemed the "Oxy electorate."

Focusing on legally available prescription pain relievers, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, codeine and morphine, but not illegal substances like heroin, the study examined Medicare Part D records for some 3.7 million people in 3,128 of the 3,142 counties in the US. Researchers designated people who had received at least one 90-day supply of prescription opioids as "high opioid users."

Some 693 counties, typically with populations smaller than one million, had rates of opioid prescribing that were significantly higher than the national mean. Another 638 counties were identified as having significantly lower than average opioid use.

In those high opioid use counties, Trump won 59.96% of the vote. In the low opioid use counties, he won only 38.7% of the vote. (Trump won 45.92% of the overall vote.)

Those counties with both high opioid use and high Trump support were largely in the South, Midwest, and southern Appalachia.

The researchers found that the link between opioid use rates and Trump support was as strong as the link between other commonly cited socioeconomic factors -- such as unemployment, household income, and education levels -- and support for Trump. In the high opioid use counties, those other indicators also suggested high levels of social distress. Those counties had higher unemployment rates, fewer adults with a high school diploma, and lower household median incomes than the country as a whole.

Does that mean Trump got the opioid addict vote? No.

"With an ecological analysis, you can't say that. And not only can't you say it, but it's probably not true," said lead author Dr. James Goodwin, chair of geriatric medicine at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston. "If you're stoned out on opioids, you're probably not voting," he told Dallas News.

Instead, he and others suggested, high levels of opioid use tend to correlate with those other indicators of social distress, exacerbating feelings of being left behind or disenfranchised and making voters more likely to support candidates promising to shake things up.

"Trump tapped into something in that segment of voters," said Katharine Neill Harris, a drug policy fellow at the Baker Institute, a nonpartisan think tank of Rice University in Houston. "It's about more than just prescriptions. This is a very complex relationship, and representative of a deeper problem... of problems we are not addressing as a society," she told Dallas News.

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

(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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: St. Louis Ends Small MJ Prosecutions, House Passes Opioid Package, More... (6/13/18)

St. Louis prosecutors will no longer go after people with less than 100 grams of marijuana, a Delaware legislator amends her legalization bill to address concerns, the House passes an opioid package, the Canadian federal government rejects some Senate marijuana amendments, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill Amended. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) has filed an amendment to her legalization bill, House Bill 110, aimed at addressing concerns around regulations and public safety. The amendment would more tightly regulate legal marijuana production and distribution and prohibit products that look like candy or cartoon characters. The amendment also clarifies employer protections and sets aside 10% of tax revenues to pay for drugged driving enforcement. The bill has already passed committee votes and now awaits a House floor vote.

St. Louis Ends Marijuana Prosecutions for Less Than 100 Grams. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced Tuesday that her office will stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases involving less than 3 ½ ounces (100 grams) of the weed. "Effective immediately we will no longer issue possession of marijuana cases under 100 grams as the lead charge!" Gardner wrote. Gardner said her staff would also begin reviewing and dismissing pending pot cases.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Question On Democratic Ballot. Voters in the state's Democratic primary overwhelmingly approved a non-binding question asking if they supported passing a law to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients. The question passed with 81% of the vote. While medical marijuana bills have moved in the legislature, none has yet passed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Passes Package of 25 Bills Addressing Opioid Crisis. The House on Tuesday approved a package of 25 bills that nibble at the edge of the nation's opioid-related public health crisis. The bills range from addressing the disposal of opioid medications after a patient's death to encouraging overdose awareness in hospital emergency rooms to raising awareness of synthetic opioids and more. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the title link.

Harm Reduction

Delaware Law Giving First Responders Immunity from Lawsuits for Administering Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Goes into Effect. Gov. John Carney (D) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 147, which provides immunity from lawsuits for public safety personnel for trying to save lives by administering Naloxone. Paramedics and police had previously been granted immunity, and laypersons also have immunity under the state's Good Samaritan law. This bill specifies that volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders will also have immunity.

International

Canadian Federal Government Rejects Some Senate Marijuana Legalization Bill Amendments. The federal government has said it accepts some 26 technical proposed amendments to the C-45 legalization bill but rejects amendments to allow provinces to bar home cultivation and prohibit producers from handing out branded merchandise. "We have looked carefully at all of the amendments that have been brought forward and today we respectfully submit to the Senate the amendments that we've accepted, and the ones that we haven't," Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told reporters Wednesday. Now, it will be up to the Senate to accept the government's position. If not, the legislative haggling could continue for some time.

Chronicle AM: Trump Signals Support for MJ Bill, Canada Senate Passes Legalization, More... (6/8/18)

Trump says he will likely support a bill to protect legal marijuana states, Canada's Senate approves marijuana legalization, Minneapolis ends low-level pot stings, and more.

President Trump said he would "probably" support a bill that would end federal marijuanaprohibition in states where it is legal.
Marijuana Policy

Trump Says He Will Likely Support Gardner-Warren Marijuana Bill. President Trump said Friday that he will "probably" support a bipartisan, bicameral bill filed Thursday by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH) that would end federal marijuana prohibition in states where it is legal. The measure is the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act). "I support Sen. Gardner," Trump said when asked about the bill. "I know exactly what he's doing. We're looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes."

New Jersey Democrats File New Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and state Sen. Nick Scutari (D) have filed a new marijuana legalization bill just weeks ahead of June 30 budget deadline. Gov. Phil Murphy, a legalization supporter, is counting on $60 billion in marijuana tax revenue in his fiscal year 2019 budget. Under the bill, adults could possess, buy, use or transport an ounce or less of marijuana. Towns would retain the right to create their own ordinances governing sales, with a 180-day window to bar sales. The bill envisages tax rates from 10% to 25% over four years. It's not yet available on the legislative website.

Minneapolis Ends Low-Level Pot Stings, Cites Racial Disparities. At the request of Mayor Jacob Frey (DFL), Minneapolis police will quit staging stings targeting low-level marijuana sellers. The move came just hours after revelations that 46 of 47 people arrested in the stings were black. The charges against those people are being dismissed. "I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level," Frey said in a statement Thursday. "The fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Opioid Reduction Act Now in Effect. As of Thursday, the state Department of Health and Human Resources has begun implementation of the Opioid Reduction Act. It sets limitations on opioid prescriptions and allows patients to place a directive in their medical file declining in advance treatments involving opioid medications. Under the new law, initial opioid prescriptions are limited to a seven-day supply of the lowest effective dose. In hospital emergency rooms, doctors can only prescribe a four-day supply.

International

Canadian Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Thursday night approved the C-45 marijuana legalization bill, but only after heavily amending it. The bill must now go back to the House, which must decide which to keep and which to throw out, before sending it back to the Senate for final approval. Many of the amendments are technical, but some are significant. One amendment would allow provinces to prohibit home cultivation of cannabis if they so choose, rather than accept the four marijuana plants per household allowed under the bill. Another would impose stringent restrictions on advertising by marijuana companies.

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: 2019 Ohio Init Gears Up, Fed Treatment Bill Advances, More... (5/19/18)

Michigan legalization initiative foes urge the legislature to legalize it, an Ohio legalization initiative can begin signature gathering, a federal drug treatment bill exclusively targeting opioids advances, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalization Initiative Foes Urge Legislature to Pass Legalization. In a surprise move, a campaign committee formed to oppose the pending marijuana legalization initiative is now asking the legislature to preemptively pass legalization. Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools issued a press release Thursday calling on the legislature to approve the initiative. Under state law, the legislature can just pass the initiative, or, if it rejects it or fails to act, the initiative would go before voters in November. State Republicans worry that interest in the initiative will drive turnout at the polls, worsening their chances in the election.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. The state Ballot Board on Thursday cleared a legalization initiative, the Marijuana Rights and Regulation Act, for signature gathering. Campaigners need to come up with some 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the initiative. The deadline to make the November ballot is in July, but campaigners say there are instead aiming at 2019.

Medical Marijuana

House Panel Approves Medical Marijuana Protections. The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an amendment from Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) to continue to protect state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The amendment is now part of the House's Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill. The amendment, previously known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, bars the expenditure of federal funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana.

Illinois Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana in Schools. The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana in elementary and middle schools. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). The bill would let parents administer marijuana-infused products, but not smoked marijuana, to their child on school grounds.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. A medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1554, has died in conference committee, leaving the path open for at least one medical marijuana initiative to go before the voters in November. The bill came as an amendment to a healthcare bill and would only have allowed patients with terminal illnesses to use non-smokable marijuana.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Panel Advances Bill to Expand Drug Treatment, But Only for Opioids. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday advanced a bill that would free up Medicaid dollars for spending on treatment for opioid addictions, but some lawmakers warned that the country is facing a polydrug crisis. "I'm troubled that this bill would expand treatment only to people with opioid use disorder as opposed to those with other substance use disorders like alcohol, crack-cocaine, methamphetamine," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). "This bill is not only blind to the reality faced by people suffering from substance use disorder but it's also discriminatory." The measure is HR 5797.

Chronicle AM: McConnell Just Says No to Legal Weed, Walmart Tightens Prescribing, More... (5/9/18)

Mitch McConnell just says no, a House committee advances a VA medical marijuana bill, Pennsylvania's governor and attorney general aren't down with a Philadelphia safe injection site, and more.

Mitch McConnell is down with hemp, but not pot. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Mitch McConnell Confirms GOP Still the Party of "No" on Legal Marijuana. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he was not interested in legalizing marijuana, even though his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has endorsed it. "I do not have any plans to endorse legalization of marijuana," McConnell said. McConnell is pushing for the legalization of hemp, though: "These are two entirely separate plants," McConnell said. "I hope everybody understands that. It is a different plant. It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace."

Medical Marijuana

House Committee Advances Veterans Affairs Medical Marijuana Research Bill. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee Tuesday unanimously approved a measure that aims to increase VA research on medical marijuana. The bill would specify that the agency has the ability to research the herb for conditions including PTSD. The measure is part of a package of bills lawmakers hope to pass this month.

Missouri Senate Gives Initial Approval to Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Tuesday gave initial approval to House Bill 1554, which would allow people suffering from specified serious illnesses to use non-smokeable medical marijuana. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the Senate Committee on Health and Pensions for a second reading. If it survives that, it then goes to the full Senate for a floor vote.

Utah "Right To Try" CBD Medical Marijuana Law Now in Effect. A limited medical marijuana law is now in effect. Under House Bill 195, which passed in March, terminally ill patients will be able to access CBD cannabis oil under a provision that expands the state's 2015 Right to Try Act. Also now in effect is House Bill 197, which establishes a medical marijuana cultivation program in the state. Both of these laws could soon be irrelevant, though: A much broader medical marijuana initiative will be on the ballot in November.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study: Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs Have Little Effect on Overdose Deaths. A new study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health finds that prescription drug monitoring programs may be only "marginally effective" in reducing drug overdose deaths. "What it really offers is this cautionary tale that says a few things. One, the amount of money and resources that are going into these programs need to be evaluated to understand what their ultimate costs are," social epidemiologist David Fink said. "Studies have come out in the past looking at reduced prescribing behavior, but we're taking it to the next level -- looking at fatal or nonfatal overdoses. And what we're seeing is that when you actually look at the literature, it isn't that strong to support" the programs. The study also found that half the studies looking at heroin overdose rates found a significant increase after prescription drug monitoring programs were implemented.

Walmart Tightens Opioid Prescription Policies. The nation's largest pharmacy chain announced Monday that beginning within 60 days, it will only fill first-time acute opioid prescriptions for a week or less nationwide. It will also limit dosages to 50 morphine milligram units per day. Walmart didn't say what it would do about patients who require greater dosages than that.

Harm Reduction

Officials in Philadelphia want a safe injection site in a bid to reduce drug overdoses that killed more than 1,200 people in the city last year, but the Democratic governor and attorney general aren't on board. A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf said the idea "presents a number of serious public health and legal concerns, while a spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro said changes in federal law would have to come before he could support a safe injection site.

Drug War Issues

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