Harm Reduction

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Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Filed, Seattle Safe Injection Sites Face NIMBY, More... (5/15/17)

A new Jersey state senator wants to legalize marijuana, and so do Britain's Liberal Democrats; Seattle's proposed safe injection sites face NIMBY opposition, violence flares in Mexico and threatens to erupt in Colombia, and more.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos helps eradicating the first of many coca plants. (President’s Office)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legislature Approves Bill Outlawing Urine Testing of Suspected Pot-Impaired Drivers. Lawmakers last Thursday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 135, which would bar the use of urine tests for driving under the influence of marijuana because the science shows that urinalysis does not actually measure impairment -- merely the presence of marijuana metabolites. Under the bill, drivers suspected of being under the influence of pot would be subjected to a blood test, which actually measures THC levels (although not impairment). The bill does not change the state's per se DUID level of two nanogram of THC per milliliter, which presumes drivers are impaired at that level.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Rolled Out Today. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) on Monday introduced a legalization bill, even though he conceded it was unlikely to become law while Gov. Chris Christie (R) is still around. Christie's term ends in January. The bill would allow the possession of up to an ounce, 16 ounces of edibles, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused beverages, but would not allow personal cultivation. The bill would also create a Division of Marijuana Enforcement to regulate marijuana commerce, with a sales tax of 7%, rising to 25% over five years. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) last Friday signed into law House File 524, which expands an existing law that allows people with certain conditions to use CBD cannabis oil, but did not allow for production or sale of the oil. The new law lets the state authorize up to two facilities to grow marijuana and produce cannabis oil to be sold in five state-approved dispensaries. It also expands the list of qualifying illnesses to include 15 chronic conditions.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Supervised Injection Sites Face NIMBY Opposition. Opponents of proposed supervised injection sites -- one in Seattle and one possibly in suburban King County -- have organized a local initiative campaign to put the proposal to a county-wide vote. Initiative 27 needs some 47,000 valid voter signatures by July 31 to put the proposal to an up or down vote on the November 2017 ballot.

International

Colombian Government Begins Coca Eradication, Narcos Begin Fight-Back. President Juan Manuel Santos took part last Thursday in the kickoff of a campaign to eradicate coca crops and provide substitutes. The government wants to eradicate some 125,000 acres of coca -- more than three times the amount eradicated last year -- but with the FARC now demobilized, drug traffickers and militias are now waging a campaign of threats, intimidation, and violent attacks to protect their business, leaving coca growers caught between the government and the narcos. Nearly three dozen rural community leaders have been assassinated since the November peace deal, and the traffickers seems to be tailing government officials trying to sell the program. In one Putomayo town last week, anonymous pamphlets threatening cooperative leaders appeared the next day.

Mexican Cartel Fight Over Reynosa "Plaza" Leaves More Than Two Dozen Dead. As of late last week, at least 28 people had been killed in fighting among drug traffickers over who would control "la plaza" (the franchise) in the Mexican border town of Reynosa. The dead include cartel members, civilians, and members of the military. The combatants are variously described as either members of the Zetas and Gulf cartels or factions of the Zetas.

British Lib Dems Embrace Marijuana Legalization. The Liberal Democrats have adopted a platform that includes legalizing marijuana and marijuana commerce. The Lib Dems were the third force in British politics behind Labor and the Conservatives, but saw their number of MPs drop dramatically in the most recent elections after joining the Tories as a junior partner in a coalition government. The Lib Dems are now the fourth force in British politics, having been surpassed by the Scottish Nationalists in the last election.

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Pass Legalization, Sessions May Restart Harsh Drug War, More... (5/10/17)

A bill legalizing the possession and cultivaiton of small amounts of marijuana has passed the Vermont legislature, Attorney General Sessions could be on the verge of reinstating harsh drug war prosecution practices, Mexico's drug violence is on the upswing, and more.

The Vermont legislature made history today becoming the first to have both houses approve a legalization bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legislature Passes Legalization Bill. The state becomes the first in the nation to have both chambers of the legislature approve a marijuana legalization bill after the House voted on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 22, a compromise between a House bill that would only legalize possession and cultivation -- not commerce -- and a Senate bill that envisioned a full-blown tax and regulate law. This bill postpones the effective date of personal legalization to next year and creates a commission to study whether to advance on taxation and regulation. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It is unclear whether Scott will sign the bill or not.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Despite the strongest support yet in Austin, the fight to pass a medical marijuana bill is over. House Bill 2107 is dead, killed by the House Calendars Committee, which failed to take action on it by a Tuesday deadline.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate File 446, which requires a criminal conviction before property valued at less than $5,000 can be seized by police. The new law also raises the standard of proof from a preponderance of the evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence, and implements record-keeping requirements.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Could Bring Back Harsh Drug War Prosecutions. Sessions is reviewing policy changes that could reverse Obama era sentencing practices aimed at reducing the federal prison population. According to reports, Sessions could be on the verge of reversing an Eric Holder memo that instructed prosecutors to avoid charging low-level defendants with crimes carrying the most severe penalties and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences. "As the Attorney General has consistently said, we are reviewing all Department of Justice policies to focus on keeping Americans safe and will be issuing further guidance and support to our prosecutors executing this priority -- including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases," Ian Prior, a department spokesman, in a statement to The Washington Post.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Removes Obama Rule Blocking States' Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits. The department will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday notice that it is officially removing the Obama era rule that limited states' ability to force unemployment applicants to undergo drug testing. Congress had repealed the rule under the Congressional Review Act in March.

International

Irish Senators Approve Supervised Injection Sites. The Seanad on Wednesday approved legislation permitting the creation of supervised injection sites with a bill that will allow for the preparation and possession of drugs on such premises. The measure was approved by the lower house, the Dail, in March.

Mexico's Drug War Was World's Second Deadliest Conflict Last Year. Some 23,000 people were killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico last year, making the country second only to Syria in terms of lives lost to conflict. About 50,000 were reported killed in the Syrian civil war in 2016. The numbers come from an annual survey of armed conflict from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community," said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey. Last year's toll is a dramatic increase from the 15,000 conflict deaths in Mexico in 2014 and the 17,000 in 2015. "It is noteworthy that the largest rises in fatalities were registered in states that were key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels," she said. "The violence grew worse as the cartels expanded the territorial reach of their campaigns, seeking to 'cleanse' areas of rivals in their efforts to secure a monopoly on drug-trafficking routes and other criminal assets."

Colombian Coca Production More Than Triples. Thanks largely to "perverse incentives" linked to the end of the decades-long conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, Colombia is growing more coca than ever. As a result, the cocaine market is saturated, prices have crashed, and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields. "We've never seen anything like it before," said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. The country produced a whopping 710 tons of cocaine last year, up from 235 tons three years earlier.

Chronicle AM: DEA Wants Prosecutor Corps, ME Gov Wants ODers to Pay for Naloxone, More... (5/4/17)

The DEA proposes its own corps of prosecutors to go after opioids, Maine's governor wants to force repeat overdosers to pay for the naloxone they use, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Legislature Approves Adding PTSD as Qualifying Condition. A bill to "Allow Medical Marijuana Use for Stress Disorders," Senate Bill 17, was sent to the governor's desk on Monday after the Senate last week approved a final concurrence vote to amendments accepted in the House. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is expected to sign it.

New York Assembly Approves PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve Assembly Bill 7006, sponsored by Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), which would add PTSD to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Harm Reduction

Maine Governor Wants Repeat Overdosers to Pay for Naloxone Used to Revive Them. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has submitted a bill, Legislative Document 1558, that would require Maine communities to recover the cost of naloxone from repeat users and fine them $1,000 per incident if they don't go after the money. But doctors and advocates said the bill would make it harder to stop the state's wave of drug overdoses. Le Page is no friend of naloxone, saying it "does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose." He has twice vetoed naloxone bills, only to see them overridden both times.

Law Enforcement

DEA Wants Own Prosecutor Corps to Go After Opioids. In a little-noticed proposal published in the Federal Register in March, the DEA said it wants to hire as many as 20 prosecutors to help it enhance its resources and target large offenders. The new prosecutor corps "would be permitted to represent the United States in criminal and civil proceedings before the courts and apply for various legal orders." Funding for the program would come from drug manufacturers regulated by the DEA. If approved, the move would mark the first time the DEA had its own dedicated prosecutors to go after drug offenses. But critics say the plan "exceeds DEA's authority under federal law" because it would require funding from the drug diversion registration program. "In this notice, the DEA effectively proposes a power grab and is trying to end-run the congressional appropriations process," said Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Chronicle AM: Dr. Bronner's $5 Million for MDMA Research, HRW Says More Naloxone, More... (4/27/17)

FDA-approved research on MDMA and PTSD gets a big monetary bump courtesy of Dr. Bronner's, Human Right Watch condemns the failure to make the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone more available, a safe injection site bill is moving in California, and more.

Dr. Bronner's CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer) David Bronner (maps.org)
Industrial Hemp

Nevada Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Bill. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 396 by a unanimous vote. The bill would expand on existing state law, which allows colleges or the state Agriculture Department to grow hemp for research purposes. This bill would create "a separate program for the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp and produce agricultural hemp seed in this State," allowing the crop to be grown for commercial purposes. The bill now heads to the House.

Ecstasy

Dr. Bronner's Kicks In $5 Million for MDMA PTSD Research. Dr. Bronner's -- the family-owned maker of the popular soap brand -- is donating $5 million over five years to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to pursue its FDA-approved Stage 3 studies of the efficacy of MDMA for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The announcement came ahead of last week's MAPS-sponsored psychedelic science conference in Oakland. "There is tremendous suffering and pain that the responsible integration of MDMA for treatment-resistant PTSD will alleviate and heal," said Dr. Bronner's CEO David Bronner. "To help inspire our allies to close the funding gap, my family has pledged $1 million a year for five years -- $5 million total-- by far our largest gift to an NGO partner to date. In part, we were inspired by the incredible example of Ashawna Hailey, former MAPS Board member, who gave MAPS $5 million when she died in 2011."

Drug Policy

Human Rights Watch Report Says US Drug Policy Failures Drive Preventable Drug Overdose Deaths. The US federal and state governments are taking insufficient action to ensure access to the life-saving medication naloxone to reverse opioid overdose, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday. The 48-page report, "A Second Chance: Overdose Prevention, Naloxone, and Human Rights in the United States," identifies federal and state laws and policies that are keeping naloxone out of the hands of people most likely to witness accidental overdoses, denying them the ability to save lives. "The easiest, most effective step that the federal and state governments can take to stem the tide of deaths from opioid overdoses is to make naloxone easier to get," said Megan McLemore, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Naloxone should be as easy to get as Tylenol. Criminal laws block access to harm reduction programs such as syringe exchanges; the price of the medication is too high; it is not available over the counter -- these and other obstacles are keeping naloxone out of the hands of those who need it the most."

Harm Reduction

California Committee Votes for Supervised Consumption Sites Bill. A bill supported by the Drug Policy Alliance, Assembly Bill 186, passed Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. It had already been approved by the Assembly Health Committee last month, which marked the first time a US legislative body has ever approved a safe drug consumption site measure. "This is a huge step toward establishing a more effective, treatment-focused approach to drug addiction and abuse in California," said bill sponsor Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-San Joaquin County). "The committee's input has done a great deal to refine the bill since I first introduced it last year, and its support clearly demonstrates the legislature's willingness to consider bold ideas to get people to treatment and counseling, to protect public health and safety and, most importantly, to save lives." The bill now heads for an Assembly floor vote.

Chronicle AM: Nevada MJ Bills Moving, NY Safe Consumption Campaign Underway, More... (4/26/17)

A group of DAs have published a report critical of marijuana legalization, Nevada marijuana bills are moving, a New York campaign for the establishment of safe drug consumption rooms gets underway, and more.

Will El Chapo pay for the border wall? Ted Cruz thinks it's a swell idea.
Marijuana Policy

In New Report, Prosecutors Slam Marijuana Legalization. The National District Attorneys' Association has released a report, Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective, that criticizes legalization as leading to greater access by children and creating challenges for impaired driving enforcement. The DAs also criticized state-level legalization and decriminalization as "an obstacle to the comprehensive federal framework." The report will be used by the Trump administration to help fashion its marijuana policy.

Massachusetts House Passes Bill Barring Use of Cash Welfare Benefits to Buy Pot. The House on Tuesday passed House Bill 3194, which would bar the use of cash welfare benefits to purchase marijuana. State law already prohibits cash benefits from being used to purchase alcohol, lottery tickets, cigarettes, and pornography. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Nevada Marijuana Bills Advance. In a frenzy of last-minute activity, legislators approved a series of marijuana bills on Tuesday. Senate Bill 375, which advocates for tribes' right to establish marijuana facilities; Senate Bill 344, which establishes packaging standards; Senate Bill 236, which would allow for on-site consumption; and Senate Bill 374, which would allow the use of medical marijuana for opioid addiction, all passed the Senate and head for the Assembly. Meanwhile, the Assembly passed Assembly Bill 259, which would allow courts to seal the records of people charged with possessing an ounce or less. That bill now heads for the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday approved House Bill 1397, which aims to regulate the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system. Critics call the House bill too restrictive and are calling on legislators to instead support a rival bill in the Senate.

Drug Policy

Ted Cruz Files Bill to Make El Chapo Pay for the Border Wall. US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has filed Senate Bill 939, "to reserve any amounts forfeited to the US government as a result of the criminal prosecution of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera (commonly known as "El Chapo"), or of other felony convictions involving the transportation of controlled substances into the United States, for security measures along the Southern border, including the completion of a border wall.

Harm Reduction

Safe Shape Tour across New York State Calls for "Safer Consumption Spaces" to Combat Skyrocketing Overdoses. In response to New York State's overdose and opioid epidemic, a coalition of healthcare professionals, public health experts, advocates, and people with a history of drug use are launching a statewide campaign calling for the creation of safer consumption spaces (SCS) supervised injection facilities (SIF) where people can legally consume previously-purchased illicit drugs with supervision from peers and healthcare professionals who help make their use safer and connect them with medical care, drug treatment, and social services. Click on the link for much more information and how to register for events.

Chronicle AM: NV Syringe Vending Machines, Good and Bad CO MJ Bills, More... (4/17/17)

Nevada will soon see the first syringe vending machines in the country, the Colorado legislature responds to a threatened federal crackdown -- for better and worse -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is moving forward with plans to drug test Medicaid recipients, and more.

Syringe vending machines -- coming first to Nevada. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

A Majority of American Adults Have Tried Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Marist/Yahoo poll finds that 52% of American adults have tried marijuana at least once, and that 56% find the drug "socially acceptable. The same poll has support for legalization at 49%, with 47% opposed.

DC Marijuana Activists to Hand Out Free Joints on Capitol Hill for 4/20. The same folks who brought legal marijuana to the nation's capital are planning to hand out more than a thousand free marijuana joints on Capitol Hill Thursday, 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. Anyone over 21 who has a congressional ID is eligible for the free weed, said DCMJ. The activists said the action was meant to life the "special interest smokescreen" blocking marijuana reform in Congress.

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana "Not a Factor" in Drug War. DHS Secretary John Kelly said Sunday that marijuana is "not a factor" in the country's drug war and that "arresting a lot of users" will not solve the country's drug problems. Kelly responded to a question about whether legalizing marijuana in the US would help or hinder his work attempting to interdict drug shipments to the US. "Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," Kelly responded, adding later: "It's three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south." And rather than arresting users: "The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south."

Colorado Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have set up the country's first statewide law allowing for on-premises marijuana consumption at licensed businesses is dead, with legislators citing fear of a federal crackdown for its demise. The House voted last Thursday to amend Senate Bill 17-184 to remove the provision that would have allowed adults to bring their own weed to businesses and consume it on-premises.

Colorado Senate Approves Bill to Shift Legal Marijuana Inventories Over to Medical Marijuana in Event of Federal Crackdown. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 17-192, which would allow adult-use marijuana businesses to transfer their inventory to medical marijuana status if a federal crackdown on adult-legal weed happens. The bill now goes to the House.

Nevada Legislature Still Faces Heavy Load of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session marked its first key deadline last Friday when all proposed bills had to have passed out of their committee of introduction or be declared dead. And fourteen marijuana-related bills remain alive, including one, Senate Bill 302, that would allow dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to any adult beginning in July. Click the link for the rest of the bills and their status.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Killing Decrim in Memphis and Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The bill was a response to moves by the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, which had passed municipal decriminalization ordinances.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Finalize Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission last Tuesday gave final approval to rules governing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The rules must still be approved by the legislature, which has passed some legislation that appears to conflict with them. The legislature only has until May 8 to modify the rules or the state will be out of compliance with the Medical Marijuana Act, which is now part of the state constitution.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Alabama House Approves Tougher Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl. The House voted last week to approve harsh new penalties for the possession and sale of heroin and fentanyl. In a unanimous vote, the chamber approved a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession and increased penalties for trafficking, including a mandatory life sentence without parole for trafficking 10 or more kilos of either drugs. The bill is House Bill 203, which is now before the Senate.

Maryland General Assembly Passes Package of Heroin/Opioid Bills. The Assembly last week approved a package of bills aimed at tackling the state's heroin and prescription opioid crisis. One bill would create 24/7 drug treatment centers for addicts, increase reimbursements for drug treatment, and ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. A second bill would create drug awareness programs in schools and allow school nurses to stock and dispense naloxone. A third bill would require doctors to follow best practices when prescribing opioids, while a fourth bill increases prison sentences for people convicted of fentanyl offenses. The bills now await the governor's signature.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last week signed into law House Bill 2477, which requires a higher evidentiary standard before police and prosecutors can seize assets from suspects. Instead of a "preponderance" of the evidence, cops must now provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the assets are linked to a crime.

Drug Policy

New York City Council Passes Bill to Coordinate Drug Policy Among City Departments. The city council recently passed legislation to create a coordinated municipal drug strategy. The bill empowers the Mayor to designate a lead agency or office to convene stakeholders including city agencies, outside experts, and communities impacted by drug use to develop a city-wide, health-focused plan for a coordinated approach in addressing issues related to drug use.

West Virginia Legislature Passes Bill Creating Drug Policy Office. A bill that would create an Office of Drug Control Policy within the Department of Health and Human Services has passed both houses of the legislature and awaits the governor's signature. The measure, House Bill 2620, passed last Friday, the final day of the session. Gov. Jim Justice (D) has fifteen days to sign the bill.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday posted his proposal for moving people off state Badgercare Medicaid, which includes a provision requiring drug screenings for Medicaid recipients. People suspected of illegal drug use after screening would be ineligible for coverage until they are tested. People who test positive would be offered drug treatment, while people who refuse the test would lose benefits for six months.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Becomes First State to Install Needle Vending Machines. In a bid to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hep C, a needle exchange program in Las Vegas is now providing clean needles in vending machines. The Las Vegas Harm Reduction Center worked together with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society to install the new machines. Each client will be limited to two kits per week, with the kits including syringes, alcohol wipes, condoms, and a needle disposal box.

International

Canada Unveils Plan for Legal Marijuana Sales by June 2018. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Thursday filed legislation designed to implement marijuana legalization by June of next year. The bill would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana and would allow the federal government to regulate producers, while the provinces would regulate sales to consumers. Other issues, such as pricing, taxation, and packaging are still to be worked out.

Chronicle AM: NM GOP Gov Vetoes MedMJ & OD Bills, Canada MJ Bill Thursday, More... (4/10/17)

Congressional drug policy reform bills are piling up, New Mexico's GOP governor vetoes medical marijuana and overdose prevention bills, Canada's Liberals roll out their marijuana legalization bill Thursday, and more.

A federal marijuana rescheduling bill has been filed. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Congressmen Gaetz and Soto Propose Legislation to Reschedule Marijuana, Two Florida GOP congressmen, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Darren Soto, have filed House Resolution 2020, "to provide for the rescheduling of marijuana into schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act." Rescheduling would make it easier to conduct research into medical marijuana, the congressmen said. "This drug should not be in the same category as heroin and LSD, and we do not need to continue with a policy that turns thousands of young people into felons every year," Gaetz added.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bills. Both houses of the legislature have approved measures allowing for expanded access to CBD cannabis oil But Senate Bill 15 and House companion legislation now have differences in the percentages of chemicals allowed, so the bills must go to conference committee to hammer out the differences.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Changes. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) vetoed a measure that would have improved the state's medical marijuana law last Friday. House Bill 527 would have allowed people diagnosed with an opioid use disorder to use medical marijuana. In her veto message, Martinez wrote that allowing people addicted to opioids to seek medical marijuana "will likely cause a rapid increase in program enrollment, which the program is currently unable to sustain." But critics called that reasoning bogus, noting that the state Health Department sets the number of licensed producers and the amount they can grow.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Legislators Approve Overdose Monitoring, Creation of Office of Drug Policy. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 2620, which would create a statewide program to monitor drug overdoses and establish an office of drug control policy to coordinate the response to the heroin and opioid crisis. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D).

Harm Reduction

Kansas Governor Signs Naloxone Access Bill. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 2217, which will allow first responders to administer the opioid overdose drug naloxone and which also allows pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription. Kansas was one of only three states without a naloxone access law, and the bill passed both houses unanimously.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 47, the 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, on Friday. The bill would have expanded the state's existing Good Samaritan law to include alcohol-related overdoses and to limit the prospect of arrest of people, who are on probation or parole or who have a restraining order, when they call 911 on behalf of someone experiencing a drug or alcohol overdose. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a 58-5 vote.

Law Enforcement

Sheila Jackson Lee Files Bill to Raise Evidentiary Standards for Federal Drug Offenses. US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has filed House Resolution 1979 "to increase the evidentiary standard required to convict a person for a drug offense, to require screening of law enforcement officers or others acting under color of law participating in drug task forces, and for other purposes." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Reentry

Corey Booker, Elijah Cummings File Federal "Ban the Box" Bills. US Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have filed identical bills in the Senate and House that would prevent employers from asking about applicants' criminal backgrounds until a job offer has been made. The bill would only apply to government agencies and federal contractors. The Senate measure is Senate Bill 842; its House companion is House Bill 1906. The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

Canada Marijuana Legalization Bill to Be Unveiled Thursday. The governing Liberals will roll out their marijuana legalization bill on Thursday, a "senior government source" said Monday. The government has said it wants legal marijuana to be a done deal on or before July 1, 2018.

FEATURE: Ohio Opioid Overdose Outrage: One Town's Ugly Effort to Punish Victims

The article was prepared in collaboration with AlterNet.

Ohio is state with a serious opioid problem. It's tied with neighboring Kentucky for the third-highest overdose death rate in the county, and the state Department of Health reports that fatal overdoses, mostly due to opioids, have jumped eight-fold in the past 15, killing more than 3,000 Ohioans in 2015.

In a bid to address the problem, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law last year. Such laws, which are also in place in 36 other states, provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession offenses for overdose victims and people who seek medical assistance to help them. The idea is to encourage people to seek help for their friends rather than hesitate, perhaps with lethal consequences, out of fear of being busted.

But one Ohio town is getting around the intent of the law by using an unrelated statute to go after overdose victims. If you OD in the city of Washington Court House, you can expect to be charged with -- wait for it -- "inducing panic," which is used for cases that "cause serious public inconvenience or alarm."

In the last two months, Washington Court House police have used the "inducing panic" statute at least a dozen times to charge overdose victims. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The move has drawn fire from the ACLU of Ohio, which sent a demand letter to city officials urging the city to "immediately end its practice of charging people experiencing a health crisis under this vague and inappropriate criminal statute." The city's "unlawful application of this statute will intensify the dangers of heroin use -- not help to control them," the ACLU argued.

The arrests have also caught the attention of Human Rights Watch, which called them "misguided and counterproductive." The advocacy group added that "increasing penalties for drug use is not the solution to Ohio's opioid crisis" and "what city of Washington Court House should be providing is access to health and harm reduction services, including clean syringes, the overdose reversal medication naloxone, and access to treatment."

But the city isn't heeding those warnings. Instead, in the face of the criticism, the city last week dug in its heels, saying the arrests weren't about punishment, but were a means to help addicts.

"We are not after jail time. We are not after fine money. We are simply looking to get these people some assistance. Obviously they need it, but they are not seeking it willingly upon themselves to get the assistance," said Police Chief Brian Hottinger.

City Manager Joe Denen added that the city is not planning any changes to its policy.

"In challenging circumstances, charging some individuals with inducing panic provides the court system with a means of connecting people in need of treatment with treatment opportunities," he said.

Or they could just offer them treatment.

Chronicle AM: Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Test Bill, WVA MedMJ Bill House Vote, More... (4/3/17)

President Trump signs a bill that will expand the drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits, the West Virginia House is taking up medical marijuana, Colorado legislators have crafted a plan to deal with any federal attack on recreational marijuana, and more.

President Trump has signed a bill undoing Obama administration rules limiting unemployment drug testing. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Seeks to Avoid Thwart Possible Fed Crackdown by Classifying Legal Marijuana as Medical. In what the Associated Press called "the boldest attempt yet by a US marijuana state to avoid federal intervention in its weed market," the legislature is considering Senate Bill 17-192. The bill would allow retail marijuana licenses to be transferred into medical marijuana licenses. The measure has already passed out of the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee and the Senate Finance committee and has a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Michigan Hash Bash Draws 10,000+. Ann Arbor's annual celebration of marijuana drew the largest crowd in years this past weekend, with more than 10,000 people showing up to light up and voice support for marijuana legalization. Michigan nearly became the first Midwest state to put legalization to a vote last year -- coming up just short on signature gathering -- and activists there are vowing to try again in 2018.

Kansas City Voters to Decide on Decriminalization Tomorrow. Residents of Kansas City, Missouri, will vote Tuesday on whether to approve the Question 5 decriminalization ordinance. Under the proposal, people 21 and over caught with less than an ounce would face no more than a $25 ticket.

Wichita Pot Defelonilization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. Wichita activists hope the second time is the charm. A successful 2015 defelonization initiative was stuck down by the state Supreme Court on a technical issue. Now, the activists say they are preparing a new campaign to put the issue on the August municipal ballot. Under their proposal, small-time pot possessors would face a misdemeanor charge and a maximum $50 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Governor Signs a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a dozen bills aimed at regulating the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Bills that actually modified the law required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the link.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Hearing Today. After a delay over the weekend at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, the House is taking up the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, today. Shott was expected to introduce an amendment during today's hearing before a vote is taken.

Drug Testing

Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Into Law. President Trump last Friday signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that will allow states to expand the pool of unemployment benefits applicants who can be drug tested. The bill undid an Obama administration rule that limited unemployment drug testing to professions where drug screenings are the norm. The bill passed Congress with no Democratic support in the Senate and only four Democrats in the House.

Harm Reduction

JAPA Issue Focuses on Naloxone. The March-April issue of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association is devoted to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. It contains nearly 30 letters, research reports and research notes on issues related to pharmacists and naloxone. The articles appear to be all open access, too. Click on the link to check 'em out.

One Simple Way to Reduce Deadly Heroin and Pain Pill Overdoses

The United States is in the grips of the worst drug overdose crisis ever, with prescription opioids and illicit opiates like heroin killing tens of thousands of people each year, but many of those people aren't dying from opioids alone. Another class of prescription drugs is too often involved.

Those drugs are the benzodiazepines -- with brand names like Valium and Xanax -- and are prescribed by the millions to treat anxiety, They can be deadly on their own, with federal data showing nearly 9,000 fatal benzo ODs in 2015. But here's the kicker: Nearly half of all fatal benzo ODs involve both them and opioids.

And a new study published in the British Medical Journal provides further evidence of the risks of doing benzos and opioids together. That study drew on a sample of more than 300,000 patients continuously enrolled in private health insurance plans between 2001 and 2013, and researchers looked at emergency room visits for drug overdoses among those prescribed only opioids versus those prescribed both opioids and benzos.

The results were dramatic: People prescribed both types of drugs had nearly double the risk of an ER or inpatient visit for a drug overdose. Based on the results, researchers estimated that cutting benzo prescriptions for opioid users reduced the risk of ER visits by 15%. If that figure holds true for overdose deaths, some 2,630 opioid-related overdose deaths could have been prevented in 2015 alone.

The policy implications are clear, said study coauthor and Stanford University drug policy expert Keith Humphreys: Don't prescribe benzos to people being prescribed opioids.

"Even if we didn't change opioid prescribing at all, the data here suggest that we could cut overdoses dramatically just by getting prescribers to not put people on a benzodiazepine at the same time," Humphreys said.

That would require a real shift in prescribing practices. The number of patients in the study being prescribed both benzos and opioids nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013, from 9% to 17%.

Reducing co-prescriptions could be problematic for some patients. If they are suffering both pain and anxiety, they and their doctors will have to work together to decide which issue is most serious and which could be treated with alternatives. But making such tough choices could lead to a reduced risk of fatal overdose.

The BMJ study has its limits. It looked only at legally prescribed benzos and opioids, missing the effects of concurrent use of illicit drugs, and it looked only at ER and inpatient visits, not fatal overdoses. And it only demonstrated correlation, not causation. It's possible some factor other than co-prescribing was driving up overdose rates among study patients, but given that the overdose risks of mixing benzos and opioids are well established, suggesting that co-prescribing them results in increased overdoses is not exactly controversial.

Doctors can do their part to reduce the number of overdose deaths by reducing benzo and opioid co-prescribing, but since much benzo and opioid use occurs outside legal medical channels, users in non-medically supervised settings are also going to have to be keenly aware of the dangers of mixing those drugs. If they are, the evidence suggests they can save some lives.

Drug War Issues

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