State & Local Legislatures

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Chronicle AM: White House's Anti-Pot Committee, IL Gov OKs MedMJ for Opioids, More... (8/29/18)

The Trump administration has a secret committee to trash pot, Canada okays a roadside drug testing device for motorists, Illinois becomes the latest state to allow medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Trump Administration Has Secret Committee to Trash Pot. The White House has created a multi-agency committee to combat rising public support for marijuana legalization and make legalization initiatives look bad, according to a report today in Buzzfeed News. The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee has instructed federal agencies including the DEA to come up with and submit "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" about marijuana and the "threat" in poses to the country. Reports from the committee will be used to brief Trump "on marijuana threats." The committee is being coordinated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

New Jersey Attorney General Issues Guidance on Marijuana-Related Prosecutions. The Office of the Attorney General issued guidance to municipal prosecutors regarding prosecution of marijuana-related cases. This guidance comes after Attorney General Gurbir Grewal convened a working group on marijuana prosecutions earlier this summer. The guidance reaffirms that local prosecutors cannot decriminalize marijuana possession, but they can use their discretion on a case-by-case basis "based on the particular facts and applicable law, and consistent with their ethical obligations to the state, the defendants, and the courts." The guidance merely highlights the need for the state to actually pass marijuana legalization, advocates said.

New York Assembly to Hold Public Hearings on Marijuana Legalization. The Assembly will hold four public hearings this fall on whether and how to legalize marijuana. These hearings will follow a well-attended hearing in the Assembly on the topic earlier this year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has recently embraced legalization, and a legalization bill is before the Assembly.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill to allow patients to use medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids. "Opioid abuse disorder is taking the lives of Illinoisans, thousands of lives. Opioid abuse disorder is disrupting and destroying families across our state and across the country," Rauner said at the bill signing at the Chicago Recovery Alliance. "We've got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic, and today, I'm proud to sign a bill that helps us stop this epidemic. Medical cannabis creates an opportunity to treat pain in a less intrusive, less obstructive way than opioids."

International

Canada Approves First Roadside Drug Test Device for Marijuana. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has approved a device designed to detect whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana. The device is the Drager Drug Test 5000, which allows police to check drivers' saliva for the presence of THC, as well as amphetamines, opioids, cocaine, and methadone. The device has plenty of critics, who say it is prone to false positives and false negatives. Officials will also have to determine what level of THC indicates impairment and whether the results will hold up in court.

Study: Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths "Bad Criminal Justice Policy" [FEATURE]

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history -- more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose -- or sometimes just the people who shared it -- with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Drug-induced homicide charges are a regression to the lock 'em up policies of last century's drug war. (ussc.gov)
Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, "America's Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis" concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective -- it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in US history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking -- yet completely unsurprising -- finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount -- or totally disregard -- legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into US jurisprudence, however."

"Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

Chronicle AM: DOJ Takes Aim at SISes, States Demand Congress Act on Pot Banking, More... (8/28/18)

Even as a California safer injection site bill approaches final passage, the Justice Department takes aim at the harm reduction practice; state financial regulators want Congress to act on marijuana banking, and more.

Vancouver's InSite safer injection site. Coming soon to San Francisco? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Financial Regulators Call on Congress to Deal With Marijuana Banking Problems. The top financial regulators in 13 states sent a letter last week to congressional leaders demanding that they take action to protect banks working with marijuana businesses. The conflicts between state-level legalization and federal prohibition have created confusion in the financial sector and jeopardized public safety, the regulators said. "It is incumbent on Congress to resolve the conflict between state cannabis programs and federal statutes that effectively create unnecessary risk for banks seeking to operate in this space without the looming threat of civil actions, forfeiture of assets, reputational risk, and criminal penalties," the regulators wrote. "While Congress has taken some action, such as the Rohrabacher amendment prohibiting federal funds being used to inhibit state medicinal marijuana programs, this has been an impermanent approach that requires a permanent resolution." Regulators from Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington State signed the letter.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations Now Open for Public Comment. State officials are now asking the public for its input on the regulation and implementation of medical marijuana in the state. "Lawmakers in the legislative working group are seeking a path forward to implement State Question 788 in a way that conforms to the desires of voters who passed the law," said Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka). "To do that effectively, the working group needs as much input as possible from citizens -- supporters, advocates, patients, health-care providers, public safety and law enforcement officers and even those who have concerns. I would encourage all Oklahomans who have an interest in this issue to use this opportunity to share input and have their voices heard." Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Messages will then be shared with members of the working group.

Harm Reduction

Justice Department Attacks Safer Injection Sites. In an op-ed in the New York Times titled "Fight Drug Abuse, Don't Subsidize It," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attacked safer injection sites as "very dangerous" and argued they would "only make the opioid crisis worse." He also points out that they are federally illegal and warns that violations are punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. His op-ed comes as cities such as New York, Seattle, and San Francisco advance plans to open such facilities in a bid to reduce harms.

California Safer Injection Site Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted Monday to approve Assembly Bill 186, which will allow the city of San Francisco to undertake a three-year, pilot safer injection site program. The bill now goes back to the Assembly for a final concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

Chronicle AM: Good NJ, WI Pot Polls; OH Drug Defelonization Initiative, More... (8/24/18)

New polls in New Jersey and Wisconsin show solid support for marijuana legalization, Chicago harm reduction pioneer Dan Big has died too early, the FDA approves clinical trials of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, an Ohio drug defelonization initiative is on the November ballot, and more.

magic mushrooms (Flickr/Green)
Marijuana Policy

California Legislature Passes Bill to Overturn Old Marijuana Convictions. The state Senate Wednesday approved Assembly Bill 1793, which directs prosecutors throughout the state to overturn convictions for acts that are no longer illegal under the state's Prop 64 marijuana legalization initiative. The bill would also reduce many felony convictions for marijuana-related crimes to misdemeanors. It was approved by the Assembly in May and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

New Jersey Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. Among respondents between 18 and 34, that figure was 90%. The poll comes as Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders push to get a legalization bill passed next month.

Wisconsin Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A new Marquette Law poll has support for legalization in the Dairy State at 61%. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is opposed to marijuana legalization, calling it a gateway drug. He's polling at 46% in the same poll.

Medical Marijuana

Mormon Church Sends Out Letter Opposed Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Latter Day Saints has mailed a letter to church members urging a "no" vote on the state's November medical marijuana initiative. The letter claims the measure would create "a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls."

Psychedelics

FDA Approves Psychedelic Magic Mushrooms Ingredient Psilocybin for Depression Trial. The Food & Drug Administration has approved the use of psilocybin for a drug trial in treatment-resistant depression. Compass Pathways, a life sciences firm, now has a green light to perform the clinical trials. The phase two trial with 216 patients will get underway next month.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Harm Reduction Pioneer Dan Bigg Dead at 59. Dan Bigg, a co-founder of the Chicago Recovery Alliance and a long-time activist died Tuesday at his home. The cause of death remains undetermined pending further tests. He was a pioneering needle exchange worker in the 1990s and pushed for putting naloxone in the hands of drug users and their loved ones as opioid overdose deaths began to soar more than a decade ago. Friends and colleagues said that thousands of people who could have died from overdoses or infectious disease are alive today because of Bigg's stalwart activism. He will be missed.

Sentencing

Ohio Initiative Would Defelonize Drug Possession, Cut Sentences. Voters in the Buckeye State will vote on a constitutional amendment that would reduce penalties for non-violent drug crimes by making drug use and possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Issue 1 also bars the jailing of probationers merely for drug use or possession and allows sentence reductions of up to 25% for inmates who participate in rehabilitation, work, or educational programming.

Medical Marijuana Update

Oklahoma continues to grapple with its new medical marijuana program, Utah foes try a novel strategy to block a medical marijuana initiative, and more.

Louisiana

Louisiana Regulators Weight Raising Limit on Number of Patients Doctors Can Treat. The state Board of Medical Examiners is set to boost the number of medical marijuana patients a single doctor can treat. The board set a limit of 100 patients per doctor in 2016, but Vincent Culotta, the board's executive director, said the limit will be raised at the board's meeting next month. "We realize we're going to have to increase that number," he said.

New Jersey

New Jersey Business Can Drug Test Medical Marijuana Patient, Federal Court Rules. A federal district court judge has ruled that a New Jersey business does not have to waive its requirement for mandatory drug testing to accommodate a worker who uses medical marijuana. The worker had sued the company after it wouldn't allow him to return to work unless he submitted to drug testing. "New Jersey law does not require private employers to waive drug tests for users of medical marijuana," Judge Robert Kugler wrote in his decision. He also noted that "unless expressly provided for by statute, most courts have concluded that the decriminalization of medical marijuana does not shield employees from adverse employment actions."

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment Initiative Fails to Make Ballot. An initiative that would have put the right to use medical marijuana in the state constitution will not appear on the November ballot. That initiative, State Question796, came up short on signatures. It needed more than 123,000 valid voter signatures but came up with only 95,000 raw signatures. Voters in Oklahoma approved a statutory medical marijuana initiative earlier this year.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Groups Agree on Proposed Bill. Advocates led by New Health Solutions have crafted a 202-page bill designed to get the state's nascent, voter-approved medical marijuana law up and running. The bill would postpone any limits on the number of business license holders for two years and eliminates a requirement that the state investigate proposed medical marijuana businesses and their backers before issuing licenses. It also lets residential landlords charge a $250 fee for marijuana use on their property, removes state restrictions on gun ownership with a medical marijuana license and would also protect employees working in infrastructure operations and maintenance who want to obtain a license. Advocates say the legislature needs to return in special session to iron out last-minute hitches and avoid delays in implementing the program. The Department of Health is supposed to begin accepting license applications on Friday.

Oklahoma Judge Rules Implementation of Medical Marijuana Rules Can Proceed. Cleveland County District Court Judge Michael Tupper ruled Tuesday that the Board of Health can proceed with implementing the state's medical marijuana rules and regulations. He ruled against a lawsuit by more than a dozen Oklahoma patients and businesses who challenged the rules. The decision Tuesday does not end the case. The judge could still throw out some or all the challenged rules at a later date or choose to leave them alone again. Another legal challenge is still pending in Oklahoma County District Court.

Utah

Utah Medical Marijuana Foes Try Hail Mary Court Challenge to Block Initiative. Opponents of the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative filed a lawsuit in state court last Wednesday seeking to remove the measure from the ballot. The opponents claim the initiative would tread on their freedom of religion because it violates the religious beliefs of a Mormon foe. "In the United States of America, members of all religions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have a constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs," the complaint reads. "This includes the right not to consort with, be around, or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant." Proponents of the initiative called the move "a wacky attempt" by foes to derail medical marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: CA Senate Passes SIS Bill, Black Vets More Likely to Be Drug Tested, More... (8/22/18)

Louisiana doctors could soon treat more medical marijuana patients, black VA patients on opioid therapy are more likely to be drug tested and have their treatment halted for illicit drug use than whites, a Georgia judge throws out a heroin murder conviction, and more.

A facility like Vancouver's InSite could be coming to San Francisco. A bill to make it happen is moving in Sacramento. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Regulators Weight Raising Limit on Number of Patients Doctors Can Treat. The state Board of Medical Examiners is set to boost the number of medical marijuana patients a single doctor can treat. The board set a limit of 100 patients per doctor in 2016, but Vincent Culotta, the board's executive director, said the limit will be raised at the board's meeting next month. "We realize we're going to have to increase that number," he said.

Oklahoma Judge Rules Implementation of Medical Marijuana Rules Can Proceed. Cleveland County District Court Judge Michael Tupper ruled Tuesday that the Board of Health can proceed with implementing the state's medical marijuana rules and regulations. He ruled against a lawsuit by more than a dozen Oklahoma patients and businesses who challenged the rules. The decision Tuesday does not end the case. The judge could still throw out some or all the challenged rules at a later date or choose to leave them alone again. Another legal challenge is still pending in Oklahoma County District Court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study Finds African-American VA Patients More Likely to Be Drug Tested, Have Prescriptions Stopped. Black VA patients on long-term opioid therapy are more likely to be drug tested by their doctors and much more likely to have their opioid prescriptions halted if any illegal drug use is found, a new study finds. About 25% of black patients were tested within six months of being prescribed opioids, while only 16% of whites were. Black patients were twice as likely as white ones to have their opioid therapy halted if they tested positive for marijuana and three times as likely if they tested positive for cocaine. The findings were published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Georgia Judge Dismisses Indictment in Heroin Overdose Death. A Georgia judge has dismissed a murder indictment against a man accused of injecting heroin into another man who overdosed and died. In the case, Superior Court Judge John Goger found that the defendant injected the fatal dose at the victim's request and that the victim had purchased the drug himself. Goger held that that didn't amount to heroin distribution by the defendant, and without the underlying drug felony, there is no felony murder.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Passes Bill to Permit Safe Injection Sites in San Francisco. The state Senate Wednesday approved Assembly Bill 186, which would allow San Francisco to implement a safe injection site. AB 186 permits San Francisco to establish facilities where individuals can use controlled substances under the supervision of staff that are trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing, healthcare, and other services. Mayor London Breed, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well as a significant majority of the San Francisco electorate, support piloting safe injection sites in San Francisco.

Chronicle AM: Murder Charges for Dealers in ODs "Bad Justice Policy," Study Finds, More... (8/21/18)

Prosecuting opioid dealers for overdose deaths is counterproductive "policy theater," concludes a new study; a key New Jersey politician says the votes are there to pass a legalization bill, and more.

Prosecuting drug dealers for murder in opioid overdose deaths is counterproductive and "bad justice policy," a new study finds.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate President Says He Has Votes to Pass Legalization Bill. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) now says he has the votes needed to pass a marijuana legalization bill, probably next month. He told POLITICO that he will tie together efforts to legalize marijuana and expand medical marijuana so people who support medical will have to vote for recreational. "Don't be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it," Sweeney said, predicting Republicans who support expanding medical marijuana will support legalization, too.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Officially Fails to Make Ballot. Green the Vote organizers admitted earlier this month that they had failed to gather enough signatures to qualify the State Question 797 legalization initiative for the November ballot, and now Secretary of State James Williamson has made it official. He announced Tuesday that initiative supporters had gathered only 102,814 raw signatures. They needed 123,725 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania State Senator Starts Petition Drive to Boost Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) announced Tuesday that he has launched an online petition in support of a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2600. "There are tremendous benefits to legalizing marijuana and few downsides," said Wheatley. "It's estimated that legalization would generate more than $580 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania. That's money to balance our budget, strengthen our economy, bolster our workforce and improve our schools."

Sentencing

Prosecuting Dealers for Opioid Deaths "Bad Justice Policy," Study Concludes. A new study says prosecuting drug dealers for opioid overdose deaths is not only "bad law and bad criminal justice policy," but also exacerbates a public health crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives. Such prosecutions are little more than "policy theater," said study author Leo Beletsky, Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events," Beletsky wrote.

Chronicle AM: Drug Reformer Kofi Annan Dead at 80, OK MedMJ Politicking Continues, More... (8/20/18)

The world loses a global drug reformer, the US Senate could act on a marijuana measure this week, they're still sorting out medical marijuana in Oklahoma, and more.

Kofi Annan. R.I.P. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

US Senate Could Vote This Week on Amendment to Require Feds to Study Impact of Marijuana Legalization. The Senate could vote this week on an amendment to the Defense, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services funding bill from Sen. Robert Melendez (D-NJ) that would direct those departments to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study cannabis tax revenues, rates of medicinal use, and opioid overdose rates in states where marijuana is legal. The amendment is similar to a standalone bill filed in the House last month by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HA), Carlos Curbelo (D-FL), and others.

North Dakota Cops Come Out Against Legalization Initiative. At its convention in Minot last Friday, the North Dakota Peace Officers Association approved a resolution opposing the state's marijuana legalization initiative. Police expressed concerns about drugged driving and "how at a high school football or soccer game someone can't smoke a tobacco cigarette, but they could smoke a marijuana cigarette." But initiative proponents said state smoking laws would apply to marijuana, too.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment Initiative Fails to Make Ballot. An initiative that would have put the right to use medical marijuana in the state constitution will not appear on the November ballot. That initiative, State Question796, came up short on signatures. It needed more than 123,000 valid voter signatures but came up with only 95,000 raw signatures. Voters in Oklahoma approved a statutory medical marijuana initiative earlier this year.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Groups Agree on Proposed Bill. Advocates led by New Health Solutions have crafted a 202-page bill designed to get the state's nascent, voter-approved medical marijuana law up and running. The bill would postpone any limits on the number of business license holders for two years and eliminates a requirement that the state investigate proposed medical marijuana businesses and their backers before issuing licenses. It also lets residential landlords charge a $250 fee for marijuana use on their property, removes state restrictions on gun ownership with a medical marijuana license and would also protect employees working in infrastructure operations and maintenance who want to obtain a license. Advocates say the legislature needs to return in special session to iron out last-minute hitches and avoid delays in implementing the program. The Department of Health is supposed to begin accepting license applications on Friday.

International

Kofi Annan Dead at 80. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has died at age 80. He was also a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which issued the following statement on his death: "It is with deep sadness and a tremendous sense of loss that the members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy have learned of the passing of their esteemed colleague Kofi Annan today, Saturday, 18 August 2018. A former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Commissioner Annan worked tirelessly for peace throughout his life, and addressed the many challenges confronting the world with wisdom and pragmatism. He initiated the move towards eradicating extreme poverty with the Millenium Development Goals and contributed considerably to the global response to HIV.Mr Annan convened the West Africa Commission on Drugs and remained a dedicated member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. He was an ardent advocate for a more humane approach to drug control, stating: "I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more." In his work with the Commission, he displayed the same commitment to protect the dignity, health and human rights of all. Mr Annan will be forever remembered for his contribution to global peace and his profound love and dedication to humanity. The members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy join millions around the world in honoring his memory and express their deep condolences to his family for this great loss."

Horrible Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Could Finally Be Repealed

For 20 years, Wisconsin prosecutors have used a state law, the Unborn Child Protection Act of 1998 (Act 292), to jail adult pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. Supporters claim the "cocaine mom" law protects fetuses from maternal drug abuse, but critics say the law's language is vague, that it deters pregnant women from seeking prenatal and other health care, and that it unnecessarily and unconstitutionally forces some pregnant women into treatment and state supervision.

The law was found unconstitutional by a federal court last year, but state Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed, and the US Supreme Court allowed the law to stay in effect until the case was decided. But in June, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiff, Tammy Loertscher, had left the state.

Loertscher was 14 weeks pregnant and residing in Medford in 2014 when she tested positive for methamphetamine. Although she told her doctor she had stopped using the drug when she realized she was pregnant, a judge ordered her into inpatient drug treatment. She was then jailed until she agreed to be drug tested throughout her pregnancy. She gave birth to a healthy male child in 2015.

Loertscher was by no means alone -- hundreds of pregnant women have been accused of "unborn child abuse" under the law -- and the dismissal of the case means pregnant women in the state remain in jeopardy.

At the time of the dismissal, attorney Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), decried the ruling.

"Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there's even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail -- whether or not drug treatment is really needed," she said.

Now, Rosenbloom and NAPW are taking the fight to a new arena: the court of public opinion. They have joined forces with a three-year-old national group, Reproaction, to take on the law. The group is forthright about what it wants: "Reproaction is a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice. We are proud of our left-flank analysis, and are not in this fight to protect the past or maintain the status quo," the group says on its web site.

Reproaction has created the #WIFights 292 campaign to take the fight to the public. The campaign is planning educational fora across the state, a social media campaign, and information pickets, among other tactics.

"All people who experience pregnancy, including pregnant women in Wisconsin, deserve access to appropriate, confidential health care without fear of losing their rights to medical decision making, privacy, and liberty," #WIFight292 explains on its web site.

"At Reproaction, we center our work around the women in Wisconsin who may be targeted by enforcement of Act 292. We are organizing activists and community leaders across Wisconsin to demand action from those in power and channel community into a movement to advance reproductive justice that will ultimately dismantle Act 292. We know that direct action gets the job done, and we will take bold action to educate the public about and put a stop to enforcement of Act 292."

For Rosenbloom and the medical and public health groups that oppose the law, the hope is that the campaign can do what the courts have failed to do: kill a bad law.

"This law only harms women and children," she said.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

A new bill in Guam would allow home cultivation, Oklahoma officials still have issues with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, and more.

Guam

Guam Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. Five years after the US territory legalized medical marijuana, access issues have prompted Sen. Louis Muna to file a bill that would allow patients to grow their own at home. The bill got a public hearing Tuesday night, with mostly positive testimony. No word yet on it will get a committee vote.

Michigan

Michigan Lawmakers Call on Governor to Prevent Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. Temporarily operating dispensaries have permission to stay open until September 15 as they try to obtain state licenses, but a group of state legislators says the state is moving too slowly with licensing and are asking Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to prevent the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation from sending out cease and desist orders to unlicensed businesses on September 16. More than 637 businesses have applied for licenses, but only 16 have been issued so far, and there is only one more licensing board meeting before the deadline. The legislators are calling for the deadline to be extended so patients aren't left in the lurch.

Ohio

Ohio Deadline for Getting Program Up and Running Goes Up in Smoke. The state's medical marijuana program is supposed to be up and running by September 8, but that isn't going to happen. The state Department of Commerce is still selecting businesses that will be issued cultivation licenses. The department says it can issue up to 18 of those licenses before September 8, but that means the first crops won't be ready until November.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Agencies Still Have "Concerns" Over Legal Medical Marijuana. Interim health commissioner Tom Bates told lawmakers last Wednesday that the Health Board still had concerns about how medical marijuana will be implemented and that a special session of the legislature may be needed to see the program properly implemented. The board wants lawmakers to amend the law so that, among other changes, commercial grows are indoor only, patient home grows are prohibited or require a special license, smokable marijuana is prohibited, THC levels are limited to 12% or less, a pharmacist is required on-site at dispensaries, and that a list of qualifying conditions for patients be created. Some of the changes are among those recommended in the Health Board's first try at setting interim rules, which were retracted in the face of loud public opposition. Any effort to re-adopt them is certain to lead to renewed clamor.

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

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School