Harm Intensification

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Hemp

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: FL Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums, BC Plan for Heroin Buyers Clubs, More... (2/22/19)

The Philippines president vows even harsher drug war, the Mexican Senate approves a new national guard to fight drug crime, a Florida bill would end mandatory minimum drug sentences, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Could it be coming to heroin buyers clubs in Vancouver? (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill Advances. The House Rules Committee voted Thursday to advance HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The bill sets up an extensive medical marijuana framework and is moving with bipartisan support.

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Advances. The House Judiciary Committee has approved  HB 444, which would bar law enforcement from confiscating assets from someone unless and until that person is convicted of a criminal offense. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Sentencing

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums. A sweeping criminal justice reform bill that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses has been introduced in the Senate. SB 642, the Florida First Step Act must get past the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote.

International

British Columbia Plan for "Heroin Buyers Club" Unveiled. The BC Center of Substance Abuse Thursday unveiled a plan to create a heroin buyers club to sell pure, regulated heroin to people addicted to opioids.  The cooperative group would buy bulk medical grade heroin from Switzerland to sell to doctor-assessed club members. The plan is part of the effort to stem overdoses in Vancouver. Informal heroin buyers clubs are reportedly already operating in the city, but their supplies are iffy.

Mexican Senate Approves Plan for New National Guard to Fight Crime, Drugs. The Senate on Thursday approved President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s plan to create a new national guard, a key part of the government’s strategy to address drug gang violence. But the Senate amended the legislation to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

Philippines President Vows "Harsher" Drug War in Coming Days. President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to ramp up his bloody anti-drug campaign in a speech Wednesday. The war on drugs will be "harsher in the days to come," he said. When asked by reporters if the crackdown would be even bloodier, he said: "I think so." The remarks were condemned by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights: "With thousands that have already been killed because of this campaign, ‘harsh’ is an understatement and a trivialization of the lives that were lost—it is irreversible and the suffering of families of victims can be lifelong," Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, said. "To say that it will be ‘harsher’ insults the victims and their families while the drug trade has not seemingly waned."

Thai King Signs Decree Legalizing Medical Marijuana and Kratom. Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has signed a royal decree formalizing the legalization of medical marijuana and kratom. The move comes some two months after the military government’s parliament unanimously approved it. 

Chronicle AM: VT Legal Pot Sales Bill Advances, ID Gov. Signs Naloxone Access Bill, More... (2/15/19)

A marijuana sales bill is moving in Vermont, a bill to have state-run pot shops is filed in New Mexico, Idaho's governor signs a naloxone access expansion bill, the Sinaloa Cartel lives, and more.

Even in Idaho, there's a need for naloxone. Now, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug is expanded. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Advances. A bill that would set up a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce in the state has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 54  would establish a Cannabis Control Board to issue licenses for cannabis manufacturers, retailers and testing facilities. Sales would be taxed at 10 percent, and local municipalities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent tax. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, which must approve it before it goes to the Senate floor.

New Mexico GOP Senator's Marijuana Legalization Bill Would Feature State-Run Pot Shops. Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) and three cosponsors filed SB 577 Thursday. Like another bill already filed, the measure would legalize marijuana in the state but would have the state operate retail marijuana shops. The measure is currently before the Senate Public Affairs Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill Would Let Dispensaries Sell CBD Cannabis Oil. A bill filed Thursday would fix the state's CBD cannabis oil law so that patients could actually obtain the drug. Under current state law, patients can use and possess it, but have no legal means of obtaining it. HB 324 would allow for the sale of CBD cannabis oil to patients through dispensaries.  

Missouri Expungement Bill for Patients Advances. A bill that would let registered medical marijuana patients have their misdemeanor marijuana offenses expunged has been approved by the House Committee on Criminal Justice in a 7-2 vote. The measure, HB 341, has support in both chambers of the legislature and it is believed Gov. Mike Parsons (R) would sign it.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Governor Signs Expansive Naloxone Access Bill into Law. Gov. Brad Little (R) has signed into law HB 12, which expands access to the opioid overdose reversal drug in the state. It will go into effect on July 1.

International

El Chapo May Be Gone, But the Sinaloa Cartel Carries On. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may be buried deep in the federal prison system, but the Sinaloa Cartel is still in business—and business is booming. The cartel, now under the leadership of second-in-command Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, continues to make massive drug shipments to the US, as recent huge, multi-drug busts at the border attest. "It’s still a major, major force in the Mexican criminal underworld," Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said. It still controls worldwide contacts that can ship Colombian cocaine around the world and import precursor drugs into Mexico to be cooked up and exported north. Zambada has overcome a succession fight after El Chapo's arrest and is now firmly in control. 

Chronicle AM: Feds Move Against Philly Safe Injection Site, MA Heroin OD Death Case, More.... (2/6/19)

Pushback against marijuana legalization emerges in Illinois and New York, the federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has moved to block a supervised injection site, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will decide on whether an involuntary manslaughter charge is appropriate in a heroin overdose death case, and more.

Massachusett's highest court will decide if sharing heroin with someone who ODs is involuntary manslaughter. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Catholic Bishops Oppose Marijuana Legalization. The bishops in charge of all six of the state’s Catholic dioceses have unsurprisingly come out against efforts in the state legislature to legalize marijuana. "As lawmakers consider this issue, it is important to remember they are not only debating the legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from," the bishops said in a statement. "In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens."

New York PTA Opposes Marijuana Legalization. The New York State Parent Teacher Association has Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) and the legislature's push to legalize marijuana.  is urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers to rethink their push to legalize adult-use marijuana. "In 2017 the American Medical Association stated that marijuana is a dangerous drug, a serious public health concern and that the sale of marijuana for recreational use should not be legalized," State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky said in a statement. "We need to listen to experts on this and must do more to protect our children from substance use disorders. This is the wrong move for New York state, our children and their families." The bill the governor has proposed requires New Yorkers to be at least 21 years of age to consume marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers File Proposed Language. A group calling itself Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted its proposed language for a medical marijuana ballot initiative Tuesday. If approved for signature gathering, the initiative will need about 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot. The move comes after the state legislature has refused for years to pass legislation, but initiative organizers say they would prefer to achieve their goals by passing Legislative Bill 110, which is pending this session.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve SB 1467, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee before heading to a Senate floor vote. 

Harm Reduction

Eastern Pennsylvania US Attorney Files Lawsuit to Block Philadelphia Supervised Injection Site. US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain announced at a Wednesday morning news conference that he had filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking Philadelphia from becoming the first city in the nation to host a supervised injection site. His lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare such a facility illegal under federal law. McSwain said that by seeking a civil ruling before the site became operational, his office could avoid having to resort to making criminal arrests and prosecutions and/or forfeiture proceedings. McSwain's move comes after city officials have spent more than a year preparing to get a site up and running.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Decide on Appropriate Penalty for Supplying Heroin in Overdose Cases. The state's highest court will decide whether a UMass-Amherst student who jointly procured heroin with a friend who subsequently overdosed and died from the drug can be charged with involuntary manslaughter based on wanton or reckless conduct and drug distribution. In oral arguments Monday, the student's attorneys noted that while other had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in overdose deaths, their client had not injected the victim with heroin, supplied him with other drugs, or knew of any prior overdoses. The court is not expected to rule on the case for four or five months.

Chronicle AM: Denver Psilocbyin Init Will Go to Voters, White House Issues Drug Strategy, More... (2/4/19)

The White House belatedly released the National Drug Control Strategy, a Denver magic mushroom initiative has qualified for the May ballot, Northeastern marijuana legalizers are busy, and more.

Denver will vote on removing criminal penalties for psychedelic mushrooms. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

World Health Organization Urges Removal of Marijuana from Drug Treaties. The World Health Organization (WHO) last Friday published a letter to the United Nations advising that marijuana and cannabis resin should no longer be considered controlled substances under international drug treaties. WHO specifically asked that the substances be moved out of Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which includes drugs thought to have no therapeutic value.

Cory Booker Enters Presidential Race With Call for Marijuana Legalization, Criminal Justice Reform. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) formally entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last Friday and called for marijuana legalization and broader criminal justice reforms. There is a need for "changing our drug laws," including "ending the prohibition against marijuana," he said. "We do not have equal justice under the law," Booker said of the disproportionate rate at which black people are incarcerated under the country's drug laws. I believe in redemption."

New York Governor Wants Marijuana Legalized by April 1. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said last Friday he wanted to see marijuana legalized by the state budget deadline of April 1. His remarks came after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that lawmakers might have to wait until after the budget to take up legalization. But Cuomo said Friday he isn't giving up on his timetable and that a lot can happen in the legislature in six weeks.

Pennsylvania Legalization Bill Coming. Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) will file a legalization bill that expunges criminal records for past pot convictions, releases inmates currently serving time for such offenses, and allows people 21 and over to use, buy, and grow marijuana.

Vermont Attorney General Supports Legalizing Pot Sales. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana legislatively last year but did not legalize marijuana commerce. Now, there's an effort underway to do so with SB 54, and Attorney General TJ Donovan supports it. "We have to have a regulated market," he said last Thursday. "This is common sense." The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Barlow has filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana, HB 278. The bill would create a strictly regulated system for the use and distribution of medical marijuana in the state.

Psychedelics

Denver Will Vote on Magic Mushroom Initiative in May. City officials announced last Friday that the Decriminalize Denver initiative to make adult use and possession the lowest law enforcement priority and bar the city from using its resources to arrest and prosecute people for the hallucinogenic fungi has qualified for the ballot and will go before voters in the May municipal election. This marks the first time any jurisdiction in the US will have voted on decriminalizing psychedelics.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Unveils National Drug Control Strategy. The White House last Thursday released its long-awaited National Drug Control Strategy, which typically is released annually, but which the Trump administration failed to do last year. The document contains little new policy but instead emphasizes existing Trump priorities: reducing drug supply through stricter law enforcement, lowering first-time opioid prescription rates, and expanding access to addiction treatment. Despite its emphasis on supply reduction, it acknowledges the risk of reducing access for chronic pain patients. Although it talks about drugs coming across the Mexican border, the strategy does not contain the words "border wall."

Drug Testing

North Dakota School Board and Employee Drug Testing Bills Die. A pair of bills that would have mandated random, suspicionless drug tests for school employees and school board members have been killed in the Senate. SB 2310 was aimed at school employees, while SB 2337 was aimed at board members.

Sentencing

Mississippi Bill Targets People Who Provide Drugs in Fatal Overdoses. After a conviction for "depraved heart" murder in the case of a fatal overdose was overturned on appeal, state legislators have filed HB 867, which would allow sentences of 20 years to life without parole for people charged with selling drugs that result in the deaths of others. The bill would also increase penalties for the sale of heroin or fentanyl. The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week and is now headed for the House floor.

(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 website. 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.)

Does Kratom Kill? [FEATURE]

Kratom, an herbal drug derived from a Southeast Asian tree that acts somewhat like an opioid, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of people use it for energy and pain relief in small doses and as a substitute for or to get off of opioids such as heroin or prescription pain pills in larger doses.

kratom capsules (Creative Commons)
It is legal under federal law, although even though the DEA announced in 2016 it planned to criminalize it by placing it on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act -- a move it was forced to walk back following a loud public outcry. It is currently available online, as well as retail outlets across the country -- except in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, all of which have criminalized it at the state or municipal level.

With the DEA out of the way, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took up the regulatory mantle, issuing various recalls for contaminated kratom products and attempting to rein in the booming kratom market. In November 2017, the FDA issued a hair-on-fire press release about the "deadly risks" of kratom use, warning that some 36 deaths nationwide were "associated" with the Southeast Asian herb. In March 2018, the FDA revised the number of deaths "associated" with kratom to 44.

Those numbers were savaged by the American Kratom Association, representing both users and sellers, in a policy report released in response to the FDA claims. That report examined the 33 cases for which information was available and found that the vast majority of them involved the use of multiple drugs, and in none of the cases was kratom shown to actually be responsible for the death.

For example, one case cited by the FDA involved an individual who drank alcohol, smoked heroin and took Xanax and Narco as well as kratom on the evening of his death. In another case cited by the FDA, the cause of death was not even an overdose but the suicide by hanging by a person with alcohol and benzodiazepines in his system, as well as a history of mental health issues.

In yet another case the FDA called kratom-related, the victim was a 300-pound man who died of pulmonary thromboemboli caused by deep vein thrombosis, who, in addition to having kratom in his system, had also consumed opioids, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, oxycodone, fluoxetine, norfluxoetine, trazodone, alprazolam, nordiazepan, and gabapentin.

"None of the case reports released to date support the evidentiary standard required by the CSA to prove there is a risk to the public health that relies primarily on the FDA claim of ‘numerous deaths associated with kratom,'" concluded report author Jane Babin.

Now, new research reported in a January 2 letter in the New England Journal of Medicine casts further doubt on the FDA's contentions about dangerousness. In that study, researchers at the University of Colorado examined 15 kratom-related deaths in the state and found that in all but one other opioids were present.

"When cases are considered kratom-only deaths, there really should be additional testing done, because in all of the cases we examined, we found other drugs involved when we did more comprehensive testing," said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Monte, an associate professor of emergency medicine.

Although the evidence that kratom is a killer is weak, Monte told it likely increases the risk of overdose when mixed with other drugs, but not when used alone. That led him to support a ban on the drug, although he acknowledged it could help people trying to get off opioids.

"It's probably worth examining what therapeutic role this may have," he said. "This may be a very good, reasonable option for opioid withdrawal for some patients."

In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Americans are deciding for themselves that it works for them.

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

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Bill Filed, Ciudad Juarez Drug War Killings Surge, More... (1/4/19)

Wow, that was fast: The first marijuana bill of the new Congress has already been filed, an Arizona sheriff finally hops on board the naloxone train, Ciudad Juarez drug war killings are way up, and more.

Deputies in Pima County, Arizona, will finally start carrying the overdose reversal drug naloxone. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

The New Congress Just Saw Its First Marijuana Bill Filed. That didn't take long. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK) on Thursday reintroduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act. The bipartisan bill would protect state medical marijuana programs from federal interference and open the way for doctors at the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but you can view last year's version here. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to file the Senate version soon.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Georgia Joins List of States Suing Opioid Makers for Fueling Drug Crisis. Georgia has now become the latest of more than 30 states that have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for what they say is their role in fueling the opioid crisis. The state is suing nine opioid makers and distributors in state court for what it calls racketeering and for creating the crisis. "We have over a 1,000 Georgians that died last year, more Georgians dying every day. We have over 1,000 Georgians right now that are suffering from an opioid misuse disorder," said Attorney General Chris Carr. The state is seeking both monetary damages to repay it for costs incurred fighting the epidemic, as well as punitive damages.

Harm Reduction

Arizona's Pima County Sheriff Finally Gets on Board With Deputies Carrying Naloxone. Pima County, home to the state's second largest city, Tucson, has gotten with the program and the sheriff's department will now issue the overdose reversal to deputies. Deputies in eleven of the state's 15 counties already carry it. Department officials had previously argued it was necessary for deputies because paramedics already carried it and because it might become unstable in the Arizona summer heat, but Sheriff Mark Napier admitted Wednesday that medical experts had told him the worse that could happen was that it might not work.

International

Mexico's Ciudad Juarez Had Nearly 1,250 Murders Last Year. The border city just across the Rio Grande from El Paso saw a big spike in murders last year, most of them drug prohibition-related. The state attorney general's office reported 1,247 killings last year, a big increase from the 772 people killed in 2017 and nearly triple the number killed in 2014. Most of the violence is related to the revival of the Juarez Cartel and to the defection of a key Los Aztecas leader to La Linea. Los Aztecas are also in the midst of internal factional strife. But wait, there's more: There's also a factional fight within Los Artistas Asesinos (Assassin Artists), a street enforcement gang with links to the Sinaloa Cartel, which is also working in the area.

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