Harm Intensification

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How to Prevent Opioid Overdoses? Provide Hard-Core Addicts Free Pharmaceutical Heroin

With Ohio beset by a massive public health crisis around opioid use and overdoses -- more than 4,000 Ohioans died of opioid overdoses in 2016 -- the Cleveland Plain Dealer sent travel editor Susan Glaser to Amsterdam in search of innovative approaches to the problem. While there, she rediscovered Holland's longstanding, radical, and highly-effective response to heroin addiction and properly asked whether it might be applied to good effect here.

The difference in drug-related death rates between the two countries is staggering. In the US, the drug overdose death rate is 245 per million, nearly twice the rate of its nearest competitor, Sweden, which came in second with 124 per million. But in Holland, the number is a vanishingly small 11 per million. In other words, Americans are more than 20 times more likely to die of drug overdoses than Dutch.

For Plain Dealer readers, the figures that really hit home are the number of state overdose deaths compared to Holland. Ohio, with just under 12 million people, saw 4,050 drug overdose deaths in 2016; the Netherlands, with 17 million people, saw only 235.

What's the difference? The Dutch government provides free heroin to several score hardcore heroin addicts and has been doing so for the past 20 years. Public health experts there say that in addition to lowering crime rates and improving the quality of life for users, the program is one reason overdose death rates there are so low. And the model could be applied here, said Amsterdam heroin clinic operator Ellen van den Hoogen.

"It's been an enormous success. I think it would work elsewhere," she told Glaser.

It already has. The Dutch program was modeled on a similar effort in Switzerland, which has also proven successful. Germany and Canada are among the several other countries with similar programs.

The Dutch approach is an example of the country's policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), the same principle that led the Dutch to pioneer quasi-legal access to marijuana in the 1980s. It is also rooted in the notion that, for some, drug addiction is a chronic disorder, not a condition to be "cured," and one that can be treated with supervised drug use under clinical supervision. And the complete cessation of drug use need not be the ultimate goal; rather, the Dutch look for reductions in criminal activity and increases in the health and well-being of the drug users.

"It's not a program that is meant to help you stop," acknowledged van den Hoogen. "It keeps you addicted."

That's not a sentiment sits well with American moralizers, such as George W. Bush's drug czar, John Walters, whom Glaser consulted for the story. He suggested that providing addicts with drugs was immoral and not "real treatment," but he also resorted to lies about what the Dutch are doing.

He claimed the Dutch are "keeping people addicted for the purpose of controlling them" and that the Dutch have created "a colony of state-supported, locked-up addicts."

Actually, the Dutch are dealing with older, hardcore addicts who have repeatedly failed to quit after repeated stints in treatment, including methadone maintenance therapy, and they are neither "controlling them" or locking them up. Instead, the people in the program show up at the clinic twice a day, get their fix, then go about their business. This heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) allows those hardcore users to live less chaotic and more productive lives.

And heroin-assisted treatment is "real treatment," said Peter Blanken, a senior researcher with the Parnassia Addiction Research Centre in Rotterdam. He pointed out that one-quarter of program participants make a "complete recovery," including better health and quitting illegal drugs and excessive drinking. Many others continue to use heroin, but do so with better outcomes, he said.

There is also a real safety benefit to using state-supplied pharmaceutical heroin. It's potent, but it's a known quantity. Users face no risk of adulteration with more dangerous drugs, such as fentanyl, which is deeply implicated in the current US overdose crisis.

In the current political atmosphere in the United States, providing heroin to hardcore addicts is a hard sell indeed. Other, lesser, harm reduction interventions, such as needle exchanges remain controversial, and the country has yet to see its first officially sanctioned safe injection site. And drug decriminalization, which has led to a dramatic reduction in heroin addiction and overdose deaths in Portugal, remains off the table here, too. But with an annual drug overdose death toll of more than 50,000 people a year, it may time to start asking how many more Americans we are willing to sacrifice on the altar of moralistic drug prohibition.

Chronicle AM: Canada Legalizes Marijuana! (6/20/18)

Canada has become the second country to legalize marijuana after final votes in parliament Tuesday, the Supreme Court agrees to hear an Indiana asset forfeiture case, Eleanor Holmes Norton files a bill to allow marijuana in public housing in states where it's legal, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Eleanor Holmes Norton Files Bill to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing Where It's Legal. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has filed a bill that would allow residents of public housing in states and localities where marijuana is legal to use it at home without fear of being evicted. Under Norton's bill, a person may not be denied federally-assisted housing for the use of marijuana in jurisdictions where medical or recreational marijuana has been legalized. Under Norton's bill, smoking marijuana would be treated the same as smoking tobacco in federally-assisted housing. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Indiana Civil Asset Forfeiture Case. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of an Indiana man who used the proceeds of his father's life insurance policy to buy a $42,000 Land Rover only to have the vehicle seized after he was caught selling heroin with it. When authorities moved to forfeit the vehicle, Tyson Timbs challenged the action and won in the Grant Superior Court, with the judge finding the vehicle was purchased legally and that its forfeiture would be "grossly disproportionate" to Timb's offense. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, noting that the maximum fine for Timbs' offenses was only $10,000 and suggested the seizure amounted to an "excessive fine." The state Supreme Court then reversed, Timbs appealed, and here we are.

Reproductive Rights

Federal Appeals Court Panel Rejects Wisconsin Woman's "Cocaine Mom" Lawsuit. A three-judge panel on the US 7th Circuit of Appeals on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law, which permits the detention of pregnant women who are suspected of abusing drugs. The panel dismissed the case because the woman, Tammy Loetscher, had moved out of the state. A US district court judge last year found the law unconstitutional and issued an injunction barring it from being enforced, but the law has remained in force while the state appealed. The appeals court panel's ruling leaves the law in force for now. "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," said Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which represented Loertscher.

International

Canada Legalizes Marijuana. With final votes in the House of Commons and Senate on Tuesday, the Canadian parliament has approved the marijuana legalization bill, C-45. The bill legalizes the possession of up to 30 grams in public and allows the cultivation of up to four plants per household. It will also allow for regulated and taxed marijuana businesses, with regulations of sales left to the provinces. Provincial and territorial governments need s few weeks to prepare for retail sales, so the actual rollout of legalization is expected to happen in mid-September.

Australia Festival Pill Testing a Success, Should Be Emulated, Report Finds. A study released Wednesday by the Safety and Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events finds that pill testing at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra in April was "an overwhelming success" and the federal government should take a leadership role in introducing a plan for broader pill testing. "The pilot demonstrated that such an intervention is possible and that people are willing to use the service, despite the limitations arising from the tight timelines, inauspicious physical infrastructure and the lack of dissemination strategies on-site during the festival," the report said. Less than half the drugs tested at the festival were relatively pure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: SITSA Act Draws Opposition, Congress MedMJ Protections Advance, More... (6/15/18)

The Justice Department is once again likely to be barred from using its funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana, a broad coalition opposes the fast-moving SITSA Act, Portugal's parliament approves medical marijuana products, and more.

Congress is moving once again to bar the Justice Department from spending funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana.
Medical Marijuana

Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana Protections. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an amendment that shields legal medical marijuana operations from federal interference. The amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill bars the department from using its funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana. A similar measure was approved in the House version of the bill.

Maine Supreme Court Rules Workmen's Compensation Doesn't Cover Medical Marijuana. In a ruling Thursday, the state Supreme Court held that employers do not have to pay for medical marijuana under the state's workers' compensation system. In a 5-2 ruling, the court held that federal law takes precedence and that making employers pay for medical marijuana would force them to violate federal law.

Drug Policy

Broad Coalition Opposes SITSA Act. A coalition of human rights, civil liberties, civil rights, religious, and drug policy reform groups have come out strongly in opposition to HR 2851, the Stop Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act of 2017. The fast-moving bill has already passed out of committee and awaits a House floor vote. The bill is an old-school drug war response to new psychoactive substances that relies heavily on the criminal justice system. "If passed, HR 2851 will broadly expand penalties for drug offenses, concentrate power within the Department of Justice, punish people who lack criminal intent, and overcriminalize certain behavior," the groups said in a letter released on Thursday. "The legislation attempts to address the very real problem of synthetic opioid overdoses in the United States, but we believe that its methods are misguided. Instead of punishing people who use drugs and low-level dealers, legislation should focus on expanding treatment opportunities and targeting the international drug trade."

Sentencing

Rhode Island House Passes Law Lengthening Prison Sentences for Dealers Who Sold Drugs in Fatal Overdoses. The House on Thursday approved "Kristen's Law," House Bill 7715, which creates a new crime of drug-related homicide and imposes penalties of up to life in prison for people who sell drugs linked to fatal drug overdoses. The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Portugal Parliament Approves Marijuana-Based Medicines. The parliament on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow marijuana-based medicines, but only after earlier rejecting a proposal to allow patients to grow their own medicine. While Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2001, it has lagged behind the US and other European countries when it comes to medical marijuana. The bill now goes to President Marcelo Rebelo de Souza to be signed into law.

Chronicle AM: CO Gov. Vetoes Pot Tasting Rooms, WV First Responders Get Naloxone, More... (6/5/18)

Colorado's governor vetoes a pot tasting room bill and signs a medical marijuana in schools bill, Canada's legalization bill overcomes a last-ditch attempt to block it, and more.

West Virginia first responders will now be carrying the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. (PA Health Dept.)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Vetoes Marijuana "Tasting Rooms" Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has vetoed House Bill 18-1258, which would have allowed customers at marijuana retailers to consume edibles or vape on premises. Hickenlooper said the bill violated Amendment 64, which said marijuana consumption could not be done "openly" or "publicly." Hickenlooper also cited fears of stoned driving.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Signs Medical Marijuana at School Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has signed into law House Bill 18-1286, which will allow school nurses to administer medical marijuana to students with medical marijuana patient cards. Hickenlooper said that bill would expand current law to "allow school personnel to administer medical marijuana in a non-smokable form to students qualifying for medical marijuana use."

Harm Reduction

West Virginia Begins Statewide Distribution of Naloxone to First Responders. The state Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that it is beginning the distribution of the opioid overdose reversal drug to first responders. Naloxone is going out to the state police, the fire marshal's office, and emergency medical service providers, with eight high priority counties also being allocated additional doses.

 

 

 

 

International

Canada's Conservatives Thwarted in Bid to Block Legalization Bill. An attempt by Conservative senators to slow down the marijuana legalization bill failed on Monday night on 50-29 vote. Sen. Leo Housakos (C) had filed an amendment to delay passage until the government releases a report on how it will deal with marijuana-related border issues. Now, the bill is set for a final Senate vote Thursday.

 

 

Chronicle AM: CA Pays for Fentanyl Test Strips, CA Marijuana Banking Bill Advances, More... (6/1/18)

The California Senate approves a bill to create financial services for the pot industry, the California public health department is paying needle exchanges to hand out fentanyl test strips, a New York bill would allow the use of CBD oil instead of opioids to treat pain, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Marijuana Banking Bill Passes Senate. The state Senate voted 29-6 Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 930, which would allow financial institutions to offer limited banking services to legal marijuana businesses. The bill would create limited-charter licenses for banks and credit unions allowing them to issue special checks that could be used by the industry. The measure now goes to the Assembly.

Three Out of Four Florida Democratic Gubernatorial Contenders Support Legalization. Florida Democrats are seeing a near consensus for marijuana legalization among the current crop of gubernatorial candidates. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine all back legalization. Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham is the outlier; she only backs decriminalization.

Medical Marijuana

New York Bill Would Allow CBD Cannabis Oil to Be Used Instead of Opioids for Pain. State Sen. George Amedore (R) on Thursday filed Senate Bill 8820, which would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil in place of opioids. Amedore is co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Opioid and Heroin Addiction and said that the evidence is clear marijuana is less harmful and addictive than opioid painkillers.

Harm Reduction

California Paying Needle Exchanges to Provide Fentanyl Test Strips. For a year now, the state public health department has been paying needle exchanges to distribute fentanyl test strips to their clients in a bid to lower overdose deaths. The tests cost $1 each. Users mix a bit of their drugs in water and then dip the strip in for a few seconds and they get results back within five minutes. About half of the state's 45 needle exchanges are distributing the strips. The state has spent $57,000 on the project so far.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: RI Senate OKs Life Sentence for ODs Bill, Guatemala's First Coca Crop, More... (5/30/18)

A bill that would mandate life sentences for selling drugs involved in fatal overdoses is moving in Rhode Island, a California US attorney says he's too busy with the black market to go after legal marijuana, another Utah poll has a medical marijuana initiative winning, Guatemala gets its first coca crop and more.

Cocaine traffickers are beginning to move coca production from South America to Central America. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

California US Attorney Says Too Much Black Market Work to Focus on Legal Market. Sacramento-based McGregor Scott, US Attorney for the Northeastern District of California, said Tuesday there is so much marijuana being grown illegally on federal lands and trafficked to other states that he doesn't have the resources to go after state-legal marijuana operations. Scott said he would focus on interstate trafficking, organized crime, and damage to public lands.

New Jersey Legalization Advocate Wants to Tie Legalization, Medical Marijuana. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) is working on a plan to combine a marijuana legalization push with a bid to expand medical marijuana, but some lawmakers are warning the effort could blow up chances for either to pass this year. The medical marijuana expansion plan has broad support; the move to legalize marijuana is much more contentious.

Northern Marianas Legalization Bill Advances. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) has taken another step toward legalizing marijuana. The House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations has unanimously approved a bill that would allow adults to grow, possess, and consume marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated sales and production. The bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Yet Another Utah Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative Winning. A new poll from Dan Jones & Associates finds that nearly three out of four Utah residents support the Utah Patients Coalition medical marijuana initiative. The poll had 72% either "strongly" or "somewhat" in support, with 25% opposed, and only 2% undecided. While the LDS Church has come out against the measure, even 59% of self-described very active Mormons say they are for it.

Sentencing

Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Life Sentences in Overdose Deaths. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 2279A, which allows prison sentences of up to life for those convicted of selling, delivering, or distributing an illegal drug that results in a fatal overdose. The bill passed 22-11 over the objections of treatment professionals, mental health advocates, and civil liberties organizations, which argued that tougher sentences will only make it harder to fight drug overdoses. "We know, based on decades of criminal justice based drug policy, that harsher penalties do not decrease drug using activity. So, this bill's disturbing message will not decrease drug use, nor drug trafficking -- the economics ensure this -- but it will further marginalize people who use drugs and increase their fears," a joint letter to the Senate said. "Use of a public health approach, not lengthy criminal sentences for users and small-time dealers, is essential for our state's ability to continue to make headway in this crisis." The bill now goes to the House.

International

Guatemalan Authorities Bust First Coca Farm. The National Civil Police announced over the weekend that they had found and destroyed a 2 ½ plot of coca plants sown between coffee plants, the first discovery of coca cultivation in the country. The crops were found in a remote area of Alta Verapaz department. Honduras recently saw its first and second discovery of coca plantings, too, suggesting that traffickers are attempting to cut risk and transport costs by planting the cocaine-producing crop nearer to US markets.

Four Ways Fentanyl Could Radically Disrupt the Global Drug Trade

The synthetic opioid fentanyl isn't just killing American drug users by the thousands. Its emergence also signals a shift in the decades-old contours of the global drug trade, with ramifications not only for traditional drug-producing countries and drug trafficking networks but also for US foreign policy.

Black market fentanyl is not just wreaking havoc on the streets of American cities. (Creative Commons)
Synthesized from chemicals -- not from papaver somniferum, the opium poppy -- fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin and is severely implicated in the country's drug overdose crisis, accounting for almost 20,000 deaths in 2016.

Illicit fentanyl is typically mixed with other opiates, such as heroin, resulting in much stronger doses of opioids than users expect, thus leading to opioid overdoses. But it is also increasingly also showing up in non-opiate drugs, resulting in fentanyl overdose deaths among unsuspecting methamphetamine and cocaine users.

But the havoc super-potent fentanyl is wreaking among drug users pales in comparison with the dramatic changes it could prompt in the global illicit drug production industry. As academic researchers Vanda Felbab-Brown, Jonathan Caulkins, and Keith Humphreys write in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, fentanyl's rise has the potential to cause disruption and innovation in black markets.

Here are four ways fentanyl alters the illegal drug production and distribution status quo:

1. It doesn't require an agricultural base. Virtually all of the other opioids on the black market, from heroin to morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, require land to grow poppies on. And they require land that is outside cdthe effective control of the state. Non-state actors who can control such areas, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the drug cartels in southern and western Mexico, reap the profits and power of that control. With the ascent of lab-produced fentanyl made out of chemicals, traditional opiate producers should see their profits and their influence undermined.

2. It doesn't require a large workforce. Traditional opium production requires a large seasonal workforce of people to plant and tend the poppies, score the pods and scrape off the leaking opium, and then process and package the raw opium. Other workers will get jobs processing raw opium into heroin. All of those jobs bring money into the hands of poor agricultural families and political capital to the traffickers, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the cartels in Mexico. With fewer job opportunities to offer up, the traffickers lose clout.

3. It doesn't require an elaborate smuggling infrastructure. Because fentanyl is so potent, small amounts of the drug can contain huge numbers of doses, and that means it doesn't require transportation networks of trucks, planes, and boats to get an agricultural crop from the valleys of Afghanistan or the mountains of Mexico to consumers in the US Fentanyl is so potent, medicinal doses are measured in micrograms, and packages of it worth hundreds of thousands of dollars can fit inside a Priority Mail envelope. With smuggling fentanyl as easy as dropping a package in the mail, international drug smuggling organizations now have competition they never had before.

4. All of this can change the dynamics of US foreign policy. If plant-based opiates lose market share to synthetics in the future, this can weaken both insurgencies (Afghanistan) and criminal networks (Mexico). Ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, drug warriors have been constrained in their efforts to go after the Afghan opium crops because of fears it would drive poppy-dependent peasants into the hands of the Taliban. If opium production becomes relatively less important vis-à-vis fentanyl production, that constraint on an aggressive US response to Afghan opium production is weakened. Similarly, in Mexico, to the degree that fentanyl displaces peasants and processors and weakens the link between drug cartels and rural populations, it increases the ability of the Mexican government and its American backers to crack down even harder on the cartels.

Under drug prohibition, there is a strong impetus to come up with more pure, more potent, and more compact products. Fentanyl is the ultimate expression of that imperative, and its arrival is changing the contours of the global drug industry. Who knows how it will play out?

Chronicle AM: House Dems Want Action on Naloxone Pricing, German Decrim Hint, More... (5/21/18)

There's too much marijuana in Oregon, Utah medical marijuana foes try another tack to block the initiative, Africa gets its first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

Price gouging on the opioid overdose reversal drug needs to stop, Democratic House members say. (PA Health Department)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon US Attorney Warns of "Significant Overproduction" of Legal Marijuana, Will Target Diversion. US Attorney Billy Williams said last Friday that the state has a "significant overproduction" problem and that he would prioritize enforcement of overproduction, diversion to other states, and organized crime. The state currently has nearly a million pounds of marijuana buds in inventory, and it's estimated that Oregon's billion dollar a year industry includes about $300 million worth of pot to diverted to the black market.

Pennsylvania State Senator Calls on DAs to Quit Prosecuting Small-Time Pot Cases. One of the Keystone State's leading voices for marijuana law reform, state Sen. Daylin Leach (D), last Friday published an open letter to the state's district attorneys urging them to quit prosecuting pot possession and smoking cases. Leach cited the nine states that have already legalized marijuana and warned, "If people are convicted this year, and legalization occurs next year or the year thereafter, thousands of people will have a stain on their record that will be extremely difficult or impossible to remove."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Foes Sue to Block Initiative from Going to Voters. Drug Safe Utah, a group formed to oppose the medical marijuana initiative, went to court last Thursday to try to block it. In court filings, the group argued that the lieutenant governor, whose office oversees elections, doesn't have the authority to allow campaigners to gather signatures. Drug Safe Utah argued that state officials couldn't act on the initiative because it "conflicts with federal law."

Harm Reduction

House Democrats Call on Trump Administration to Lower Naloxone Price. A group of House Democrats led by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Peter Welch (D-VT) have sent a letter to White House Kellyanne Conway asking for executive action to curb rising prices for naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. "Federal agencies have the authority to use patented inventions… when in the interest of the public good," the lawmakers wrote. "The current opioid crisis requires invoking this provision."

International

German Drug Official Hints at Move Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. In a report released last week, German drug commissioner Marlene Mortler appeared to call for marijuana decriminalization. "Anyone caught by the police in the future for possession of cannabis for personal consumption should be allowed to choose whether to pay a fine or voluntarily seek help from the expert," she said. German drug arrests were up more than 6% last year, while marijuana arrests were up 14%. About 80% of all marijuana cases were for simple possession.

Africa Gets First Medical Marijuana Dispensary. A medical marijuana dispensary has opened in Durban, South Africa, making it the first on the continent. The store is currently only selling products without THC. "We want to break the stigma on cannabis, to showcase that cannabis can be used effectively to treat a number of conditions and to integrate medical professionals as well as traditional healers to allow the whole of South Africa a holistic approach to health care," said dispensary spokesperson Kirithi Thaver.

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Drug War Issues

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