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Chronicle AM: Coalition to Fight House "Drug War" Provision, Colombia Coca Crop at Record High, More... (9/20/18)

A provision in the House opioid bill that would let the attorney general set sentences for synthetic drug offenses generates opposition, Colombia's coca production was at record levels last year, the DEA has okayed the import of Canadian marijuana for research purposes, and more.

Colombia peasand farmer in his coca field. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Sheriff's Resignation After Racist Weed Comments. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is calling for the resignation of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino after a tape emerged of him making racist comments about black people around the topic of marijuana legalization. Although Saudino's remarks were made back in January just after Murphy's inauguration, a recording of them just went public on Wednesday. Here's what he said, referencing Murphy's inaugural address: "He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state…better criminal justice reform. Christ almighty, in other words, let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don’t worry about it," Saudino said. "You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops."

Medical Marijuana

DEA Gives Green Light for Canadian Company to Import Research Marijuana to US. The DEA has granted permission to Canadian marijuana producer Tilray, Inc. to export medical marijuana to California for scientific research purposes. The Food and Drug Administration also signed off on the deal. The marijuana is headed for Dr. Fatta Nahab, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of California San Diego medical school.

Drug Policy

Left-Right Coalition Builds to Block House Opioids Bill's "Drug War" Provision. As the House and Senate seek to reconcile their versions of bills to address the nation's opioid crisis, groups on the left and right are uniting behind an effort to undo an especially egregious provision in the House version of the bill. Organizations such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are joining forces with right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union to remove language that would give the attorney general the power to create a special category for synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and set penalties for those who make or sell them. That would essentially put sentencing policy for those drugs in the hands of the attorney general. "We don’t want any attorney general to have this kind of power," said Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch US Program. "But I think specifically when we have an attorney general who is so out of touch with this century’s expert thinking on these issues, there should be red flags for that."

International

UNODC Says Colombian Coca Cultivation at All-Time High. The amount of acreage devoted to coca growing in Colombia increased 17% last year to hit a new record high, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said Wednesday. Some 423,000 acres were under cultivation last year, UNODC said, the largest figure since the UN began keeping records. That will produce more than 920 metric tons of cocaine, a US government report earlier this year said. The figures come as new conservative Colombian President Ivan Duque prepares to attack the drug trade, likely including aerial fumigation of crops with glyphosate. "Our goal in the next four years is to have concrete results," he said Wednesday. "So we can at least eradicate more than 70 percent of what we have today."

Chronicle AM: DC "Fake Pot" Overdose Outbreak, Canada Pot Travel Ban Pushback, More... (9/17/18)

Tough talk about barring Canadians with links to legal marijuana leads one congressman to act, "fake pot" kills five and leaves dozens sick in DC, Oklahoma's medical marijuana fight continues, and more.

Synthetic cannabinoids are being blamed for five deaths and dozens of overdoses in the nation's capital. (Louisiana Health Dept.
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Democrats Call For Special Session For Medical Marijuana. Democratic members of a working group crafting recommendations for medical marijuana distribution say the governor should call a special session in order to get rules implemented safely. A sticking point is the issue of product testing. "The only way to do that is to have a special session and give the health department the authority to issue licenses to entities that can do that testing, said Representative Steve Kouplen (D) House Democratic Leader. But legislative Republicans are balking, saying the Health Department already has sufficient authority to do product testing. And Gov. Mary Fallin (R) says a special session isn't necessary and would be an "expensive burden."

New Psychoactive SubstancesSynthetic Cannabinoids Kill 5, Sicken Dozens in DC. Five people died in Washington, DC, last Wednesday and Thursday and another 88 people were treated for overdoses of what authorities suspect is "a bad batch of K2," a synthetic cannabinoid. City officials are tweeting out alerts such as the following: "Smoking or ingesting K2 or Spice may lead to overdose or death." By last Friday afternoon, the numbers appear to have leveled off, with a total of 118 reported overdoses tallied since Wednesday. 

Immigration Policy

Congressman Presses Administration on Canada Marijuana Visitor Bans. Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) sent a letter Monday to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen seeking clarity amid reports that the US federal government plans to impose lifetime bans on Canadians who admit having used marijuana, working in Canada's legal marijuana industry, or even investing in it. "We are concerned DHS is unnecessarily and disproportionally penalizing noncitizens who are engaged in lawful business activities," reads a draft of the letter obtained by Marijuana Moment. "We strongly urge DHS to clarify admission policies and procedures at U.S. ports of entry to help ensure transparency of such processes. The role that CBP plays in processing thousands of foreign nationals who come to the United States daily to conduct business is critical not only to the success of our economy but also the safety and security of the American people."

International

Australian Capital Territory Could Legalize Marijuana Under New Bill. Labor MP Michael Pettersson will this week introduce a bill to effectively legalize marijuana for personal use in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Marijuana possession has been decriminalized since 1992, but Pettersson said marijuana users are still being arrested. "About 60 percent of drug arrests in the ACT are for cannabis consumers. That’s not suppliers, that’s consumers. I think police can spend their time doing better things than going after people using small amounts of cannabis," Pettersson said.Under his bill, the possession of up to 50 grams and the cultivation of up to four plants would be legalized. 

Chronicle AM: MedMJ Researchers Stalled, MS Court Rejects Fatal Overdose Conviction, More... (9/10/18)

It's just about all medical marijuana news today, except for a Mississippi appeals court throwing out a drug-induced homicide-style conviction.

The DOJ is stalling medical marijuana research, and Congress is set to act on the issue, but perhaps too restrictively. (DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Research Applications Go Nowhere at Justice Department. The DEA began accepting applications from researchers seeking to grow marijuana two years ago, but as of this week, none of the applications have been responded to. Some two dozen applications have been left in limbo by the Justice Department, the DEA's parent agency, during the tenure of anti-marijuana Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Marijuana Research Bill Scheduled For Congressional Vote This Week. The House Judiciary Committee will vote Thursday on HR 5634, Rep. Matt Gaetz's Medical Cannabis Research Act. Gaetz says the bill will expand the amount of research-grade marijuana available to researchers, but drug reformers are calling foul over some provisions, including one that bars people with a felony or drug-related misdemeanor conviction from any affiliation with research cultivation operations and another that requires cultivators to get a letter of good standing from a local law enforcement agency. They argued that those provisions should be removed, but Gaetz doesn't look likely to do that.

Connecticut Federal Court Holds That Refusing To Hire Medical Marijuana User Constitutes Employment Discrimination. A federal court in Hartford held last Wednesday that refusing to hire a medical marijuana user who tested positive on a pre-employment drug test violates the state's medical marijuana law. Under the state's law, "[n]o employer may refuse to hire a person or may discharge, penalize or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person's or employee's status as a qualifying patient."

New Mexico Health Secretary Rejects Medical Marijuana for Opioid Addiction. Department of Public Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher has rejected the idea of treating opioid addiction with medical marijuana, saying there isn't enough research to justify using it for addiction treatment. Her decision overrides the state's Cannabis Advisory Board, which recommended 5-1 that it be approved.

Sentencing Policy

Mississippi Appeals Court Throws Out Dealer's Murder Conviction in Overdose Death. The state Court of Appeals has overturned the murder conviction of a man who had been convicted of the crime after a friend died from taking a new psychoactive substance provided by the man. "The evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to support a conviction for either depraved-heart murder or the lesser-included offense of culpable negligence manslaughter," Judge Jack Wilson wrote for an 8-2 majority of the court. The court found that even though the man had provided two doses of the drug to his friend, that wasn't enough to support the murder charges because there was no evidence the man believed the drug would put his friend at risk. The case could spark efforts in the legislature to pass a drug-induced homicide law.

Chronicle AM: NJ Firm Can Drug Test MedMJ Patient, Egypt Bans "Synthetic Hashish," More... (8/17/18)

A federal judge sides with a New Jersey company against a medical marijuana-using worker, Egypt bans "synthetic hashish," a Mexican state advances a bill to decriminalize opium production, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales says he wants to return to coca farming, but the people demand him. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

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."

International

Bolivia President Says He Wants to Return to Coca Farming, But Country Wants Him. President Evo Morales said Thursday he will seek a fourth term in office, citing broad popular support. "The people ask me to return, I do not want to... I want to return to my region to harvest coca, that's the great desire I have, but it is not easy to reject it when the people push you," Morales said. Morales has led the country since 2006, during which period poverty levels have fallen by 3.5%.

Egypt "Synthetic Hashish" Ban. The Health Ministry this week officially banned six forms of "synthetic hashish," or synthetic cannabinoids. The ministry said the ban applied to six "extremely addictive" substances, but it did not provide the technical names for the banned substances.

Mexican State Moving to Legalize Opium Production for Pharmaceutical Purposes. A legislative committee in the state of Guerrero, Mexico's opium production epicenter, has approved a draft bill to decriminalize the production and sale of opium for pharmaceutical purposes. If the bill is approved by the state legislature, it would then be sent to the federal congress for approval. The law is designed to reduce the impact of federal law enforcement on local producers, but critics worry such a law could be used fraudulently by drug cartels supplying heroin to the US.

Chronicle AM: Overdose Deaths at Record High, DEA Cuts Opioid Production Quotas, More... (8/16/18)

Drug overdose deaths hit another record high last year, the DEA is cutting prescription opioid quotas again, California pot tax revenues are not meeting expectations, and more.

According to the CDC, more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Tax Revenues Still Sluggish. The state has taken in $82 million in marijuana tax revenues in the first six months of 2018, finance officials reported. That's less than half the $185 million anticipated. Politicians and industry figures say that's because illicit sales still flourish and because many localities in the state don't allow retail marijuana sales. At a meeting with state regulators Tuesday, fingers were also pointed at a shaky supply chain, a shortage of licenses, testing problems and restrictions on retail sales and deliveries.

Medical Marijuana

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 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.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Proposes Big Cuts in Opioid Manufacturing Next Year. The DEA has proposed decreasing the manufacturing quotas for the "six most frequently abused" opioids for next by 10%. That would be the third straight year of reductions. The move is described as part of President Trump's Safe Prescribing Plan, which seeks to "cut nationwide opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years." Neither this proposed cut nor the plan address whether bluntly tightening production quotas could lead to shortages for patients needing them for chronic pain.

Overdose Deaths At Record High Last Year, Driven By Opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Wednesday that preliminary figures showed that more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, up 7% over 2016. Opioids, which include prescription painkillers along with heroin and other illegal synthetic opioid drugs, contributed 49,068 to the total number of overdose deaths, the report indicates. From 2002 to 2017, the CDC estimates a 4.1-fold increase in the total number of deaths due to all types of opioid drugs.

Chronicle AM: Key NJ Pol Now Supports Legal Pot, UK Drug Deaths Spark Criticism, More... (8/6/18)

New Jersey's assembly speaker gets behind marijuana legalization, Ted Cruz attacks Beto O'Rourke as a drug legalizer, record-breaking British drug deaths spark a critique of government drug policy, and more.

Fentanyl deaths nearly doubled last year in Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key New Jersey Politico Now Supports Marijuana Legalization. Assembly Speaker Chris Coughlin (D-Middlesex), a key player in the legislature, said Friday he supported making the state the next one to legalize marijuana. Both Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) have both been more enthusiastic about legalization than Coughlin up until now. "For folks who don't want to legalize it, I understand their view. But I would ask, are we satisfied with the status quo," Coughlin said on his regular "Speak to the Speaker" radio program. "Use of marijuana is still a constant. Three out of five drug arrests are for marijuana. African Americans are three times more likely to get arrested for marijuana," Coughlin said. "We're trying to address those things and I think, if you got the right bill, we'll go ahead and try to pass it."

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Awards First Medical Marijuana Processing Licenses. The state Department of Commerce on Friday issued seven provisional licenses to aspiring medical marijuana processors. This is just the first round of licensing for processors; the state could license up to 40 such operations.

Drug Policy

Ted Cruz Attack Ad Slams Beto O'Rourke as Drug Legalizer. With the underdog Democrat nipping at his heels -- a recent poll has the Texas senate race as a statistical dead heat -- incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is using an ad that accuses O'Rourke of being a drug legalizer. "Beto O'Rourke said we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin," says one ad running in Lubbock. The O'Rouke campaign said that is not true -- that O'Rourke supports marijuana legalization and says we need a larger discussion about ending the war on drugs. The campaign also warned supporters more than a month ago such attacks would be forthcoming. "It is these kinds of mischaracterizations of our positions, preying on the fears and anxieties of our fellow Texans, that they will try to use as they have used in the past," O'Rourke said on June 29.

International

British Drug Deaths at Record High (Again), Fentanyl Toll Doubles. The British government has reported 3,756 drug deaths in 2017, making the year the fifth in a row to see increases in drug deaths. The 2017 figure is the highest since comparable records began in 1993. The most dramatic drug death increases were around fentanyl and its analogs, which nearly doubled in the space of a year.

British Reform Advocates Rip Government Policies over Drug Deaths. "After five years of record or near-record drug-related deaths, the UK Government has nowhere left to hide. They are responsible for vulnerable people dying in droves, because they are blocking, or refusing to fund, measures proven to save lives in other countries," said Martin Powell of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. "No one has ever died from an overdose in a supervised drug consumption room or heroin prescribing clinic, anywhere. In Portugal -- where drug use is decriminalized -- the drug death rate is less than a tenth of ours. So Government claims that these deaths are all the result of an aging population of drug users is a lie. The Government must fully fund drug treatment, stop criminalizing people who use drugs, and allow supervised drug consumption rooms now. Longer term, all political parties should back legal regulation of the drug market to take it out of the hands of criminals, save lives, reduce crime, and protect our communities." Also commenting was Rose Humphries of the Anyone's Child Project, who lost two sons to heroin overdoses: "It upsets me to see the figures for drug deaths at record levels year after year. The government is complicit in these deaths because it will not try the successful measures that work in other countries to reduce drug deaths and crime. Those of us in the Anyone's Child campaign can see the evidence of what works -- including legally regulating drugs. Why can't the government?" she asked.

(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.)

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: 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.)

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?

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