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Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Marijuana Petition, Dutch Bank Gets Huge Money Laundering Fine, More... (2/9/18)

A Bernie Sanders petition calls for marijuana legalization and an end to the drug war, a Dutch bank gets hit with a massive fine for cartel money laundering, New York's governor takes flak from drug reform groups on a couple of fronts, and more.

Bernie Sanders launches a petition calling for marijuana legalization and end to the drug war. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Petition Asks Congress to Legalize Marijuana. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has sent out an online petition to his email list subscribers asking Congress to legalize marijuana and "end the war on drugs." In 2015, Sanders filed the first ever marijuana legalization bill in Congress. Even though the petition is unlikely to lead to any results while Republicans control the Congress, it will help Sanders burnish his credentials as a leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Arizona Legalization Bill Filed. Reps. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) and Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) filed a marijuana legalization bill Thursday. HCR 2037 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, allow for the cultivation of up to six plants, and create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and sales. Voters narrowly rejected a legalization initiative there in 2016.

New Jersey Legalization Hearing Set for Next Month. Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen (D-Somerset), chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations Committee, said Thursday the committee will hold a hearing on marijuana legalization on March 5. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on marijuana legalization and reiterated that pledge during his inaugural address last month.

Seattle to Expunge Past Marijuana Convictions. Following the lead of San Francisco, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Thursday the city is moving to automatically clear past misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession. "For thousands of people in Washington state, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction had huge implications: It could be a barrier to housing, to getting credit, to getting good jobs and education," Mayor Jenny Durkan told a news conference. "It is a necessary step to right the wrongs of what was a failed war on drugs." Voters in Washington state approved marijuana legalization in 2012.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Bill to Let People Prescribed Opioids Get Temporary Medical Marijuana Cards Advances. The Senate Executive Committee approved Senate Bill 336 on Wednesday. The bill would allow people who have been prescribed opioids to apply for a temporary medical cannabis card. If passed, those prescribed opioids would be able to participate in the program if their applications are approved by the state. The background check and fingerprinting process normally required for applicants of the program would also be waived that first year because of the urgency of the crisis.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Drug Reform, Harm Reduction Groups Criticize Governor's Move to Stiffen Fentanyl Analog Penalties. The Harm Reduction Coalition, the Drug Policy Alliance, and VOCAL-NY are among the organizations calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) over his move to add 11 fentanyl analogs to the state's controlled substances schedule, a change that would increase the number of fentanyl varieties that would garner top felony charges. "The governor boasts about giving law enforcement the tools they need to make more arrests, but says nothing about providing people at risk of overdose the tools they need to survive," Daniel Raymond of the Harm Reduction Coalition said Thursday. "We won't end the overdose crisis by filling up jail cells."

New Synthetic Substances

New York Drug Reform Groups Criticize Governor's Move to Further Criminalize Synthetic Cannabinoids. The Manhattan-based Drug Policy Alliance and the drug user group VOCAL-NY are opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) call to further criminalize the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, also referred to as "synthetic marijuana" or "K2." Such laws do little to curb use, do nothing to increase public health and safety in New York State, and undermine the ability of the state to effectively prevent minors from obtaining the substances, the groups said. The state should just legalize marijuana instead, the groups said.


Dutch Bank Hit With $369 Million Fine for Laundering Mexico Drug Cartel Money. The Dutch bank Rabobank has been fined $369 million by the US government after it admitted handling millions in illicit funds, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. The bank also pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation in trying to avoid repeating sanctions imposed on it in 2006 and 2008 for "nearly identical failures," DOJ said. "When Rabobank learned that substantial numbers of its customers' transactions were indicative of international narcotics trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering activities, it chose to look the other way and to cover up deficiencies in its anti-money laundering program," Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said. A former Rabobank vice president, George Martin, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the US concerning his role in the case, according to the DOJ. He admitted -- in a federal court in San Diego in December -- to playing a role in setting up the policies that prevented additional controls. The bank will also have to pay a $50 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Chronicle AM: VT Legalizes Without Sales, Sentencing Commission Proposes Upped Fentanyl Penalties, More... (1/22/18)

Vermont becomes the 9th legal marijuana state, Illinois lawmakers take up legalization, the US Sentencing Commission proposing increasing fentanyl penalties, and more.

Vermont just turned New England a little greener. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal has support for marijuana legalization at 60% nationwide, up from 55% the last time the media outlets asked the question, in 2014.

Illinois Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. A joint legislative committee began a hearing on marijuana legalization Monday morning. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told legislators she supported it: "Legalizing marijuana is an important step in right-sizing our criminal justice system, reducing racial disparities in prosecuting non-violent drug offenses, targeting our scarce resources on prosecuting violent crime and lessening the social dislocation we see in too many of our communities," Preckwinkle said. The only relevant bill currently before the legislator is Senate Bill 2275, which would authorize a non-binding statewide referendum on the topic of legalization.

Vermont Legalizes Marijuana; Becomes First State to Do So Via Legislative Process. With Gov. Phil Scott's (R) signature on House Bill 511 Monday, the state legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, becoming the first state to free the weed via the legislature. The new law goes into effect July 1. The new law does not legalize the taxed and regulated commercial production and sale of marijuana. Instead, the bill calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31. Then lawmakers would have to go to work again to get that passed.

Buffalo Campaigners Call for Police to Deprioritize Marijuana Possession Arrests. A nonprofit group called Open Buffalo has begun a petition campaign to urge Mayor Byron Brown to tell the police department to deprioritize enforcement of marijuana possession laws. The group is close to its goal of 600 signatures; when it hits that goal, it will deliver the petition to the mayor.


US Sentencing Commission Proposes Stiffening Fentanyl Penalties. Last Friday, the Sentencing Commission announced it was proposing to increase penalties for fentanyl offenses by setting the offense level for fentanyl equal to the higher offense level currently assigned to fentanyl analogs. The commission is also proposing a sentencing guidelines enhancement for misrepresenting fentanyl or fentanyl analogs as another substance. The commission also proposed a class-based approach to synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids and established a single marijuana equivalency for each class. Public comment on the proposals is open until March 6, and the commission will hold public hearings in February and March. The commission is expected to vote on the proposals before May 1.

Looking Back: The Biggest International Drug Policy Stories of the Past 20 Years [FEATURE]

With a thousand issues of Drug War Chronicle under our belts, we look back on the biggest international drug and drug policy stories of the past 20 years. (A companion piece looks at the biggest US domestic drug policy stories.) Here's what we find:

The 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. We've made some progress since then. (Creative Commons)
1. Global Prohibitionist Consensus Starts to Crumble

In 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), with anti-prohibitionist voices in the room but metaphorically on the outside, pledged itself to eradicating drugs in 10 years. That didn't happen. Now, nearly 20 years later, it is duly chastened, and the chorus of critics is much louder, but the UN still remains a painfully slow place to try to make change in global drug policy.

Yet, despite the foot-dragging in Vienna and New York, albeit at a glacial pace. The 2016 UNGASS couldn't bring itself to actually say the words "harm reduction," but acknowledged the practice in its documents. It couldn't bring itself to resolve to be against the death penalty in drug cases, but a large and growing number of member states spoke out against it. It couldn't officially acknowledge that there is "widespread recognition from several quarters, including UN member states and entities and civil society, of the collateral harms of current drug policies, and that new approaches are both urgent and necessary," even though that's what the UN Development Program said. And the UN admitted to having dropped the ball on making opioid analgesics available in the developing world.

It certainly wasn't ready to talk about drug legalization in any serious fashion. But despite the rigidity within the global anti-drug bureaucracy, driven in part by the hardline positions of many Asian and Middle Eastern member states, the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Many European and Latin America states are ready for a new direction, and some aren't waiting for the UN's imprimatur. Bolivia has rejected the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs' provision criminalizing the coca plant, and Canada and Uruguay have both legalized marijuana with scant regard for UN treaty prohibitions. And of course there is Portugal's broad decriminalization system, encompassing all drugs.

There's a real lesson in all of this: The UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, have proven to be toothless. There is no effective mechanism for punishing most countries for violating those treaties, at least not relative to the punishing effects they suffer from prohibition. Other countries will take heed.

2. Afghanistan Remains the World's Opium Breadbasket

When the US invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, it entered into a seemingly endless war to defeat the Taliban and, along with it, the opium trade. Sixteen years and more than a trillion dollars later, it has defeated neither. Afghanistan was already the world's leading producer of opium then, and it still is.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2000, the country produced more than 3,000 tons of opium. The following year, with the Taliban imposing a ban on poppy planting in return for US aid and international approval, production dropped to near zero. But in 2002, production was back to more than 3,000 tons, and Afghan poppy farmers haven't looked back since.

In the intervening years, Afghanistan has accounted for the vast majority of global opium production, reaching 90% in 2007 before plateauing to around 70% now (as production increases in Latin America). It has consistently produced at least 3,000 tons a year, with that amount doubling in selected years.

For years, US policymakers were caught in a dilemma, and drug war imperatives were subordinated to anti-Taliban imperatives. The problem was that any attempt to go after opium threatened to push peasants into the hands of the Taliban. Now, the Trump administration is bombing Taliban heroin facilities. But it hasn't bombed any heroin facilities linked to corrupt Afghan government officials.

Holland's famous cannabis cafes were the first break with global marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
3. Movement Toward Acceptance of Recreational Marijuana

Twenty years ago, only the Netherlands had come to terms -- sort of -- with marijuana, formally keeping it illegal, but, in a prime example of the Dutch's policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), with possession and sale of small amounts allowed. (The Dutch are only now finally dealing with the "backdoor problem," the question of where cannabis cafes are supposed to get their supplies if it can't be grown legally).

The first entities to legalize marijuana were the US states of Colorado and Washington in 2012, and Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana in 2014. Canada will become the second country to do so next year. In the meantime, six more US states and the District of Columbia have also jumped on the bandwagon.

While full legalization may yet be a bridge too far for most European and Latin American countries, marijuana decriminalization has really taken hold there, with numerous countries in both regions having embraced the policy. Marijuana has now been decriminalized in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia (you can possess up to 22 grams legally), Costa Rica, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Equador, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine, among others. Oh, and Iran, too.

4. Andean Whack-A-Mole: The Fruitless Quest to Quash Cocaine

The United States, and to a much lesser degree, the European Union, have spent billions of dollars trying to suppress coca leaf cultivation and cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. It hasn't worked.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca leaf cultivation was just under 500,000 acres in 1998; this week, UNODC reported that coca leaf cultivation was at 470,000 acres last year -- and that's not counting the 75,000 acres under legal cultivation in Bolivia.

When it comes to actual cocaine production, it's pretty much the same story: Again according to the UNODC, cocaine production was at 825 tons in 1998, peaked at just over a million tons a year in 2004-2007, and is now at just under 800 tons. There have been peaks and troughs, but here we are, pretty much in the same place we started.

Military intervention didn't stop it. Military and anti-drug assistance hasn't stopped it. Alternative development programs haven't stopped it. The global cocaine market is insatiable, and nothing has been able to tear Andean peasant farmers from what is by far their best cash crop. Bolivia, at least, has largely made peace with coca -- although not cocaine -- providing a legal, regulated market for coca farmers, but in Peru and Colombia eradication and redevelopment efforts continue to spark conflict and social unrest.

5. Mexico's Brutal Drug Wars

During the 1980s and 1990s, accusations ran rampant that in a sort of pax mafiosi, the Mexican government cut deals with leading drug trafficking groups to not so much fight the drug trade as manage it. Those were the days of single party rule by the PRI, which ended with the election of Vicente Fox in 2000. With the end of single party rule, the era of relative peace in the drug business began to unravel.

As old arrangements between drug traffickers and political and law enforcement figures fell apart, so did the informal codes that governed trafficker behavior. When once a cartel capo would accept his exemplary arrest, during the Fox administration, the gangsters began shooting back at the cops -- and fighting among themselves over who would control which profitable franchise.

Things took a turn for the worse with the election of Felipe Calderon in 2006 and his effort to burnish his political credentials by sending in the army to fight the increasingly wealthy, violent, and brazen cartels. And they haven't gotten any better since. While American attention to Mexico's drug wars peaked in 2012 -- a presidential election year in both countries -- and while the US has thrown more than a billion dollars in anti-drug aid Mexico's way in the past few years, the violence, lawlessness, and corruption continues. The death toll is now estimated to be around 200,000, and there's no sign anything is going to change anytime soon.

Well, unless we take leading 2018 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) at his word. This week, AMLO suggested a potential amnesty for cartel leaders, indicating, for some, at least, a pax mafiosi is better than a huge, endless pile of corpses.

6. Latin America Breaks Away from US Drug War Hegemony

The US imports its drugs and exports its prohibition-related violence, and the region grows tired of paying the price for America's war on its favorite vices. When once Latin American leaders quietly kowtowed to drug war demands from Washington, at least some of them have been singing a different tune in recent years.

Bolivia under Evo Morales has resolutely followed its own path on legalizing coca cultivation, despite bellows from Washington, successive Mexican presidents weary of the bloodshed turn an increasingly critical eye toward US drug war imperatives, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sees what Washington-imposed prohibitionist policies have done to his county and cries out for something different, and so did Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina before he was forced out of office on corruption charges.

Latin American countries are also increasingly pursuing their own drug policies, whether it's constitutionally protected legalization of personal use amounts of drugs in Colombia, decriminalization of marijuana across the continent, or downright legalization in Uruguay, Latin American leaders are no longer taking direction from Washington -- although they generally remain happy to take US anti-drug dollars.

A North American first: Vancouver's safe injection site opened in 2003. (Creative Commons)
7.Safe Injection Sites Start Spreading

The notion of providing a place where intravenous drug users could shoot up under medical supervision and get access to referrals to public health and welfare services was derided by foes as setting up "shooting galleries" and enabling drug use, but safe injection sites have proven to be an effective intervention, linked to reduced overdoses, reduced crime, and moving drug users toward treatment.

These examples of harm reduction in practice first appeared in Switzerland in the late 1980s; with facilities popping up in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1990s; Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, and Spain in the 2000s; and, most recently, Denmark and France.

By now, there are nearly a hundred safe injection sites operating in at least 61 cities worldwide, including 30 in Holland, 16 in Germany, and eight in Switzerland. We are likely to see safe injection sites in Ireland and Scotland very soon.

It looks like they will soon be appearing in the United States, too. Officials in at least two cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are well on the way to approving them, although the posture of the federal government could prove an obstacle.

8. And Heroin Maintenance, Too

Even more forward looking as a harm reduction measure than safe injection sites, heroin maintenance (or opiate-assisted treatment) has expanded slowly, but steadily over the past two decades. The Swiss did the first trials in 1994, and now such programs are available there (after decisively winning a 2008 referendum on the issue), as well as Germany and the Netherlands.

Such programs have been found to reduce harm by helping users control their drug use, reducing overdoses, reducing drug-related disease, and promoting overall health and well-being, while also reducing social harms by reducing crime related to scoring drugs, reducing public use and drug markets, and promoting less chaotic lifestyles among participants, leading to increased social integration and better family life and employment prospects.

A Canadian pilot program, the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) produced similar results. Maybe the United States will be ready to get it a try one of these years.

9. New Drugs, New Markets

So far, this has been the century of new drugs. Known variously as "research chemicals," "designer drugs," or fake this and that, let's call them new psychoactive substances (NSPs). Whether it's synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, synthetic benzodiazepines, synthetic opioids, or something entirely novel, someone somewhere is producing it and selling it.

In its 2017 annual review, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) reported in was monitoring 620 NSPs, up from 350 in 2013, and was adding new ones at the rate of over one a week.

These drugs, often of unknown quality or potency, in some cases have wreaked havoc among drug users around the world and are a prime example of the bad things that can happen when you try to suppress some drugs: You end up with worse ones.

The communications technology revolution that began with the world wide web impacts drug policy just as it impact everything else. Beginning with the infamous Silk Road drug sales website, the dark web and the Tor browser have enabled drug sellers and consumers to hook up anonymously online, with the drugs delivered to one's doorstep by Fedex, UPS, and the like.

Silk Road has been taken down and its proprietor, Ross Ulbricht, jailed for decades in the US, but as soon as Silk Road was down, new sites popped up. They got taken down, and again, new sites popped up. Rinse and repeat.

European authorities estimate the size of the dark web drug marketplace at about $200 million a year -- a fraction of the size of the overall trade -- but warn that it is growing rapidly. And why not? It's like an Amazon for drugs.

10.Massacring Drug Suspects in Southeast Asia

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn international condemnation for the bloody war he unleashed on drug suspects upon taking office last year. Coming from a man who made his reputation for leading death squads while Mayor of Davao City, the wave of killings is shocking, but not surprising. The latest estimates are that some 12,000 people have been killed.

What's worse is that Duterte's bad example seems to be gaining some traction in the neighborhood. Human rights groups have pointed to a smaller wave of killings in Indonesia, along with various statements from Indonesian officials expressing support for Duterte-style drug executions. And most recently, a Malaysian member of parliament urged his own country to emulate Duterte's brutal crackdown.

This isn't the first time Southeast Asia has been the scene of murderous drug war brutality. Back in 2003, then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a war on drugs that saw 2,800 killed in three months.

Chronicle AM: ME MedMJ Crackdown, Duterte Faces Heat Over Human Rights Abuses, More... (11/10/17)

The DEA will enact an emergency ban on fentanyl analogs, Maine officials try to tighten up the medical marijuana market, NGOs and individuals target Filipino President Duterte ahead of the ASEAN Summit, and more.

Filipino President Duterte remains defiant in the face of rising calls for an investigation into human rights abuses. (Wikimedia
Marijuana Policy

North Dakotans Gear Up for Legalization Initiative Campaign. Coming off a successful medical marijuana initiative campaign last year, state activists are eyeing a full-blown legalization initiative for 2018. The Recreational Marijuana/Expungement initiative campaign is expected to file with the secretary of state's office next week. If approved there, the measure could then move on to the signature gathering phase.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Georgia College poll has support for medical marijuana at 77%, up 13 points from the same poll two years ago. Rep. Allan Peake (R-Macon) has been pushing for medical marijuana for several years; this poll should give a boost to his efforts in 2018.

Maine Cracks Down on Medical Marijuana. The state Health Department issued new rules Wednesday that tighten the state's medical marijuana market. Under the new rules, authorities can conduct surprise inspections of grows, and the department is implementing a new patient tracking system. The changes will go into effect on February 1.

Industrial Hemp

Wisconsin Senate Passes Hemp Bill. The Senate has unanimously approved a measure that would legalize the production and cultivation of industrial hemp. The bill would create a system of state licenses for farmers to legally grow hemp. The measure now goes to the Assembly, which is also expected to pass the bill.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Will Enact Emergency Ban on Fentanyl Analogs.The Department of Justice Thursday announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intends to take immediate action against the flow of illicit fentanyl analogues into this country and the alarming increase in overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids by scheduling all fentanyl-related substances on an emergency basis. When the DEA's order takes effect, anyone who possesses, imports, distributes, or manufactures any illicit fentanyl analogue will be subject to criminal prosecution in the same manner as for fentanyl and other controlled substances. The action announced Thursday will make it easier for federal prosecutors and agents to prosecute traffickers of all forms of fentanyl-related substances.


On Eve of ASEAN Summit, Hundreds of Groups Call for UN Probe of Philippines Drug War Killings. More than 280 nongovernmental organizations and individuals have renewed calls for a UN-led investigation into the thousands of deaths linked to the Philippines drug war as the country prepares to host the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit this weekend. They all signed onto a statement coordinated by executive director David Borden and "organized by a coalition including the leading human rights organizations in the Philippines, Filipino-American advocacy groups, drug policy reform, recovery, (and) HIV/AIDS groups," among others. The move came after President Duterte again insisted he would brook no criticism of his human rights record, warning that he would tell US President Trump to "lay off" if he brought up the issue. But Trump has given no indication he has any concerns about human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Chronicle AM: DEA Annual Threat Assessment Released, Trump Opium Event Thursday, More... (10/24/17)

The White House could announce a national opioid emergency on Thursday, the DEA releases its annual drug threat assessment, the Maine legislature approves a marijuana regulation bill, and more.

The opioid epidemic is front and center in the drug policy debate, and in the eyes of the DEA. (
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Regulation Bill, Governor May Veto. The legislature approved a bill to regulate the state's impending legal marijuana market Monday, but not by big enough a margin to withstand an expected veto by Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would set up a licensing system and set a 10% sales tax and a weight-based excise tax for transactions between growers and retailers. If LePage vetoes the bill, the result could be "chaos" that would throw "oxygen onto the fire of the black market," said Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) in remarks reported by the Bangor Daily News. LePage has said he wants to postpones retail sales until next year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House to Host Opioid Event on Thursday. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has announced that it will host an event Thursday on "the nationwide opioid crisis." The announcement did not make clear what the event will be, but could be the declaration of a national emergency around the opioid crisis. President Trump surprised his advisors last week by saying he would make such an announcement this week.

Trump Opioid Commission Member Not Optimistic. In an interview Monday, Trump opioid commission member former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) said he was not optimistic that any recommendations from the commission will lead to any effective action to ameliorate the opioid crisis. Kennedy told the Washington Post "the worry is that" the commission's final recommendations, set for release next week, "won't be adopted."

Drug Store Group Offers Recommendations to Ease Opioid Crisis. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which has been criticized on some fronts for contributing to the crisis, has suggested four public policy initiatives that could help rein it in. Among the policy prescriptions are a seven-day limit for initial opioid prescriptions, nationwide electronic prescription monitoring, the use of manufacturer-funded envelopes to return unused opioids, and regulation of synthetic opioids. The association did not address the impact such policy prescriptions could have on chronic pain patients.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. The agency released its annual report Monday, and it concentrates on the opioid crisis. The report notes the high number of prescription opioid overdose deaths, warns that heroin is a "serious public health and safety threat," notes the rise of fentanyl, says "the methamphetamine threat remains prevalent," "the cocaine threat continues to rebound," and that the emergence of new psychoactive substances remains "a challenge," among other findings. It qualifies Mexican drug trafficking organizations as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

America, We Can Fix This: 24 Ways to Reduce Opioid Overdoses and Addiction [FEATURE]

Drugs, mainly opioids, are killing Americans at a record rate. The number of drug overdose deaths in the country quadrupled between 1999 and 2010 -- and compared to the numbers we're seeing now, those were the good old days.

Some 30,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2010. According to a new estimate from the New York Times, double that number died last year. And the rate of increase in overdose deaths was growing, up a stunning 19% over 2015.

The Times' estimate of between 59,000 and 65,000 drug overdose deaths last year is greater than the number of American soldiers killed during the entire Vietnam War, greater than that number of people killed in the peak year for car crash deaths, greater than the number of people who died in the year the AIDS epidemic peaked, and higher than the peak year for gun deaths.

In the first decade of the century, overdoses and addiction rose in conjunction with a dramatic increase in prescription opioid prescribing; since then, as government agents and medical professionals alike sought to tamp down prescribing of opioids, the overdose wave has continued, now with most opioid OD fatalities linked to illicit heroin and powerful black market synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we are in the midst of "the worst drug overdose epidemic in history," and it's hard to argue with that.

So, what do we do about it? Despite decades of failure and unintended consequences, the prohibitionist reflex is still strong. Calls for more punitive laws, tougher prosecutorial stances, and harsher sentences ring out from state houses across the land to the White House. But tough drug war policies haven't worked. The fact that the overdose and addiction epidemic is taking place under a prohibition regime should make that self-evident.

More enlightened -- and effective -- approaches are now being tried, in part, no doubt, because today's opioid epidemic is disproportionately affecting white, middle class people and not the inner city black people identified with heroin epidemics of the past. But they are also being tried because for the past quarter-century an ever-growing drug reform movement has articulated the failures of prohibition and illuminated more effective alternatives.

The drug reform movement's most powerful organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, this spring published A Public Health and Safety Approach to Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose, which lays out more than two dozen specific policy prescriptions in the realms of addiction treatment, harm reduction, prevention, and criminal justice that have been proven to save lives and reduce dependency on opioids. These policy prescriptions are doable now -- and some are being implemented in some fashion in some places -- but require that political decisions be made, or that forces be mobilized to get those decisions made. Some would require a radical divergence from the orthodoxies of drug prohibition, but that's a small price to pay given the mounting death toll.

Here are 24 concrete policy proposals that can save lives and reduce addiction right now. All the facts and figures are fully documented in the heavily-annotated original. Consult it if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty. In the meantime:

Addiction Treatment

1. Create Expert Panel on Treatment Needs: States should establish an expert panel to address effective treatment needs and opportunities. The expert panel should evaluate barriers to existing treatment options and make recommendations to the state legislature on removing unnecessary impediments to accessing effective treatment on demand. Moreover, the panel should determine where gaps in treatment exist and make recommendations to provide additional types of effective treatment and increased access points to treatment (such as hospital-based on demand addiction treatment). The expert panel must also set evidence-based standards of care and identify the essential components of effective treatment and recovery services to be included in licensed facilities, especially with regards to medication-assisted treatment, admission requirements, discharge, continuity of care and/or after-care, pain management, treatment programming, integration of medical and mental health services, and provision of or referrals to harm reduction services. The expert panel should identify how to improve or create referral mechanisms and treatment linkages across various healthcare and other providers. The panel should establish clear outcome measures and a system for evaluating how well providers meet the scientific requirements the panel sets. And, finally, the expert panel should evaluate opportunities under the ACA to expand coverage for treatment.

2. Increase Insurance Coverage for Medication-Assited Treatment (MAT): Seventeen state medical plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) do not provide coverage for methadone or buprenorphine for opioid dependence. Moreover, the Veterans Administration's (VA's) insurance system has explicitly prohibited coverage of methadone and buprenorphine treatment for active duty personnel or for veterans in the process of transitioning from Department of Defense care. As a result, veterans obtaining care through the VA are denied effective treatment for opioid dependence. Insurance coverage for these critical medications should be standard practice.

3. Establish and Implement Office-Based Opioid Treatment for Methadone: Currently, with a few exceptions, methadone for the treatment of opioid dependence is only available through a highly regulated and widely stigmatized system of Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs). Moreover, several states have imposed moratoriums on establishing new OTPs that facilitate methadone treatment despite large, unmet treatment needs for a growing opioid-dependent population. Patients enrolled in methadone treatment in many communities are often limited to visiting a single OTP and face other inconveniences that make adherence to treatment more difficult. Initial trials have suggested that methadone can be effectively delivered in office-based settings and that, with training, physicians would be willing to prescribe methadone to their patients to treat their opioid dependence. Office-based methadone may help reduce the stigma associated with methadone delivered in OTPs as well as provide a critical window of intervention to address medical and psychiatric conditions. Office-based opioid treatment programs offering methadone have been implemented in California, Connecticut, and Vermont.

4. Provide MAT in Criminal Justice Settings, Including Jails/Prisons and Drug Courts: Individuals recently released from correctional settings are up to 130 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population, particularly in the immediate two weeks after release. Given that approximately one quarter of people incarcerated in jails and prisons are opioid-dependent, initiating MAT behind bars should be a widespread, standard practice as a part of a comprehensive plan to reduce risk of opioid fatality. Jails should be mandated to continue MAT for those who received it in the community and to assess and initiate new patients in treatment. Prisons should initiate methadone or buprenorphine prior to release, with a referral to a community-based clinic or provider upon release. In addition, drug courts should be mandated to offer participants the option to participate in MAT if they are not already enrolled, make arrangements for their treatment, and should not be permitted to make discontinuation of MAT a criterion for successful completion of drug court programs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will no longer provide federal funding to drug courts that deny the use of MAT when made available to the client under the care of a physician and pursuant to a valid prescription. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals agrees: "No drug court should prohibit the use of MAT for participants deemed appropriate and in need of an addiction medication."

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can help.
5. Offer Hospital-Based MAT: Emergency departments should be mandated to inform patients about MAT and offer buprenorphine to those patients that visit emergency rooms and have an underlying opioid use disorder, with an appointment for continued treatment with physicians in the community. Hospitals should also offer MAT within the inpatient setting, and start MAT prior to discharge with community referrals for ongoing MAT.

6. Assess Barriers to Accessing MAT to Increase Access to Methadone and Buprenorphine: A number of known barriers prevent MAT from being as widely accessible as it should be. The federal government needs to reevaluate the need for and effectiveness of the OTP model and make necessary modifications to ensure improved and increased access to methadone. And, while federal law allows physicians to become eligible to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid dependence, it arbitrarily caps the number of opioid patients a physician can treat with buprenorphine at any one time to 30 through the first year following certification, expandable to up to potentially 200 patients thereafter. Moreover, states need to evaluate additional barriers created by state law, including, among others, training and continuing education requirements, restrictions on nurse practitioners, insurance enrollment and reimbursement, and lack of provider incentives.

7. Establish and Implement a Heroin-Assisted Treatment Pilot Program: Heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) refers to the administering or dispensing of pharmaceutical-grade heroin to a small and previously unresponsive group of chronic heroin users under the supervision of a doctor in a specialized clinic. The heroin is required to be consumed on-site, under the watchful eye of trained professionals. This enables providers to ensure that the drug is not diverted, and allows staff to intervene in the event of overdose or other adverse reaction. Permanent HAT programs have been established in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with additional trial programs having been completed or currently taking place in Spain, Belgium and Canada. Findings from randomized controlled studies in these countries have yielded unanimously positive results, including: 1) HAT reduces drug use; 2) retention rates in HAT surpass those of conventional treatment; 3) HAT can be a stepping stone to other treatments and even abstinence; 4) HAT improves health, social functioning, and quality of life; 5) HAT does not pose nuisance or other neighborhood concerns; 6) HAT reduces crime; 7) HAT can reduce the black market for heroin; and, 8) HAT is cost-effective (cost-savings from the benefits attributable to the program far outweigh the cost of program operation over the long-run). States should consider permitting the establishment and implementation of a HAT pilot program. Nevada and Maryland have introduced legislation of this nature and the New Mexico Legislature recently convened a joint committee hearing to query experts about this strategy.

8. Evaluate the Use of Cannabis to Decrease Reliance on Prescription Opioids and Reduce Opioid Overdose Deaths: Medical use of marijuana can be an effective adjunct to or substitute for opioids in the treatment of chronic pain. Research published last year found 80 percent of medical cannabis users reported substituting cannabis for prescribed medications, particularly among patients with pain-related conditions. Another important recent study reported that cannabis treatment "may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects." The result of substituting marijuana, a drug with less side effects and potential for abuse, has had profound harm reduction impacts. The Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, documents a relationship between medical marijuana laws and a significant reduction in opioid overdose fatalities: "[s]tates with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws."Another working paper from the RAND BING Center for Health Economics notes that "states permitting medical cannabis dispensaries experienced a 15 to 35 percent decrease in substance abuse admissions and opiate overdose deaths." There is also some emerging evidence that marijuana has the potential to treat opioid addiction, but additional research is needed.

Harm Reduction

9. Establish and Implement Safe Drug Consumption Services: States and/or municipalities should permit the establishment and implementation of safe drug consumption services through local health departments and/or community-based organizations. California and Maryland have introduced legislation to establish safe drug consumption services, and the City of Ithaca, New York has included a proposal for a supervised injection site in their widely-publicized municipal drug strategy. In Washington State, the King County Heroin an Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force has recommended the establishment of at least two pilot supervised consumption sites as part of a community health engagement program designed to reduce stigma and "decrease risks associated with substance use disorder and promote improved health outcomes" in the region that includes the cities of Seattle, Renton and Auburn.

10. Maximize Naloxone Access Points, Including Lay Distribution and Pharmacy Access, As Well As Immunities for Prescription, Distribution and Administration:Naloxone should be available directly from a physician to either a patient or to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist in an overdose, from community-based organizations through lay distribution or standing order laws, and from pharmacies behind-the-counter without a prescription through standing order, collaborative agreement, or standardized protocol laws or regulations. Though some states, including California, New York, Colorado and Vermont, among others, have access to naloxone at each of these critical intervention points, many others only provide naloxone through a standard prescription. Civil and criminal immunities should be provided to prescribers, dispensers and lay administrators at every access point. In addition, all first responders, firefighters and law enforcement should be trained on how to recognize an overdose and be permitted to carry and use naloxone. Naloxone should also be reclassified as an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Having naloxone available over-the-counter would greatly increase the ability of parents, caregivers, and other bystanders to intervene and provide first aid to a person experiencing an opioid overdose. FDA approval of OTC naloxone is predicated on research that satisfies efficacy and safety data requirements. Pharmaceutical companies, however, have not sought to develop an over-the-counter product.88 Federal funding may be needed to meet FDA approval requirements.

11. Provide Dedicated Funding for Community-Based Naloxone Distribution and Overdose Prevention and Response Education: Few states provide dedicated budget lines to support the cost of naloxone or staffing for community-based opioid overdose prevention programs. The CDC, however, reports that, between 1996 and 2014, these programs trained and equipped more than 152,280 laypeople with naloxone, who have successfully reversed 26,463 opioid overdoses.89 Without additional and dedicated funding, community-based opioid overdose prevention programs will not be able to continue to provide naloxone to all those who need it, and the likelihood of new programs being implemented is slim. A major barrier to naloxone access is its affordability and chronic shortages in market supply, 90 which overdose prevention programs, operating on shoestring budgets, can have a difficult time navigating.

12. Improve Insurance Coverage for Naloxone: Individuals who use heroin and other opioids are often both uninsured and marginalized by the healthcare system.91 States should insure optimal reimbursement rates for naloxone to increase access to those who need it most – users themselves.

Overdose reversal drugs need to be made much more widely available -- and affordable. (
13. Provide Naloxone to Additional At-Risk Communities: People exiting detox and other treatment programs as well as periods of incarceration are at particularly high risk for overdose because their tolerance has been substantially decreased. After their period of abstinence, if they relapse and use the same amount, the result is often a deadly overdose. States should require overdose education and offer naloxone to people upon discharge from detox and other drug treatment programs and jails/prisons. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has declared that prescribing or dispensing naloxone is an essential complement to both detoxification services as well as medically supervised withdrawal. Vermont passed legislation making naloxone available to eligible pilot project participants who are transitioning from incarceration back to the community. In addition, there are other programs/studies that provide naloxone to recently released individuals on a limited basis, including in San Francisco, California, King County, Washington and Rhode Island.

14. Encourage Distribution of Naloxone to Patients Receiving Opioids: Physicians should be encouraged to prescribe naloxone to their patients and opioid treatment programs should inform their clients about naloxone, if prescribing or dispensing an opioid to them. Pharmacists should similarly be encouraged to offer naloxone along with all Schedule II opioid prescriptions being filled, for syringe purchases (without concurrent injectable medication), and for all co-prescriptions (within 30 days) of a benzodiazepine (such as Valium™, Xanax™ or Klonopin™) and any opioid medication. The Rhode Island Governor's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force found that offering naloxone to those prescribed a Schedule II opioid or when co-prescribed a benzodiazepine and any opioid would have reached 86% of overdose victims who received a prescription from a pharmacy prior to their death, and could have prevented 58% of all overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015.

15. Expand Good Samaritan Protections: "Good Samaritan" laws provide limited immunity from prosecution for specified drug law violations for people who summon help at the scene of an overdose. But, protection from prosecution is not enough to ensure that people are not too frightened to seek medical help. Other consequences, like arrest, parole or probation violations, and immigration consequences, can be equal barriers to calling 911. States with Good Samaritan laws already on the books should evaluate the protections provided and determine whether expansion of those protections would increase the likelihood that people seek medical assistance.

16. End the Criminalization of Syringe Possession: Syringes should be exempt from state paraphernalia laws in order to provide optimal access to people who inject drugs. Twenty-two states criminalize syringe possession. Thus, even if there is a legal access point, such as pharmacy sales, paraphernalia laws still permit law enforcement to arrest and prosecute individuals in possession of a syringe. Public health and law enforcement authorities should not be working at cross-purposes.

17. Reduce Barriers to Over-The-Counter Syringe Sales and Permit Direct Prescriptions of Syringes: While the non-prescription, over-the-counter sale of syringes is now permitted in all but one U.S. state, access is still unduly restricted.States should evaluate the potential barriers to accessing syringes over-thecounter and implement measures to improve access. Moreover, doctors should be permitted to prescribe syringes directly to their patients, a practice few states currently permit.

18. Authorize and Fund Sterile Syringe Access and Exchange Programs; Increase Programs: States should explicitly authorize and fund sterile syringe access and exchange programs, and states that have already authorized them should evaluate how to increase the number or capacity of programs to ensure all state residents – whether in urban centers or rural communities -- have access to clean syringes, as well as evaluate any possible barriers to access such as unnecessary age restrictions.

19. Provide Free Public, Community-Level Access to Drug Checking Services: Technology exists to test heroin and opioid products for adulterants via GC/MS analysis, but it has so far been unavailable at a public level in the US (aside from a mail-in service run by Making these services available in the context of a community outreach service or academic study would lower the number of deaths and hospitalizations and also allow for real-time tracking of local drug trends.


20. Establish Expert Panel on Opioid Prescribing: Though the CDC has issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, the guidelines are voluntary and are likely to exacerbate disparities in treatment that already exist. Research has shown, for example, that African Americans are less likely than whites to receive opioids for pain even when being treated for the same conditions. Moreover, the CDC guidelines only address prescribing practices for chronic pain, not prescribing practices more broadly. States should accordingly establish an expert panel to undertake an assessment as to whether prescribing practices, such as co-prescriptions for benzodiazepines and opioids or overprescribing of opioids, have contributed to increased rates of opioid dependence, and, if so, the expert panel should develop a plan to address any such linkages as well as any treatment disparities. The plan must account for the potential negative effects of curtailing prescribing practices or swiftly reducing prescription opioid prescribing volume. A task force in Rhode Island found that while changes in opioid supply can have the intended effect of reducing availability of abuse-able medications, they have also been linked to an increase in transition to illicit drug use and in more risky drug use behaviors (e.g., snorting and injecting pain medications). The plan must also account for chronic pain patients, particularly those already underserviced, and not unduly limit their access to necessary medications. Finally, to the extent prescribing guidelines are issued as part of the plan, they should be mandatory and applied across the board.

21. Mandate Medical Provider Education: States should mandate that all health professional degree-granting institutions include curricula on opioid dependence, overdose prevention, medication-assisted treatment, and harm reduction interventions, and that continuing education on these topics be readily available.

22. Develop Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Health, Wellness, and Harm Reduction Curriculum for Youth: State education departments, in conjunction with an expert panel consisting of various stakeholders that ascribe to scientific principles of treatment for youth, should develop a comprehensive, evidence-based health, wellness, and harm reduction curriculum for use in schools that incorporates scientific education on drugs, continuum of use, and contributors to problematic drug use (e.g., coping and resiliency, mental health issues, adverse childhood experiences, traumatic events and crisis), as well as how reduce harm (e.g., not mixing opioids with benzodiazepines). Education departments should also establish protocols and resources for early intervention, counseling, linkage to care, harm reduction resources, and other supports for students.


23. Establish Diversion Programs, Including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD): LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program that establishes protocols by which police divert people away from the typical criminal justice route of arrest, charge and conviction into a health-based, harm-reduction focused intensive case management process wherein the individual receives support services ranging from housing and healthcare to drug treatment and mental health services. Municipalities should create and implement LEAD programs and states and the federal government should provide dedicated funding for such programs. Various other forms of diversion programs exist and can be implemented should LEAD prove unsuitable to a particular population or municipality.

24. Decriminalize Drug Possession: Decriminalization is commonly defined as the elimination of criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use. In other words, it means that people who merely use or possess small amounts of drugs are no longer arrested, jailed, prosecuted, imprisoned, put on probation or parole, or saddled with a criminal record. Nearly two dozen countries have taken steps toward decriminalization. Empirical evidence from the international experiences demonstrate that decriminalization does not result in increased use or crime, reduces incidences of HIV/AIDs and overdose, increases the number of people in treatment, and reduces social costs of drug misuse. All criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of controlled substances for personal use should be removed.

Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Filed, WV MedMJ Bill Fast Tracked, More... (3/31/17)

A marijuana legalization bill gets filed in Delaware, a medical marijuana bill gets fast tracked in West Virginia, a South African court rules to free the weed, the Argentine Senate okays CBD cannabis oil, and more.

It looks like West Virginia is about to hop on the medical marijuana bandwagon. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Lawmakers Filed Legalization Bill. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Dover) and cosponsors filed House Bill 110 on Thursday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over and to purchase it from state-regulated stores. The bill does not allow people to grow their own. It imposes a $50 an ounce tax on buds and a $15 an ounce tax on other parts of the plant. It now heads to the House Finance and Revenue Committee, which must hold a hearing within 12 days.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Legislators Propose Using Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction. A House of Delegates committee has added "opioid use disorder" to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. The bill was set to be heard by the House Friday.

West Virginia House Fast Tracks Medical Marijuana Bill. Less than a day after the Senate approved a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, the House has put it on path to quick consideration. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday, and on Thursday, the House voted to allow the bill to skip consideration by committees there and proceed directly to House floor debate. The move came in response to constituent pressure. "Like every member of this body, I can't count the number of emails and phone calls I received on this subject today," said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.

New Psychoactive Substances

Federal Bill Would Add New "Designer Drugs" to CSA's Schedule I. US Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA) has filed House Resolution 1732, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2017. It adds dozens of substances to Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act, including phenylalkylamines, cannabimimetic agents, arylcyclohexamines, tryptamines, benzodiazepines, benzylpiperidines, piperazines, and opioids and opioid-like substances. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Would Create Program to Divert Low-Level Drug Offenders. US Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY has filed House Resolution 1763, the Keeping Communities Safe Through Treatment Act of 2017. The bill directs the Justice Department to create a pilot program to provide grants to localities to divert people with low-level drug offenses into treatment programs before they are booked. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.


Argentine Senate Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate on Wednesday gave final legislative approval to a bill allowing the use of CBD cannabis oil for medical reasons and setting up a regulatory framework for state-run cultivation, processing, and distribution. Until the state-run system is up and running, CBD imports will be allowed.

South Africa High Court Rules Adults Can Possess Marijuana at Home. The Western Cape High Court ruled on Friday that it's legal for adults to use, possess, and grow marijuana at home. The court also ruled that sections of the Drug Trafficking act and the Medicines Control Act must be amended to comply with the decision. The decision isn't final yet, though -- it must be confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

Chronicle AM: AL Bill Has Mandatory Life w/o Parole for Possessing Ounce of Fentanyl, More... (2/17/17)

The Alabama legislature ponders harsh drug sentences not seen since the last century, decriminalization is picking up some support in Texas, China announces scheduling controls on fentanyl, and more.

An Alabama bill would make possession of as little as an ounce of fentanyl a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Marijuana Policy

Cannabis, Drug Policy Reform Advocates Commend Congressional Members on Formation of Congressional Cannabis Caucus. In a joint statement Thursday, major marijuana and drug reform groups commended congress members for forming the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK). After commending the representatives, the joint statement noted that "the establishment of a Cannabis Caucus will allow members from both parties, who represent diverse constituencies from around the country, to join together for the purpose of advancing sensible cannabis policy reform. It will also facilitate efforts to ease the tension between federal prohibition laws and state laws that regulate cannabis for medical and adult use."

Texas Decriminalization Bill Picks Up Some Support. Law enforcement officials joined House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) at the capitol Thursday to express support for a measure to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, House Bill 81. The bill is currently before the committee. Harris County, the state's most populous, just announced plans to institute decriminalization there.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, But Advocates Say It's a Step Backwards. The Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 16, but advocates said it was a retreat because it lowers the amount of allowable THC in cannabis oil from 7% to 3%. Some senators wanted to reduce it to 1%. The bill now goes to the House, where Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), who wrote the original CBD bill, said he hopes to rewrite it to restore the 7% figure.

Utah Medical Marijuana Research Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted Thursday to approve House Bill130, which would allow universities in the state to do research on the medicinal effects of marijuana. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a Senate floor vote.


Arizona Industrial Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp has passed two key committees. Senate Bill 1337 passed the Public Safety Committee on a 6-1 vote Monday and the Appropriations Committee Tuesday on a 10-0 vote. It still needs to go before the Senate Rules Committee before it heads for a floor vote.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 1170 on an 11-4 vote Thursday. The bill would require a criminal conviction before property could be seized in most situations and bans prosecutors from circumventing state law by handing cases off to the federal government. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.


Alabama Bills Would Increase Heroin, Fentanyl Sentences. Under bills currently before the state legislature, prison sentences would go up for people who possess or sell heroin and fentanyl. Under one bill, anyone convicted of their possession would face mandatory prison sentences, and under another, Senate Bill 154, people possessing as little as one ounce of fentanyl would face a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The state instituted sentencing reforms several years back; some legislators worry these bills would undo those efforts.


China Announces Scheduling Controls of Carfentanil and other Fentanyl Compounds. China announced Thursday that it will begin scheduling controls of four fentanyl-class substances -- carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, valeryl fentanyl, and acryl fentanyl -- beginning March 1. Chinese pharmaceutical factories have been identified as major producers of the synthetic opioids, which are linked to thousands of drug overdose deaths in the US.

Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Sentences, ME Pot Opponents Give Up on Recount, More... (12/19/16)

President Obama has just commuted the sentences of another 153 drug offenders, Maine legalization foes concede their recount isn't going anywhere, Marc Emery's Montreal pot shops get raided in a hurry, and more.

Obama meets with prisoners at the El Reno, Oklahoma, federal detention facility. (
Marijuana Policy

Guam Governor Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Guamanian Gov. Eddie Calvo (R) says it's time to legalize it. "I want us to look at how states navigated into recreational marijuana," Calvo, a Republican, said in a Facebook post on Monday. "Let's figure it out and then tax the heck out of it and use those taxes to help fund our hospital, public safety and education." The comments come just days after Calvo vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana patients to grow their own, saying it would "impose new and different duties upon our health and law enforcement agencies that will deplete their already strained resources."

Maine Legalization Opponents Give Up on Recount. The anti-legalization group that challenged the narrow victory of Question 1 in last month's elections has given up the ghost. No on 1 said Saturday it was apparent that the recount would not change the outcome. "We promised folks that if we came to a point where we could not see any chance of reversing the result, we would not drag the process out,"said Newell Augur, legal counsel for the No on 1 campaign. "We are satisfied that the count and the result are accurate." Now, the election result can be certified by the secretary of state, and legalization should go into effect sometime next month.

Medical Marijuana

Imprisoned California Dispensary Operators Seek Presidential Commutation. Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes operated a medical marijuana dispensary in Modesto, California, until their arrest by federal drug agents 10 years ago. They were prosecuted and convicted of federal drug crimes for their efforts and sentenced to 21 years 10 months and 20 years, respectively. Now, they are formally seeking sentence commutations from President Obama, who has cut the sentences of more than a thousand other federal drug prisoners so far this year. The pair point out that they would not have been prosecuted under current federal policies largely turning a blind eye to marijuana in states where it is legal, whether recreationally or merely for medical purposes.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Issues Another Round of Sentence Commutations. The White House announced Monday that President Obama has commuted the sentences of another 153 federal prisoners, bringing the total this year to more than 1,100. A list of the prisoners and their offenses is not yet available, but Obama's earlier commutations had been directed almost entirely at people serving draconian drug sentences.


Marc Emery's Montreal Pot Shops Raided One Day After Opening. Long-time Canadian pot gadfly Emery and nine others were arrested after a series of raids Friday on his chain of Cannabis Culture pot shops. While Canada is moving to legalize marijuana, it hasn't done so yet, and authorities are working to keep the lid on the bubbling industry. Emery slammed Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre for the raids. "The mayor's behavior is despicable," he said. "If the mayor of Montreal wants to keep his city backward, behind and full of oppression, then that is the statement he just made to the world." As conditions of his bond, Emery cannot consume marijuana, communicate with anyone involved in the Cannabis Culture shops, or be in the province of Quebec except to show up for court dates.

China Denies Being Source of New Synthetic Drugs. Chinese officials have called assertions that China is the source of synthetic opioids linked to the deaths of thousands of drug users "unsubstantiated." Such statements "lack the support of sufficient numbers of actual, confirmed cases," China's National Narcotics Control Commission told DEA's Beijing office in a fax dated Friday. The DEA has said that China is the predominant source of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid many times more powerful than heroin, which has been implicated in thousands of drug overdose deaths.

In Legal Marijuana States, Consumers Are Turning to Buds Over Beer

A new industry study says access to legal marijuana is having a negative impact on beer sales. That's bad news for the brewing industry, but good news from a public health perspective.

According to the industry site Brewbound, the research firm Cowen & Company analyzed the beer industries in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- three states that have recreational pot shops -- and found that their beer markets have "collectively underperformed" in the past two years.

The "magnitude of the underperformance has increased notably" as beer volumes have dropped more than 2% year-to-date in the trio of pot states, with big mainstream brewers like MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev seeing the biggest declines, with volumes down 4.4%. Craft beers have done a little better, but are down, too, seeing a 2.2% drop.

"While [marijuana] retail sales opened up in these markets at different points of time, with all three of these states now having fully implemented a retail infrastructure, the underperformance of beer in these markets has worsened over the course of 2016," wrote Vivien Azer, Cowen and Company's managing director and senior research analyst.

That's not exactly a shock, Azer wrote, since government survey data has shown "consistent growth in cannabis incidence among 18-25 year olds" in those three states at the same time that age group has seen declines "in alcohol incidence (in terms of past month use)." The change is most evident in Denver, one of the centers of the legal pot culture, where beer volumes have dropped 6.4%.

Numbers like these, if they continue, should soothe the concerns of public health advocates and academics worried that legal marijuana could complement alcohol use instead of substitute for it. Would legal pot mean more drinking or less? If legal pot meant increased alcohol consumption, with all its dangers, that would be a bad thing from a public health perspective. But if legal pot leads to less alcohol consumption, such problems can be alleviated.

And this bad news for the brewing industry suggests it does. It's not the only evidence suggesting a substitution effect, either.

In a review in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Montana State University economist D. Mark Anderson and University of Colorado economist Daniel Rees reported that "studies based on clearly defined natural experiments generally support the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes."

They pointed to one study that found a higher drinking age increases teen pot consumption and that pot smoking drops off sharply at 21, when alcohol becomes legal, "suggesting that young adults treat alcohol and marijuana as substitutes."

Maybe we need to start talking about the public health benefits of marijuana legalization.

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