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Chronicle AM: MA Drug Lab Scandal Redux, PA MJ Support Strong and Rising, More... (9/22/17)

Pennsylvania support for marijuana legalization is strong and rising, Attorney General Sessions mixes drug and immigration policy, another federal court rules against Stingray, a second Massachusetts drug lab scandal could see thousands more cases dismissed, and more.

Massachusetts state drug testing labs continue to generate serious problems -- and thousands of case dismissals. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Issue Temporary Business Licenses. Regulators will introduce a temporary marijuana business licensing system to ensure a smooth start to regulated marijuana sales beginning on January 1, the state's top marijuana official announced Thursday. Businesses would only need to provide some "pretty basic information" for the temporary licenses, said Lori Ajax. The application will be available in early December, after temporary rulemaking is completed. "We don't have time to do regular rulemaking," she explained, adding that would come next year.

Pennsylvania Poll Shows Strong, Rising Support for Legalization. A Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday has support for marijuana legalization at 59%, with only 31% opposed and 9% undecided. The pro-legalization numbers are the highest ever in the poll, up three points since May and a whopping 19 points since June2015.

Immigration

Sessions Blames Lax Immigration Policies for Drug Gangs, Cartels. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used concerns over drug gangs and cartels to attack "loose" immigration policy in remarks in Boston Thursday. He specifically singled out MS-13 as an example, while failing to note the gang's origins among Salvadoran refugees fleeing a US-sponsored civil war there in the 1980s. He also attacked the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers protections to undocumented residents who were brought to the country as children. "The gangs use this program as a means to recruit members," Sessions said. "We cannot allow young people to be brought into this life of crime." Sessions did not mention that DACA participants are carefully vetted and must have no serious criminal records or that 90% of them are working or in college.

Law Enforcement

DC Court Latest to Rule Against Warrantless Stingray Searches. The DC Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the warrantless use of a Stingray cell-site stimulator to monitor phone calls was unconstitutional. The ruling was only the latest in a string of recent federal appeals court judgments that ruled using the Stingray amounts to a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In the DC case, the court found the violation so egregious that it excluded all evidence derived from it, overturning the conviction of Prince Jones on drug charges.

ACLU Calls for Thousands More Massachusetts Drug Cases to Be Thrown Out in Drug Lab Scandals. Bay State judges have already dismissed more than 20,000 drug cases tainted by the misbehavior of state lab chemist Annie Dookhan, but now the ACLU is calling for judges and prosecutors to dismiss thousands more in a second case of lab tech misbehavior. Amherst state lab chemist Sonja Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine from the lab and admitted she was high nearly every day from 2004 to 2013 on cocaine, meth, and other stimulant drugs she pilfered from her job. The ACLU charges that prosecutors have sought to minimize Farak's misbehavior in a bid to preserve drug cases and convictions and failed to notify defendants that the evidence in their cases had been tainted. "Far worse than the Hinton scandal, the Amherst scandal combines a lab crisis with prosecutorial misconduct of unparalleled scope and irremediable consequence," the ACLU argued. "This latest systemic lapse in the justice system demands a most emphatic response." And that response would be mass dismissals.

International

Iceland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Members of the Reform Party and the Pirate Party have banded together to file a bill that would legalize marijuana in the North Atlantic island nation. The bill would allow anyone 20 and over to possess and cultivate pot for personal use -- with a government permit. The bill would also allow retail sales and consumption lounges, but not at the same business.

Australia to See First Music Festival With On-Site Pill Testing. The Spilt Milk Festival in Canberra will provide on-site pill testing for attendees in a harm reduction move aimed at reducing overdoses and other bad drug interactions. The Australian Capital Territory government has given the okay for the project, which will be operated by the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events. That consortium consists of Harm Reduction Australia, the Australian Drug Observatory, the Noffs Foundation, DanceWize, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Chronicle AM: CA Safe Injection Site Blocked for Now, No Toronto Pot Lounges, More... (9/19/17)

The California safe injection bill comes up two votes short of passing this year, Toronto authorities ignore the pleas of pot lounge operators for a place under legalization, Virginia's Democratic attorney general comes out with a plan to fight opioid overdoses, and more.

No safe injection sites for California this year. Maybe next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Want to Legalize It, Republicans Not So Much. Three leading Democratic contenders for the party's gubernatorial nomination support legalization, while the sole Republican in the race does not. Democrat Peter DeBenedittis released a statement Monday calling for legalization, prompting Democrats Jeff Apodaca and US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham to come out for it as well. The sole Republican, US Rep Steve Pearce opposes legalization, as does one Democrat, state Rep. Joseph Cervantes. But Cervantes noted that he has sponsored legislation reducing penalties for possession.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Deadline Sees Rush of Applicants for Grower, Distributor Licenses. A Monday deadline for grower and distributor applications saw applicants flood the state office building where the paperwork is delivered. Firm numbers weren't available, but applicants overwhelmed the clerks on duty and faced hours-long waits to get processed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Virginia Attorney General Releases Plan to Fight Opioid Epidemic. State Attorney General Mark Herring (D) on Monday released a plan to address the growing number of deaths caused by the use of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids. Among the proposals: harsher laws for people dealing in fentanyl, enhanced electronic prescription monitoring, requiring health insurers to cover alternative treatments for pain, teaching schoolchildren about opioids beginning in middle school, and an investigation into price gouging by companies selling naloxone. News accounts don't indicate any discussion in Herring's plan of the need to ensure the availability of opioid pain relievers to those patients who do need them, nor any critical examination of his proposal for increased sentences.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Falls Short in State Senate. A bill that would have opened the way to safe injection sites in the state has come up two votes short in the state Senate. The measure, Assembly Bill 186, is not dead, however. Even though the Senate did not vote to pass it, it did vote to reconsider it next year.

International

Toronto Just Says No to Marijuana Lounges. Despite the pleas of pot consumption lounge owners, some of whom have been open for years, the city's municipal standards and licensing committee voted 4-1 to limit marijuana businesses to government-run stores. The committee also voted to increase penalties for businesses that allow on-site consumption. The city is staying within the parameters set by the Ontario provincial government, which recently announced plans for a government monopoly on pot sales.

Lesotho Becomes First African County to Issue Medical Marijuana License. The country's health ministry has licensed a South African company, Verve Dynamics, to manufacture medical marijuana products, marking a first for the continent.

Peru Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. Spurred by a recent raid on a makeshift medical marijuana facility that mothers were using to soothe their sick children, the Peruvian congress is advancing a medical marijuana bill. The bill has now passed the congressional Committee on National Defense and heads to the full Congress for debate and a final vote. President Pablo Kucyzinski has supported the legislation.

Amnesty International Criticizes Indonesia's Turn to Harsh Drug War. The government's tough stance against drug dealers is leading to an increasing death toll, the human rights group said. Amnesty's Indonesian affiliate said some 80 people had been killed by police in the drug war so far this year, more than four times as many as last year.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Bill to End Federal Man Mins Filed, CA Calls for Pot Rescheduling, More... (9/18/17)

Bostonians celebrate marijuana legalization, California calls for its rescheduling, state attorneys general urge health insurers to reduce opioid prescriptions, Maxine Waters files a bill to end mandatory minimums for drug sentences, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Officially Calls for Marijuana Rescheduling. The Assembly last Thursday passed a resolution calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana. The Senate had approved the resolution earlier. "The Legislature urges the Congress of the United States to pass a law to reschedule marijuana or cannabis and its derivatives from a Schedule I drug to an alternative schedule, therefore allowing the legal research and development of marijuana or cannabis for medical use," reads the joint resolution.

Boston Freedom Rally Draws Thousands to Celebrate Legalization. For the first time since voters legalized marijuana last November, the annual event demanding legalization was held this past weekend. Thousands flocked to Boston Common for the 28th Annual Boston Freedom Rally for live music, speeches, educational panels, and -- of course -- plentiful pot-smoking. Even though public marijuana use is illegal, police reported no arrests.

Nevada Supreme Court Throws a Wrench in Marijuana Distribution Licensing. The state's highest court issued a temporary injunction last Friday barring the Department of Taxation from granting any more pot distribution licenses. This means supply chain issues will continue to plague pot shops in the near term. The initiative that legalized pot in the state reserved such licenses for liquor distributors for the first 18 months, but the Tax Commission had voted to allow other distributors to get in on the action after determining that the booze distributors couldn't keep up with demand. The liquor distributors took legal action to block the new licenses, and here we are. Oral arguments in the case are set for October 3.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

State Attorneys General Urge Insurers to Seek Alternatives for Opioids. Attorneys general from 35 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico announced a bipartisan coalition to fight opioid addiction on Monday and rolled out their effort by jointly calling on health insurers to review pain management treatment policies in a bid to promote more use of alternatives to prescription opioids. The AGs said they didn't want health insurers to unintentionally contribute to the crisis. News articles didn't indicate whether the AGs noted the need to ensure that patients who do need opioids receive them.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia DA Candidates Are Open to Safe Injection Sites. Larry Krasner, the Democratic frontrunner to be the next district attorney, has come out in support of city-sanctioned safe injection sites for drug users. His Republican foe, Beth Grossman, wouldn't go that far, but said she is open to discussion on the issue. Safe injection sites were mentioned in Mayor Jim Kenney's opioid task force report in May, but they were the most controversial of the report's 18 recommendations. Although efforts are underway in several cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, no officially-sanctioned safe injection sites operate in the US, although one unsanctioned one is reportedly operating in an unnamed US city.

Sentencing

Maxine Waters Files Bill to End Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has filed House Resolution 3800 "to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

International

Toronto Pot Lounges Want Right to Exist Under Legalization. Faced with a provincial plan to impose a government monopoly on retail marijuana sales, Toronto's existing pot consumption lounges, some of which have been around since before the turn of the century, are asking the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee to regulate them instead of shutting them down. They argue that the shops are needed in the city, which bans public pot smoking and where many renters and apartment dwellers have no legal place to indulge.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Democratic Senators Call Out Trump on Opioid Inaction, More... (9/12/17)

Democratic senators want Trump to do more than say pretty words about the opioid epidemic, California's second largest city gets on board with marijuana legalization, Canadian cops seek a delay in rolling out legalization north of the border, and more.

Last month, President Trump said the opioid epidemic was a national emergency. Since then...nothing. (Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

San Diego City Council Votes to Legalize Marijuana Cultivation, Manufacturing. California's second most populous city has gotten on board with legalization. The city council voted 6-3 Monday night to approve a regulatory framework for the looming legal recreational pot industry instead of trying to ban it.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Dispensaries Given Three Months to Shut Doors. Existing unlicensed dispensaries must shut their doors by December 15, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said Monday. On that date, the department begins accepting applications to operate under new medical marijuana regulations approved this year. While closing up shop and then applying for a license isn't exactly a thrill for existing dispensary owners, it's better than an alternative proposal that called for the dispensaries to be shut down immediately.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program Roll-Out Imperiled by Lawsuit. A would-be medical marijuana operator who failed to win a permit to operate in an initial round of permit-issuing filed a lawsuit last Friday challenging the process and seeking an injunction that would require the state to rescind all awarded permits and start over. That's raising concerns about medical marijuana supporters that it could cause needless suffering.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Senators Demand Trump Take Action on Opioid Epidemic. On Monday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and nine Democratic senatorial colleagues sent a letter to President Trump asking the administration what it is doing about the recommendation that it declare an emergency around the opioid epidemic. Trump called it a national emergency more than a month ago, but nothing has happened since. "Regardless of whether you choose to declare a state of emergency, continued inaction on this issue is deeply concerning," the senators wrote. "Your lack of action -- coupled with your support of policies that would make access to substance use disorder care more difficult for millions of Americans -- causes us to question your commitment to ending the opioid use disorder and overdose crisis," the letter said.

International

Canadian Cops Want Delay in Marijuana Legalization Rollout. Representatives of various Canadian police forces testifying before the House of Commons said they would not be ready for the roll-out of marijuana legalization next summer and urged a delay. They also urged lawmakers to think again about allowing personal home cultivation, because it would be hard to police.

Colombia Clashes Leave One Coca Grower Dead, Two Wounded. The casualties occurred as coca growers in Morales, Cauca, clashed with soldiers taking part in forced eradication of coca crops. Farmers began throwing rocks at the soldiers, who apparently opened fire on the protestors. This is the second clash between angry coca growers and government forces in the past month, and reflects growing tensions over forced eradication.

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Slams Philippines Drug War. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called out President Rodrigo Duterte for his "lack of respect for due process rights for all Filipinos" and his "open support for a shoot-to-kill policy." Al Hussein added that he was "gravely concerned" not only about the killings, but also about the lack of credible investigations into them.

Chronicle AM: Ontario Goes With State-Owned Pot Shops, DEA Agent's Sordid Affair, More... (9/11/17)

Canada's most populous province is going with a state monopoly on legal marijuana sales, the CARERS Act is back, last week's surprise budget deal preserves protections for legal medical marijuana states for a few more months, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Preserves Medical Marijuana Protections -- For Now. The budget deal agreed to last week between President Trump and congressional leaders extends federal protections to state-legal medical marijuana programs through December 8. This provides an opportunity for House GOP leaders to rectify their decision last week not to allow a vote on the amendment that for the past four years has blocked the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Bipartisan Group of Senators Reintroduce CARERS Act. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) refiled the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 1764) last Wednesday. The bill aims to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Iowa Attorney General Cites Fed Fears to Block CBD from Out of State Dispensaries. The attorney general's office has advised the Department of Public Health not to implement a part of the state's CBD medical marijuana law that would have licensed two dispensaries from bordering states to supply CBD to Iowa patients. "It is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government," a spokesman told the Des Moines Register, adding that the halt would remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

Drug Policy

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Joins Trump's Drug Task Force. A Republican and Trump supporter, Bondi has been appointed to the Presidential Commission on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, her office announced last Friday. The other commission members are chairman and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), North Carolina Roy Cooper (D), former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-MA), and Harvard professor Dr. Bertha Madras. The commission is supposed to issue a final report by October 1.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Congressman Files Bill to Broaden Medication Assisted Treatment. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) has filed House Resolution 3692 to "amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide additional flexibility with respect to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders."

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent's Scandalous Affair Unveiled. A Justice Department inspector general's report released last Thursday revealed one bit of juicy scandal: A DEA agent carried on a wild affair with a convicted drug criminal for five years, and let her listen to active wiretaps, roam the evidence room unattended, and had sex with her in his office and official vehicle. The whole thing unraveled when she got pregnant, he reacted unfavorably, and she ratted him out to superiors. The unnamed agent was originally only suspended for 45 days, but was eventually fired.

International

Ontario Will Only Allow Legal Pot Sales in Government Monopoly Shops. Canada's most populous province announced last Friday that it will open 150 standalone pot shops operated by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), as well as eventually allowing an online order service. Dispensaries that have sprouted up in the province are out of luck: "Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers," the province explained in a news release. "The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations."

Canadian Prime Minister Just Says No to Drug Decriminalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected calls from British Columbia public health and political figures to embrace drug decriminalization as part of a solution to the country's opioid crisis. "We are making headway on this and indeed the crisis continues and indeed spreads across the country but we are not looking at legalizing any other drugs than marijuana for the time being," Trudeau told a news conference in BC last Thursday.

German Poll Finds Solid Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Mafo Market Research Institute poll has found signs of a rapid shift in support for freeing the weed in Germany. Polls going back to 2001 have had support hovering around 19%, but things began to change around 2014. That year, a poll had 30% supporting legalization. In November 2015, another poll had support at 42%. The new Mafo poll has support at 57.5%.

Debunking a Republican Myth About Medicaid and Opioids

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here

Obamacare foes desperate for a new angle of attack on the increasingly popular health care program have come up with an intriguing new theory: The expansion of Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be driving the opioid epidemic.

For the right, tying "failed socialist" Obamacare to the drug epidemic is a two-fer. They get to decry the very notion of government programs as something good for society and they get to link "bleeding heart" efforts to help poor people with outcomes that actually hurt them.

It would be a nice little argument for cutting Medicaid -- if only it were true. But there's little evidence to suggest it is true and a lot of evidence to suggest it isn't.

The notion began circulating in the conservative media echo chamber after the Health and Human Services Department did a private analysis for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that said the opioid overdose rate rose nearly twice as much in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA than those that didn't.

"These data appear to point to a larger problem," Johnson wrote. "Medicaid expansion may be fueling the opioid epidemic in communities across the country." Johnson pulled up just short of blaming Medicaid, saying more research is needed.

But if Johnson was looking for help from fellow Obamacare foe and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, it wasn't exactly forthcoming. HHS wouldn't address questions about Johnson's analysis and instead issued a statement saying "correlation does not necessary prove causation," but that, yes, more research would be helpful.

But based on what we know so far, here are four reasons the charge that Medicaid is fueling the opioid epidemic is bogus:

1. Medicaid is actually increasing treatment for opioid addiction.

That's according to Temple University economist Catherine Maclean and Brendan Saloner of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who recently published a paper on Medicaid expansion and drug treatment: "Medicaid-reimbursed prescriptions for medications used to treat Substance Use Disorders in outpatient settings increased by 33% in expanding states relative to non-expanding states. Among patients admitted to specialty SUD treatment, we find that in expanding states Medicaid insurance and use of Medicaid to pay for treatment increased by 58% and 57% following the expansion. In an extension to the main analyses we find no evidence that the expansions affected fatal alcohol poisonings or drug-related overdoses," they wrote.

"Medicaid is doing its job," she told the Associated Press last week. "As more time passes, we may see a decline in overdoses in expansion states relative to non-expansion states."

2. States that expanded Medicaid did so in part because they already suffered higher overdose rates.

That same research by Maclean and Saloner also found that overdose rates were higher to begin with in states that expanded Medicaid. That suggests that pre-existing drug problems may have played a role in states deciding to expand Medicaid so they could leverage more federal money to fight addiction.

Republican labor economist Craig Garthwaite of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management told the AP that such a desire helped propel Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich toward expanding Medicaid. When Kasich talks about why, he said, "it has a lot to do with mental health and substance use disorders." The claim that Medicaid is fueling opioid overdoses is "fundamentally flawed," Garthwaite added.

In other words, overdoses aren't increasing because of Medicaid; instead, Medicaid is expanding in part because of an effort to reduce overdoses.

3. Counties where insurance coverage has expanded the most have seen smaller increases in overdose deaths than those with smaller coverage gains.

A recent analysis by Vanderbilt University economist Andrew Goodman-Bacon and Harvard researcher Emma Sandoe compared trends in drug-related deaths at the county level, contrasting counties that had high levels of uninsured residents pre-ACA with those that didn't. Under the theory that Medicaid expansion is causing increased overdose deaths, we would expect to see the largest increase in deaths in those high-insured counties because that's where more people took advantage of expanded Medicaid. But that wasn't the case:

"Drug-related deaths increased at a lower rate in high-uninsurance counties than in low-uninsurance counties," the researchers found. "This does not support the notion that the ACA worsened the opioid epidemic."

In other words, the more people on expanded Medicaid, the lower the rate of increase in overdose deaths.

4. The Medicaid theory lumps all opioid overdose deaths together when many are not caused by prescription opioids.

This is bad science. If you want to measure prescription opioid deaths, you need to measure only prescription opioid deaths. But the HHS analysis for Sen. Johnson didn't do that. Instead, it lumped in deaths from non-prescription street drugs, such as heroin or illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Having a Medicaid card doesn't provide access to street drugs, and it is precisely heroin and illicit fentanyl that are driving the surge in opioid deaths since 2010.

"It's worrisome because this is the type of numerical evidence that's used to propose bad policy," Garthwaite told the AP.

Chronicle AM: House GOP Reps Will Try to Block Sessions Forfeiture Expansion, More... (9/1/17)

The Massachusetts marijuana commission is being top-loaded with legalization foes, Obama's former drug czar comes out for a ban on high-potency prescription opioids, House GOP members prepare amendments to a budget bill to block expanded asset forfeiture, and more.

Attorney General Sessions wants to expand civil asset forfeiture. Some GOP reps want to block him. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Names Legalization Foe to Head Marijuana Commission. State Treasurer Deb Goldberg has named former Bain and Company executive Steven Hoffman to chair the state's Cannabis Control Commission, which is charged with regulating legal marijuana. Hoffman voted against the legalization initiative last November. The only other member of the five-member commission who has been named so far is Gov. Charlie Baker's (R) nominee, former state Sen. Jen Flanagan (D-Leominster), another legalization foe. Attorney General Maura Healey (D) also gets to pick a member, while the other two members will be named on agreement by the governor, the attorney general, and the treasurer. (Update: Longtime reform activist Shaleen Title was named to the commission late Friday.)

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Names Medical Marijuana Board Members. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) named eight members to serve on the Medical Cannabidiol Board on Wednesday. The board is charged with overseeing the state's newly expanded, but still extremely restrictive, CBD medical marijuana law. Click on the link for the appointees' names.

Montana's Largest City Bans Dispensaries. The Billings city council voted on Tuesday to ban dispensaries. Although the city enacted an ordinance in 2011 prohibiting dispensaries, a couple are operating in the city anyway. At least one of them, Montana Advanced Caregivers, has said it isn't going anywhere and will continue serving patients.

Pennsylvania Must Reveal Names on Secret Marijuana Application-Vetting Panel. The state Office of Open Records concluded Thursday that the state must name the members of a panel that scored applications for medical marijuana permits. The Health Department had argued that keeping the names secret protected panel members from undue pressure or threats to their safety. But the secrecy also blocked panel members from being scrutinized for conflicts of interest.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Obama's Former Drug Czar Calls for Ban on High-Grade Opioids. Former Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Michael Botticelli has come out in support of a citizen petition calling on the Food & Drug Administration to ban high-potency opioid pain medications.

Asset Forfeiture

House Republicans Prepare Amendments to Block Sessions Asset Forfeiture Expansion. A number of congressional Republicans will propose amendments to an omnibus funding bill aimed at blocking Attorney General Sessions' recent move to expand the federal civil asset forfeiture plan. At least four separate amendments are being proposed, each trying in a slightly different way to do the same job of killing the move.

Chronicle AM: MA Gov Wants Harsh Sentences for Drug Deaths, More... (8/31/17)

Connecticut continues to grapple with opioids, the Massachusetts governor and cops want mandatory minimums and a possible life sentence for dealers whose clients die, and more.

MA Gov. Baker prefers 20th Century drug war mistakes over 21st century solutions. (mass.gov)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Fentanyl Overdoses Now Exceed Heroin Overdoses in Connecticut. The state saw 539 opioid overdose deaths in the first half of this year, and for the first time, more people died using fentanyl than heroin. While 257 people died of heroin overdoses, 322 died of fentanyl overdoses. The state medical examiner's office projects overdose deaths this year will reach 1,100, a 20% increase over last year.

Connecticut Governor Signs Opioid Bill. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) on Thursday signed into law a bill aimed at slowing the state's opioid epidemic. The bill increases monitoring of opioid prescriptions and requires health insurers to cover inpatient detoxification. The bill passed the legislature unanimously. This is the third year in a row the state has passed bills aimed at the opioid epidemic.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Governor Wants Harsher Penalties for Drug Deals That Lead to Death. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has sent a letter to the legislature proposing a bill that would increase sentences for dealers who sold drugs to people who overdosed and died -- up to life in prison. "When illegal drug distribution causes a death, laws that were designed to punish the act are inadequate to recognize the seriousness of the resulting harm," Baker wrote, according to MassLive. "This legislation would provide for a penalty of up to life in prison and, like the offense of manslaughter while driving drunk, would also require a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years," he added. The bill has the support of law enforcement.

Santa Fe Mayor to Introduce Resolution to Establish A Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force. Javier Gonzalez, the mayor of New Mexico's fourth largest city, will on Thursday introduce a resolution establishing a Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force charged with recommending innovative public health and safety approaches to problematic drug use in the city. "This isn't a problem we can solve by simply declaring a new, top-down policy. It has to be something we take on together, and the strategy has to come from the community. From harm reduction, to law enforcement, to prevention, to treatment, there is a huge range of expertise already developing in Santa Fe, and to find success we will need every one of those voices at the table," said Mayor Gonzales. He added, "So we're doing what we often can do best -- bringing people together."

Supervised Injection Sites Could Be Coming Soon to California [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

As we mark International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, California is on the verge of taking a serious, yet controversial, step to cut down on drug deaths. A bill that would allow a number of counties in the state to set up supervised drug consumption sites -- Assembly Bill 186 -- is now only a Senate floor vote away from landing on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The long-operating InSite safe injection site in Vancouver (Creative Commons)
Such facilities, also known as safe injection sites, typically allow drug users to inject their own drugs under medical supervision on premises with needles and related equipment provided by the site. The sites also serve as a point of contact between injection drug users and social service and treatment providers. But they infuriate social conservatives, who see them as coddling or condoning illicit drug use.

Although such facilities operate in a number of European countries, as well as Australia and Canada, and have been shown to provide numerous public health benefits, including a reduction in overdose deaths, no sanctioned supervised drug consumption sites are operating in the US.

Which is not to say there are none operating: Earlier this month, two researchers published a report on an unsanctioned -- and potentially illegal -- supervised drug consumption site operating since 2014 in an unnamed US city. They offered little data, but their main finding was that no one had died injecting drugs at the site. Two people overdosed, but were revived with naloxone administered by on-site medical staff.

And efforts are well underway in Seattle and surrounding King County, Washington, to get sites up and operating there. But no state has passed a law authorizing the widespread use of the facilities. California came close last year, and of the six states where such legislation has been filed this year, it's the nearest to victory.

That's only somewhat consoling to Assemblywoman Susan Eggman Talamantes (D-Stockton), the author of the bills both this year and last. In a Tuesday conference call, she decried the legislature's blocking of this proven public health policy intervention in 2016 and pointed to the cost of a year's delay.

California Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) is leading the fight. (ca.gov)
"The studies show they work. Treatment goes up, overdoses go down, and we also see a reduction in street use around facilities, as well as reductions in HIV and Hep C," Eggman noted. "But that doesn't always make sense in politics. Some 3,600 Californians have died of drug overdoses since we couldn't pass this last year."

The bill allows eight counties -- Alameda, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco, San Joaquin, and Santa Cruz -- or cities within those counties to establish safe injection sites under a pilot program that would expire in January 2022. Sites would be required to do the sorts of things sites are supposed to do: "provide a hygienic space supervised by health care professionals, as specified, where people who use drugs can consume pre-obtained drugs, and provide sterile consumption supplies;" administer needed medical treatment; provide access to referrals for drug treatment, mental health, medical, and social services; and provide education on overdose and infectious disease prevention.

The bill also bars safe injection workers and clients from being charged with drug-related crimes for actions within a safe injection site program.

"I'm a social worker," Eggman explained. "During the 1980s, I did drug and alcohol counseling, and I saw the epidemic g from heroin to crack to meth. And now we're seeing more and more suffer from addiction. I had to ask myself what made sense from a public policy perspective."

A clean, well-lit place to shoot dope. (vch.ca)
Safe drug consumption sites are one response that do make sense from a public policy perspective, but they can be a hard sell, and not just with social conservatives. In laid-back Santa Cruz, a preemptive NIMBY campaign has appeared.

"Santa Cruz is known as a progressive place, willing to try new things, so I was surprised at the pushback," Eggman confessed. "I think some activists found out about it early and were very vocal, but we've been working very carefully with them since then. We've had to explain the bill doesn't force them to do anything, that there has to be a lot of input before anything happens, that there has to be public hearings and a vote by an elected body."

But before any of that happens, the bill needs to actually pass the Senate, where its prospects are good, and then be signed into law by Gov. Brown, who has not pronounced one way or the other on it.

"We're trying to provide data for the governor to get a signature for this pilot program," Eggman said. "It's not for everybody, but it is a tool for saving lives and reducing addiction."

Will California actually get it done this year? Stay tuned.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: Federal Judge Slams Indianapolis PD Car Seizures, More... (8/23/17)

It's slow in the dog days of August, but there is a bit of news out there: Indianapolis cops have to revise their vehicle seizure practices, Alaska regulators are seeking public comment on proposed on-site pot consumption regulations, and more.

Alaska wants to let pot buyers smoke their purchases where they got them. Public comments being sought now. (Sandra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Seek Public Comment on Onsite Marijuana Consumption. The state's Marijuana Control Board has created a draft proposal that would allow some pot shops to provide a space for on-premises consumption of products bought there. Now it's giving the public a chance to weigh in. People who want to comment have until October 27.

Nevada Gaming Commission to Discuss Marijuana-Related Issues. The state Gaming Commission will hold a special meeting Thursday to address problems the gambling industry may have to confront after the state legalized marijuana. The commission is likely to discuss ways to keep gaming companies from being associated with marijuana businesses, which are illegal under federal law.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Federal Judge Restricts Indianapolis Police Seizure Practices. The Indianapolis Metro Police Department may no longer hold seized vehicles for up to six months before deciding whether to file formal asset forfeiture paperwork, a federal district court judge ruled on Monday. The ruling came in a class action lawsuit challenging such seizures. "The Court concludes that the statutory provisions allowing for the seizure and retention of vehicles without providing an opportunity for an individual to challenge the pre-forfeiture deprivation are unconstitutional," US District Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled in remarks reported by The Indianapolis Star.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky First Responders Get Naloxone. Gov. Matt Bevin (R) joined officials from northern Kentucky and executives from Aetna to announce Wednesday that first responders in the northern and Appalachian regions will receive720 doses of the overdose reversal drug naloxone in a bid to prevent overdose deaths. Drug overdose deaths in the state were at record levels last year, up more than 7% over 2015.

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