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Chronicle AM: PA US Attorney's SIJ Warning, Malaysia MedMJ Death Penalty Lifted, More... (10/15/2018)

The US Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania tries to scare away a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia, Malaysia's cabinet puts a "moratorium" on the death sentence for a medical marijuana provider -- and the country is likely to end the death penalty as a whole because of the case -- and more.

The specter of a safe injection like Vancouver's InSite in Philadelphia garners a warning from the federal prosecutor. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Regulators Put Temporary Hold on Pot Candy Ban. The State Liquor and Control Board last week announced a ban on certain marijuana-infused candies, but now says it will hold off on the ban for a month in order to allow marijuana industry groups to present alternative rules. The board will now accept public comment for 30 days before taking up the ban again.

Wisconsin Senate Candidates Clash Over Marijuana Policy. US Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) and her Republican challenger, Leah Vukmir, clashed over marijuana policy during a debate Saturday night. Baldwin said she would support changing marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II to allow the drug to be researched for medical purposes. Vukmir responded by that it was "concerning" that Baldwin would support legalization (Editor's Note: She didn't). She also called marijuana highly addictive and suggested it would worsen the opioid crisis.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia US Attorney Warns on Safe Injection Sites. The US attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William McSwain, warned Saturday against the city moving forward with plans for a safe injection site. "This sort of facility that is being proposed is illegal under federal law," he said. He added that his office is reviewing possible options to stop it, including court orders, blocking the opening of the facility, and even possibly arrests and prosecutions. "Nobody is above the law -- and by that I mean nobody," McSwain said. "I mean the leaders who would be involved in setting up this proposed deadly drug-injection site, the board members… the city officials who would be involved in supporting it, the medical personnel who might be staffing it or the folks who might be using the drugs."

International

Malaysia Medical Marijuana Distributor Death Sentence on Hold as Case Prompts Likely End to Death Penalty Entirely. The Malaysian cabinet has agreed to place a moratorium on the death sentence for Muhammed Lukman, who was convicted of possessing, processing, and distributing cannabis oil. "As a consensus, we agreed that it (death penalty) should not have been imposed. At the same time, we have also agreed to put a moratorium on his death penalty," Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq told reporters.

But that's not all. The case has catalyzed a likely end to the death penalty in Malaysia entirely, with political figures up through the Prime Minister calling for it. Saddiq said about the issue, "[I]t's two accounts. One is the death penalty as a whole, which will be taken down. And second, at the same time, the usage of medical marijuana should never be punished by death penalty." He also said the Cabinet had agreed that patients who used medical marijuana should never be punished by the law.

Lukman was arrested in December 2015 for possessing 3.1 liters of cannabis oil, 279 grams of compressed cannabis, and 1.4 kilograms of "substance containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: US Clarifies Canada Pot Worker Entry, Rendell Defends Safe Injection Sites, More... (10/11/18)

The US has clarified that Canadiana marijuana workers and investors can enter the US but not engage in business here, New Jersey's governor says a vote on marijuana legalization will happen before month's end, Pennsylvania's former governor sticks up for safe injection sites, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says legislature should vote on legalization October 29. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Banning CBD Cocktails and Beverages. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 2914, which prohibits the sale of CBD beverages and alcoholic drinks. "This bill would prohibit an alcoholic beverage licensee from, at its licensed premises, selling, offering, or providing cannabis or cannabis products, including an alcoholic beverage that contains cannabis or cannabis products, and would provide that no alcoholic beverage shall be manufactured, sold, or offered for sale if it contains tetrahydrocannabinol or cannabinoids, regardless of source," says a legislative summary.

New Jersey Governor Says Legalization Coming at End of Month. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says he and the legislature are looking at October 29 as the date the legislature will pass a bill legalizing marijuana. One issue yet to be settled, though, is how much to tax legal pot. Still, Murphy said, October 29 "feels about right."

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania Representative Proposes Bill to Add Drug Testing of Legislators to Bill to Drug Test Welfare Recipients. Philadelphia County Rep. Angel Cruz (D) has filed House Bill 620 as an amendment to Senate Bill 6. The Senate bill would mandate drug testing of welfare recipients; Cruz's bill would mandate drug testing of legislators. "If it's good for one, it's good for all," said Cruz. "The lawmakers are the lawmakers, and we're not above the law."

Foreign Policy

US Clarifies Policy on Entry of Canadian Marijuana Industry Workers. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has clarified its position on whether Canadians involved in the legal marijuana industry can enter the US. "A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the US for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the US," CBP said Tuesday. But there is a big but: "[I]f a traveler is found to be coming to the US for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible," CBD said.

Harm Reduction

Former Pennsylvania Governor Challenges DOJ on Threats to Prosecute Safe Injection Site Operators. Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is not backing away from supporting a Philadelphia safe injection site despite threats from Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rendell sits on the board of a nonprofit to run such a facility, and he said that if the Justice Department wants to crack down on the harm reduction move, it should start with him: "I have a message for Mr. Rosenstein: I'm the incorporator of the safe injection site nonprofit and they can come and arrest me first," Rendell said.

Chronicle AM: Trump Calls for "Stop and Frisk" in Chicago, Bangladesh's Bad New Drug Law, More... (10/9/18)

Efforts to establish safe injection sites in Philadelphia and San Francisco hit some bumps in the road, President Trump calls for "stop and frisk" policing in Chicago, and more.

President Trump calls for "stop and frisk" policing in Chicago -- after the city agreed to stop it. (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Rejects Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Proposal. Even though Philadelphia officials are moving ahead with plans for a safe injection site, having formed a nonprofit last week to oversee the project, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is not behind the plan. "It's not a workable solution to this problem," he said. "The course that I think we ought to take, and what I'm doing at the state level, is to figure out ways to get people to stop wanting to use those drugs. I would not want to be guilty of spending any public money to give people the sense that this is something that's OK. I just don't think that's a good idea." He and Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro worry about conflicting with a 1986 law, the federal "crack house" law that bars the use of a facility "for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance."

San Francisco Mayor Still Weighing Safe Injection Sites, Despite Veto of State Bill. Mayor London Breed (D) is now pondering the city's way forward with a safe injection site after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last week vetoed a bill that would have put the state of California fully behind the effort. Breed is said to be concerned about threats of possible federal prosecution if the plan moves toward fruition.

Law Enforcement

President Trump Calls for Police "Stop and Frisk" Tactics in Chicago. Speaking to the International Association of Police Chiefs in Orlando Monday, President Trump called on Chicago police to embrace "stop and frisk" policing as a tool to reduce violence in the country's third-largest city. "Stop and frisk" was embraced for years by the New York City police department, but was widely criticized as overwhelmingly aimed at minority populations and ultimately ruled unconstitutional as carried out by the NYPD. "Gotta be properly applied, but stop-and-frisk works," said Trump. The city of Chicago reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois in 2015 to curb stop-and-frisk procedures after the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit over the issue. A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) blasted Trump for his "clueless" criticism. "Even someone as clueless as Donald Trump has to know stop-and-frisk is simply not the solution to crime," Matt McGrath said in an emailed statement.

International

Bangladesh Moving to Impose Death Penalty for as Little as Five Grams of Meth. The cabinet has approved in principle a draft of the Narcotics Control Act of 2018 that introduces the death penalty for anyone producing, smuggling, distributing, or using more than five grams of methamphetamine. The draft also sets life in prison as the mandatory minimum sentence for such offenses. Less than five grams of meth would merit a sentence of up to 15 years, with a mandatory minimum of five years. The new law also would mandate the death penalty for more than 25 grams of heroin or cocaine.

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Opioid Bill, CA Cops Face Racial Profiling Charges, More... (10/4/18)

Congress sends an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk, the DEA has another Colombia scandal, the San Francisco police and Los Angeles sheriff's deputies face charges of racial profiling, and more.

Congress has sent an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Blocks Medical Marijuana License Process. A Tallahassee judge Wednesday agreed to block state health officials from moving forward with the application process for medical marijuana licenses. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson two months ago had found the state's licensing cap "directly contradicts" the amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and had set a Wednesday deadline for either health officials or the legislature to resolve deficiencies in the law. When that didn't happen, Dodson issued a verbal order halting the application process.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Reach Deal With Legislative Leaders, LDS Church Representatives, and Utah Medical Association. Backers of the Utah medical marijuana initiative joined other organizations and lawmakers at a press conference Thursday to announce they have reached an agreement on an alternative medical cannabis law that will be enacted in a special session following the election. Proposition 2 will still appear on the 2018 ballot, but it will no longer determine the final outcome for Utah medical cannabis patients. Instead, a compromise medical marijuana bill will be enacted during a special session after the 2018 election,

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Sweeping Opioids Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a sweeping opioids package on a 98-1 vote. The bill now goes to the desk of President Trump. The omnibus opioids bill combines dozens of smaller proposals and expands and reauthorizes programs and policies across the federal government, as well as creating new programs aimed at treatment, prevention, and recovery. One portion of the bill likely to have a big impact requires US postal inspectors to screen packages shipped from overseas -- mainly from China -- for fentanyl. The bill passed the House last week.

Law Enforcement

DEA Colombia Staff Facing Three Separate Misconduct Probes. At least three DEA agents based in Bogota have left in recent months amid separate investigations into alleged misconduct. One is accused of using government resources to hire prostitutes. Ironically, that agent, Robert Dobrich, the agency's top-ranking official in Latin American, was brought in in 2015 in the wake of a scandal about agents participating in sex parties with prostitutes. A former DEA agent assigned to Colombia, Jose Irizarry, is being investigated for passing information on to drug cartels. Irizarry resigned after his activities in Cartagena were curtailed earlier this year. Meanwhile, Dobrich's deputy, Jesse Garcia, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

ACLU Sues San Francisco Police Over Racially Motivated Drug Arrests. The ACLU of Northern California has filed a lawsuit on behalf of six black people arrested during anti-drug operations in the Tenderloin between 2013 and 2015. The six were among 37 arrested in the stings -- every one of whom was black -- and federal public defenders raised concerns over selective enforcement. The lawsuit cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users that found about half were black, but 20% were Latino and 17% were white. Charges against 12 of those arrested were dropped in January 2017 after a judge found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement, but the dropping of the charges meant a full accounting of police misconduct never happened.

Los Angeles County Deputies Accused of Racially Profiling Hispanics in I-5 Traffic Stop Drug Searches. LA County deputies stopped thousands of Latinos on the I-5 freeway in hopes of making their next drug bust, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. The sheriff's Domestic Highway Enforcement Team seized lots of drugs, but it also searched the vehicles of more than 3,500 drivers who had no drugs or other illegal items, the overwhelming majority of them Latino. Some of the teams' drug busts have been thrown out of federal court as the credibility of deputies came under fire and judges found they violated the rights of motorists by conducting unconstitutional searches. The Times examined data from every traffic stop done by the team from 2012 through 2017 -- more than 9,000 of them -- and found that Latinos accounted for 69% of stops, and that two-thirds of Latinos had their vehicles searched, compared to less than half of other drivers. Though Latinos were much more likely to be searched, deputies found drugs or other illegal items in their vehicles at a rate that was not significantly higher than that of black or white drivers. The sheriff's department said racial profiling "plays no role" in the deputies' work.

International

Canada Drug User, Advocacy Groups Call for Opioid Decriminalization. Some 93 groups representing drug users assembled in Edmonton this week have called for the federal government to move toward decriminalizing opioids. The coalition is calling for Ottawa to expand legal access to safe drugs for people with substance use disorder, decriminalize possession of all drugs for personal use, and expand the availability of harm reduction services.

Chronicle AM: Ohio Moves To Ban Kratom, ONDCP Says Pot Review Will Be Objective, More... (10/3/18)

The drug czar's office tells a US senator a multi-agency review of marijuana will be "objective," protestors target Rep. Andy Harris over his opposition to allowing medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction, Ohio regulators take a first step toward banning kratom, and more.

Ohio regulators want to ban kratom. If they succeed, the state will be the seventh to have done so. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

White House Vows Objective Marijuana Study, Colorado Senator Says. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) said Monday that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has offered assurances that a federal marijuana policy panel will be objective and dispassionate as it reviews the impact of legalization in some states. The request for assurance came after Buzzfeed last month reported that the panel had asked 14 federal agencies and the DEA to submit "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" about marijuana and its national "threat."

Michigan Bill to Ban Marijuana-Infused Alcohol Drinks Goes to Governor's Desk. The House on Tuesday approved House Bill 4668, which would bar the use, possession or sale of marijuana-infused beer, wine, liquor, and mixed drinks. That was the final legislative vote on the bill. The House had approved it earlier, then the Senate amended it, and now the House has approved those changes. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder (R). Foes of the bill say it addressed a problem that doesn't exist.

Medical Marijuana

Protestors Target Rep. Andy Harris Over Opposition to Using Medical Marijuana as Opioid Treatment. Red-capped protestors affiliated with the marijuana reform group DCMJ protested outside the office doors of Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) Tuesday. DCMJ said the protestors were there to protest his opposition to using medical marijuana as a treatment for the opioid crisis. After Harris refused to meet with them, as fellow protestors waved signs accusing Harris of working for "Big Pharma," two women laid down in the hallway to represent friends who had fatally overdosed. One of the women was temporarily handcuffed. The smell of marijuana wafted through the air. Harris later complained that: "Today's aggression by protesters who disagree with my position on the legalization of recreational marijuana demonstrates the problem with political discourse today. We all must agree to have a civilized debate when disagreement occurs. My parents fled communist Eastern Europe where people with different political opinions were harassed and punished, and it has no place in America."

Kratom

Ohio Moves to Ban Kratom. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to classify kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance after it concluded that the drug has no accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse, and is a public health risk. The Monday vote begins a months-long process of approving new rules and regulations for kratom. The board has already received more than 1,500 comments about the proposed ban, mostly in opposition. Six other states and the District of Columbia have banned kratom: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. The board is accepting the first round of comments until October 18 at [email protected].

International

Jamaica Makes First Shipment of Medical Marijuana Extract to Canada. A shipment of medical marijuana extract oil has left Jamaica on route to Canada. The shipment was authorized through an import permit issued by the Canadian government via Health Canada and an export permit authorized by the Jamaican Ministry of Health. The shipment is the first step in Jamaica's bid to become a medical marijuana hub for the world.

Chronicle AM: CA Governor Vetoes Safe Injection Sites Bill, MI Pot Poll Looks Good, More... (10/1/18)

Jerry Brown signs and vetoes drug bills, the drug czar's office confirms the existence of a secretive marijuana committee, Johns Hopkins researchers suggest psilocybin should be Schedule IV, and more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been very busy lately. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

White House Confirms It's Been Running An Anti-Marijuana Committee. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has confirmed the existence of a secretive committee operated from the White House with an agenda to portraying marijuana as a national threat and propagating negative attitudes toward the drug and its users. The existence of the committee was revealed by Buzzfeed News last month, and ONDCP confirmed its existence in a letter to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who inquired after the initial media report. ONDCP claims the work of the committee will be unbiased.

California Governor Signs Cannabis Equity Act into Law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1294, the Cannabis Equity Act. The law aims to reverse some of the damaging impacts marijuana prohibition has had on people from disadvantaged communities. It is the first social equity marijuana law passed in the United States. Four California cities -- Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco -- have already established local equity programs, and they will be well-placed to receive funding under this new law.

Michigan Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning. A new poll from EPIC/MRA for the Detroit Free Press has the Proposal 1 marijuana legalization initiative winning the support of 55% of respondents, with 41% opposed. While that is a fairly comfortable lead, it is down from the 61% support reported by the same pollsters in a March poll.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Opponents Pony Up Cash. Opponents of the Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative are ponying up big bucks in a bid to defeat the measure. Wealthy Utahns have contributed $230,000 to the opposition group Drug Safe Utah in recent months and $65,000 to another anti group, the Truth About Proposition 2, while initiative sponsors the Utah Patients Coalition has raised only $68,000, with $50,000 of that coming from the Marijuana Policy Project.

Hemp

California Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1409, which clarifies the state's existing hemp laws. The law ends some certification requirements on hemp seed cultivars and restriction on how hemp can be produced.

Psychedelics

Johns Hopkins Researchers Suggest Psilocybin Should Be Reclassified as Schedule IV. In an evaluation of the safety and abuse research on psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggested that if the drug clears clinical trials, it should be scheduled as Schedule IV, like prescription sleeping aids. It is currently classified as Schedule I, a drug with no known medical potential and a high potential for abuse.

Harm Reduction

California Governor Vetoes Safe Injection Site Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Assembly Bill 186, which would have allowed San Francisco to open overdose prevention services that would let drug users use controlled substances under the supervision of staff trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing, and other services. "I am shocked that the Governor turned his back on the science and the experts and instead used outdated drug war ideology to justify his veto," said Laura Thomas, Interim State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "He cited long-disproven ideas about substance use in his veto message rationale. It's disturbing that Governor Brown apparently believes these myths about the need for coercive treatment and even more disturbing that people will die because of his veto. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in California. How many people have to die before Governor Brown is willing to listen to the science and evidence and experience? How many families have to lose a loved one?"

Sentencing

California Governor Signs Bill Giving Judges Power to Set Aside Five-year Sentencing Enhancement. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Act. The bill will give state judges the discretion not to impose five-year sentencing enhancements if they feel they are unwarranted. "This new law is a crucial step in ending the mandatory use of failed and punitive policies from California's tough on crime era," said Eunisses Hernandez, Policy Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. "This five-year enhancement is one of the most used enhancements in California; with close to 100,000 years applied to sentences of people in custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. California can and must continue to be a leader in repealing ineffective and punitive policies that waste millions in taxpayer dollars on incarceration, tear families apart, and fail to help our communities thrive."

Chronicle AM: South Africa Legalizes Pot Possession, Senate Passes Opioid Bill, More... (9/18/18)

South Africa just became the first country on the continent to legalize marijuana possession, New Jersey wants to be the next state to legalize marijuana, the Senate passes a limited opioid bill, and more.

South Africans celebrate Constitutional Court ruling legalizing private pot possession and use Tuesday. (The Smokers Club)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Goucher Poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. Only 33% were opposed. The poll also had majority support for a $15 an hour minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, and single-payer health care, and 71% disapproving of President Trump. Expect the legislature to try again to pass legalization next year.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Almost Ready. A bill to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce is "98% done," one of the state's leading marijuana advocates said Monday. Scott Rudder, head of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said the remaining issue is whether to impose a 25% retail tax right away or to start with a lower tax rate that goes up over time. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) also expressed optimism about prospects for a bill. "I continue to believe it’s this year," Murphy said. "Doing it is important but doing it right is more important and that’s going to be key." Legislative leaders have vowed to get a bill to Murphy's desk by the end of the month, but the clock is ticking.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Lifts Limits on Number of Patients for Whom Each Doctor Can Recommend Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Medical Examiners on Monday got rid of a rule that limited the number of patients to whom doctors can recommend medical marijuana. The board also agreed to remove a restriction that would have required patients to see their doctor every 90 days in order to renew their order for medical cannabis.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Passes Opioid Bill. The Senate on Monday approved legislation aimed at addressing the opioid crisis. The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (S.2680) The bill includes provisions increasing scrutiny of incoming international mail, eases the way for the National Institutes of Health to speed research on non-addictive pain relievers, allows the Food and Drug Administration to require pharmaceutical companies to package smaller quantities of opioids, and creates new federal grants for treatment, training emergency workers, and research on prevention. Funding for the anticipated spending will have to be provided in separate spending bills. The House passed its own opioid bill earlier this year. Now, congressional leaders will have to hammer out a compromise in conference committee.

Drug Policy Expert Says Senate Bill is Not Enough. While the opioid bill referenced above authorizes $500 million a year in grants states will have to compete over, the amount is well below the massive outlay of funds used to combat the AIDS crisis in the 1990s, and the Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would be revenue-neutral. That irked Stanford psychiatry professor and former Obama drug policy advisor Keith Humphreys. "How much money was Congress willing to spend on the worst opioid epidemic in US history? None," he said. "Given that there was no consensus in Congress in favor of a really big investment such as we employed for AIDS, the two sides did the next best thing, which was agree on many second-tier policies that were smaller bore," Humphreys said. "There are good things in the bill that will save lives, but it will not be transformational."

International

South Africa High Court Legalizes Marijuana Possession. In a case brought by three marijuana users who argued marijuana prohibition "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres," the country's Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. >"It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling. Thousands of predominantly poor and black South Africans are arrested for marijuana offenses each year.

Chronicle AM: No MedMJ for Vets This Year, Senate Takes Up Opioid Package, More.... (9/11/18)

A congressional conference committee has killed medical marijuana for veterans, the Senate is set to take up a package of opioid bills, the West African Commission on Drugs releases a model law for drug decriminalization, and more.

West African Commission on Drugs founder Kofi Annan. He may be gone, but his work lives on. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Pot Shops That Sell to Minors. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday vetoed a bill that set mandatory minimum penalties for marijuana shops caught selling weed to minors. The bill would have imposed mandatory 15-day license suspensions for a first offense, 25-day suspensions for a second, and revocation for a third offense. But "this bill is not necessary," Brown said. "The bureau already has the authority to revoke, suspend, and assess fines if a licensee sells to a minor."

Medical Marijuana

Congress Removes Military Veteran Medical Marijuana Provision from Funding Bill. A conference committee working on final details for the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill has decided not to include a provision allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. The Senate bill included the provision, but the House version did not. Two years ago, both houses passed VA spending bills that included versions of the provision, but that, too, was excised in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Expected to Vote on Opioid Legislation This Week. Senate leaders announced late last week they had reached an agreement to bring a package of bills aimed at the opioid crisis to a Senate floor vote this week. The Senate will consider a substitute amendment to the opioids package that passed the House in June. Progress had stalled over Democratic concerns that a grant program would benefit only one addiction advocacy group. That has now changed. There remains a divergence between the House and Senate packages regarding requirements for Medicaid to cover treatment at more inpatient facilities and loosening privacy protections for medical records for substance abuse patients.

Sentencing Policy

Ohio Governor Candidates Clash Over Drug Possession Defelonization Initiative. Buckeye State voters will have a chance to vote to defelonize drug possession in November with the Issue 1 constitutional amendment initiative. The amendment would also bar any jail time for a first or second offense within 24 months. Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, opposes it, saying it "takes vital tools away from judges." Democratic candidate for governor Richard Cordray, however, supports it, saying its passage would "set the way toward a policy of being smart on crime in the future, smart on how we use taxpayers' dollars, smart on how we build people's potential to be productive citizens in our society."

International

Expert Group Publish Blueprint for West Africa Drug Decriminalization. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has published a "model law" for decriminalizing drug possession and reducing related harms in West Africa. The commission is currently chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said on Tuesday: "West Africa faces three dangers from drugs: organized crime, corruption, and harms to people who use drugs. Our current laws increase those harms rather than help,"

This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: NYC Overdose Action March, US Sentencing Commission Sets Priorities, More... (8/31/18)

The police chief in Oklahoma City wants pot busts downgraded, the US Sentencing Commission sets policy priorities for the next 18 months, marchers demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo take action on the state's overdose crisis, and more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in the crosshairs Thursday as marchers demanded action on the state overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wants to Quit Arresting Pot Possessors. Police Chief Bill Citty is calling for adjusting city ordinances so that police officers will not have to jail people caught with small amounts of marijuana. He is backing a move to reduce the penalty for possession from a $1,200 fine and up to six months in jail to just a $400 fine. "Right now, we're taking all possessions of marijuana, and it would be a Class B offense and it would actually, they would be arrested," said Citty. "We've been arresting every single one of them. This would stop that practice. By lowering it to $400, this allows us to basically take it out of that court of record trial and we're able to assign citations for the possession of marijuana. Now, that will be if they don't have a state permit or license that allows them to have it for medical use." The proposed ordinance will be up for discussion on September 11 and again on September 28.

Utah Governor Calls for Federal Rescheduling of Marijuana. As voters in the state prepare to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a medical marijuana initiative in November, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is calling on Congress to reschedule it. "I'd like to see the federal government get out of the way," he said on Thursday during his monthly news conference. "We ought to call upon our congressional delegation (to) take it off the Schedule I list. Let's do the studies, let's do the clinical trials. Are they not paying attention in Washington? Evidently not," he said.

Wisconsin Voters Will Have a Chance to Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana. Voters in 16 counties and two cities will have a chance to vote on non-binding advisory referenda for or against legalizing marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. The referenda are on local ballots scattered across the state, from Milwaukee and Dane to LaCrosse and Langlade counties, as well as the cities of Racine and Waukesha.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists March from City Morgue to Governor's Office to Call for Action on Overdose Crisis. Activists and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose marched through Manhattan on International Overdose Awareness Day to demand Gov. Cuomo (D) take action on the overdose crisis. Amid the seventh straight year of increased overdose deaths in NYC -- 2017 being the deadliest year on record -- the community brought pictures and stories of their loved ones to Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office and demanded he takes action with evidence-based public health interventions to end the crisis.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Finalizes 2018-2019 Priorities. In a notice printed in the Federal Register Thursday, the US Sentencing Commission laid out is policy priorities for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019. The priorities include reexamining sentencing guidelines in the wake of the Booker decision, implementing its 2016 recommendations on sentencing enhancements to focus on actual violent offenders, and continuing its efforts to implement reforms in mandatory minimum sentencing, among others.

The Opioid Crisis Could Cost a Half Million Lives in the Next Decade

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in mid-August, showed a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths last year, with 49,000 related to heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids. According to the authors of a study released last week in the American Journal of Public Health, that could be the new normal.

The study, by Stanford researchers Allison Pitt, Keith Humphreys, and Margaret Brandeau, attempts to assess the number of opioid-related deaths we could expect to see over the next decade, as well as the impact of different policy responses on reducing the death toll.

The researchers said there are steps that can be taken to reduce the death toll, but also that some seemingly simple solutions, such as cracking down on opioid prescribing for chronic pain, could actually increase the toll. And even those policies that could cut the opioid death rate are likely to do so only marginally.

Using a mathematical model, the researchers estimate that some 510,000 people will die over the next decade because of opioid use. The number includes not only drug overdoses but also other opioid-related deaths, such as HIV infections caused by shared needles.

Even including the non-overdose deaths, the number is staggering. Last year was the worst year ever for opioid-related overdose deaths, but this research suggests we are going to see year after year of similar numbers.

Making the overdose reversal drug naloxone more widely available could cut opioid-related deaths by 21,200 over the next decade, allowing greater access to medication-assisted therapies with drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone would save another 12,500 lives, and reducing opioid prescribing for acute pain would prevent another 8,000 deaths, the researchers said. But those three policy moves combined would shave less than 10 percent off the overall death toll.

"No single policy is likely to substantially reduce deaths over 5 to 10 years," the researchers wrote.

While harm reduction interventions such as those above would save lives, some aspects of tightening opioid prescribing would actually increase opioid-related deaths by as much as the tens of thousands -- because they increase heroin deaths more than they cut painkiller deaths. Moves such as reducing prescribing for chronic pain, up-scheduling pain relievers to further restrict their prescribing, and prescription drug monitoring programs all tend to push existing prescription opioid users into the illicit heroin and fentanyl markers all end up contributing to net increases in opioid deaths over the 10-year period, the researchers found.

On the other hand, other interventions on the prescribing front, such as reducing acute prescribing for acute pain (pain that may be signficant but is short-term), reducing prescribing for transitional pain, reformulating drugs to make them less susceptible to misuse, and opioid disposal programs, appear to prevent more deaths than they cause.

Ultimately, reducing the opioid death toll includes reducing the size of the opioid-using population, the researchers say. That implies making addiction treatment more available for those currently using and preventing the initiation of a new generation of opioid users. Restrictions on prescribing, while possibly driving some current users to dangerous illicit markets, can have a long-term impact by reducing the number of people who develop a dependence on opioids.

Whether that's a tolerable tradeoff for those pain patients who don't get the relief they need from other medications -- or for patients and others who end up dying from street heroin but might have lived despite their prescription opioid use -- is a different question.

By all appearances, when it comes to the loss of life around opioids, it looks like a pretty sad decade ahead of us.

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

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