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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.)

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.

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Signs Opioid Bill, VT Dems Want Full MJ Legalization, More... (8/27/18)

An Arizona prosecutor gets challenged for trying to profit off small-time pot offenders, Oregon regulators slash the daily purchase amounts for medical marijuana patients, a Louisiana prisoner featured in the Chronicle years ago gets a break, and more.

Oregon patients will only be able to buy one ounce a day under new emergency rules. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona County Attorney Sued Over Drug Court Diversion Program for Smalltime Marijuana Offenders. The Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, and a local law firm have sued Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery. They allege that he and the county drug court diversion program are preying on and profiting off people charged with minor pot possession offenses. Under the state's harsh laws, possession of even small amounts is a felony, but first- and second-time offenders are eligible for a diversion program. The problem is the diversion program has a $1,000 fee, and those who cannot pay the entire fee linger in the program, paying $15 to $20 fees for drug testing as often as several times a week and face being tried as felons if they fail to complete the program. "The complaint explains that the marijuana diversion program operated by TASC Inc. and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office represents a two-tiered legal system," Civil Rights Corps Attorney Dami Animashaun said in a statement. "Wealthy people buy their way off diversion quickly, while poor people risk being expelled from the program and prosecuted for a felony solely because they cannot afford to pay."

Vermont Democrats Call for Taxed, Regulated Legal Marijuana Sales. Vermont has already legalized the personal possession and home cultivation of marijuana, and now the state's Democratic Party has formally endorsed expanding legalization to include taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales. "We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity," reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party's platform convention on Sunday.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Regulators Slash Daily Purchase Limit for Patients. In a bid to reduce leakage into the black market, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last Thursday dramatically reduced the amount of medical marijuana patients can purchase each day. Medical cardholders may now buy only one ounce a day, not the 24 ounces that had been the limit. The emergency change is in effect until December 27.

Illinois Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Saturday signed a bill legalizing industrial hemp, the Illinois Hemp Act. "Legalizing the farming of industrial hemp just makes good sense," Rauner said in a statement. "Roughly 38 states -- including our neighbors in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee -- have allowed or are considering allowing cultivation of this crop for commercial, research or pilot programs. Our farmers should have this option as well." The state Department of Agriculture will issue licenses to farmers who want to grow it, and regulators will establish rules for THC-level testing of industrial hemp crops.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Legislation To Expand Use Of Rehabilitation And Diversion Services To Combat Heroin And Opioid Epidemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed legislation (A.10403/S.8760) to help in the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic by diverting substance-dependent individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system. This legislation provides another form of support to prosecutors and law enforcement officers as they seek treatment and counseling for people who are addicted to opioids. These diversion models include law enforcement assisted diversion, known as LEAD, and other programs treating substance abuse and addiction. The legislation expands the allowable use of funding from seized or forfeited assets by law enforcement and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse."We must use every tool at our disposal to combat this nation's opioid epidemic and the underlying issues that lead people to commit crime, and this legislation makes available additional funding to help New Yorkers in need," Governor Cuomo said. "By helping New Yorkers turn their lives around, this program helps strengthen communities, increase public safety and break the vicious cycle of recidivism once and for all."

Sentencing

One Louisiana Man Gets a Sentence Cut. A Louisiana man sentenced to life in prison for marijuana possession as a habitual offender has received a sentence reduction that will allow him to go free in a matter of weeks. Jody Butler's case was covered by the Chronicle's Clarence Walker back in 2013, but it took until now for justice to be done. New Orleans Parish District Attorney, who made a career of imposing long sentences on small-time drug offenders, raised no objection to a sentence reduction in Butler's case, the latest in which he has backpedaled away from his earlier, harsher stance.

Chronicle AM: CA Senate Passes SIS Bill, Black Vets More Likely to Be Drug Tested, More... (8/22/18)

Louisiana doctors could soon treat more medical marijuana patients, black VA patients on opioid therapy are more likely to be drug tested and have their treatment halted for illicit drug use than whites, a Georgia judge throws out a heroin murder conviction, and more.

A facility like Vancouver's InSite could be coming to San Francisco. A bill to make it happen is moving in Sacramento. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Regulators Weight Raising Limit on Number of Patients Doctors Can Treat. The state Board of Medical Examiners is set to boost the number of medical marijuana patients a single doctor can treat. The board set a limit of 100 patients per doctor in 2016, but Vincent Culotta, the board's executive director, said the limit will be raised at the board's meeting next month. "We realize we're going to have to increase that number," he said.

Oklahoma Judge Rules Implementation of Medical Marijuana Rules Can Proceed. Cleveland County District Court Judge Michael Tupper ruled Tuesday that the Board of Health can proceed with implementing the state's medical marijuana rules and regulations. He ruled against a lawsuit by more than a dozen Oklahoma patients and businesses who challenged the rules. The decision Tuesday does not end the case. The judge could still throw out some or all the challenged rules at a later date or choose to leave them alone again. Another legal challenge is still pending in Oklahoma County District Court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study Finds African-American VA Patients More Likely to Be Drug Tested, Have Prescriptions Stopped. Black VA patients on long-term opioid therapy are more likely to be drug tested by their doctors and much more likely to have their opioid prescriptions halted if any illegal drug use is found, a new study finds. About 25% of black patients were tested within six months of being prescribed opioids, while only 16% of whites were. Black patients were twice as likely as white ones to have their opioid therapy halted if they tested positive for marijuana and three times as likely if they tested positive for cocaine. The findings were published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Georgia Judge Dismisses Indictment in Heroin Overdose Death. A Georgia judge has dismissed a murder indictment against a man accused of injecting heroin into another man who overdosed and died. In the case, Superior Court Judge John Goger found that the defendant injected the fatal dose at the victim's request and that the victim had purchased the drug himself. Goger held that that didn't amount to heroin distribution by the defendant, and without the underlying drug felony, there is no felony murder.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Passes Bill to Permit Safe Injection Sites in San Francisco. The state Senate Wednesday approved Assembly Bill 186, which would allow San Francisco to implement a safe injection site. AB 186 permits San Francisco to establish facilities where individuals can use controlled substances under the supervision of staff that are trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing, healthcare, and other services. Mayor London Breed, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well as a significant majority of the San Francisco electorate, support piloting safe injection sites in San Francisco.

Saying Goodbye to Mr. Methadone: Dr. Bob Newman Dead at Age 80

Dr. Robert Newman died earlier this month after being struck by an automobile earlier this summer. He was 80 years old.

Bob Newman at a Beth Israel staff meeting in 1985 (Arthur H. Aufses Jr. MD Archives at Mt. Sinai)
If any one man can be credited with carving out a space for the use of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction, he is that man. Working as a New York City public health doctor in the 1960s, he was given the task of ensuring that heroin addicts who wanted treatment could get treatment with methadone. His boss, city health department head Gordon Chase, told him he would be known as "Mr. Methadone."

While he did not achieve the goal of providing treatment to everyone who wanted it, Newman oversaw the rapid expansion of the city's fledgling methadone program in the early 1970s. The number of patients on methadone went from a handful to more than 10,000 in two years, and 35,000 by 1975.

And he stood up for those patients. When the NYPD wanted Newman to turn over patients' methadone records, he refused. Instead, he took to the courts to defend his patients' right to privacy -- and he won.

After that, he devoted his career to advocating for evidence-based treatment, traveling the country and the world and picking up a second moniker, "the methadone pope," as he advanced harm reduction ideas decades before they became popularized.

He faced opposition from abstinence and 12-step proponents, as well as from elected officials like New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who in 1998 tried to shut down the city's methadone program on the moralistic grounds that it merely substituted one addiction for another. The diplomatic Newman didn't challenge Giuliani head on but instead used interviews to make his case that methadone treatment allowed addicts to lead productive lives.

Newman also advocated for a humane approach toward addicted mothers and pregnant women, supporting groups such as National Advocates for Pregnant Women in their fight against the demonization and criminalization of those women. He was a drug policy reformer who served for decades on the board of the Drug Policy Foundation and then its successor the Drug Policy Alliance.

As this century's opioid epidemic deepened, Newman was cautiously optimistic that the work he had begun decades earlier would help further destigmatize addiction. "I'm hoping that pragmatism will win out," he said. "As more and more Congresspeople, people in the general community and physicians have children who develop a problem with prescription drug use and can't get treatment for it, I think it will make people more receptive to opening doors to treatment."

Newman was not only an influential physician in addiction issues, he was a giant in the hospital world as a whole. He served as President of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, and then of the entity that acquired Beth Israel along with other facilities -- and then of the entity that acquired that entity. But one could still talk him at a drug policy conference, or send him an email, and you'd get an email back.

Dr. Robert Newman's contribution to an enlightened approach to addiction cannot be overstated. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on.

(Read Bob Newman's 1998 interview with this newsletter here.)

Chronicle AM: Norway Heroin-Assisted Treatment Plan, NJ Pol Says Marijuana Legalization "Soon," More... (8/10/18)

New Jersey's Senate president says marijuana legalization is coming "soon," the Norwegians begin moving toward heroin-assisted treatment, and more.

diacetylmorphine AKA pharmaceutical heroin -- coming soon to Norway to treat hardcore addicts (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key New Jersey Pol Says Legalization Coming "Soon." "I think it's gonna happen soon," State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told NJ Advance Media Thursday, saying it could happen as early as next month. "We'll have the legislation done. Then you have to do the regulations and everything else." He said he hoped to see a final draft of the bill, next week, hold hearings quickly, and vote in September. "We're getting much closer," Sweeney said.

International

British Police Commissioner Calls for Marijuana Freedom. Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales Arfon Jones has called for marijuana users to be able to grow and sell the plant without fear of arrest in cannabis clubs. He is calling for the country to adopt Spanish-style marijuana "collectives" where members sell homegrown weed to each other. At least 75 cannabis clubs currently exist in Britain, all operating with a wink and a nod from local police.

Norway to Begin Providing Free Heroin to Hardcore Addicts. Norwegian Health Minister Bent Hoie has asked the Directorate of Health to create a list of heroin addicts must suitable for receiving heroin-assisted treatment and to assess the economic consequences of creating such a program. "We want to help those addicted who are difficult to reach, those who are not part of LAR (drug-assisted rehabilitation) and who are difficult to treat," he said. The pilot program is set to start in 2020 or 2021. Local governments in Oslo and Bergen are reportedly applying to participate.

Chronicle AM: OK Medical Marijuana Muddle, Toronto Health Board Says Decriminalize, More... (7/17/18)

The uproar in Oklahoma grows louder after the state health board messes with the medical marijuana initiative, Toronto's health board endorses drug decriminalization, and more.

A battle is brewing in Oklahoma after the state health board messes with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Pressure Mounts for Special Session on Medical Marijuana. Amid growing outrage over the Board of Health's imposition of restrictive and controversial changes to State Question 788, approved last month by voters, legislators and others are demanding Gov. Mary Fallin (R) call a special session of the legislature to ensure the will of the voters is upheld. Among other changes, the Board banned the sale of smokable marijuana and required pharmacists to be present at dispensaries. "This is not what the voters voted for," said state Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City). "We must adhere to the will of the people. The governor's signing of the emergency rules adopted by the Oklahoma State Health Department is an affront to democracy, an insult to the law-abiding citizens that showed up to vote for this initiative."

Drug Testing

Massachusetts High Court Holds Judges Can Require Drug Users to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a judge can require a drug user to stay drug-free as a condition of probation. The case involved Julie Eldred, who was on probation for a larceny charge when she was jailed for failing a drug test. Her attorney argued that her relapse was a symptom of her disease of addiction and that it was unconstitutional to punish someone for a medical condition. But the court disagreed: "In appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug-free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug."

International

Toronto Public Health Board Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The health board in Canada's largest city has called on the federal government to decriminalize all drugs. The board voted unanimously Monday to endorse the recommendation from the city's top health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa. "The potential harms associated with any of these drugs is worsened when people are pushed into a position where they have to produce, obtain and consume those drugs illegally, so that's what we're trying to address," de Villa said, with a call for a "public health approach" focused on treatment and harm minimization rather police, courts and jail. Officials in Vancouver have also called for drug decriminalization, but the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't shown any appetite for it.

Different Psychedelics Share a Common Trait: Enhancing ‘Neural Plasticity"

New research suggests that different classes of psychedelic drugs all share the tendency to promote the growth of new brain cells, especially the kind that reach out and forge connections with other brain cells. This finding could help explain both the mind-expanding properties of the drugs and the mechanisms by which they appear to act as valuable treatments for a broad range of psychiatric disorders.

Earlier research had identified the dissociative anesthetic ketamine as promoting growth in key brain cells (as well as being a fast-acting and effective treatment for depression), but this new research finds similar effects in amphetamine-based psychedelics such as DOI (2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine), ergoline psychedelics (such as LSD), and tryptamines (such as DMT).

Using experiments in cell culture and with animals, researchers led by Dr. David Olson of the University of California at Davis found that various classes of hallucinogenic drugs acted on the structure and function of cortical neurons using the same mechanisms as ketamine. The findings could point to new treatment approaches for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, the researchers wrote last Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports.

"The state-of-the-art, prototypical, fast-acting antidepressant is ketamine -- a compound that promotes neural plasticity and repairs circuits involved in mood and anxiety disorders," Olson told MedPage Today. "Our work demonstrates that psychedelics produce comparable effects on neuronal structure and function, providing a potential explanation for why MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca seem to have antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in the clinic."

Using test tubes, as well as rats and fruit fly larvae, the researchers found that all of these classes of psychedelics increased "neural plasticity," the ability to create new connections among brain cells. The drugs all excited the growth of dendritic spines and axons, the cerebral hangers-on that brain cells use to reach out and create connections, or synapses, with other brain cells.

That's the opposite of what happens with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. The current theory is that these disorders may occur when neurites retract, not allowing brain cells to connect at synapses.

"One of the hallmarks of depression is that the neurites in the prefrontal cortex -- a key brain region that regulates emotion, mood, and anxiety -- those neurites tend to shrivel up," Olson said in a statement.

Olson's research found that the neural plasticity effect found with ketamine was also "remarkably potent" with even very small doses of LSD, which could help explain the popularity of "microdosing" among people seeking happier and more creative lives. Chemical compounds that mimicked psilocybin and MDMA also increased neural plasticity on the same level as ketamine, and that could mean new opportunities for researchers working with psychiatric disorders.

The studies also showed that the effect outlasted the action of the drugs. In rats, for example, psilocybin produced results that lasted for hours after the drug had left the body. Similarly, rats given a single dose of DMT not only saw an increase in dendritic spines similar to ketamine but saw that effect last for 24 hours when the drug itself had been eliminated within one hour.

This is potentially very good news for researchers working on treatments for anxiety, depression, and addiction, which all seem to act on the same brain circuits.

"Prior to this study, there was only one player in town and that was ketamine. This opens up some new doors," Olson said. "As the diversity of chemical structures capable of producing ketamine-like plasticity effects continues to grow, so does my hope that we will find a safe and effective fast-acting treatment for depression," he said.

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

You'll Never Believe What Country Just Enacted a Massive, Meaningful Drug Reform

For years, Iran has been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, with hundreds of people hung from the gallows annually for drug smuggling and trafficking. But in a remarkable turnabout, that is no longer the case.

Executions for drug offenses have come to an almost total halt in Iran. (IHR)
After the Iranian parliament amended the country's drug laws in November 2017, drug executions have all but halted, according to a new report from Iran Human Rights (IHR). The non-profit group found that only one person had been executed for a drug offense this year in Iran, compared to 112 during the same period last year and nearly 500 for all of 2017.

That's a 99% reduction in the resort to the death penalty for drugs in the Islamic Republic.

The changes to Iran's drug laws didn't remove the death penalty from the books -- it remains one of 33 countries, including the United States, that mete out the ultimate punishment for drug offenses -- but it dramatically raised the quantities of drugs needed to merit the death penalty.

Under the old law, being caught with a little more than an ounce (30 grams) of drugs such as cocaine or heroin could bring a death sentence. Now, it takes nearly 4 ½ pounds (2 kilograms). Similarly, for plant-based drugs such as cannabis and opium, the death penalty threshold has increased ten-fold, from 5 kilograms (11 pounds) to 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The death penalty can also be imposed for certain other drug offenses where quantity is not the issue, for example, the use of a minor in a drug trafficking operations, carrying or using firearms while committing drug-related crimes, having a prior death penalty or prison sentence longer than 15 years, or being the "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

The one man executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, identified as Kiomars Nosuhi, was convicted of being a "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

Bordering Afghanistan, the world's primary supplier of raw opium and heroin, Iran has for decades waged war on drug smugglers, with thousands of police and soldiers killed in the struggle. While opium smoking was a traditional Iranian pastime, the country now has one of the world's highest addiction rates, with heroin largely replacing opium. In recognition of that reality, in the past decade, Iranian officials have switched from harsh punishments of drug users to emphasizing drug treatment and harm reduction. The end of the reflexive resort to the death penalty for drugs marks another step in the country's march toward a more progressive policy response.

While human rights groups applaud the dramatic decline in drug executions, they continue to express concern over the way the Iranian judicial system responds to drugs.

"We welcome the significant reduction in the use of the death penalty and hope that this trend will continue towards complete abolition," said IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. "However, we have several serious concerns regarding the process of implementation of the new amendment, including bribery in the judicial system, insufficient capacity to handle a large number of cases, and lack of a monitoring organ overlooking the process."

And then there are the tens of thousands of drug offenders filling Iran's prisons. The country has more than 250,000 people behind bars, 50% to 70% for drug offenses. The Islamic Republic may not be running the gallows at full tilt anymore for drugs, but incarceration remains a key element of Iranian drug policy. Still, Iran has taken an important step forward.

Chronicle AM: NYC Marijuana Arrest Disparities Continue, Drug Protests Shake Tbilisi, More ... (5/14/18)

New York City has yet to escape from racially disproportionate marijuana arrests, the Mormon Church picks a fight with medical marijuana, nursing homes can't discriminate against people taking addiction medications, protests rock the capital of Georgia after a massive weekend drug bust, and more.

NYPD seems to think marijuana users only come in the colors black and brown. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. A Tulsa-based group calling itself Green the Vote is now collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. Campaigners will need nearly 124,000 valid voter signatures by September 8 to qualify for the November ballot. A medical marijuana initiative is already set to go before the voters next month.

New York City Pot Bust Racial Disparities Aren't Going Away. A major investigation by the New York Times has found continued racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and arrests in every neighborhood in the City. "Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people."

Medical Marijuana

Mormon Church Ups the Ante in Fight Against Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The church last Friday doubled down on its opposition to the medical marijuana initiative set for the November ballot. The church released a seven-page memorandum raising dozens of complaints it says "raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted."

Drug Treatment

Justice Department: Nursing Facilities Can't Exclude Patients Using Addiction Medication. The Justice Department has reached a settlement with a skilled nursing facility in which the facility agreed to pay a fine for excluding a patient because the patient was being treated for opioid use disorder with suboxone and agreed not to discriminate in the future. "Our office is committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, which includes those in treatment for an Opioid Use Disorder," United States Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said. "As Massachusetts faces this overdose epidemic, now more than ever, individuals in recovery must not face discriminatory barriers to treatment."

International

Taliban Kill Dozens of Afghan Police in Opium Trafficking Areas. In attacks late last week, Taliban fighters attacking Afghan police bases in Farah province, killing more than 30 police. The province, in the west of the country, contains vital opium smuggling routes into neighboring Iran. Opium from Afghanistan's primary opium province, Helmand, moves north into Farah before heading for the Iranian border.

Georgia Sees Mass Protests After Weekend Mass-Arrest Drug Raids. The capital, Tbilisi, was rocked by mass protests all weekend long after interior ministry police raided two popular nightclubs and arrested more than 60 people on drug charges. Protesters were demanding the freedom of those arrested and a liberalization of the country's drug policies, and were only persuaded to stop -- at least until next weekend -- after Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia promised the government would start working on drug reforms today. The protests also saw the emergence of ultra-rightist thugs who came out to counter-demonstrate.

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