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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.

Chronicle AM: DOJ to Clamp Down on Pain Pills, Sanders Files Opioid Bill, More... (4/18/18)

Maine lawmakers pass another legal marijuana implementation bill, this time with veto-proof majorities; the Justice Department eyes a crackdown on pain pill production, Bernie Sanders takes aim at opioid makers and distributors, and more.

The Justice Department wants to crack down on pail pill production. And Congress is eyeing action, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill, Governor Vows Veto. The state Senate on Tuesday approved the bill that would finally allow retail marijuana sales. The bill passed the House earlier and now goes to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage, who has threatened to veto it because it doesn't combine the state's adult use marijuana and medical marijuana regimes. LePage vetoed a similar bill last year. But this time around, the bill passed with enough support to overcome a veto. LePage has 10 days to sign, veto, or let the bill become law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to Let VA Study Medical Marijuana Filed. A group of House Democrats and Republicans have filed HR 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The bill would clarify that the Veterans Administration has the authority to study medical marijuana and encourages the agency to do so. The bill would require the VA to report regularly to Congress about its progress on medical marijuana research. The bill is being championed by leaders in the House Veterans Affairs Committee and has 34 cosponsors.

Massachusetts High Court Urges Lawmakers to Clarify Law on Home Cultivation. In an opinion in a case of a medical marijuana patient arrested for growing 22 pot plants, the state's Supreme Judicial Court has urged lawmakers to revisit the law around home grows by patients. The law allows patients to grow enough marijuana to create a 60-day supply, defined in the state as 10 ounces. But the justices found the current law problematic and suggested a plant-based limit would be clearer. "Statutory and regulatory clarification would be most beneficial," wrote Justice Scott Kafker in the opinion in the case, Commonwealth vs. Richardson.

Hemp

Oklahoma Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Senate on Tuesday approved House Bill 2913, which would legalize industrial hemp production. The measure has already passed the House, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Proposes New Regulations to Limit Prescription Opioid Production. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday proposed new regulations for how the DEA sets opioid production quotas that could severely limit the amount of pain pills produced. "Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make," Sessions said in prepared remarks. The proposed change must still go through the federal rule-making process before going into effect. It will be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment in coming days.

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to Rein in Big Pharma on Opioids. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday filed Senate Bill 2961, which would ban drug companies from marketing opioids as non-addictive and fines them 25% of their profits if they violate the rule. The bill also seeks to stop pharmaceutical companies from distributing amounts of opioids "not medically reasonable," in a bid to stop distributors from flooding small towns with pills. "We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured," Sanders said in a statement. "They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients," he said. "Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year."

Harm Reduction

Maine Bill to End Age Restrictions on Naloxone Heads to Governor's Desk. Both houses of the legislature have approved Legislative Document 1892, which ends age restrictions on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Gov. Paul LePage (R) wants to limit naloxone access without a prescription to people 21 and over and has vetoed other naloxone access bills, but this bill has passed with a veto-proof majority. LePage has 10 days to act.

International

The Bangladeshi Department of Narcotics Control has proposed new drug legislation for the country which includes the use of the death penalty for people caught selling more than 200 grams of methamphetamine. Under current law, the maximum punishment is 15 years in prison. Bangladeshi law already allows the death penalty for some other drug offenses, including heroin trafficking, but its use is actually very rare in the country. The last execution for a drug offense was in 2009.

Culture Shock: American Activists Confront Compassionate Portuguese Drug Policy [FEATURE]

The American activists couldn't wrap their heads around it. Sitting in a dingy office in a nondescript building in central Lisbon, they were being provided a fine-grained explanation of what happens to people caught with small amounts of drugs in Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of drugs 17 years ago.

partial view of Lisbon, looking toward the Tagus River (Wikimedia)
The activists, having lived the American experience, wanted desperately to know when and how the coercive power of the state kicked in, how the drug users were to be punished for their transgressions, even if they had only been hit with an administrative citation, which is what happens to people caught with small quantities of drugs there.

Nuno Capaz was trying to explain. He is Vice Chairman of the Lisbon Dissuasion Commission, the three-member tribunal set up to handle people caught with drugs. He had to struggle mightily to convince the Americans that it wasn't about punishment, but about personal and public health.

"The first question," he explained, "is whether this person is a recreational user or an addict."

If the person is deemed only a recreational user, he may face a fine or a call to community service. If he is deemed an addict, treatment is recommended -- but not required.

"But what if they don't comply?" one of the activists demanded. "Don't they go to jail then?"

No, they do not. Instead, Capaz patiently explained, they may face sanctions for non-compliance, but those sanctions may be little more than a demand that they regularly present themselves to a hospital or health center for monitoring.

In a later hallway conversation, I asked Capaz about drug users who simply refused to go along or to participate at all. What happens then? I wanted to know.

Capaz shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing," he said. "I tell them to try not to get caught again."

Welcome to Portugal. The country's low-key, non-headline-generating drug policy, based on compassion, public health, and public safety, is a stark contrast with the US, as the mind-boggled response of the activists suggests.

Organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and consisting of members of local and national groups that work with the organization, as well as a handful of journalists, the group spent three days in-country last month seeing what an enlightened drug policy looks like. They met with high government officials directly involved in creating and implementing drug decriminalization, toured drug treatment, harm reduction, and mobile methadone maintenance facilities, and heard from Portuguese drug users and harm reduction workers as well.

The Portuguese Model and Its Accomplishments

They had good reason to go to Portugal. After nearly two decades of drug decriminalization, there is ample evidence that the Portuguese model is working well. Treating drug users like citizens who could possibly use some help instead of like criminals to be locked up is paying off by all the standard metrics -- as well as by not replicating the thuggish and brutal American-style war on drugs, with all the deleterious and corrosive impacts that has on the communities particularly targeted for American drug law enforcement.

Here, according to independent academic researchers, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Monitoring Center of Drugs and Drug Abuse, is what the Portuguese have accomplished:

Drug use has not dramatically increased. Rates of past year and past month drug use have not changed significantly or have actually declined since 2001. And Portugal's drug use rates remain among the lowest in Europe, and well below those in the United States.

Both teen drug use and "problematic" drug use (people who are dependent or who inject drugs) have declined.

Drug arrests and incarceration are way down. Drug arrests have dropped by 60% (selling drugs remains illegal) and the percentage of prisoners doing time for drug offenses has dropped from 44% to 24%. Meanwhile, the number of people referred to the Dissuasion Commission has remained steady, indicating that no "net-widening" has taken place. And the vast majority of cases that go before the commission are found to be non-problematic drug users and are dismissed without sanction.

More people are receiving drug treatment -- and on demand, not by court order. The number of people receiving drug treatment increased by 60% by 2011, with most of them receiving opiate-substitution therapy (methadone). Treatment is voluntary and largely paid for by the national health system.

Drug overdose deaths are greatly reduced. Some 80 people died of drug overdoses in 2001; that number shrunk to just 16 by 2012. That's an 80% reduction in drug overdose deaths.

Drug injection-related HIV/AIDS infections are greatly reduced. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of new HIV cases shrank from nearly 1,600 to only 78. The number of new AIDS cases declined from 626 to 74.

"We came to the conclusion that the criminal system was not the best suited to deal with this situation," explained Capaz. "The best option should be referring them to treatment, but we do not force or coerce anyone. If they are willing to go, it's because they actually want to, so the success rate is really high. We can surely say that decriminalization does not increase drug usage, and that it does not mean legalizing drugs. It's still illegal to use drugs in Portugal, it's just not considered a crime. It's possible to deal with these users outside the criminal system."

Dr. Joao Goulao, who largely authored the decriminalization law and who is still General Director for Intervention on Addictive Behaviors -- the Portuguese "drug czar" -- pointed to unquantifiable positives resulting from the move: "The biggest effect," he said, "has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear."

They Take the Kids! (with them to treatment)

The American activists know all about fear and stigma. And the cultural disconnect -- between a country that treats drug users with compassion and one that seeks to punish them -- was on display again when a smaller group of the activists met with Dr. Miguel Vasconcelos, the head psychologist at the Centro Taipa, a former mental hospital that now serves as the country's largest drug treatment center.

As Dr.Vasconcelos explained the history and practice of drug treatment in Portugal, one of his listeners asked what happened to drug users who were pregnant or had children.

"They take the kids," Vasconcelos said, smiling. But his smile turned to puzzlement as he saw his listeners react with resignation and dismay.

For the Americans, "they take the kids" meant child protective services swooping in to seize custody of the children of drug-using parents while the parents go to jail.

But that's not what Vasconcelos meant. After some back and forth, came clarity: "No, I mean they take the kids with them to treatment."

Once again, the Americans, caught firmly in the mind set of their own punishing society, expected only the worst of the state. But once again, light bulbs came on as they realized it doesn't have to be like that.

Now that cadre of activists is back home, and they are going to begin to try to apply the lessons they learned in their own states and communities. And although they had some abstract understanding of Portuguese drug decriminalization before they came, their experiences with the concrete reality of it should only serve to strengthen their desire to make our own country a little less like a punitive authoritarian state and bit more like Portugal.

Chronicle AM: NJ Opioid Fight Plan, WI Forfeiture Bill Signed, NJ Pot Poll, More... (4/4/18)

Alaska regulators return to the issue of social use, a Tennessee medical marijuana bill dies, New Jersey's governor outlines a plan to fight opioid abuse, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) outlines a plan to take on the opioid crisis. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Take Up Social Clubs Again. The state's Marijuana Control Board will be meeting the rest of this week to discuss whether to allow on-site marijuana use at authorized retail stores. The board adopted rules in 2015 to allow for such use, but never finalized them. Under the current proposal, use could only take place in a designated area of the store, and people could only use marijuana purchased at the store.

New Jersey Poll Shows Residents Evenly Split on Legalization. A new poll from the Stockton Polling Institute of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy has Garden Staters split nearly down the middle on pot legalization. The poll had 49% in favor, with 44% opposed. The poll also found that one out of four respondents would try the herb if it were legal, or continue to use it if they currently do.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. The sponsor of a medical marijuana bill has pulled it, saying he didn't have the support to move it in the Senate. Senate Bill 1710 sponsor Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) was blunt: "Unfortunately, I do not have the votes." A companion measure is still alive in the House, but there will be no medical marijuana in the Volunteer State this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New Jersey Governor Outlines Plan to Fight Opioids. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced a plan to spend $100 million on a range of anti-addiction programs, including new funding for community-based treatment providers, as well as more housing and job training for residents with -- or without -- drug dependency problems. In terms of dollars, the proposal includes $56 million for front-line prevention, treatment and recovery programs; $31 million for job training and to address social risk factors like homelessness; and $13 million to improve data collection and other state infrastructure.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday signed into law Senate Bill 61, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but puts limits on how long police can hold property before someone is charged and reduce the amount of money police can keep when they sell seized property.

Chronicle AM: DEA Deploys Against Opioids, NY Gov's Criminal Justice Plan, More... (3/29/18)

Mucho medical marijuana, a Connecticut legalization bill gets a hearing, the DEA is deploying 250 agents to fight opioids, Louisiana could get a full-fledged needle exchange program, and more.

The DEA is ready to fight some more drug war.
Marijuana Policy

Third Connecticut Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A marijuana legalization bill that also includes funding for drug treatment and prevention got a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday. House Bill 5394 calls for drafting a plan to legalize and regulate weed by October 1, as well as requiring a treatment and prevention plan by the same date.  The bill did not get a vote. Two other legalization bills before the legislature do not contain the treatment and prevention funding provisions.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Judge Puts Hold on State Medical Marijuana Program. A state judge last week put the state's program on hold because of objections to the licensing process, but was apologetic for imposing the delay. "Amendment 98 to the Constitution of Arkansas, an initiative by the people, exists because Arkansans want to provide medical marijuana to persons who suffer from chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening health challenges," Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen wrote in his order last week. "The prospect that Arkansans must now endure more delay before gaining much needed access to locally grown medical marijuana should be unpleasant to anyone concerned about providing relief to people who suffer from serious illnesses."

Kansas House Votes Down Medical Marijuana. As they debated changes to the state's drug laws, lawmakers in the House voted down an amendment that would have allowed the use of medical marijuana. The amendment was offered by Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Lenexa), who said her own daughter, who suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, could benefit from access to the medicine. "Please don’t make us lawbreakers," Holscher said. "Give us an option for something that has been proven to work." But the underlying bill contains a provision that allows for the limited use of CBD cannabis oil.

Louisiana House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana for Autism. The House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would add certain types of autism to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The move comes as dispensaries are set to open in the state just four months from now. The measure, House Bill 627, now goes to the full House.

New Hampshire Senate Approves Bill to Add More Dispensaries. The state Senate last week approved a bill that would allow for two additional dispensaries in the state.  The state currently has four medical marijuana outlets. The bill now goes to the House.

South Carolina Senate Committee Advances Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee approved a medical marijuana bill on Thursday. The measure, Senate Bill 212, now heads for a Senate floor vote.  But advocates worry the bill will die for lack of action in the House. The House has declined to hear its own medical marijuana bill so far this year, and the deadline for doing so is April 10.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Second House Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 1749, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a dozen qualifying conditions.  The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Utah Poll Shows Enduring Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. More than three-quarters (77%) of Utahns "strongly" or "somewhat" favor legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones & Associates. The poll is in line with other recent state polls show high levels of support, undaunted by the legislature's passage of a bill that allows for a "right to try" medical marijuana for terminally ill patients. An initiative that would create a full-blown medical marijuana system in the state will likely be on the ballot in November.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Spending Plan Has Nearly $5 Billion to Deal With Opioid Crisis. The omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Trump last week contains some $4.6 billion. The biggest chunk of the money will go to states and tribes, especially those with the highest overdose mortality rates. Some 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year. The funding is less than the $7 billion for fighting AIDS, which killed 42,000 Americans last year.  

DEA Deploying 250 Additional Agents to Fight Opioid Crisis. The DEA announced Tuesday that it is deploying 250 additional task force officers and dozens of analysts across the country in a bid to crack down on opioids. The additional agents and analysts will go to areas hardest hit by the epidemic.

Oregon Governor Signs Opioid Bills into Law. Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Tuesday signed into law two bills and an order setting deadlines for a drug policy commission that has been plagued with staffing and other issues. The order declares addiction a public health crisis in the state. Two bills, House Bill 4137 and House Bill 4143, cover similar ground and require studying barriers to addiction treatment.

Criminal Justice

New York Governor Launches Campaign to Overhaul Criminal Justice System. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Monday launched a "Campaign to Restore Fairness in New York’s Criminal Justice System." The governor's package would eliminate cash bail for misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses, ensure access to speedy trials, improve the disclosure of evidence, reform asset forfeiture, and improve reentry programs for people leaving prison.

Harm Reduction

Louisiana House Approves Needle Exchange Bill. A bill that would expand needle exchange programs by allowing them without seeking approval from local governments was approved by the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice on Wednesday. House Bill 661 also expands the types of materials and programs a needle exchange can offer, including access to naloxone. The bill now heads for a House floor debate and vote next week.

International

Colombia Coca Growers Threaten to Suspend Cooperation With Peace Process. The federation that represents coca growers, COCCAM, said in a statement on Tuesday it is consulting its members "to define whether to suspend our participation" with the government program that seeks to substitute legal crops for coca.  The federation cited continuing violence, noting that more than 200 coca farmers have been killed since the beginning of the peace process in December 2016. The growers are also unhappy with the government's response to their complaints with Justice Minister Enrique Gil for proposing a law shielding coca growers from criminal prosecution, but which excludes families that have already signed up for the program. The bill also more than halved the amount of land to be considered a small grower, changes the federation called a "flagrant betrayal of the peasants, Afro-descendants and indigenous people who put their trust in the peace process by joining the program."

Georgia Drug Decriminalization Bill on Hold After Controversial Rewrite. A bill that would decriminalize drug use and possession has been held up after an interagency commission expressed support for a new draft drug policy law that activists say no longer talks about decriminalization.  The new draft also fails to differentiate quantities of drugs for personal use from those for distribution except in eight cases, meaning people caught with any amount of other drugs face years in prison. "Nobody mentioned decriminalisation at today’s hearing, which is alarming," Guram Imnadze, a lawyer from local rights group the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC) said after it was over. The current draft doesn't address the key problem with the country's drug policy, which, he said, was that "people spend years in prison for drugs they intended for personal use."

Chronicle AM: Call to End New Medicaid Work Requirement, Israeli Pot Decrim Advance, More... (2/20/18)

Public health, mental health, and drug reform groups call for an end to a new policy requiring Medicaid recipients to work, a key congressional Democrat calls for a progress report from Trump's opioid commission, Israeli marijuana decriminalization crosses a major hurdle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Bar Pot Shops From Selling Customer Data to Third Parties. Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose) has filed Assembly Bill 2402, which would ban retail marijuana shops from selling customer data to third-party vendors without the customer's consent. "The focus of this piece of legislation is around privacy," Low said. "So, while now cannabis is legal in California, there are many individuals who want to make sure that cannabis and their use of cannabis is not made public for many reasons. If you shop at retail stores, you magically start to get emails and snail mail from other similarly focused retail stores," Low added. "And so we wanted to make sure that we don't do that with cannabis without consent."

Maryland Legalization Constitutional Amendment Gets Hearing Today. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing today on House Bill 1264, which, if approved, would set up a statewide referendum on marijuana legalization. The House bill was filed by Delegate David Moon (D-Takoma Park); the Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Bob Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who heads the Senate committee hearing the bill.

Massachusetts Lawmaker Blasts Some Draft Regs. State Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree), who helped write the state's legalization implementation law, has criticized the Cannabis Control Commission and some of its proposed draft regulations. He wrote to the commission saying he has "grave concerns" over draft regulations around social consumption, local control, and licensing for delivery services and micro-businesses. The local control regulations ignore state law requiring localities to first seek voter approval, he said. He also lambasted proposals for on-site consumption, saying a new referendum would have to be passed. Voters legalized marijuana in the state nearly 15 months ago now.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Strikes Down Detroit Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Wayne County circuit court judge last Friday overturned a voter-approved initiative that would have relaxed restrictive local controls on medical marijuana businesses in the city. Proposal B would have allowed pot shops and processing businesses in all business and industrial districts, including downtown and Midtown. The judge cited state court precedent that zoning questions could not be decided by voter initiatives.

Industrial Hemp

Alaska House Passes Hemp Bill. The House on Monday approved Senate Bill 6, which legalizes industrial hemp and establishes a pilot program for its growth and production. The Senate has already approved the bill, but since the House amended the bill, it now goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Lab Forfeits $1 Million for Unnecessary Drug Tests. State Attorney General Martha Healey (D) announced last Friday that Precision Testing Laboratories, Inc. will forfeit more than a million dollars to settle claims it billed for medically unnecessary drug tests. It paid $400,000 to Massachusetts and will pay more than $650,000 to Connecticut. The lab will also be barred from participating in the two states' Medicaid programs for the next 10 years. The company had promoted itself as providing urine drug testing services to people in recovery, but that it used very expensive drug tests and "aggressively marketed an expensive and unnecessarily complex drug testing package to sober houses, despite the fact that they knew that the tests were for residential sobriety monitoring, a violation of MassHealth regulations."

Missouri Bill Would Criminalize Synthetic Urine. State Rep. Nate Tate (R-St. Clair) has filed a bill that would make the sale of synthetic human urine a criminal offense. Under House Bill 1810, all drug test-cheating products would be banned, and anyone who provides them with the intent to defraud a drug test would be subject to a Class B misdemeanor. Prosecutors like the bill.

Drug Treatment

Public Health, Drug Reform Groups Protest Federal Policy Imposing Work Requirements on Medicaid Recipients. More than 160 organizations in the public health, mental health, addiction treatment, and drug reform fields have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Aszar decrying the new federal policy. They argue the policy would hinder access to Medicaid by people with chronic health problems, especially those fighting substance abuse and mental health disorders. "This is deeply troubling given the devastating and escalating opioid overdose crisis that President Trump has designated as a national public health emergency," the letter said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Leading Congressional Democrat Wants Hearing on Trump's Opioid Panel's Progress. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-NC) last Friday urging him to request that presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway brief the committee on the work done by the president's opioid commission. "I understand that President Trump has designated Kellyanne Conway as his point person on this issue, so her input would help the Committee with its ongoing efforts to evaluate the status of the Commission's recommendations," Cummings wrote.

International

Israeli Marijuana Decriminalization Advances. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, people caught with pot would pay a $282 fine and would not be subject to arrest until a fourth offense. Legalizatin advocate MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who heads the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, was pleased: "When we started our struggle, people disrespected us, but the Ministerial Committee's decision today is proof that a real, persistent struggle succeeds in the end," said Zandberg. "This bill is far from being perfect, but it is a foot in the door on the way to full legalization."

Chronicle AM: Trump Drug Budget, NH Marijuana Bill Hearing, OR Opioid Emergency, More... (2/13/18)

The proposed FY 2019 Trump budget features more drug war and cutting the drug czar's office, a legal marijuana bill gets a hearing in New Hampshire, Oregon's governor declares a public health emergency over opioids, and more.

The president's proposed budget has billions for more drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Bills to Reduce Penalties Filed. A pair of bills filed in the legislature seek to reduce the criminalization of marijuana users. House Bill 865 would make possession of up to two ounces a misdemeanor. Under current law, possession of more than one ounce is a felony. Senate Bill 105 would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce. Legalization bills were filed earlier in the session, but they are not expected to go anywhere.

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The House Ways and Means Committee is holding a hearing on a limited legalization bill today. House Bill 656 would legalize the possession of up to a quarter ounce of weed and grow up to six plants, but would not set up a system of legal marijuana commerce.

Virginia Senate Approves Arrest Expungement Bill. The Senate voted 38-2 on Monday to approve Senate Bill 954, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Noment (R-James City). The bill would allow people charged with first-time possession to later pay $150 to have the charge expunged. The measure must now be approved by the House.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Selzer & Company poll has 78% in favor of medical marijuana, with 19% opposed, figures that are roughly unchanged over the past couple of years. What has changed is support for recreational marijuana, now at 39%, up from 28% four years ago.

New Mexico Lawmakers Eye Marijuana in Fight Against Opioids. Lawmakers and supporters gathered at the state capitol in Santa Fe Monday to urge state officials to add opioid addiction to the list of disorders qualifying for medical marijuana. And advisory panel has twice considered petitions seeking to add medical marijuana as a tool against opioid abuse, the most recent last November, but the state Health Department has yet to act.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Oregon Governor Declares Addiction a Public Health Crisis. Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) on Tuesday released an executive order declaring opioid addiction to be a public health crisis in the state. She said she would soon set a deadline for the state Alcohol and Drugs Policy Commission to come up with a plan to fight the problem.

Drug Policy

Trump Budget Doubles Down on Drug War. The Trump administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget is heavy on drug war spending, with an additional $400 million for the DEA, $334 million in the law enforcement-oriented Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, $50 million for the once-discarded anti-drug media campaign, $43 million for drug courts, and a cut of $20 million in offender reentry programs. The budget includes $18 billion over two years for the Mexico border wall, which Trump justifies on both drugs and immigration grounds, which is more than the $13 billion the administration says it is allocating to fight opioid abuse.

Trump Budget Would Gut Drug Czar's Office. The Trump FY 2019 budget would also dramatically slash funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), primarily by moving two grant programs elsewhere. Under the proposal, the Drug Free Communities Support Program and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program would be moved into the Health and Human Services Department and Justice Department, respectively. The move is opposed by some lawmakers and a coalition of more than 150 advocacy organizations, but more radical critics on both the left and the right would like to see the agency go away altogether.

Sentencing

New Jersey Governor Revives Sentencing Commission. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is reviving the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2009 to examine racial disparities in sentencing, but remained dormant under former Gov. Chris Christie (R). Christie never appointed any members to the commission. "We can and must do better," Murphy said in a statement. "A Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission can undertake the important review of our sentencing laws and recommend reforms necessary to ensure a stronger, fairer, and more just state." Murphy has already appointed two people to the commission's 13-member board, which must issue a report within a year of its first meeting.

Drug War Issues

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