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Chronicle AM: Trump Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws, NFL Endorses Sentencing Reform, More... (10/17/17)

Stories pile up when you spend a week at the drug reform conference: Trump's choice for drug czar is out, the NFL endorses sentencing reform, California's governor signs a sentencing reform bill, and more.

The National Football League has formally endorsed a federal sentencing reform bill. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Marijuana Conviction of Vehicle Passenger. The state Supreme Court last Thursday threw out the marijuana possession conviction of a car passenger, saying the mere fact that he was in the vehicle didn't mean he actually possessed the drug. Marvin Carver had been charged after the car his half-brother was driving was pulled over and marijuana was found. The half-brother said the marijuana was his, and prosecutors never proved that Carver knew about or intended to possess the pot, the court noted.

New Hampshire Marijuana Study Group Holds First Meeting, No Legalizers Included. A commission charged with studying the potential impact of marijuana legalization is holding its first meeting today. Created by the legislature, the commission includes lawmakers and representatives of several state agencies, including banking, law enforcement, and the medical community. Of the legislators, several have voiced opposition to legalization and none are on record in support of it.

Maine Legalizers Reject Legislative Rewrite of Marijuana Law. Legalize Maine, the group behind last year's successful legalization initiative, has come out against the proposed legislative rewrite of the law, saying it "isn't ready for prime time." The group strongly objects to bill language requiring localities to "opt in" to the legal marijuana business instead of having to "opt out." Such a provision will only create chaos and encourage the black market, the group says.

Pennsylvania ACLU Report Finds Large Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests. In an analysis of 2016 arrest data, the ACLU found that black adults in the state were eight times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites. Marijuana arrests in the state have increased in recent years, and so has the racial disparity in arrests. It was less than six to one in 2011. The arrest figures don't include Philadelphia, which decriminalized in 2014 and saw arrests plummet 88%. But even in Philly, blacks were still three times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Issues First Medical Marijuana Grow License. The state Department of Health has approved Cresco Yeltrah's 40,000-plus-square-foot indoor grow operation, making it the first medical marijuana grow in the state to be approved. The planting of seeds should commence shortly, with the first crop ready in about four months.

Drug Policy

Trump Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws in Wake of Report He Pushed Bill to Hinder DEA Opioid Pill Enforcement Efforts. Pennsylvania US Rep. Tom Marino (R), who President Trump nominated last month to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), has withdrawn his nomination in the wake of reports that he shepherded through Congress legislation lobbied for by drug companies and pharmaceutical chains that decreased the DEA's ability to stop suspect shipments of prescription opioids. Marino had come under fire from Democratic lawmakers after the report went public Sunday.

McCaskill Will File Bill to Undo 2016 Law Marino Pushed. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Monday she would fill a bill to repeal the 2016 law Rep. Marino shepherded through Congress at the behest of deep-pocketed drug companies and pharmaceutical chains.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Moves a Step Closer to Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients. The state Health Department announced last Friday that it has submitted its plans for the drug testing of food stamp recipients to the office of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Critics of the plan say it requires getting a waiver from the US Department of Agriculture, but the Walker administration disagrees. Look for a court challenge.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Announces First Ever Indictments Against Chinese Fentanyl Makers. The DOJ announced Tuesday that federal grand juries in Mississippi and North Dakota had returned indictments against two Chinese nationals and their US-based traffickers and distributors for separate conspiracies to peddle large quantities of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other opioids in the United States. These are the first indictments returned against Chinese nationals for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl destined for the US.

Florida Man Wins Cash Settlement After Police Field Drug Test Mistook Sugar for Meth. In 2015, police arrested Daniel Rushing for meth possession after they mistook glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut for methamphetamine. Rushing was held in jail for 10 hours before bonding out. The charges were dropped when subsequent tests showed the substance was indeed glazed sugar. Last week, the city of Orlando agreed to pay him $37,500 to settle his wrongful arrest lawsuit.

Sentencing

In Midst of National Anthem Controversy, NFL Endorses Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. In a letter sent Monday to leading senators, the National Football League offered "full support" for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 1917). "Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all," the league noted, obliquely addressing the controversy surrounding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the criminal justice system, while at the same time supporting progressive sentencing reform.

California Governor Signs Major Drug Sentencing Reform. Last Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 180, authored by State Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach). With his signature, Brown repealed a three-year sentence enhancement that added additional years to a sentence for prior drug convictions, such as drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. SB 180, the RISE (Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) Act, was part of Mitchell and Lara's Equity and Justice Package, bills intended to address racially biased sentencing.

Massachusetts Takes Aim at Mandatory Minimums. State Senate leaders are rallying around a sentencing reform bill that would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug offenses, lower probation fees, and up the threshold for felony larceny. Supporters of the proposal from Sen. William Brownberger (D-Belmont) rallied last Thursday to champion the bill, which the Senate should be taking up in the next few weeks.

Chronicle AM: Alaska Towns Reject Marijuana Bans, DEA Names Acting Head, More...(10/4/17)

The DEA names an in-house acting administrator, the Massachusetts high court takes up the question of whether judges can order addicts to remain drug-free, Canada advances on looming marijuana legalization, and more.

Voters in Fairbanks and other Alaska towns rejected bans on commercial marijuana operations Tuesday. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Towns Reject Marijuana Bans. Voters in Fairbanks and several towns on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage rejected bans on commercial marijuana growing operations in local votes on Tuesday. The state legalized marijuana in 2014.

California Governor Signs Bill Making Smoking Pot While Motoring a $70 Ticket. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday signed into law a bill barring the use of marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding in a motor vehicle. The maximum penalty is a $70 fine. But drivers who operate while impaired could still be nailed for that.

Hemp

Farm Bureau Endorses Federal Hemp Bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation has formally endorsed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, House Resolution 3530, which would exclude industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act definition of marijuana.

Law Enforcement

DEA Veteran Named Acting Administrator. The Justice Department has named veteran DEA official Robert Patterson as acting administrator of the agency. He has been DEA's principal deputy administrator since last November, where he oversaw all of the agency's enforcement, intelligence, administrative, and regulatory activities worldwide. He is the highest ranking career special agent at DEA.

Massachusetts Court Ponders Whether Courts Can Require Addicts to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Monday on whether judges can require people under their supervision who suffer from substance use disorder to remain drug-free. The case involves a woman who was sent to jail for failing a drug test while on probation for a larceny charge, but has large implications for how judges in the state deal with drug-using defendants. A decision in the case is expected around year's end.

International

Canadian Prime Minister Proposes 10% Marijuana Excise Tax. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proposes an excise tax on retail marijuana sales of $1 for sales of up to $10, and 10% on sales over that amount. Provinces and territories would receive half the revenues under the proposal he made Tuesday, but some provinces argue that isn't enough. Trudeau responded that the details are still open to negotiation.

Alberta Proposes Minimum Age of 18 for Pot Use. The Alberta provincial government's draft plan for marijuana legalization sets the minimum age at 18. The province says it hasn't yet decided on whether to have government-run or private sales. The draft proposal also includes provisions for use in public areas where smoking is allowed and sets a public possession limit of 30 grams.

Chronicle AM: Quebec To Have Gov't Pot Shops; Seattle, WA State Sue Pharma Cos, More... (9/29/17)

Nevada sets legal marijuana sales records, Quebec will go with government marijuana shops, Seattle and the state of Washington file lawsuits over the opioid crisis, and more.

If you want to buy legal marijuana in Quebec, a government employee will sell you it. (Sandra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legal Sales Begin at Blistering Pace. Pot shops sold $27.1 million worth of products during July, the first month of legal sales in the state. That's nearly double what Colorado and Washington did in their first month of sales and nearly seven times what Washington did. And the state collected a cool $10.2 million in industry fees and taxes.

Rhode Island Appoints Members of Legalization Commission. The state has announced the naming of 19 members to the special legislative commission charged with studying the effects of potential marijuana legalization. The commission is the result of a bill passed by the legislature after legalization efforts fell short earlier this year. It will conduct a comprehensive review, study social and fiscal impacts, and make recommendations regarding pot policy.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmaker Mobilizes Supporters to Broaden State's Law. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) is calling on families and advocates to contact their legislators ahead of the upcoming legislative session to lay the groundwork for expanding the state's CBD medical marijuana law to allow limited cultivation and manufacturing in the state. The state legalized the use of CBD cannabis oil in 2013, but there is no legal way to obtain it. Peake wants to let one or two growers and manufacturers operate in the state. They would be limited to creating CBD cannabis oil.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Seattle, State of Washington Sue Opioid Manufacturers. The city and the state announced Thursday that they have filed two lawsuits against major drug companies they say fueled the opioid crisis by downplaying the risk of addiction with popular opioid pain pills. The city is suing Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, among several others. The state named only Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, as a defendant. The state has seen a 60% increase in opioid-related hospitalizations between 2009 and 2014 and about 10,000 opioid overdose deaths since 2000.

International

Quebec Premier Sets Legal Pot Age at 18, Orders State Monopoly on Sales. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard decided Thursday that the legal age for marijuana consumption in the province would be 18 and that the distribution and sale of marijuana will be under the control of the state. The province will create a crown corporation relying on the expertise of its alcohol regulators, the Société des alcools, to set up and run the system. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, has also opted for government monopoly pot shops, much to the dismay of entrepreneurs and some consumers.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Harm Reduction

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

International

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

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

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

Debunking a Republican Myth About Medicaid and Opioids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Medicaid is actually increasing treatment for opioid addiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: BC Calls for Radical Opioid Response, 2nd MI MJ Init, More... (8/17/17)

BC health officials present some revolutionary recommendations for dealing with the opioid crisis, Alaska officials defend marijuana legalization, a second Michigan legalization initiative is okayed for signature gathering, and more.

British Columbia health officials say users should be provided drugs to take home, be able to grow opium poppies. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Officials Defend Legalization in Letters to Sessions. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth have sent two letters to Attorney General Sessions defending their state's marijuana law and the wishes of state voters. Their letters are a response to a letter Sessions sent to governors of legalization states in July. "Marijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead," they said in the first letter, dated August 1. "We ask that the DOJ maintain its existing marijuana policies because the State relied on those assurances in shaping our regulatory framework, and because existing policies appropriately focus federal efforts on federal interests," they said in the second letter, dated August 14.

Second Michigan Legalization Initiative Gets Okay for Signature Gathering. The state Board of Canvassers on Thursday approved a second marijuana legalization initiative for signature gathering. The initiative, from a group called Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, would end "all prohibitions on the use of cannabis in any form by any person" and specify that no taxes could be imposed. Another group, MI Legalize, is already halfway through the signature gathering phase for its initiative, which envisions legalization, taxation, and regulation.

Los Angeles Gets a Cannabis Czar. The city council voted on Wednesday to approve Cat Packer as executive director of the city's newly fashioned Department of Cannabis Regulation. Packer is a former Drug Policy Alliance state policy coordinator for California. She was also a campaign coordinator for Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, part of the Prop 64 campaign. She will be charged with rolling out regulations for legal marijuana in the city.

Harm Reduction

Washington King County Initiative to Ban Safe Injection Sites Likely Won't Make Ballot. A measure to ban safe injection sites in Seattle's suburban King County is unlikely to be on the November ballot. Petition organizers handed in sufficient signatures on time, but it took two weeks for the petitions to get from the King County Council clerk to King County Elections, so the initiative has missed an August 1 deadline to be certified for the ballot. It could go on the ballot in a February special election, but initiative sponsors say they fear it will be too late to prevent safe injection sites by then.

International

British Columbia Health Authorities Call for Revolutionary Approach to Opioid Crisis. The BC Center for Disease Control has issued a set of recommendations for dealing with opioid use and overdoses that includes providing users with drugs they can take home with them and allowing people to grow their own opium. The current approach to addiction is backwards, BCCDC Executive Medical Director Mark Tyndall told the Globe and News: "We strongly advise people to stop using street drugs, and if they can't do that, then we offer them… Suboxone or methadone, and if that doesn't work, we basically tell them to go and find their own drugs even though there is a very real possibility of dying," he said. "What we should be doing -- especially in an environment of a poisoned drug supply -- is to start with access to uncontaminated drugs so at least people don't die, then move on to substitution therapy and eventually recovery."

Chronicle AM: Trump Says He Will Declare National Emergency on Opioids, More... (8/10/17)

The president says he will formally declare a national emergency on the opioid crisis, Latino legislators embrace marijuana legalization, Utah medical marijuana supporters can begin signature-gathering for their initiative, and more.

The president will declare a national emergency on the opioid crisis, he said Thursday. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Latino State Legislators Call for Marijuana Legalization. The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators adopted a resolution Wednesday calling for marijuana legalization. The group, which represents Latino legislators across the country, cited legalization's impact on reducing the black market and providing tax revenues, as well as the racist origins of marijuana prohibition.

Texas Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Gets Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 334, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill was introduced last month by committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) for the legislature's special session. The bill would decriminalize someone's first three pot possession offenses, but prosecutors could charge a misdemeanor for a fourth offense. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

New York Proposes Regs to Expand State's Medical Marijuana Program. The state Health Department has released new proposed regulations that would ease access to the program. Among the proposals are reducing security requirements for registered groups, shortening the length of the course doctors must take to be able to recommend medical marijuana, and allowing two more types of marijuana products to be sold.

Utah Initiative Backers Get Okay to Begin Signature Gathering. The Utah Patients Coalition has received permission from state officials to begin signature gathering for their medical marijuana initiative. The group will need 113,000 valid voter signatures before April 15, 2018.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Says He Will Declare National Emergency on Opioids. President Trump said on Thursday that the opioid epidemic is a national emergency and that he will act to officially declare it so. "The opioid crisis is an emergency and I'm saying officially right now it is an emergency," Trump said in remarks reported by Reuters. "We're going to draw it up and we're going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had." Trump's announcement comes a week after a White House commission on the opioid crisis urged him to declare a national emergency. The move could free up more resources to fight the overdose epidemic and give the government more flexibility to deal with the crisis.

Asset Forfeiture

Pair of Congressmen Urge Sessions to Reconsider on Asset Forfeiture. US Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) have sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions objecting to his plan to expand the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture program. "I am deeply disappointed by the Justice Department's recent move to reverse its ban on adoptive seizures," said Conyers in a statement. "The prior policy, which was instituted in January of 2015, greatly curtailed this practice, which provides financial incentives for law enforcement to seize the property -- including the homes -- of individuals who may not even be guilty of a crime. I call on Senator Sessions to withdraw the new policy, which is contrary to the growing bipartisan effort to reform our civil forfeiture laws and practices. Indeed, the time has come for Congress to enact the DUE PROCESS Act, a bipartisan bill to significantly alter these laws and increase protections for innocent property owners."

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