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Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is getting some attention in Congress, Arizona PTSD patients are still out of luck, Michigan dispensaries have three months to shut their doors and get licensed, and more.

National

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

Last Thursday, the House GOP leadership blocked a vote to protect medical marijuana states. House GOP leaders won't allow a vote on an amendment to a spending bill that bars the Justice Department from spending money to go after state-compliant medical marijuana programs, several lawmakers said. The Farr-Rohrabacher amendment has protected those state programs for the past four years, but House leaders said "it splits the conference too much so we're not going to have a vote on it," The Hill reported. The move came despite pleas from Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) to allow the vote.

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

Arizona

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to lift restrictions on medical marijuana for PTSD. The state Supreme Court rejected without comment an argument from the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the former state health director had illegally imposed restrictions on when doctors can recommend the drug for PTSD. The high court's decision leaves intact an earlier Court of Appeals ruling upholding the restrictions. Attorneys for the association say they may take the case to federal court on equal protection grounds.

Iowa

Last Friday, the attorney general cited fed fears to block CBD from out of state dispensaries. The attorney general's office has advised the Department of Public Health not to implement a part of the state's CBD medical marijuana law that would have licensed two dispensaries from bordering states to supply CBD to Iowa patients. "It is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government," a spokesman told the Des Moines Register, adding that the halt would remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

Michigan

On Monday, dispensaries were given three months to shut their doors. Existing unlicensed dispensaries must shut their doors by December 15, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said. 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

Last Friday, a lawsuit put the roll-out of the medical marijuana program in peril. 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 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.

Texas

Last Thursday, the sttate issued its first CBD medical marijuana license. The state has issued a license to Cansortium Texas to grow, process, and sell CBD medical marijuana products to patients. Two other companies have applications in the pipeline. The move comes two years after the legislature approved a bill allowing for CBD use for epilepsy.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: House Blocks Sessions Civil Asset Forfeiture Move, More... (9/13/17)

The House votes to defund Attorney General Sessions' newly revived Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, Maine lawmakers want a 20% sales tax on weed, Duterte allies in the Philippines vote to defund the country's human rights commission over its critique of the drug war, and more.

The attorney general isn't smiling over the House's asset forfeiture vote. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Lawmakers Want to Double Pot Sales Tax. In a draft bill released Tuesday, the legislature's marijuana legalization committee is recommending a 20% sales tax on recreational marijuana. Earlier, the committee had supported a 10% excise tax and a 10% sales tax, but now it's going all sales tax.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Refuses to Lift Restrictions on Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected without comment an argument from the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the former state health director had illegally imposed restrictions on when doctors can recommend the drug for PTSD. The high court's decision leaves intact an earlier Court of Appeals ruling upholding the restrictions. Attorneys for the association say they may take the case to federal court on equal protection grounds.

Asset Forfeiture

House Slaps Down Sessions' Move to Reinstate Equitable Sharing Program. In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency. The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA).

Foreign Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Fret Over Colombian Cocaine. The two senior senators, chair and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Affairs, expressed worries Tuesday that a peace deal between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC had led to a surge of cocaine being imported into the US. Feinstein also used the Senate hearing to express concern that the Trump administration will not adequately fund interdiction law enforcement efforts.

International

Philippine Congress Budgets Measly $20 to Fund Human Rights Commission. No, that's not a typo, and no, we didn't forget some zeroes. Lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte voted Tuesday to allocate just 1,000 pesos (USD $20) for the Commission on Human Rights, which has repeatedly criticized Duterte's bloody drug war, which has left thousands dead at the hands of police and vigilantes. The funding move was explicit retaliation for the commission's criticism of the human rights disaster. In a Facebook post responding to the move, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard said Filipinos deserved an independent organization that could hold the government accountable for its misdeeds. "Instead they are getting a 'war on drugs' which, by the president's own account, has failed to curtail addiction rates, while creating a climate of fear and insecurity, feeding impunity, and undermining the constitutional fabrics of the country," she wrote. "If the Philippines Congress is looking for public money being wasted, damaging and hurting the Philippines society, this is it."

Surprise! House Votes to Curb Sessions' Asset Forfeiture Revival

In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General and former Senator Jeff Sessions. Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency.

In response to a rising clamor over civil forfeiture reform abuses, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder had reined in the program, known as Equitable Sharing. Now, Sessions' attempt to bring it back has been blocked by a congressional coalition of progressives and the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA).

The amendment aims directly at "adoptive forfeiture," the process by which the federal government agrees to take cases brought to it by local law enforcement agencies attempting to skirt state-level restrictions, which can include an outright ban on civil asset forfeiture (seizure without a criminal conviction) or designating that seized funds are to go the general fund or other designated fund -- not the cops.

Critics of civil asset forfeiture argue that the search for lucre distorts policing priorities, creates perverse incentives, and amounts to policing for profit. Numerous states have moved to end civil asset forfeiture outright, while others have imposed various restrictions on the practice.

While Sessions claims the program is needed so that criminals "are not allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime," a whopping 87% of federal asset forfeiture cases take place in cases where there has been no criminal conviction.

The House has acted. Now, it's up to the Senate to act. If the Senate fails to pass a similar measure, the amendment could still become law if it gets adopted by the conference committee that will attempt to sort out differences between the two bills. In the meantime, Sessions has been put on notice that his gift to profit-hungry state and local cops has serious opposition.

Roger Stone Yanked as Cannabis Conference Keynoter

Long-time Republican political trickster and Donald Trump advisor Roger Stone's gig as the keynote speaker at Los Angeles and Boston marijuana expos has been canceled after news of his participation roiled the cannabis community.

Roger Stone is persona non grata to many in the pot industry. (Wikimedia)
The Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition (CWCBExpo) had selected the white-haired provocateur to address the two marijuana business conferences after Stone came out for legalization early this summer. But Stone's pro-legalization stance wasn't enough to protect him from charges of racism, misogyny, and being too close to Trump, who rode his own racist dog whistles to the White House.

Once the announcement of Stone's participation was made, numerous speakers and exhibitors announced a boycott of CWCBExpo led by the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance, whose members loudly withdrew from the conference.

By last Wednesday, CWCBExpo had had enough of the controversy.

"Following collaborative discussions with numerous partners, participants and interested parties who support the legalization of cannabis in an inclusive manner, Cannabis World Congress & Business Expositions, (CWCBExpo) is announcing that Roger Stone will no longer be featured as a keynote speaker at the upcoming CWCBExpo events in Los Angeles and Boston," the organizers announced in a news release.

Stone's presence would work counter to the expo's goals, they said. The conference's forums "are crucial to the growth and legalization of the cannabis industry and they supersede the distractions that have surrounded the events," the release said.

Stone, of course, wasn't taking the snub lying down. He told the LA Weekly he would sue CWCBExpo.

"Sad day for the First Amendment," Mr. Stone told the newspaper. "The expo is in breach of contract. I will be suing them for $1 million. I will not be deterred from my efforts to persuade the president to preserve access to legal medicinal marijuana consistent with his pledge to the American people."

Don't be too worried about the prankster, though: Stone already has another gig lined up. He just started a new internet and radio program on InfoWars, home of Trump supporter and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Trouble in the Philly Narc Squad, TN Cops Misused Seizure Funds, More... (9/8/17)

We're seeing progress on pot policy in gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota and Virginia, Tennessee cops get scorched for asset forfeiture spending abuses, black Philly narcs charge their bosses are racist and corrupt, and more.

"Honor, Service, Integrity"
Marijuana Policy

California Lawmakers Propose Allowing Integrated Pot Operations. An Assembly Budget Committee "clean up" bill aimed at addressing inconsistencies and confusion caused by previous efforts to regulate marijuana in the state includes a provision that would allow growers and sellers to group multiple permitted operations together. Under the bill, a dispensary could also sell for recreational use if properly licensed, a pot shop would be to run a same-site manufacturing operation, and multiple groups could be licensed to grow marijuana at the same facility.

Minnesota DFL Gubernatorial Candidates Line Up for Legalization. Five out of six Democratic Farm Labor candidates for governor have come out for marijuana legalization. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Reps. Erin Murphy, Tina Liebling and Paul Thissen, and US Rep. Tim Walz are all ready to free the weed. Among the major DFL candidates, only State Auditor Rebecca Otto isn't ready to go there.

Virginia GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Decriminalization. Virginia Republican candidate for governor Ed Gillespie has come out for the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. He said he would try to persuade the General Assembly to adjust the pot laws so that a "person arrested for simple possession of marijuana would not be charged with possession until the third instance." Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam has already called for decriminalization.

Asset Forfeiture

DOJ Report Finds Tennessee Cops Misused Asset Forfeiture Funds. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General found that state law enforcement misused funds from the department's Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program. In one case, police spent $110,000 on catering services, which is not an allowed use of the funds. The report also cited lax tracking and reporting requirements and recommended the state get on the ball. It also said the state should "remedy" that catering expense.

Law Enforcement

Black Philly Narcs Charge Supervisors With Racism, Corruption. Six black Philadelphia Police narcotics officers have filed complaints with the state Human Relations Commission charging that two white supervisors, Chief Inspector Anthony Boyle and Inspector Raymond Evers, are racist and corrupt and should be removed from their positions. The complaints included allowing a white narc to park his car adorned with a confederate flag on city property, encouraging officers to file false documents and falsify evidence, and denying black officers overtime opportunities and choice work assignments. Boyle is also accused of referring to black citizens as "scum" and referring to the deaths of blacks as "thinning the herd." The black narcs said a civil lawsuit is being considered.

(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: House GOP Leaders Block MedMJ Vote, Roger Stone Out at Pot Expos, More... (9/7/17)

It's all marijuana news today, with Delaware and Illinois lawmakers pondering legalization, the Vermont governor setting out a two-year road map to legalization, the House leadership blocking a vote on an amendment protecting medical marijuana, and more.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) pleaded with the House leadership to allow a vote, to no avail. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Task Force Meets. A legislative task force charged with studying how to implement legalization met for the first time Wednesday. Members hope to address issues including taxation, banking, and health and public safety concerns.

Illinois Marijuana Legalization Bills Get Hearing. A joint House-Senate appropriations committee heard starkly differing testimony from drug policy experts and law enforcement officials at a hearing on legalization bills Wednesday. Police and prosecutors worried about youth use, driving under the influence, and discredited gateway theories, while experts said legalization would allow a widely used substance to be regulated.

Vermont Governor Forms Marijuana Advisory Commission, Would Put Legalization Two Years Down the Road. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed an executive order Thursday creating the Governor's Marijuana Advisory Commission to study issue around marijuana legalization. Earlier this year, Scott vetoed a legalization bill that reached his desk, citing public safety concerns. Although legislators amended the bill to win his signature, legislative Republicans blocked a vote on the amended bill during a special session. Scott envisions the advisory commission coming up with a final report by December 2018, setting the state for the legislature to act in 2019, but there are signs legislators may not want to wait.

Manhattan DA Lessens Pot Penalties in Bid to Avoid Immigrant Deportations. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has issued new plea guidelines for small-time pot possession cases that would help protect immigrants from being deported for criminal offenses, no matter how minor. The prosecutor's office has a deferred adjudication program in place that drops charges if the defendant is not arrested again within 12 months, but now Vance has reduced that period to three months for a first offense and six months for a second offense. Vance's office estimates this will end criminal prosecutions for nearly 20,000 people each year.

Trump Ally and Political Dirty Trickster Roger Stone Bumped from Pot Expo Speaker Slot. Bowing to pressure from marijuana industry members infuriated by the inclusion of a man they see as a racist, misogynist, Donald Trump enabler, the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBExpo) announced Wednesday that it has rescinded the invitation for Stone to be the keynote speaker at looming expos in Los Angeles and Boston. The expo had faced a boycott of speakers and exhibitors led by the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance. Now it faces a lawsuit from an angry Stone.

Medical Marijuana

House GOP Leadership Blocks Vote to Protect Medical Marijuana States. House GOP leaders won't allow a vote on an amendment to a spending bill that bars the Justice Department from spending money to go after state-compliant medical marijuana programs, several lawmakers said Thursday. The Farr-Rohrabacher amendment has protected those state programs for the past four years, but House leaders said "it splits the conference too much so we're not going to have a vote on it," The Hill reported. The move came despite pleas from Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) to allow the vote.

Texas Issues First CBD Medical Marijuana License. The state has issued a license to Cansortium Texas to grow, process, and sell CBD medical marijuana products to patients. Two other companies have applications in the pipeline. The move comes two years after the legislature approved a bill allowing for CBD use for epilepsy.

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.

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds poking about in California and Colorado is raising hackles, Maryland's first commercial medical marijuana grows get underway, Montana's largest city bans dispensaries, and more.

California

On Wednesday, a federal request for patient data was raising hackles, but getting nowhere. An official with the National Marijuana Initiative, a project of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, last month asked state officials for data on the age, gender, and stated affliction -- but not the name -- of every state resident who received a medical marijuana card between 2012 and 2016. The Initiative official said they wanted the data only to study "usage rates" among different age groups, but was nonetheless rebuffed by an employee of the state Medical Marijuana Program, who said the program only administers the ID card program and "does not have information regarding dispensaries." The program also clarified that it does not keep records of ID card application after they are issued.

Colorado

Last Thursday, a lawsuit claimed the Justice Department was using the IRS to do criminal investigations of pot businesses. The owners of a medical marijuana business in the town of Silt have filed a lawsuit challenging IRS subpoenas to the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division that seek information about how much marijuana the businesses have grown, who they sold it to, and when. The lawsuit alleges that the information is being sought for possible use in criminal investigations by the Justice Department. The IRS says it is simply trying to verify financial records.

Iowa

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

Maryland

As of Monday, licensed medical marijuana grows were underway.The first two licensed medical marijuana cultivators in the state have begun growing their first crop. Both ForwardGro and Curio Wellness report they now have plants growing. But at this point, there's only one dispensary licensed to sell it to. The state could see up to a hundred dispensaries, which have until December to show final documentation and prove they are ready to do business.

Montana

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

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, Pstate officials agreed it must reveal the names of members on a secret application-vetting panel. The state Office of Open Records concluded that the state must name the members of a panel that scored applications for medical marijuana permits. The Health Department had argued that keeping the names secret protected panel members from undue pressure or threats to their safety. But the secrecy also blocked panel members from being scrutinized for conflicts of interest.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School