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Chronicle AM: RI Governor Ready to Legalize Weed, Myanmar Opium Crop Drop, More... (1/14/19)

Rhode Island's governor is ready to hop on the pot legalization bandwagon, Vermont solons are moving to legalize pot commerce, Ohio's governor rolls out a response to the opioid crisis, and more.

Opium production is down in Myanmar, the UNODC says. But synthetics are on the rise. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is proposing marijuana legalization as part of her budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Her proposal would allow for regulated marijuana commerce but would ban home cultivation and place limits on the potency of products available for sale. The proposal would also limit the amount of THC in edibles to do more than 5 milligrams per serving. Raimondo has been slow to jump on the legalization bandwagon but said the state should now move in that direction because most of its neighbors are.

Vermont Legislators Prepare Bill to Allow Marijuana Sales. The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to introduce a bill that would legalize marijuana commerce in the state. The state legalized marijuana possession last year but did not include a system of taxed and regulated sales. This bill would tax sales at 10%, with a 1% local option tax. The state's Marijuana Advisory Commission had recommended a 26% tax and funneling much of the tax revenues into the departments of public safety and health to pay for new enforcement and prevention efforts, but Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) wants the revenues to go into the general fund. He says the bill could pass the Senate within a month, but it faces a rockier path in the House.

Kratom

Utah Bill Would Regulate—Not Ban—Kratom. State Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) has filed SB 58, the “Kratom Consumer Protection Act.” The bill would create regulations about how the substance is sold in the state and would bar the sale and distribution of adulterated kratom.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Governor Confronts Opioid Crisis. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order Monday to create RecoveryOhio, an initiative aimed at confronting the state's opioid crisis. He appointed Alisha Nelson, who oversaw drug abuse policy in the attorney general's office to work"every day with a single-minded focus of fighting the drug epidemic," according to the executive order.

International

UN Says Opium Cultivation Down in Myanmar, Cites Rise of Synthetics. Opium cultivation in Myanmar declined for the fourth year in a row last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said last Friday. UNODC said the 2018 crop was 10% smaller than the previous years. The agency also said the decline was due to a growing regional market in synthetic drugs. 

Of All People: The DEA Demolishes One of Trump's Main Claims About the Border Wall

As the president attempts to make his case for a wall on the US-Mexico border, one of his main selling points is that the wall would reduce the flow of illicit drugs into the country. Of all people, it's not our favorite agency that has rebutted the claim.

That agency is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which in its 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment released just two months ago makes clear that at best Trump is uninformed and at worst that he is lying to the American people.

The vast majority of drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico come through ports of entry. (Creative Commons)
"Remember drugs. The drugs are pouring into this country. They don't go through the ports of entry. When they do, they sometimes get caught," Trump claimed at a Rose Garden news conference last Friday.

It's not a new claim for the president; it has been a pillar of his claim that there is a "crisis" on the border. But repeating a false claim doesn't make it any less false. What is true, as the DEA reports, is that the southwest border "remains the primary entry point for heroin into the United States," but it is not being lugged across the desert via a wall-less border.

According to the DEA, "the majority of the flow is through POVs [privately owned vehicles] entering the United States at legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods. Body carriers represent a smaller percentage of heroin movement and they typically smuggle amounts ranging from three to six pounds taped to their torso, or in shoes and backpacks."

To be clear, the body carriers the DEA is talking about are people coming through ports of entry -- not across an open border. The agency reported that only "a small percentage of all heroin seized" along the border was seized between ports of entry.

It's the same thing with fentanyl. According to the DEA, which says fentanyl imports are split between China and Mexico, Mexican drug traffickers "most commonly smuggle multi-kilogram loads of fentanyl concealed in POVs before trafficking the drugs through Southwest Border ports of entry." In the San Diego sector, which saw the biggest fentanyl seizures, 74 percent off seizures were from cars at ports of entry. In the Tucson sector, which had the next highest fentanyl seizure numbers, that figure was 91 percent.

Claiming that building a border wall would reduce the flow of drugs into the country is probably not the biggest lie Trump and his allies have told about the wall, but it is patently false.

The Year in Drugs I: The Top Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2018 [FEATURE]

This is a year that just about everybody is eager to see come to an end, but when it comes to drug policy, 2018 hasn't been half-bad, at least in the US. (Check back next week for our Top International Drug Policy Stories.)

We've seen marijuana legalization spread further, we're on the verge of seeing Congress pass major sentencing reform legislation, and the ban on domestic hemp cultivation is coming to an end, among other things.

A lot went on in drug policy in 2018. Here are eight stories that helped define the year:

1. Overdose Deaths Remain Unconscionably High But Appear to Have Leveled Off

That's enough fentanyl to kill you. It killed thousands this year. (dea.gov)
The nation's fatal drug overdose crisis is far from over, but it now looks like it at least didn't get any worse this year. Driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl, overdose deaths reached a stunning 72,000 in 2017, a figure ten times the number in 1980 and double that of only a decade ago.

But preliminary reports on the 2018 overdose numbers suggest that this may be the year the crisis began to ease. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing that overdose deaths had declined for six straight months, dropping 2.8 percent from their 2017 peak. That report also found that opioid overdose deaths had declined by 2.3 percent.

With both heroin and prescription opioid deaths declining, fentanyl has emerged as the most common drug involved in overdoses, being implicated in about a quarter of all drug overdose deaths. While the apparent decline in opioid overdose deaths this year is good news, the recent increases in cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths is not. And while any break in a years-long climb in overdose deaths is certainly welcome, another 70,000 or so Americans will still have died from them this year. We have a long, long way to go.

2. Safe Injection Sites Draw Nearer, But Feds Fire Warning Shots

Safe injection sites -- also known as supervised consumption sites, among other names -- where drug users can consume their doses under medical supervision and with an opportunity to engage with social services are a proven harm reduction intervention. More than a hundred cities around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia have resorted to such facilities as a means of providing better outcomes, not only for drug users but also for the communities in which they live.

There are no legally permitted safe injection sites in the United States (although some underground ones are reportedly operating in Seattle, and there may be more in hiding), but this year saw mounting pressure and serious efforts to get them up and running in a number of American states and cities. It also saw mounting resistance from federal officials.

At the state level, California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York all saw safe injection site bills filed. Only the bill in California made it out of the legislature, but to the great frustration of reformers, it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who cited long outdated beliefs about substance use in his veto message. Still, the fact that bills are being filed shows the issue is gaining momentum.

The momentum is even stronger among a handful of major cities. Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle have all taken steps to clear the way for safe injection sites this year, although none are yet in place.

While like California's Gov. Brown, some state and local level political figures are hesitant to embrace them, a major reason none is yet in place is federal hostility. As the clamor for the facilities grows louder, so does opposition from the Trump administration. As Denver publicly pondered opening one, the local DEA and the US Attorney loudly warned they would be illegal, and the Philadelphia US Attorney did the same thing. Early in the year, the DEA in Washington issued a warning against safe injection sites, and in August, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authored an op-ed in the New York Times issuing similar dire threats.

3. A Major Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Is Set to Pass

A rare example of bipartisanship on the Hill. (Creative Commons)
The first major federal sentencing reform bill in eight years is now one vote away from passing Congress. The bill, known as the First Step Act (S.3649), is the culmination of years of work by the likes of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and includes prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. It very nearly died earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he would not bring it to a Senate floor vote, but under broad pressure, including from President Trump, McConnell relented, and the bill passed the Senate Tuesday

The sentencing reforms include retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years.

The late word is that the bill will pass the House easily, but that hasn't happened as of this writing. If and when it does, the country will have taken a significant step toward a more just and humane federal criminal justice system. The passage has also drawn major media attention as a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington today.

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

At the beginning of the year, marijuana for adult recreational use was legal in eight states, all in the West or New England and all thanks to the initiative process. As 2018 comes to a close, that number has jumped to ten, with Vermont in January becoming the first state to legalize it through the legislature and Michigan in November becoming the first Midwest state to legalize it.

The initiative process is available in only half the states, and when it comes to legalizing weed, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. A legalization initiative in conservative Nebraska went down to defeat this year, and remaining initiative states like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are among the most socially conservative and least likely to free the weed. But prospects are rosier in initiative states Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio. We are likely to see pot on the ballot in all three in 2020.

Vermont remains the sole state to legalize it legislatively, but a handful of states edged ever closer close this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted pot legalized in his first 100 days. That didn't happen, and legalization hasn't gotten through the legislature yet, but there is a small chance it could still happen this year and a very good chance it will be a done deal by early next year. Legislatures throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and Northeast grappled with the issue, laying the groundwork for next year and the year beyond, and just this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for legalization next year. The long march continues.

5. Marijuana Is Still Federally Illegal, But the Crackdown Never Came

As the year comes to end, legal weed is still here and Jeff Sessions isn't. President Trump's first attorney general was an avowed foe of marijuana (as well as drug and criminal justice reform in general), but despite rescinding the Obama-era Cole memo, which basically told federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, the much-feared crackdown on the industry never came.

Federal prosecutors, for the most part, continue to view legal marijuana businesses as a low priority, especially when faced with much more serious drug problems, such as the opioid overdose epidemic. But Sessions was also undercut by his own boss, who in April arranged a deal with Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in which he agreed to support a bill protecting states that have broken with federal pot prohibition in return for Gardner's allowing Justice department appointments to move forward.

This year saw a plethora of federal marijuana reform bills, but with Republican leadership in both houses firmly opposed, the Capitol was where marijuana reform went to die. With Democrats in control of the House next year, things promise to be different next year, although the GOP-led Senate will remain an obstacle. But with pot consistently polling in the 60s, those Republican senators may grudgingly start coming on board.

6. Marijuana Legalization is Nice, But We Need Social Justice, Too

This year saw social justice concerns around marijuana legalization move front and center in two distinct ways: demands for the expungement of marijuana arrest records for people whose offenses are no longer crimes and demands for restorative racial justice from communities that have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs.

The year started with two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, leading the way on expungement. The, in September, California became the first state to put state-level automatic expungement into effect. Delaware and Rhode Island, which have both decriminalized but not legalized pot, also passed expungement bills this year. Expungement is also a contentious issue in the ongoing battle to get legalization passed in New Jersey.

After a half-dozen years of legalization and well-heeled white guys making bank off legal weed, the call for racial justice, whether in terms of set-asides to guarantee minority participation in the industry or for funding streams aimed at restoring drug war-ravaged communities, is growing too loud to be ignored. This is an ongoing struggle now being played out not only in pot-legal states, but especially in states on the cusp of legalization. Moving forward, it's likely that every successful state legalization bill is going to have to address issues of social and racial justice. As they should.

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

The sun rises on the American domestic hemp industry. (votehemp.org)
Finally, the absolutely most ridiculous aspect of federal marijuana prohibition is dead. Recreational marijuana's country cousin, hemp can't get anyone high, but is extremely useful in a broad range of industries, from foods to textiles and beyond. Thanks to a lawsuit from hemp interests more than a decade ago, hemp could be imported for American firms to use in their products, but because the DEA refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and recreational marijuana, American farmers were forced to stand on the sidelines as their competitors in China, Canada, and other countries raked in the rewards.

But having a hemp-friendly senator from a hemp-friendly state allowed hemp legalization to move this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually fought for the hemp bill, shepherding it into the must-pass farm appropriations bill and keeping it in there through negotiations with the House. President Trump has signed the farm bill, including the hemp provision, into law.

8. Here Come the 'Shrooms

Initiative campaigns to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms began popping up in 2018. Actually, the first state-level initiative came last year in California, but this past summer it failed to qualify for the fall ballot.

Right now, there are two psilocybin initiatives in the signature-gathering phase, a municipal initiative in Denver that would decriminalize the use, possession, and cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the statewide Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would decriminalize possession of psilocybin, allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin. The Denver initiative would go before voters in May 2019, while the Oregon initiative aims at the 2020 election.

If psilocybin initiatives follow the pattern set by marijuana legalization initiatives, the first time may not be the charm. But more will follow.

What's Killing Us: The Ten Drugs Most Implicated in Overdose Deaths [FEATURE]

While there are signs that the country's drug overdose crisis may have plateaued, the number of people dying from drug overdoses continues to be unconscionably high. Shockingly, the number of overdose deaths has increased tenfold since 1980 when there were only 6,000 nationwide and nearly doubled just in the past decade to more than 72,000 last year.

The number of drug overdose deaths remains unconscionably high.
Now, in a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sheds some new light on precisely which drugs are most implicated in these deaths. While the report examines overdose deaths from 2011 to 2016, we're going to zero in on the 2016 data to get as close as possible to the present.

Three drug classes are involved: prescription and non-prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants. Often, fatal overdoses involve more than one drug, whether it is drugs in the same class (heroin and fentanyl) or combinations of drug classes (heroin and benzos or fentanyl and cocaine.

Before we get into the number-crunching, it's worth taking a moment to consider that each single overdose death is a tragedy. A human life has been lost prematurely, the potential snuffed out, and friends and family members suffer greatly. It doesn't have to be that way. While we're going to look at deadly drugs, it behooves us to remember that many of these deaths are a function not just of the drugs themselves, but of drug prohibition.

People overdose on fentanyl, for example, because in a black market there is no packaging, no quality control, no dosage information to inform them of just how powerful is that powder they're snorting or injecting. Added to heroin or crafted into counterfeit prescription opioids by unscrupulous black market operators, fentanyl kills people who didn't even know they were taking it. Even more insidiously, fentanyl is turning up in black market cocaine and methamphetamine, whose users aren't even looking for an opioid high and haven't developed any tolerance to them (although some may be speedballing, that is, taking both an upper and a downer at the same time.

That said, here are the drugs making the greatest contributions to the 63,352 overdose deaths in 2016. (The numbers add up to more than that figure because in some overdoses, more than one drug is mentioned.)

1. Fentanyl -- 18,335

In 2016, fentanyl vaulted into first place in the deadly drug sweepstakes. As recently as 2011, the synthetic opioid was in 10th place, with some 1,660 overdose deaths attributed to it, but the death toll has increased more than tenfold in just five years. More than two-thirds of fentanyl overdose deaths also involved other drugs, and fentanyl is involved in more than a quarter (28.5 percent) of all overdose deaths, including 40 percent of cocaine overdose deaths and nearly a third (32 percent) of heroin deaths.

2. Heroin -- 15,961

At the tail end of the prescription opioid phase of the current overdose crisis in 2011, more people died from oxycodone than heroin, but between 2012 and 2015, heroin resumed its role as the leading opioid linked to fatal overdoses, only to be overtaken by fentanyl in 2016. The vast majority -- 70 percent -- of people who died from heroin were also using other drugs. More than a third were also using fentanyl, while nearly a quarter (23.8 percent) were also using cocaine. As prescription opioids became more difficult to obtain, the number of people dying from heroin skyrocketed, nearly tripling in the five years ending in 2016.

3. Cocaine -- 11,316

Cocaine deaths rose dramatically beginning in 2015 and by 2016 the annual death toll was double what it had been five years earlier. With bumper crops in Colombia in recent years, cocaine is cheap and plentiful. It is also increasingly being cut with fentanyl, which is implicated in 40 percent of cocaine deaths, and mixed with heroin, which is implicated in a third of them. Cocaine is named in 17.8 percent of all overdose deaths.

4. Methamphetamine -- 6,762

Meth-related overdose deaths tripled between 2011 and 2016, a dramatic increase in what has become America's forgotten drug problem. In 2016, slightly more than one out of ten drug overdose deaths involved meth. Of the top ten overdose drugs, meth is by far the one most likely to have been the sole drug implicated in the death, but even so, fentanyl was implicated in one out five meth deaths and heroin in one out of ten.

5. Alprazolam -- 6,209You know it as Xanax. This short-acting benzodiazepine is a favorite of stimulant users seeking to take the edge off, but also often forms part of a sedative cocktail with opioids or other benzos. About three-quarters of Xanax overdose deaths involve other drugs, with fentanyl, heroin, and oxycodone each involved in about one-quarter of Xanax deaths. Xanax deaths increased by about 50 percent over the five year period.

6. Oxycodone -- 6,199

It's most infamous formulation is OxyContin, but it is also sold as Roxicodone, Xtampza ER, and Oxaydo. It may have been the primary killer opioid a decade ago, but has chugged along at around 5,000 deaths a year before going over 6,000 in 2016. Four out of five people who overdose on oxycodone were also using another drug, most often Xanax (25.3 percent), followed by fentanyl (18.6 percent).

7. Morphine -- 5,014

The granddaddy of opioids. Morphine deaths increased slowly beginning in 2011, but have still increased by about 40 percent since then. More than eight out of 10 morphine deaths involve other drugs as well, particularly fentanyl, which is involved in one out three morphine deaths. Cocaine (16.9 percent) and heroin (13.7 percent) are also frequent contributors to morphine ODs.

8. Methadone -- 3,493

Prescribed as an opioid maintenance drug, methadone is one of the few drugs on this list to have seen the number of deaths decline between 2011 and 2016. They've dropped from more than 4,500 a year down to less than 3,500, a drop of roughly a quarter. Nearly three-fourths of all methadone deaths implicate other drugs, with Xanax being most common (21.5 percent), followed by fentanyl (15.1) and heroin (13.8).

9. Hydrocodone -- 3,199

This semi-synthetic opioid is sold under a variety of brand names, including Vicodin and Norco, and has proven remarkably stable in its overdose numbers. Between 2011 and 2016, it never killed fewer than 3,000 or more than 4,000, almost always (85 percent of the time) in concert with other drugs. Xanax was implicated in one-quarter of all hydrocodone overdoses, followed by oxycodone (17.2 percent) and fentanyl (14.9 percent).

10. Diazepam -- 2,022

The most well-known diazepam is Valium. Like Xanax, this anti-anxiety drug can be used to take the edge off a stimulant binge, but it's not coke heads and speed freaks who are dying from it. In more than nine out of 10 fatal Valium overdoses, other drugs are involved, most commonly the opioids oxycodone and fentanyl, each implicated in about a quarter of the deaths, and heroin, implicated in a fifth.

Using these drugs is dangerous. Using them under a prohibition regime is even more so. Users don't always know what they're getting, and that lack of knowledge can be fatal. If you're going to be messing with these substances, be extremely cautious. Try a test dose first. And don't do it alone. Stay safe out there.

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

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Sentencing Reform Bill, NM Sued Over MedMJ Rules and Fees, More... (12/19/18)

A major sentencing reform bill takes a major step toward becoming law, a New Mexico medical marijuana producer is suing the state over rules and fees, and more.

Some federal drug prisoners will get relief under the bill passed by the Senate Tuesday. (nadcp.org)
Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Delays Dispensary License Announcement. The state Medical Marijuana Commission announced Tuesday it would delay its meeting to announce licenses for state dispensaries. The commission was originally scheduled to meet today but postponed that meeting until January 9. The state plans to allow dispensaries to operate in somewhere between 20 and 32 sites.

New Mexico Sued Over Edibles Rules. The state's largest medical marijuana producer has filed a lawsuit against the state health department over regulations governing edibles, salves, lotions, and other products infuse with marijuana. Ultra Health argues that the department doesn't have the authority to license legal marijuana manufacturers and that the fees are too high.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DC Council Votes to Approves Opioid Treatment Bill. The DC Council voted Tuesday to advance the Opioid Use Disorder Treatment & Safe Access Amendment Act of 2018, legislation that would help curb the overdose crisis in the Nation's capital. The omnibus bill includes provisions that make the temporary emergency measure that decriminalizes drug checking kits permanent, removes restrictions on syringe exchange programs, and expands access to medication-assisted treatment in the District. The bill now goes to the mayor for final approval.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Passes Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill. The Senate approved the First Step Act (S.3649) on a vote of 87-12 on Tuesday. The bill contains prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses, including retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years; and eliminating "stacking" for firearm offenses, meaning that prosecutors cannot add sentencing enhancements to individuals who may possess a firearm while committing their first federal offense. The bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to easily pass, and then to the desk of President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

Chronicle AM: Congress Passes Hemp Bill, CDC Report on Overdose Deaths, More... (12/13/18)

Congress has passed a bill to legalize hemp, the CDC issues a new report on overdose deaths, St. Vincent and the Grenadines legalizes medical marijuana, and more.

Fentanyl is now the leading drug implicated in overdose deaths, according to the CDC. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Senator Seeks to Add Marijuana Amendment to Criminal Justice Bill. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) will try to add an amendment to the pending prison and sentencing reform bill that would effectively end federal marijuana prohibition. Gardner seeks to add his STATES Act (S.3032) as the amendment. That would allow states to implement their own pot laws without fear of federal interference.

California Regulators Issue Final Version of Regulations. California marijuana regulations are now set after regulators issued their third and final version of the rules. Among the highlights: Deliveries will be allowed statewide, contract manufacturing will be allowed (licensed companies make and package products for unlicensed companies), and regulations for childproof packaging have changed to place the burden on retailers.

St. Paul City Council Backs Resolution To Legalize Recreational Marijuana. Minnesota's second largest city now officially supports marijuana legalization. The city council voted 6-1 Wednesday to support a resolution calling for it. Governor-Elect Tim Walz (DFL) is also down with the idea.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. Two state senators, Anna Wishart, and Adam Morfeld, both Democrats from Lincoln, announced Thursday that they had created a campaign committee to put a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. The committee is Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws.

Industrial Hemp

Congress Approves Industrial Hemp Legalization. Hemp, hemp, hooray! With a final vote in the House on Wednesday, the 2018 Farm Bill, complete with a provision legalizing domestic hemp production, was approved by Congress and now heads for the president's desk. The bill clears the way for American farmers to participate in what is already a billion-dollar domestic hemp industry that is currently reliant on foreign imports.

Opioids

Fentanyl Now the Most Common Drug in Fatal Overdoses, CDC Reports. Fentanyl is now the most commonly used drug involved in drug overdoses, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl was involved in more than 30,000 overdose deaths, while second place heroin was implicated in more than 27,000 deaths. There were some 63,000 overdose deaths in 2016, many of them involving multiple substances.

International

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Pass Medicinal Marijuana Bill. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has become the first Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Member State to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes and scientific research. "There is broad recognition and buy-in of the economic benefits this tightly controlled and regulated industry is expected to bring in terms of direct employment, the creation of support industries and foreign investment," said Agriculture Minister Saboto Ceaser.

Chronicle AM: Bill Barr's Drug Warrior Past, Iran Warns Sanction Could Bring "Deluge of Drugs," More... (12/10/18)

Trump's sanctions could come back to bite us, Iran warns; Trump's new attorney general pick has some solid drug warrior credentials, the WHO postpones a recommendation on marijuana scheduling, and more.

Iran interdicts more opium and heroin than any other country. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor-Elect to End Former Governor's Court Battles Over Medical Marijuana. Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is parting ways with his predecessor, Rick Scott (R), when it comes to medical marijuana. A spokesman for DeSantis said last Friday that he is unwilling to continue Scott's court battles over the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. "He is not interested in continuing that fight. I think he has a different perspective than Governor Scott," said spokeswoman Jeannette Nunez. "I think he wants the will of the voters to be implemented."

Foreign Policy

US Sanctions Could Lead to "Deluge of Drugs," Iran Warns. If US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration weaken Iran's ability to contain the opium trade from neighboring Afghanistan, the result could be a "deluge" of drugs, President Hassan Rouhani warned in a speech carried on state television last Friday. "I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran's ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected... you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum seekers, bombs and terrorism, Rouhani said. "We spend $800 million a year to fight drugs which ensures the health of nations stretching from of Eastern Europe to the American West and North Africa to West Asia. Imagine what a disaster there would be if there is a breach in the dam," Rouhani said. "We don't expect the West to pay their share, but they should know that sanctions hurt Iran's capacity to fight drugs and terrorism."

Law Enforcement

Trump's New Attorney General Pick Has Record as Drug Warrior. The president's pick to be the new attorney general, former Attorney General William Barr, may be less hostile to marijuana than Jeff Sessions, but as attorney general under George HW Bush, he pushed hard for more incarceration of drug offenders. More recently, he wrote a 2015 letter defending the criminal justice system as not in need of serious reform and defending mandatory minimum sentencing in particular, while encouraging Congress not to act on a sentencing reform bill. "It's hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one," Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. "Nominating Barr totally undermines Trump's recent endorsement of sentencing reform."

International

WHO Postpones Recommendation for Rescheduling Marijuana. Saying it needed more time to review findings, the World Health Organization (WHO) postponed making any recommendation on rescheduling marijuana. The recommendation was expected to be made at last Friday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, but that didn't happen. No new date has been provided.

Mexico's New Government Takes Aim at Cartel Finances. Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit head Santiago Nieto announced last Thursday that he had filed a complaint against three businesses and seven people linked to the Jalisco New Generation cartel. Nieto said that was only the opening salvo in the fight to stop organized crime from flourishing with impunity.

Chronicle AM: Denver to Expunge Pot Convictions, Columnist Calls for Prescription Heroin, More... (12/5/18)

 A Washington Post columnist calls for prescription heroin, the federal hemp bill will apparently ban the participation of people with drug felonies, Denver joins the movement to expunge old pot convictions, and more.

Prescription heroin--Washington Post columnist suggests it could save lives in the face of fentanyl. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Denver Becomes Latest City to Expunge Low-Level Marijuana Offenses. Mayor Michael Hancock announced Tuesday that his administration will "move to vacate low-level marijuana convictions for Denver residents." The move comes after months of preliminary work by the Office of Marijuana Policy and the City Attorney's Office. "For too long, the lives of low-income residents and those living in our communities of color have been negatively affected by low-level marijuana convictions," Hancock said in a press release. "This is an injustice that needs to be corrected, and we are going to provide a pathway to move on from an era of marijuana prohibition that has impacted the lives of thousands of people."

Industrial Hemp

Federal Bill to Legalize Hemp Bans Drug Felons from Participating. Congressional negotiators have agreed on compromise language for the hemp provision of the farm bill that would ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry. The ban was inserted into the Senate version of the bill late in the process and over the objections of drug policy reformers. It's not quite a done deal—the language could be changed in conference committee—but at this point, it looks like the ban is in.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Washington Post Columnist Calls for Prescription Heroin. In a piece published Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle has called for access to prescription heroin in a bid to prevent fentanyl-related overdose deaths. In the column titled An Incredibly Unpopular Idea That Could Stem Heroin Deaths, McArdle notes that "most people don't want addiction made safer or easier; they want it stopped, cold…but you don’t free slaves by killing them, and as long as fentanyl suffuses the illicit drug markets, that’s what a 'tough love' policy amounts to." Harm reduction measures and increased access to treatment would help, McArdle writes, but "lowering the death toll may well require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates. Prescription heroin? Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don’t like it, either — and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the U.S. illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We’ll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved."

Asset Forfeiture

Nashville Bends to Police Pressure, Extends Federal "Equitable Sharing" Program. Under pressure from local law enforcement and seeking to avoid raising taxes, the Nashville Metro Council voted 25-5 to renew its participation in the federal asset forfeiture equitable sharing program, which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to divert drug-related cash seizures to the federal government, which in turn returns 80% of the booty back to the seizing agency. 

Chronicle AM: Brazil's New Leader is Bad News on Drug Policy, CO Legalization Faces RICO Suit, More... (10/30/18)

A lawsuit using federal RICO statutes to challenge Colorado marijuana legalization got underway today, North Dakota medical marijuana patients and caregivers can now apply to the registry, Brazil's president-elect is a giant step backward on drug policy, and more.

Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro favors harshly repressive drug policies. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Challenging State's Marijuana Law Goes to Trial. A lawsuit filed by two landowners who claim that a nearby marijuana grow has reduced their property values -- in part because the smell allegedly makes horse riding less attractive -- got underway in federal court in Denver Tuesday. The case is based on federal racketeering laws, and an adverse decision could have significant disruptive effects on the state's marijuana industry. The lawsuit was filed by Safe Streets Alliance, a national anti-marijuana group.

New Jersey Lawmakers Aim for Marijuana Hearings Next Month. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3rd District) told reporters Monday he had been meeting with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District) on advancing marijuana legalization legislation, and "I think we're real close." While Sweeney did not offer any firm timelines, Scutari said he has been looking at holding a hearing on November 26.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 200 Unlicensed Michigan Dispensaries Must Close Down By Wednesday. The state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has approved 14 more dispensary licenses, but some 215 pot businesses that have not obtained licenses, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters Tuesday and must close their doors by Wednesday if they want any chance at getting a license in the future.

North Dakota Patients and Caregivers Can Now Register. The state Department of Health began accepting applications Monday for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, with registry cards to begin being mailed out in December. It costs $50 to apply. The move comes just under two years after voters there approved a medical marijuana initiative.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Governor Seeks $5 Million for Opioid Drug War. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will file legislation seeking $5 million for a pilot program for a "regional, multi-agency approach to fentanyl interdiction and crime displacement," he said Monday. He said his proposal targets drug dealers who move from town to town to evade police crackdowns. "We want to give departments the resources to coordinate with each other across their districts, essentially flooding the zone against the drug dealers who are peddling addiction and death in their communities," Baker said. "We want to go after the dealers who too often evade authorities by moving to another nearby location in a different municipality." The $5 million would be used to "supplement surveillance work and overtime costs for units," he said.

International

Brazil's Presidential Election Winner is Bad News on Drug Policy. Jair Bolsonaro, the winner of Sunday's Brazilian presidential election and known as "the Trump of Brazil" for his right-wing populist views, is bad news for drug reform in Latin America's most populous country. He favors intensifying ongoing bloody crackdowns on people involved with drugs, he has said on repeated occasions that police should kill people suspected of drug trafficking, and he has openly praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, saying "he did the right thing for his country." He opposes marijuana legalization, saying it would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers." And Bolosonaro isn't just bad on drug policy; he gets downright weird. He has also claimed, in a bizarre homophobic rant, that smoking pot makes people gay.

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

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

International

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

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