Under-treatment of Pain

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Chronicle AM: No More Portland Pot Cases, Senior Drug Testing Racket, Vets' MedMj Problems, More (11/11/14)

The fallout from last week's legalization votes begins, California veterans are reporting medical marijuana problems with the VA, doctors are billing Medicare for largely needless senior drug testing, and more. Let's get to it:

Sante Cannabis, Montreal's first doctor-on-site medical marijuana clinic, opened today.
Marijuana Policy

No More Pot Prosecutions in Portland. That didn't take long. Less than a week after Oregon voters approved the Measure 91 legalization initiative, prosecutors in Multnomah County (Portland) announced Monday that they will dismiss all pending violation-level marijuana possession cases and won't bother to prosecute any future ones. "Because it is clear that a significant majority of voters in Multnomah County support the legalization of marijuana in certain amounts, this office will dismiss the pending charges related to conduct which will otherwise become legal July 1, 2015," said a statement from Multnomah County DA Rode Underhill. "Any remaining charges not impacted by Ballot Measure 91 will be prosecuted." Prosecutors in other Oregon counties are still figuring out how to respond.

Alaska Legislator Getting to Work on Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations. That didn't take long, either. Less than a week after Alaska voters approved the Measure 2 legalization initiative, Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) said Monday he plans to file legislation in January that would restrict pot shops within a certain distance of schools and public parks, limit advertising, and bar people with felonies from working in the industry. Lynn said he expects his proposals to attract plenty of discussion among lawmakers.

Opposition Coalition Forms in Vermont. A coalition to oppose marijuana legalization in the Green Mountain State has announced itself. SMART VT calls itself a "grassroots coalition" of "concerned Vermonters" and is now calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) to not take up legalization this legislative session. Too late, though: A public hearing on legalization is set for Wednesday. Click the last link for hearing details.

Medical Marijuana

US Veterans Denied Pain Medications Over Medical Marijuana Use. California NORML is reporting that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from CANORML and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Happy Veterans Day!

Drug Testing

Pain Docs Getting Rich Doing Useless Drug Tests on Seniors, Taxpayers Pick Up the Tab. In an expensive side-effect of the "war" on pain pill addiction, pain specialists are now ordering costly testing of seniors for recreational drug use, and Medicare is stuck footing the bill. The doctors are also responding to a Medicare crackdown on abusive billing for simple urine drug screens by moving to high-tech testing methods for which billing is not limited. Now, doctors are testing for a number of different drugs -- including illegal ones rarely used by seniors, such as cocaine, ecstasy, and PCP -- and raking in the tax dollars. Medicare spending on drug testing has increased an incredible 1,423% since 2007 to $445 million in 2012. That included $14 million for testing seniors for PCP, for which one lab director with 25 years in the business told The Wall Street Journal she had never seen a positive test result in people over 65. The comprehensive article is worth the read; click on the link to get it.

International

Montreal Gets First Medical Marijuana Clinic. Montreal's first medical marijuana clinic is opening today. Sante Cannabis does not sell medical marijuana, but its doctors and staff guide patients on how to use marijuana, proper strains to use, and determine whether to smoke, vape, or use edibles. The city has had dispensaries or "compassion centers" for years, but Sante Cannabis is the first medical marijuana business to have doctors on staff.

British Lib Dem Leader, Former Colombian President Team Up to Fight for Drug Reform. Liberal Democratic party leader and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to work together to help forge an alliance between European and Latin American countries aiming to reform global drug prohibition. They are taking aim at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs set for 2016.

Chronicle AM: UMass Snitch Policy Review, Baby Bou Bou SWAT Grand Jury, More (9/30/2014)

Medical marijuana news from several states today, the Baby Bou Bou SWAT raid case is before a grand jury, UMass examines its student snitch policy, DA candidates in Houston are fighting over drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Group Wants Legalization Initiative. A group of activists filed a petition Monday with the secretary of state's office seeking a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. This is the first step in putting a measure before the voters. The group is called Mississippi for Cannabis. We're not sure if these are the same folks, but there is a Legalize Marijuana in Mississippi Facebook page.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Hearing Patient's Wrongful Firing Lawsuit Today. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for the Dish Network until he was fired four years ago for testing positive for marijuana. Dish Network argues that even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law, and the firing was thus justified.

New York US Senators Ask Feds to Approve State's Request to Transport Medical Marijuana Across State Lines. US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) request for the Justice Department to allow the state to import high-CBD cannabis oil from out of state. "As members of Congress whose constituents suffer from these illnesses, we feel that the federal government ought to do what it can to help these children," the senators wrote. "Therefore, we are requesting that you provide the state of New York with a waiver that would prohibit federal prosecution for the importation of cannabidol in the rare cases where medical marijuana is imported between two states with legalized medical marijuana, and the amount is small, finite and prescription-based."

Second Annual Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Festival This Weekend. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition is hosting the festival to celebrate the eighth year of the state's medical marijuana program. Click on the link for more details.

Wisconsin Activists Target Recalcitrant Legislators With Billboards. Sick and tired of seeing bills blocked in the state legislature, medical marijuana activists are targeting two key opponents, Republican state Sens. Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, in a newly unveiled billboard campaign. The billboards urge readers to call the two senators and ask them why Wisconsin patients have no access to medical marijuana.

Drug Policy

Harris County, Texas, (Houston) DA Race All About Drugs. A debate over the weekend between Republican incumbent Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Democratic challenger Kim Ogg was all about drugs. The candidates both suggested that they would allow some low-level marijuana possession offenders to avoid permanent criminal records, although Ogg would go further than Anderson. They also tussled over whether or not to press felony charges for trace amounts of cocaine or crack pipes, with Anderson taking the harder line. Click on the link for more flavor.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors' Group Issues Pain Reliever Guidelines, Says Not Appropriate for Many Cases. The American Academy of Neurology has released a new position paper, Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, that says the risks of opioid pain relievers outweigh their benefits in treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. "Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction," the group concludes. The position paper calls for increased screening, monitoring, and drug testing of opioid-using pain patients, but has little to say about actually treating chronic pain.

Law Enforcement

UMass to Review Whether to Allow Students to Act as Drug Snitches. In the wake of the heroin overdose death of a student who had been arrested by campus police on drug charges, but who was allowed to become an informant for police, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said Monday it would review the program that allows police to recruit students as snitches. Questions have been raised about whether the program gets students appropriate treatment for drug problems and whether the students' parents are notified of violations, as they are with alcohol violations.

Georgia Grand Jury Hearing Evidence on "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid. A Habersham County grand jury Monday began reviewing evidence in the case of "Baby Bou Bou," the toddler who was seriously injured when a SWAT team member on a drug raid threw a flash bang grenade into his play pen. The SWAT team found neither drugs nor the individual they were seeking. The grand jury will review the evidence surrounding the drug raid and determine if criminal charges should be filed against authorities who executed it.

International

Eleven Killed in Mexico Cartel Clashes in Chihuahua. Mexican prosecutors said clashes last Friday between Sinaloa and Juarez cartel members in the town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, in the Tarahumara mountain range, left 11 people dead. No Mexican security forces were involved, they said. The isolated region, home to the Tarahumara Indians, has been the scene of repeated clashes between rival drug gangs.

Canadian Drug Reformers Rally in Ottawa. Drug reformers, health lobbyists, and the Liberal Party's health critic, Hedy Fry, gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday to advocate for more enlightened drug policies. Current policies unfairly criminalize drug users and don't effectively treat addiction, they said. Click on the link for more detail.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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: MPP Files for 2016 in CA, Addiction Group Calls for FDA Head's Head, More (9/24/14)

MPP begins laying the groundwork for a 2016 legalization initiative in California, a new report examines the impact of pot law reforms, Pennsylvania Senate votes on medical marijuana today, anti-addiction activists target the FDA, and more. Let's get to it:

Chart from the CJCJ's report on the impact of marijuana law reforms.
Marijuana Policy

MPP Files Campaign Committee for 2016 California Initiative. And so it begins. The Marijuana Policy Project today filed with the California secretary of state to create a campaign committee to support a 2016 marijuana legalization ballot initiative. The group says the committee will be part of a broad coalition working to legalize marijuana in the nation's most populous state. That coalition will be working on an initiative draft in the coming months.

CJCJ Report Examines Impact of Marijuana Law Reforms, Supports Legalization Over Decriminalization. In a report released today, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the impact of pot law reforms in states that have either decriminalized or legalized the herb and calls legalization the best policy choice. The report is Reforming Marijuana Laws: Which Approach Best Reduces the Harms of Criminalization? A Five-State Analysis.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Headed for Senate Vote Today. The bill, which was amended yesterday in the Appropriations Committee to ban the use of vaporizers and to greatly narrow the list of allowed conditions for using medical marijuana, is set for a Senate floor vote today.

Heroin and Opiates

Pennsylvania Report Says Heroin Cheaper Than Beer. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania (an agency of the state legislature) has issued a report on opiate addiction in the Keystone State that finds that heroin is cheaper than beer and is sold through sophisticated retail networks. The report, Heroin: Combating this Growing Epidemic in Pennsylvania, recommends a variety of legislative actions, including passage of bills creating a statewide prescription drug database, "Good Samaritan" laws, and making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone more available.

Anti-Addiction Activists Call on FDA Head to Resign. A group calling itself FED UP: A Coalition to End the Opioid Epidemic today released a letter calling for the resignation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg because of "the FDA's continued approval of new, dangerous, high-dose opioid analgesics that are fueling high rates of addiction and overdose deaths." The group takes issue with the FDA's approval last year of the new opioid pain reliever Zohydro, but it also criticized the agency for approving new drugs that are actually designed to be harder to misuse, such as Targiniq, which combines oxycodone with naloxone. FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson defended Dr. Hamburg, saying she had to balance concerns about abuse and public safety with those about adequate access to pain medications. "Preventing prescription opioid abuse and ensuring that patients have access to appropriate treatments for pain are both top public health priorities for the FDA," Jefferson said in a statement.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Has Healthy Lead in New Poll. A poll released yesterday by the Public Policy Institute of California has the state's defelonization initiative, Proposition 47, winning with support at 62%. The initiative would turn drug possession felonies and some other low-level nonviolent offenses into misdemeanors.

International

Bermuda Activist Sues Premier Over Medical Marijuana. Attorney Alan Gordon has sued Premier Michael Dunkley as part of his campaign to ease access to medical marijuana on the island. Gordon accuses the government of creating a double standard by not arresting him for openly cultivating medical marijuana while prosecuting atheists and Rastafarians for the same offense.

Serbian Health Minister Supports Medical Marijuana. Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar has said marijuana provides "good results in medicine" and announced he will open a public debate on the issue. "The ministry would not prevent the introduction in medicine of anything that gives results for treatment, including marijuana. There are results showing that cannabis gives good results in medicine. We do not want to make decisions for one day, though. We want to meet people with all the details," he said.

Chronicle AM: WaPo Just Says No, WV Pain Clinics Using Narcs, More (9/15/14)

The Washington Post just says no to the DC marijuana initiative, the Oregon initiative sees a lively debate, the Madison, WI, police chief says legalize it, another drug war death, West Virginia pain patients are getting screened by narcs -- and paying for the privilege! -- and more. Let's get to it:

Imprisoned Vietnamese drug users working at a "rehabilitation center" in 2011 (hrw.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington Post Counsels "No" Vote on DC Initiative. The editorial board of The Washington Post came out Sunday against DC's Initiative 71 legalizing the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. The paper noted that it had supported DC's recent decriminalization, but worried about "the rush to legalize marijuana." The paper warned that marijuana is "a dangerous drug" and "a gateway to more dangerous drugs." It also warned of "negative consequences" of legalization in Colorado, citing contentious information from the anti-legalization group Project SAM.

Legalization Debated in Oregon. The Salem City Club was the site of an hour-long debate last Friday over the legalization initiative, Measure 91. US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) represented the "pro" side, while Clatsop County DA Josh Marquis represented the "con" side. Click on the title link for the flavor of the debate.

York, Maine, Initiative Still Up in Air. Will residents of York get to vote on marijuana possession legalization this year or not? The city council has rejected an initiative petition, but organizers were expected to submit a notarized version of the signatures to the town clerk, which would put the measure on the ballot. That hasn't happened yet. The Coalition for a Safer Maine only has until Friday, but the town clerk is now saying signatures may have to be re-gathered. The Coalition is considering its options. Similar initiatives are already on the ballot in Lewiston and South Portland, and Portland passes its own measure last year.

New York State Senator Says She Will Introduce Legalization Bill. Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said Sunday she will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. "I will push for taxation and regulation of marijuana," she said. "I continue to work with experts around the country and to evaluate laws and regulations being put into place now." She introduced a similar bill last session that went nowhere, but she said progress on medical marijuana and factional realignments in Albany made her hopeful. "I see more hope in a Democratic majority for… pieces of legislation that weren't going anywhere," she said.

Madison, Wisconsin, Police Chief Says Legalize It. Police Chief Mike Koval came out in favor of marijuana legalization last week, saying it should be taxed and regulated, with revenues used to provide treatment for hard drug users. The war on drugs in general and on marijuana in particular has been "an abject failure," he said. "We've done such an abysmal job using marijuana as a centerpiece of drug enforcement, that it's time to reorder and triage the necessities of what's more important now," he added.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Republican County Chairs Oppose Medical Marijuana Initiative. GOP county chairs voted last Friday to oppose Amendment 2, the state's medical marijuana constitutional amendment. They worried it would lead to widespread access to marijuana. "I do not want to see Florida turned into the pot capital of the world," said Volusia County GOP chair Tony Ledbetter, in a remark typical of Republican concerns.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin's Republican Governor Comes Out for Public Benefits Drug Testing. In a tough race for reelection, Gov. Scott Walker has come out with a proposal to drug test people seeking food stamps or unemployment benefits and he is looking for a fight with the federal government over it. The notion is politically popular, but legally and constitutionally problematic. Walker's opponent, Democrat Mary Burke, has derided Walker's plan as a campaign stunt.

Pain Treatment

West Virginia Pain Clinics Using Former Narcs to Screen Patients. People seeking medical assistance at the Hope pain clinics in Beckley, Fairmont, and Kanawha City now must undergo screening by former narcotics officers -- and pay for the privilege. The clinics are charging patients $150 to be fingerprinted, photographed, drug tested, background checked, and interviewed by the former narcs. The work is doing by a private company, but some state legislators said it should be doctors -- not police -- who are reviewing and monitoring patients.

Law Enforcement

House Judiciary Committee Hearing Thursday on DEA Oversight. The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations will meet Thursday for a hearing on DEA oversight. The only scheduled witness is DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. Click on the link for more details.

19-Year-Old City Oklahoma Woman Shot By Cops Is Year's 33rd Drug War Fatality; Boyfriend Now Charged With Murder. An Oklahoma City woman was shot and killed by police as she attempted to drive away from a drug bust and hit an officer on foot earlier this month. Karen Cifuentes, 19, becomes the 33rd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. Cifuentes was apparently the girlfriend of passenger Juan Manuel Aguilera Perez, 24, who reportedly threw a bag of cocaine from the car as the pair fled. Perez is now charged with first degree murder, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and possession of drug proceeds ($400 in cash). Because Perez's was allegedly in the midst of the commission of a felony -- drug sales -- when police shot Cifuentes, under Oklahoma law he can -- and has been -- charged with murder in her death.

International

Parliamentary Citizen's Initiative for Marijuana Legalization Now Third Most Successful in Austrian History. A parliamentary citizen initiative asking for marijuana legalization has now been signed by 22,392 Austrians, making it the third most successful such petition in the country's history. "This huge success motivates us to organize a parliamentary hearing in order to reduce information deficits as most Austrian politicians still reject any legalization moves," said Bernhard Amann, chairman of Legalize!Österreich.

Hundreds of Vietnamese Drug Users Flee Compulsory "Rehabilitation Center." At least 400 inmates at a compulsory drug treatment "rehabilitation center" escaped on Sunday after breaking down the gates of the center near Hai Phong City. Drug users in Vietnam are regularly arrested and sent to compulsory treatment programs, a practice that has been denounced by human rights groups. A local official was quoted as saying that the men had escaped to pressure authorities for "better policy." They can be held for up to three years in the treatment centers, which Human Rights Watch has called "little more than forced labor camps."

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

World Leaders Call for Regulatory Alternatives to Drug Prohibition [FEATURE]

In a report released last night and in a New York City press conference this morning, a number of global leaders, including former heads of state, called for drug decriminalization and the regulation of psychoactive drug markets. Those same global leaders are meeting this afternoon with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson.

These world leaders are members of the Global Commission on Drugs and their new report is Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. The commission's members include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson, and more.

The report's executive summary lists a number of policy prescriptions, some of them quite breathtakingly bold:

  • Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
  • Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime.
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs.
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession -- and stop imposing "compulsory treatment" on people whose only offense is drug use or possession.
  • Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances.
  • Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain.

In other words, decriminalize drug possession, legalize and regulate drug markets, and end the failed decades-long embrace of prohibitionism. This is a policy advance from the Commission's initial 2011 report, which, while breaking new ground in advancing the debate of drug prohibition, did not go as far as calling for efforts to regulate and legalize drugs.

Global Commission meeting in Warsaw last year, with four former presidents present. (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
"Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation," said Cardoso. "Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue -- rather than as a crime -- and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let's also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking."

"Health-based approaches to drug policy routinely prove much less expensive and more effective than criminalization and incarceration," said former Mexican President Zedillo. "Decriminalization of drug consumption is certainly crucial but not sufficient. Significant legal and institutional reforms, both at the national and international levels, are needed to allow governments and societies to put in place policies to regulate the supply of drugs with rigorous medical criteria, if the engines of organized crime profiting from drug traffic are to be truly dismantled."

The Commission's report today is only the latest evidence of growing global momentum for fundamental drug policy reforms. After the Commission's 2011 report, sitting Latin American heads of state, including Presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay, as well as then-President Felipe Calderón in Mexico, for the first time made drug reform a major topic at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia.

That was followed 13 months later by an Organization of American States report, commissioned by the heads of state of the region, calling for consideration of drug legalization along with other possible scenarios as a potential policy alternative. And late last year, Uruguay broke new ground, becoming the first country in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana commerce.

All of this has created a big push for a new look at global drug prohibition during the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs set for 2016. The last UNGASS, in 1998, was dominated by rhetorical calls for a "drug-free world" and ended with unrealistic goals of suppressing illicit drug production (which, of course, have not been met), but the Commission and the global political leaders whose voices it echoes are working to use the next UNGASS to advance a frankly and radically reformist alternative.

Celebrity Commission member Richard Branson (Wikimedia/David Shankbone)
"We can't go on pretending the war on drugs is working," said Richard Branson. "We need our leaders to look at alternative, fact-based approaches. Much can be learned from successes and failures in regulating alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation."

American drug reformers liked what they were hearing.

"When the Commission released its initial report just three years ago, few expected its recommendations to be embraced anytime soon by current presidents," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's exactly what happened, with Colombian President Santos and Guatemala President Perez-Molina speaking out boldly, former Mexican President Calderon calling on the United Nations to reassess the prohibitionist approach to drugs, and Uruguayan President Mujica approving the first national law to legally regulate cannabis. Meanwhile, one Commission member, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has opened up the drug policy debate in West Africa, recruiting some of the region's most distinguished figures," he noted.

"The import of the Commission's report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations," Nadelmann continued. "The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There's no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle. I'm grateful to the Commission for the pivotal role it has played in taking drug policy reform from the fringes of international politics to the mainstream."

"With polling having shown consistent majority voter support for legalizing marijuana in the US for several years now, it's been clear that this is a mainstream issue in this country," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "Now this group of world leaders has not only put marijuana legalization on the table for serious consideration on the global stage, but has gone even further by suggesting that ending the prohibition of other drugs should be considered as a way to better protect public health and safety. The hope now is that these forward-thinking recommendations by so many respected former heads of state will encourage current officials to modernize their nations' policies."

The Global Commission on Drugs is showing the path forward to more enlightened drug policies. Now it's up to citizens to push for reform from the bottom up, and it's up to national and international leaders to start making those changes at the national and international level.

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Dems Just Say Yes, DEA Tightens Screws on Vicodin, CT's First Dispensary Opens, Peru Coca Eradication, Venezuela Plane Shootdowns (8/21/14)

Oregon Dems just say yes, Connecticut's first dispensary opens, the DEA tightens the screws on Vicodin, guess who's more likely to get busted for pot in Ferguson, Missouri, and more. Let's get to it:

coca plants (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Democratic Party Endorses Legalization Initiative. Oregon's Democratic Party has endorsed Measure 91, the New Approach Oregon marijuana legalization initiative. "A majority of Americans and large majority of Democrats now support state regulation of legal marijuana use," the party said. "Measure 91 is the right approach to legalization in Oregon, strictly regulating use while funding law enforcement and schools. Vote Yes on 91."

No Decriminalization Vote in Toledo in November. Even though Northwest Ohio NORML turned in sufficient signatures to qualify a decriminalization initiative for the local ballot earlier this month, voters will not have a chance to get their say in November because the city council failed to act by today. The council doesn't have another meeting set until last week. It's unclear if the initiative is now dead, or if it will go on the ballot at a later date.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Gets First Medical Marijuana Dispensary. The first dispensary in the state opened Wednesday night in South Windsor. Prime Wellness of Connecticut is the first of six dispensaries approved for licenses by the Department of Consumer Protection. The rest will be opening in coming weeks or months.

Prescription Opiates

DEA Tightens Rules on Popular Pain Relievers. It is about to get more difficult to obtain popular pain medications based on hydrocodone, including widely prescribed drugs such as Vicodin. The DEA announced today that it is moving hydrocodone combination drugs from Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to Schedule II. Drugs containing only hydrocodone were already placed on Schedule II, but drug combinations containing hydrocodone plus other substances, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, have been Schedule III since the CSA was passed in 1970.The DEA will publish the final rule establishing the change in the Federal Register tomorrow. It will go into effect in 45 days.

Law Enforcement

Blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, More Than Three Times More Likely Than Whites to Be Arrested for Marijuana Possession. In its podcast this week, Missouri drug reform group Show-Me Cannabis points to the drug war connection in the tensions between police and residents in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, plagued by more than 10 days of unrest since the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Show-Me's John Payne points out that black residents of Ferguson are 3.25 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Click on the title link to listen to the podcast.

International

West Africa Drugs Commission Head Says Region Must Step Up, Deal With Political Weakness. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who also heads the West Africa Commission on Drugs, said countries in the region must confront their political and institutional weaknesses if they are to get a handle on the drug trade. "West Africa is no longer only a transit zone of drugs but an attractive destination where pushers take advantage of the weak political system to perpetuate their trade," he said during a meeting with Ghana's President John Mahama."We believe that we should confront openly the political and governance weaknesses which the traffickers exploit," Obasanjo said. "Drug barons can buy, they can do, and they can undo -- buy officials in the military, security and pervert justice." The commission has called on West Africa to decriminalize drug use and treat the issue as a public health problem.

Peru Aims to Eradicate 75,000 Acres of Coca Plants This Year. Peru's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, says it has already eradicated 30,000 acres of coca plants this year and plans to eradicate another 45,000 acres by years' end. The eradication is being done manually and in tandem with $90 million crop substitution program. About 125,000 acres are under cultivation for coca. Peru is arguably the world's largest coca producer (vying with Colombia), and 90% of the crop is estimated to be destined for the illicit cocaine trade.

Venezuela Has Shot Down at Least Three Suspected Drug Planes in Last Year. At least three planes flying out of Mexico and suspected of carrying drugs have been shot down over Venezuela since last November. This Vice News report goes into detail on the search for one of the missing pilots.

DEA Tightens Rules on Popular Pain Relievers

It is about to get more difficult to obtain popular pain medications based on hydrocodone, including widely prescribed drugs such as Vicodin. The DEA announced today that it is moving hydrocodone combination drugs from Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to Schedule II.

Drugs containing only hydrocodone were already placed on Schedule II, but drug combinations containing hydrocodone plus other substances, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, have been Schedule III since the CSA was passed in 1970.

The DEA will publish the final rule establishing the change in the Federal Register tomorrow. It will go into effect in 45 days.

This is the end result of a rescheduling request first submitted in 1999, and another indication of retreat from the looser prescribing of opiate pain medications that began about 15 years ago. It comes as prescription overdose deaths and rising levels of heroin addiction are sparking public and official concern.

"Almost seven million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents," said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart. "Today's action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available."

Moving these hydrocodone combination products to Schedule II will significantly tighten access to them. Patients will not be able to get refills on the same prescription, but will have to go back to the doctor's office to get another one. Doctors will no longer be able to call in prescriptions. And pharmacies will have to store the drugs in secured vaults.

"This is substantial," said Dr. Nathaniel Katz, assistant professor of anesthesia at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. "It's a sign of a shift toward more cautious opioid prescribing. This will be an inconvenience to some, but policy is a machete not a scalpel and you have to figure out where to use it. I think people will be more helped than harmed," he told the New York Times.

But Dr. John Mendelson, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, and an addiction specialist, told the Times he thought the change would lead to an increase in prescriptions of other drugs such as oxycodone, and a rise in the use of heroin.

Other pain management experts have yet to offer opinions, but there is likely to be criticism that the move will create more obstacles for chronic pain sufferers, including those who have problems making it to the doctor's office for a visit to get a prescription written. As many as 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to a 2011 study from the Institute of Medicine.

Washington, DC
United States

House Passes Pain Meds Bill

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed House Resolution 4709, the Ensuring Patient Access and Drug Enforcement Act of 2014. The measure sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) passed on a voice vote.

Attempts in recent years to tighten up access to opiate pain medications have led to insistent charges that legitimate pain patients are left to suffer needlessly. This bill attempts to both reduce the diversion of prescription medications and ensure that people with medical needs for them have access.

The bill does the former by amending the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) to clarify that when the Justice Department issues a license to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance "consistent with the public health and safety," that means the issuance of the license has a substantial relation to the CSA's purpose of preventing diversion and abuse.

It also clarifies that when the Justice Department issues a finding of "imminent danger" justifying the immediate suspension of such a license, that means a significant, current risk of death or serious bodily injury is more likely to occur without such a suspension.

The bill includes language providing some protections to licensees who face a revocation of their registrations. The Justice Department must provide specific grounds for doing so, and if it alleges a legal violation, it must cite the specific law. The Department would also have to give the registrant the opportunity to present a corrective plan of action.

When it comes to ensuring patient access to prescription pain medications, the bill calls for the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to assess "how patient access to medications could be adversely impacted by federal and state enforcement activities" and identify "how collaboration between agencies and stakeholder can benefit patients and prevent diversion and abuse of controlled substances."

The bill specifies that such an evaluation include consultation with patient groups, as well as pharmacies, drug manufacturers, health care providers, state attorneys general, state and federal law enforcement agencies, health insurance providers, common carriers, and wholesale drug distributors.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 15, 2014

The Obama administration comes out against congressional interference with the District of Columbia's decriminalization law, Dana Rohrabacher comes out as the first Republican congressman to support marijuana legalization, the Smarter Sentencing Act picks up more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the first sitting Republican congressman to endorse marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

White House Comes Out Against Congress Blocking DC Decriminalization Law. In a statement of administration policy on pending appropriations bills, the White House Monday came out "strongly" against a congressional move to bar the District from spending money to implement its new decriminalization law. "The Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District," the statement said.

DC City Council Passes Emergency Resolutions Condemning Congressional Interference. The council Monday approved two emergency resolutions opposing a recent effort led by US House Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) to use congressional oversight to block the District of Columbia from spending any of its locally-raised revenues to enact marijuana reform. Read more on DC marijuana politics in a feature article here later today.

Dana Rohrabacher, First Republican Congressman to Back Marijuana Legalization. California Republican US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told the Christian Science Monitor Monday that he supports legalizing marijuana and would "probably" endorse a 2016 California legalization initiative if it qualifies for the ballot. Rohrabacher is the first sitting Republican congressman to explicitly endorse legalization. About 40 congressional Democrats have expressed support for legalization.

National Press Club Newsmakers Event Next Week Centers on Marijuana Policy. The National Press Club in downtown Washington, DC, will host a news conference next Thursday on medical and recreational marijuana legalization. The news conference will feature Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, and Dr. Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana). The event is open to all credentialed journalists and National Press Club members. Click on the link for event details.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Jay Nixon (R) yesterday signed into law a bill allowing Missourians with epilepsy that cannot be treated by conventional means to use low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Patients will have to register for the state and have a neurologist aver that conventional treatments have not worked.

Los Angeles Moves to Shut Down Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has said he will today seek a restraining order to block a Boyle Heights medical marijuana farmers' market from doing it again. The farmers' market occurred two weekends ago. It isn't clear if there are plans to do it again.

Prescription Opiates

University of Wisconsin Pain Policy Study Group Releases Two Reports. The reports are Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card (CY 2013) and Achieving Balance in State and Federal Pain Policies: A Guide to Evaluation (CY 2013). The first report contains a grade for each state and the District of Columbia, which represents the extent that state policies can support pain management and patient care. The second report explains PPSG's evaluation method and criteria as well as its "principle of balance," which says that "efforts to prevent drug diversion and abuse are essential and should avoid interfering with healthcare practice and patient care."

Law Enforcement

Oklahoma Narcs on the Lookout for Kratom. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is worried about kratom, a Southeast Asian shrub whose leaves are mildly psychoactive and who some users claim is useful as a means of breaking opiate addictions. The OBN says it is not a "major problem" yet, but that it has received worried phone calls from a half-dozen parents. Kratom is on the DEA's list of drugs to watch, but the federal agency has made no move to ban it.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Two More Cosponsors. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Donald Payne (D-NJ) are the latest to sign onto the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce some federal drug sentences by retroactively adjusting crack and powder cocaine sentences and allowing judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases. The act now has 44 cosponsors -- 30 Democrats and 14 Republicans. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate.

International

Dutch Senate Wants Justice Minister to Explain What He's Doing About Illegal Marijuana Production. The Senate has summoned Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to explain what he is doing about "the backdoor problem" -- the fact that while cannabis coffee shops can sell marijuana without legal penalty, there is no legal source for the marijuana they sell. Opstelten and Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk will appear before the Senate in September. Despite the pleas of numerous mayors, Opstelten has refused to allow experiments with regulated marijuana production.

Chronicle AM -- July 11, 2014

A St. Paul drug raid is raising questions about police tactics, the hemp industry wants to clarify something, Tennessee gets its first bust under a law criminalizing drug-using pregnant women (and its first threat of a legal challenge), Pennsylvania issues opiate prescribing guidelines, and more. Let's get to it:

One of the two dogs killed in a St. Paul SWAT team raid that scored a bong and a grinder. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Municipal Decriminalization Initiatives Halfway There on Signatures. Decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are at the halfway point in terms of signatures gathered. Two groups, Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, are leading the effort. The campaigns reported having half the 5,673 signatures needed in Santa Fe. They also need 11,203 signatures in Albuquerque; organizers say they are more than halfway there in the Duke City as well.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Names 16 to Medical Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has named the members of a state task force charged with monitoring the effectiveness of the state's new limited medical marijuana law. Included are four patients or their parents, four law enforcement entities, four substance abuse treatment providers and four health care providers. It also includes two lawmakers each from the House and Senate, as well as the commissioners of Health, Human Services and Public Safety. Click on the link for a list of members.

Hemp

Hemp Industries Association Clarifies That CBD Extracts Are Not "Hemp Oil." The trade group the Hemp Industries Association has released a statement emphasizing that cannabidiol (CBD) extracts are not "hemp oil" and warning against misbranding them as such. The CBD extracts are made from marijuana flowers for medicinal purposes, while hemp oil, produced by pressing hemp seeds, is a food item containing only tiny amounts of CBD. Click on the link to read the full statement.

Pregnancy

First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee's New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. A 26-year-old Monroe County woman has been charged with assault on her fetus for using methamphetamine shortly before she gave birth under a new law that allows prosecutors to press assault and child endangerment charges against women who use drugs. Under that law, "a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug." But neither doctors nor prosecutors have shown any harm to the woman's newborn baby.

Tennessee ACLU Seeking to Challenge New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The ACLU of Tennessee is currently seeking plaintiffs to challenge the new law criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs. The law is the first of its kind in the country. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges," said Thomas Castelli, Tennessee ACLU legal director. "By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need. ACLU-TN stands ready to challenge this law and encourages any woman concerned about the impact this law will have on her to contact us." Click on the link for more information.

Prescription Opiates

Pennsylvania Releases Guidelines for Prescribing Opiates. State officials and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have released new voluntary opiate prescribing guidelines as part of an effort to reduce overdose deaths. The guidelines are aimed at family practice doctors who are not pain treatment specialists. A University of Wisconsin pain policy specialist, James Cleary, said the guidelines were "very responsible," but raised concerns that opiates remain available for those who truly need them. Task force members responded that finding the proper balance was critical.

Law Enforcement

St. Paul SWAT Drug Raid Scores Bong, Grinder; Leaves Two Dogs Dead. A St. Paul, Minnesota, police SWAT team executing a no-knock search warrant at a family home burst through the front door without notice at 7:00am and promptly shot and killed the family's two pet pit bulls. "The first thing I heard was 'boom,'" said homeowner Larry Lee Arman. "Bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Right in front of us. I was laying right there and I really thought I was being murdered," he said "I don't want to say by who. I thought it was, like, the government." Police said they thought they were entering a dangerous environment and had a right to eliminate potential threats with lethal force, but Arman said he wasn't a dangerous drug dealer, only a pot smoker. The SWAT team's haul seems to bear him out. They seized only "clothing, a glass bong, and suspected marijuana remnants in a metal grinder."

International

New York Times Takes a Look at Barcelona's Cannabis Clubs. The New York Times has a lengthy profile of Barcelona's burgeoning cannabis social club scene. It reports that the clubs, where members may buy and consume marijuana, now have 165,000 members, and that they are creating marijuana tourism. Officials are concerned.

Barcelona Police Arrest Cannabis Club Leaders. Police in Barcelona Friday arrested the president and at least three other members of the city's cannabis club federation FEDCAC. The group said it was not told why they were arrested, but other Spanish press reports said it was on money laundering charges. The bust comes as the city tries to crack down on the burgeoning clubs, which are legal under Spanish law, but have been testing the limits.

Transnational Institute Analyzes Colombia/FARC Accord on Drugs, Finds It Lacking. In a policy briefing on the Colombian peace accords, the Transnational Institute finds that FARC guerrillas are only "part of the problem" in the "complex scenario" of Colombian drug trafficking; that it effectively excludes rural settlers, indigenous and African-descent communities; that the agreement ratifies existing prohibition-based approaches to drugs; and that it ignores the ongoing progress in adopting other drug control models. Other than that…

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