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Chronicle AM: Canada Starts to Move on Legalizing Pot, Irish Cops Support Heroin Decriminalization, More (11/16/15)

Nick Scutari tries to get the marijuana legalization ball rolling in New Jersey, a petition calling for the DEA head to be fired is going strong, Democratic candidates talk drug and crime policy at the debate, Canada moves toward pot legalization, Irish cops support heroin decrim, and more. 

Ireland's drugs minister wants to decriminalize heroin, and the cops are on board with it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legislative Hearing on Pot Legalization Today. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), who filed a marijuana legalization bill, S 1896, earlier this session, is holding a hearing on the topic today. Today's witnesses will include supporters of marijuana law reform; opponents will get a chance to opine at a later hearing. No vote is expected today. "A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first," said Scutari, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the hearing. "The first step was introducing the bill and this is the natural next step — to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative impact prohibition has had."

Medical Marijuana

Petition To Fire DEA Head Over Medical Marijuana "Joke" Comment Has 80,000 Signatures. Uh, make that 83,044 signatures as of mid-afternoon today. DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is still getting heat over his statement that medical marijuana is "a joke." It's just his latest comment suggesting the nation's top drug cop is not that well-informed in his subject area.

Florida Supreme Court Cancels Medical Marijuana Initiative Hearing. Backers of a 2016 medical marijuana initiative have just seen one obstacle removed from their path. After Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) announced she would ask the high court to block the initiative, the state Supreme Court has canceled a hearing on it set for December 8. The initiative from United for Care is already well-advanced in the signature gathering process. A similar initiative failed last year with 58% of the vote—60% was needed because it was a constitutional amendment.

Illinois Sees More Than $200,000 in Medical Marijuana Sales in First Week. Only a handful of dispensaries are open in the state, but they took in $211,000 in sales after opening last Monday. The medi-weed was selling for around $450 an ounce, or $16 a gram.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

EEOC Sues Employer Who Refused to Hire Methadone User. In its latest lawsuit against employers taking actions against prescription medication users, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is going after a company that allegedly refused to hire a woman who is prescribed methadone to deal with her heroin addiction. EEOC alleges that the company is violating the Americans With Disabilities Act because the woman is a recovering substance abuser, has a history of disability, and was "regarded" as disabled based on her methadone use. EEOC has also sued other employers over discrimination against methadone patients, as well as other prescription drug users.

Drug Policy

Democratic Candidates Talk Drug, Crime Policy in Last Saturday's Debate. Bernie Sanders reiterated his support for ending federal marijuana prohibition, while Martin O'Malley and Hillary Clinton joined Sanders in calling for criminal justice reforms and addressing racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. Click on the link for more details.


Canada's Prime Minister Begins the Process of Legalizing Marijuana. Freshly-elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to begin the process of legalizing and regulating marijuana. Trudeau told Wilson-Raybould he expected her to "deliver on your top priorities," which includes "Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana."

Mexico to Consider Cutting Jail Sentences, Raising Possession Limits for Marijuana. Jumpstarted by a Supreme Court decision earlier this month allowing four Mexicans to use marijuana, the forthcoming national debate on marijuana policy will consider easing jail sentences and raising limits for personal possession of pot, Deputy Interior Minister Roberto Campa said. The national consultation is set for January through March.

Irish Police Back Decriminalizing Heroin Possession. The Garda Representative Association, which represents some 11,000 Irish police officers, is backing the government drug minister's call to decriminalize heroin possession. "I think anything that can deal with the curse of drugs and some innovating thinking on this is to be welcomed," the GRA’s general secretary, PJ Stone, said, adding that the proposal would be seen as a brave move. "We don’t even have enough cells to lock up drug users who get arrested for possessing drugs," a GRA member from Dublin added.

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

Chronicle AM: Dem Candidates on MJ Policy, IL MedMJ Sales Begin, Ecstasy Q&A, More (11/9/15)

Democratic presidential contenders stake out positions on marijuana, a South Dakota Indian tribe suspends its pot operations, Illinois medical marijuana sales began today, Maine's Tea Party governor threatens to call out the National Guard to fight heroin, and more.

ecstasy tablets, courtesy of a German police Dark Web bust
Marijuana Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Rescheduling Marijuana. In a campaign speech in South Carolina Saturday, the Democratic presidential contender called for marijuana to be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II, which would allow for federally-sponsored research on its effects. "What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana," she said in Orangeburg, "so we have got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now."

Bernie Sanders Criticizes Clinton's Half-Step on Marijuana. The Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender responded to Clinton's call for rescheduling, noting that he has filed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition: "I am glad to see Secretary Clinton is beginning to address an issue that my legislation addressed," he said, "but her approach ignored the major issue. Secretary Clinton would classify marijuana in the same category as cocaine and continue to make marijuana a federally regulated substance. If we are serious about criminal justice reform and preventing many thousands of lives from being impacted because of criminal convictions for marijuana possession, we must remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and allow states the right to go forward, if they choose, to legalize marijuana without federal legal impediments," Sanders added.

South Dakota Tribe Cuts Down Plants, Suspends Marijuana Resort Plans. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe said Saturday it has cut down its marijuana plants and is temporarily suspending its plan to open a pot resort. A lawyer for the tribe said leaders seek clarification from the federal government. The tribe is also running into harsh opposition from state elected and law enforcement officials, who are threatening to arrest people leaving the reservation under the state's unique "internal possession" marijuana law, which allows people to be convicted of having marijuana metabolites in their bodies.

New Jersey Senate to Hold Hearing on Legalization Next Week. Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D) today announced that he will hold a hearing of the committee next week on the issue of legalizing marijuana in New Jersey. The committee will hear from invited guests, including health professionals, law enforcement, clergy, civil rights organizations and policy experts. "There is no question that we need to update our archaic drug laws in this country and the majority of people support regulating, taxing and legalizing marijuana," said Senator Scutari. "This is a fact-finding hearing that we hope will help to continue to inform the committee and the Legislature as we take up this very important issue. This is a first step in the process of finally reversing our punitive marijuana laws that have caused harm to our residents and our communities." The hearing is set for next Monday at 1:00pm at the state house.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales Begin Today. The state's first dispensaries opened for business today after state regulators last week gave the go-ahead to producers to start shipping product to them. Up to eight dispensaries were expected to be open today, including several in the Chicago area. But some patients were turned away because their customer registrations with individual dispensaries had not yet been processed.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Maine Governor Threatens to Call in National Guard to Fight Heroin. In his ongoing feud with the legislature over his demand for more anti-drug agents, Gov. Paul LePage (R) has now threatened to deploy the National Guard to fight heroin in the state. LePage said there is a "dire need" for a tougher response, and "You either work with me and give me some agents, or I will call the Guard up." Legislators last session approved funding for six additional drug agents, two judges and two drugs prosecutors, but that isn't enough for LePage.

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill to Further Criminalize New Psychoactive Substances Heads for House Floor. A bill that attempts to criminalize a whole list of new psychoactive substances has passed out of committee and now awaits a House floor vote. The measure is HR 3537, sponsored by Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA).

Harm Reduction

DPA and EMA Provide Q&A on MDMA. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Electronic Music Alliance have teamed up to provide a brief, harm reduction-related Q&A on ecstasy. "In order to minimize risk and focus on harm reduction, EMA and DPA suggest providing education to drug users, creating safe environments that include cool down spaces, and access to water. Lastly, they suggest testing your drugs so you know what you are ingesting." There's more at the link.


Georgia High Court Rules That Imprisonment for Marijuana Is Unconstitutional. Late last month, Georgia's Constitutional Court declared that imprisoning people for possessing marijuana for personal use is cruel and inhuman punishment. The ruling came in the case of a man arrested for possession of 70 grams (less than three ounces), and the court noted that the law makes no distinction between possession for personal use and possession for sale. The court suggested that the legislature address the issue.

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

Chronicle AM: Thousands of Federal Drug Prisoners to Be Freed, Ohio Early Voting, More (10/6/15)

Major sentencing news today; early voting starts today in Ohio (marijuana legalization is on the ballot), a North Carolina hemp bill has gone to the governor, Colombia will still spray a nasty herbicide on coca crops, and more.

Federal prisons will be a little less crowded a month from now. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Law Criminalizing Hash Oil Explosions. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Monday vetoed Assembly Bill 849, which would have made it a crime to cause an explosion causing bodily harm. The bill was inspired by a series of butane hash oil lab explosions, but in his veto message, Brown said the conduct is already proscribed and another law on the matter "creates increasing complexity without commensurate benefit."

Early Voting Starts Today on Ohio Legalization Initiative. Ohioans can vote for or against Issue 3, the controversial ResponsibleOhio initiative beginning today. Early voters can mail in absentee ballots or visit early-voting locations across the state.

Oregon's Multnomah County (Portland) Issues Report on Legalization. The Multnomah County Health Department has issued a report saying there are drawbacks and benefits from marijuana legalization, but that more research is needed. The report recommends implementing policies to address impaired driving, teen use, and dependence; there should be warnings for pregnant and nursing women, and there should be limits on the potency of pot, as well as on contamination from pesticides and other substances.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Issues Emergency Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Health Department has just released emergency rules as the state moves to merge medical marijuana into the recreational pot regulatory system. The rules set standards for packaging "High THC compliant products," testing requirements, safe handling, employee training, and labeling. Click on the rules link for all the details.


North Carolina Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A measure legalizing industrial hemp production has been approved by the state legislature and now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory (R). The measure is Senate Bill 313. McCrory must veto it to block it; if he fails to act, it is approved.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

An Overdose an Hour in Chicago Last Week. In the middle of last week, Chicagoans were overdosing on heroin, prescription opiates, or drug combinations at a rate of more than one an hour. Authorities reported responding to 74 overdose calls in 72 hours between last Tuesday and last Friday. ER doctors are suggesting that heroin cut with the powerful opioid fentanyl is behind the outbreak.


Feds to Free 6,000 Drug Prisoners at Month's End, More to Follow. The Justice Department has announced that some 6,000 federal drug war prisoners will get early release from prison between October 30 and November 2. Most will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being freed on supervised release. This is the result of actions by the US Sentencing Commission, which cut sentences for some drug offenders last year and later made the chance retroactive, affecting currently serving inmates. An estimated 46,000 of nearly 100,000 federal drug prisoners should eventually qualify for the program.


Colombia Will Continue to Use Glyphosate, Just Won't Aerially Spray It Anymore. Colombian police will continue to use the herbicide glyphosate to eradicate coca plants, even though it won't apply it with aerial sprays, the chief of police said. The National Narcotics Council outlawed aerial spraying earlier this year, after glyphosate was found to contain massive amounts of carcinogens, but eradicators will now spray by hand, Police Chief Rodolfo Palomino said. "We will continue with other forms of manual eradication and land fumigation with glyphosate," said Palomino.

Chronicle AM: Late Uncertainty on CA Initiatives, FL Heroin Deaths at Record High, More (10/2/15)

There are signs of dissension around the ReformCA legalization initiative, Oklahoma medical marijuana supporters are searching for signatures, a federal bill to require police to report lethal force incidents is introduced, and more.

Heroin killed a record number of people in Florida last year, but more died of prescription drug overdoses. (NJ State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Last Minute Uncertainties for California's ReformCA Initiative. There are signs the unified front behind the pending ReformCA legalization initiative isn't as unified as was thought. The LA Weekly is reporting that one of its key backers, the Drug Policy Alliance, might go its own way. "We want to have a plan B option that's ready to go in case [another] initiative doesn't represent and uphold the values and principles," said Lynne Lyman, the DPA's California director. "We're most concerned about a case where it doesn't move forward." DPA, NORML, and the Marijuana Policy Project had been listed on the ReformCA website as supporters; now they're not. MPP has confirmed that it asked for its name to be removed. But Dale Gieringer, a spokesman for ReformCA, downplayed the situation. "It's not that chaotic. It will all be clear in a few days. It's about last-minute negotiation."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Signature Gathering Goes Forward. The Green the Vote medical marijuana initiative campaign was doing signature gathering in Ardmore Thursday. The group has 90 days to gather 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Florida Heroin Deaths at All-Time High. Heroin was detected in 447 fatalities last year, according to state medical examiners. That's more than double the 199 people who died with heroin in their bodies in 2013. Fentanyl was also surging; there were 538 deaths of people who had the powerful prescription opioid in their systems, nearly double the 292 from the previous year. While heroin deaths were at record levels, more than twice as many (978) people died with oxycodone in their systems. There were 8,587 fatal drug overdoses reported in Florida last year; many of them included multiple substances.

Drug Policy

New Hampshire GOP Lawmakers Want Online Drug Dealer Registry. Three GOP lawmakers have presented slightly different bills that would create an online drug dealer registry similar to sex offender registries, but advocacy groups said such a move is unfair and unnecessary. "It's a stupid, gratuitous and entirely unnecessary proposal," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. ''It reminds me of the sort of foolish rhetoric and foolish laws that flowed from back at the height of the drug war." Click on the title link for more detail.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Requiring Police to Report Use of Lethal Force Filed. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Thursday filed S. 2112, "a bill to require law enforcement agencies to report the use of lethal force, and for other purposes."

Chronicle AM: Senate Has Deal on Sentencing Reform, OR Legal Pot Sales Begin Today, More (10/1/15)

Oregon dispensaries can now sell marijuana to all comers (21 and over), a bipartisan group of senators announces a deal on major sentencing reform, Albuquerque's mayor vetoes decrim again, heroin policy on the campaign trail is featured, and more.

now on sale to adults in Oregon (wikimedia/Mangokeylime)
Marijuana Policy

Family Physicians Say Marijuana Should Be Decriminalized, Rescheduled. Meeting in Denver, the American Academy of Family Physicians has passed two resolutions on marijuana policy. The first originally called for legalization, but was watered down to decriminalization, while the second calls on the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Click on the link for details on the debate.

California Marijuana Arrests Decline to Lowest Level Since 1966. Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that pot arrests in the state are at the lowest in nearly 50 years. Some 19,711 people were arrested on marijuana charges last year, down slightly from 20,346 in 2013. Arrests have nose-dived since the state decriminalized possession in 2008. But some things apparently never change: Blacks were arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate more than twice their percentage of the state's population.

Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Are Now Underway in Oregon. Medical marijuana dispensaries across the state began selling pot to anyone with an ID showing he is 21 or over today. State officials moved to allow dispensaries to start selling recreational marijuana early in order to allow Oregonians to have a place to legally purchase it until adult use shops open next year. Not all dispensaries are participating; about 200 of the 345 in the state are.

Albuquerque Mayor Vetoes Decriminalization (Again). Mayor Richard Berry has vetoed a decriminalization ordinance passed by the city council. He vetoed a similar measure last year. In a veto statement, he said he had a "hard time signing legislation that preempts state and federal law." Except that it doesn't. Decriminalization has majority support in the city and Bernalillo County, but the mayor doesn't appear to be listening.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Heroin As a Campaign Issue. This USA Today story looks primarily at the attention Hillary Clinton is paying to heroin and opiate addiction in New England and the role of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) in advising her on drug policy, but also mentions Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush has also been talking about addiction this week.


Senators Reach Deal on Sentencing Reform Package. A bipartisan group of senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform Thursday, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things. Look for a Chronicle feature story on this in coming days.

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

Chronicle AM: Midwest Marijuana, Clinton Looks Abroad to Fight Heroin, Dan Rush Indicted, More (9/21/15)

Michigan has two legalization initiative campaigns and now it has a legalization bill, Ohio's legalization initiative ballot language is set, a key UFCW organizer gets indicted, Chuck Schumer calls on the DEA to do something about Chinese drug sales websites, and more.

Hilary Clinton hints at eradication and interdiction to fight heroin. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Rep Files Five Nanogram Drugged Driving Bill. Rep. David Kerner (D-Lake Worth) has filed House Bill 161, which would make driving with more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood a drugged driving offense. The bill is named after teenager Naomi Pomerance, who died in a traffic accident last year in which the driver of the scooter on which she was riding was high on marijuana and ran a red light.

Michigan Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and six cosponsors have filed House Bill 4877 to bring full-fledged marijuana legalization to the state. The move comes as two groups are working to put legalization initiatives on the 2016 ballot.

Ohio Ballot Board Revises Legalization Initiative Ballot Language to Remove "Misleading" Characterizations. On orders from the state Supreme Court to fix "misleading" ballot language after ResponsibleOhio challenged the original version, the state Ballot Board has revised its ballot wording to describe the initiative. The ballot title, which ResponsibleOhio had also challenged, will, however, stand. It reads: "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes." The campaign had challenged the use of "monopoly" and would have preferred "personal" instead of "recreational" use.

Ohio ACLU Endorses ResponsibleOhio Initiative. The ACLU of Ohio is getting behind the controversial legalization initiative because it would "begin to move our state away from senseless, wasteful drug prohibition toward a system that is supervised, safe, efficient, legal, and operating under regulatory oversight," the group said.

Washington State Teens Do Not Face Felonies for Marijuana Possession. After reports last week that an eastern Washington prosecutor had charged three teens with felonies for marijuana possession, saying that a new law designed to regulate medical marijuana demanded the charges, the air has cleared. The new law, Senate Bill 5052, does not require that teens be charged with felonies for possessing less than 40 grams, and the prosecutor has now dropped the felony charges. Interesting take on all this at the title link.

Medical Marijuana

Feds Indict Union Organizer on Corruption Charges. Dan Rush, marijuana industry organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), was indicted on federal corruption, attempted extortion, and money laundering charges in Oakland last Thursday. Rush is accused of using his position "to obtain money and other things" over a five-year period. He is accused of taking kickbacks from an attorney for referring medical marijuana business clients to him and of accepting $550,000 in debt forgiveness from a dispensary operator (who was also acting as an FBI informant at the time). Rush and his attorneys have denied the charges.

Connecticut Dispensaries Move a Step Nearer. The state Department of Consumer Protection announced last Friday that it has received 19 new applications for dispensaries in response to its June request. Three dispensaries will be selected to operate in New Haven or Fairfield counties.

Florida Initiative Organizers Say They Have Half a Million Signatures. The United for Care campaign to put medical marijuana on the ballot last year reports that it has already gathered 500,000 signatures. They need 683,149 valid voter signatures by February 1 to qualify. This is the same group that was behind the 2014 medical marijuana initiative, which garnered 58% of the vote, but came up short because constitutional amendments require 60% to pass.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Hillary Clinton Would Take War on Heroin Beyond US Borders. In an interview with WMUR radio in New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential contender said she would take the fight against heroin beyond the US border if necessary. "I think you have to," responded Clinton. "This has to be a comprehensive strategy. And we know that this cheap heroin that is killing so many people is coming across our border." Interdiction and eradication have long been favorite drug war strategies, but have not proven very effective.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Tribal Chairman Gets Job Back After Drug Testing Brouhaha. Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Chairman Bruce Renville was reinstated last Friday after being suspended for imposing drug testing on all tribal employees. In his zeal to get a grip on alcohol and drug abuse on the reservation, Renville went beyond the letter of the law. Employees who tested positive will not be punished.

Law Enforcement

Chuck Schumer Calls on DEA to Crack Down on China Drug Websites. Responding to concerns over synthetic cannabinoids, the New York Democrat is calling on the DEA to form a special unit to identify Chinese websites doing bulk sales of new psychoactive substances and ban credit card companies from doing business with them. "By simply telling the credit card companies not to deal with these sites, we can shut them down," Schumer said. "When you buy a synthetic drug, you give a credit card number. You can go on your iPhone right now and pull up some of these websites. They say 'We take Visa.' Visa would no longer take them. None of the credit card companies would take them. We could strangle them."

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

Chronicle AM: CA on Verge of Regulating MedMJ, Federal No Mandatory Minimums Drug Bill Filed, More (9/11/15)

Nearly 20 years after the passage of Prop 215, California may finally get statewide medical marijuana regulation; the Illinois governor's veto pen has an impact, but also gets blunted; there's a new report on drug policy and human rights in Latin America, and more.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has filed a bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Dies… For Now. The bill, House Bill 218, passed out of the legislature, only to be the subject of an amendatory veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), in which he made several changes to the text of the bill. Now, the clock has run out on the legislature approving that language, but a new bill is expected to emerge and the state could still pass decriminalization this year.

Medical Marijuana

California Legislators Set to Pass Historic Medical Marijuana Regulation Package. Before day's end, the legislature is expected to approve bills that would finally bring statewide regulation to the thriving industry. The bills, Assembly Bill 266 and Senate Bill 643, are to be amended and passed today and then signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Passage should create a full-fledged, highly regulated system with licensing for all stages of cultivation, production, distribution, and sales.

Illinois Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) Thursday vetoed a measure that would have allowed people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to qualify for medical marijuana. His administration also refused to expand access to medical marijuana for 10 other ailments. The Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended adding the 11 conditions, but Rauner killed PTSD and the Department of Public Health killed the rest. Rauner said expanding the program was premature.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Senators Call for Review of FDA Decision on Oxycontin for Kids. A bipartisan group of senators have asked the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to investigate the Food and Drug Administration's August decision to approve the use of the powerful pain reliever in pediatric patients. The senators called the FDA move "a step in the wrong direction" in the face of growing levels of opiate dependency and abuse.

Illinois Legislature Overrides Veto of Heroin Treatment Funding. The state Senate Wednesday voted 44-11 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) veto of portions of an omnibus heroin bill that would have mandated Medicaid paying for drug treatment for heroin users. The state House had already voted to override, so now the whole range of House Bill 1 will go into effect.

Asset Forfeiture

California Legislature Kills Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Under heavy lobbying pressure from law enforcement, the state Assembly Wednesday killed Senate Bill 443, which would have reformed civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill had enjoyed bipartisan support and nearly unanimous votes prior to the final Assembly vote. But there is still a chance the bill will be reconsidered and passed today, the last day of the session. Stay tuned.


Senator Kelly Ayotte Introduces Bill to Increase Fentanyl Trafficking Sentences. Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) Thursday filed S. 2027 to increase penalties for the synthetic opioid. There are no particulars on the bill available yet.

Rep. Maxine Waters Introduces Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses. Rep. Waters (D-CA) Thursday filed H.R. 3489, "to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses." There are no particulars on the bill available yet.


New Report Examines Drug Policy and Human Rights in Latin America. The Argentine Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) has released a new report, The Impact of Drug Policy on Human Rights: The Experience of the Americas, covering a wide range of issues, from long prison sentences for minor drug offenses to the way harsh drug policies run counter to international human rights standards. The report also highlights how such policies have a disproportionate effect on the poor, minorities, and other vulnerable members of society.

Illinois Governor Vetoes Heroin Bill Over Medicaid Treatment Funding [FEATURE]

Faced with a public health crisis related to heroin and prescription opioid use, the Illinois state government created a bipartisan Heroin Task Force in a comprehensive effort to address the problem from all angles. The task force created a set of policy recommendations that were embodied in House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Act.

Heroin is taking a toll not only in Chicago, but in its suburbs. (kirk.senate.gov)
The bill passed the House and Senate in May, and was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in June, where it sat on his desk until this week. On Monday, Rauner finally acted -- not by signing the bill, but by vetoing critical sections of it that he says the state cannot afford. He has now sent the bill back to the legislature and asked it to remove the offending sections.

But saying, "People are dying," the measure's House sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), has vowed an effort to override the veto. An override could be within reach -- the bill passed by veto-proof majorities in both houses -- but for members of a governor's own party, a veto override is a hard vote to take.

Here's what the bill does:

  • It increases the availability of opiate overdose reversal drugs and requires private insurance to cover at least one of them, as well as acute treatment and stabilization services. It allows licensed pharmacists to dispense overdose reversal drugs, allows school nurses to administer them to students suffering from overdoses, and provides protection from civil liability for people who administer them in good faith.
  • It requires the Department of Human Services and the State Board of Education to develop a three-year pilot heroin prevention program for all schools in the state, requires the Department of Human Services to develop materials to educate prescription opiate users on the dangers of those drugs, and it requires the Department of Insurance to convene working groups on drug treatment and mental illness and on parity between state and federal mental health laws.
  • It intensifies the state's prescription monitoring program by tightening reporting requirements and it requires doctors to now document the medical necessity of any three sequential 30-day prescriptions for Schedule II opioids.
  • On the criminal justice front, it permits multiple chances at drug court and prevents prosecutors from unilaterally blocking entry to drug court, and it requires prosecutors and public defenders to undergo mandatory education on addiction and addiction treatment. It also increases criminal penalties for "doctor shopping" if fraud is involved.
  • It requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment, including methadone and other opiate maintenance treatment, as well as all anti-overdose medications.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
It's the latter provision to which Rauner objects.

"I support all of the above measures and applaud the multifaceted approach to combating this epidemic in Illinois. Unfortunately, the bill also includes provisions that will impose a very costly mandate on the State's Medicaid providers. I am returning the bill with a recommendation to address that concern," he said in a veto statement.

"House Bill 1 mandates that fee-for-service and medical assistance Medicaid programs cover all forms of medication assisted treatment of alcohol or opioid dependence, and it removes utilization controls and prior authorization requirements," Rauner continued. "These changes would limit our ability to contain rising costs at a time when the State is facing unprecedented fiscal difficulties. Importantly, the State's Medicaid programs already cover multiple forms of medication necessary to treat alcohol and opioid dependence. But without adequate funding to support mandated coverage for all forms of treatment, regardless of cost, this change would add to the State's deficit."

His recommendation is simply to delete the language requiring Medicaid coverage.

Rep. Lang and other bill supporters aren't going for that.

"There's a human cost to not doing it," Lang said. "People are addicted, people are sick, people are dying. You want to talk about the costs of providing methadone and Narcan to addicts, but you forget totally that if you cure them or they get off the stuff, there's a savings to the Medicaid system on a different line item, because they're no longer in emergency rooms, they're no longer a burden to law enforcement."

Heroin and opiate addiction is a serious problem in Illinois. The rate of drug overdose deaths has nearly doubled since 1999, and in the Chicago suburbs, people have been dying of drug overdoses at a rate of three per day since 2012. In the state as a whole, 633 people died of heroin overdoses last year, with nearly half (283) in Chicago.

At the same time as the problem with heroin and prescription opioids has been deepening, the state's ability to provide treatment has been decreasing. According to a report this month from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, the state's ranking for drug treatment capacity has fallen from 28th in the nation in 2009 to 47th this year. This as demand for heroin and opiate treatment statewide is increasing dramatically. In Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, 35% of drug treatment admissions are for heroin, more than twice the national average.

The consortium's director and the study's lead author, Kathleen Kane-Willis, noted that Illinois is one of only a few states nationwide that doesn't allow Medicaid coverage of opiate maintenance treatment.

"We're going to pay for not paying," she said.

But bill supporters could also find the votes to override the veto. Rep. Lang says that is what's he going to try to do, and with a 114-0 vote in the House and a 46-6 vote in the Senate the first time around, he has plenty of supporters to ask. If that happens, Illinois will get the drug treatment it needs, and Rauner will still be able to maintain his fiscally conservative credentials.

Springfield, IL
United States

Chronicle AM: DC AG Talks Decrim, IL Gov Vetoes Medicare Heroin Treatment Funding, More (8/25/2015)

Another South Florida community moves toward marijuana decrim, GOP primary state voters want the feds to stay out of state marijuana policies, DC's top prosecutor hints at drug decrim, Illinois's governor vetoes Medicaid heroin treatment funding, and more.

Heroin users lining up to score in Chicago. The governor has vetoed heroin treatment funding. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: GOP Voters in Early Primary States Want Feds to Butt Out on Marijuana. Roughly two-thirds of Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire says states should be able to design their own marijuana laws without federal interference. The figure was 64% in Iowa and 67% in New Hampshire. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling and was commissioned by Marijuana Majority. "We put these polls into the field because we want presidential candidates to understand that the voters in these key states -- who they need support from to win -- overwhelmingly want the next occupant of the Oval Office to scale back federal marijuana prohibition," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

Key West Latest South Florida City to Move Toward Decriminalization. Officials in Key West have given preliminary approval to municipal marijuana decriminalization; a final vote will come next month. The change comes on the heels of similar moves this summer in Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, and Hallandale Beach. Lawmakers in Palm Beach County are now considering a similar proposal, as are lawmakers up the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Group Drops Legalization Initiative Plans; Will Instead Focus on Medical Marijuana Reforms. The Michigan Responsibility Council, which had been considering running a third legalization initiative campaign in the state, has decided to instead focus on an initiative aimed at improving the state's medical marijuana law. Two other groups are continuing with legalization efforts.

Reno's First Dispensary Opens Wednesday. Sierra Wellness Connections opens near downtown Reno tomorrow. It is the first one in the city and the third one in the state. One in nearby Sparks opened earlier this month, and one in Las Vegas opened Monday.

Drug Policy

DC's Attorney General Hints He Could Support Drug Decriminalization. DC Attorney General Karl Racine responded to a caller who argued that drug prohibition created the recent wave of new psychoactive substance use during a C-Span interview last Friday by largely agreeing with him. "Law enforcement and over-criminalization of drug laws can cause more harm to society than benefit… With respect to the legalization of other substances, including marijuana, I think the caller makes an excellent point… I think that the 21st Century policing is such that smart prosecution means less of an emphasis on criminalizing conduct, more of an emphasis on mental health and substance abuse. With respect to marijuana, you know, my position is very clear. I think it should be legal and I think that the District of Columbia, like the State of Colorado should be able to regulate it."

Heroin and Opiates

Illinois Governor Cuts Drug Treatment Funding From Heroin Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has partially vetoed a bill aimed at fighting heroin addiction and overdoses, cutting out a section that requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment programs, as well as anti-overdose and heroin-treatment medications (methadone). Rauner said that he supports the efforts, but the state can't afford to pay for them. Bill supporters say the move is short-sighted, pennywise but pound-foolish, and that there is a real human cost to it. They also said they would fight to see the funding restored. The bill is House Bill 1.


Russian Censor Lifts Ban On Wikipedia for Marijuana Page. Russia's Internet censor, Roskomnadzor, said Tuesday it had lifted a ban on Russian-language Wikipedia after Wikipedia complied with a court order and edited an entry dealing with charas, a substance made from marijuana resins. Under Russian law, if a web site is banned via court order, as was the case here, the entire website is banned even if the offending material is only on one page. Russian Wikipedia was shut down for about 24 hours.

Chronicle AM: Utah SWAT Raids Almost All Drugs, Bolivia Reduces Coca Growing (Again), More (8/18/2015)

A Wisconsin tribe may legalize marijuana, Ohio foes line up against the legalization initiative there, more Washington state dispensaries will be forced to close, a Utah SWAT reporting law shows what those squads are up to -- and it isn't hostage situations or "active shooters" -- Bolivia coca growing down, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales had a few choice words for US drug policy. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Foes Get Organized. Business, children's advocacy, parents, religious groups, and other groups organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization initiative have formed an opposition organization, No on 3. Some are opposing it because of its limitations on who could grow commercial marijuana; others, like the Ohio Children's Hospital Association, have more traditional plaints: "The legalization of marijuana in Ohio at this time and the way issue three proposes would set too dangerous of a precedent and put at risk the other three million kids in the state," said Nick Lashutka, president of the association.

Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe to Vote on Legalizing Marijuana. The Menominee, one of the poorest tribes in the country, are set to vote this week on whether to legalize and sell marijuana. The move comes after the state rejected the tribe's plan to build a casino in Kenosha. The Menominee say they are interested in marijuana to "Explore all opportunities to diversify the tribe's economy, create jobs, and provide revenue to the tribe necessary to fund health, education, social, law enforcement and and other important services."

Medical Marijuana

Most Tacoma Dispensaries to Be Shut Down. The city council this week decided to shut down most of the city's 60 unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. The dispensaries have 45 days to close. After passage of Senate Bill 5052, which essentially folds the medical marijuana system into the recreational marijuana system, dispensaries and collective gardens will have to get licenses from the state beginning next July 1 or shut their doors.

Heroin and Opioids

Massachusetts Officials Want to Jack Up Penalties for Fentanyl. State Attorney General Martha Healey joined legislators and law enforcement officials at a press conference Tuesday to press for legislation that would double prison sentences for people caught in possession of more than 10 grams of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. People caught with large amounts of heroin face up to 30 years, but under a lacuna in state law, people caught with large amounts of synthetic opioids can only be charged with possession with intent to distribute, with a maximum sentence of 10 years. "By criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl, we will give police and law enforcement the tools they need to get this deadly drug off the streets and out of the hands of those struggling with addiction," Healey said. Some 1,200 people died of drug overdoses in the state last year, and another 312 in the first quarter of this year. [Ed: Why 10 years isn't more than enough for almost any law enforcement purpose, especially in a time of mass incarceration when that type of sentencing is coming under increasing criticism from across the political aisle, is not clear. How sad that a Democrat and former civil rights official in a liberal state is campaigning for longer sentences.]

Law Enforcement

Utah SWAT Reporting Law Shows Overwhelming Majority of Deployments Were for Drug Raids. Utah passed a SWAT reporting law last year, and now the first numbers are in. They show that SWAT teams were deployed nearly twice a day (559 reported incidents, with 25% of agencies failing to report) and, most startlingly, 83% of all SWAT deployments were to serve search warrants for drug offenses. Two-thirds (65%) of the drug raid SWAT deployments either "no-knock" or "knock and announce" raids where police force entry into homes without giving residents a chance to just let them in. Much more at the link.


Bolivia Coca Production Falls for Fourth Straight Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced Monday that the amount of land devoted to coca production dropped by 11% last year, continuing a trend that has seen land devoted to coca drop by more than a third since 2010. President Evo Morales touted his government's approach as more effective than the US-led war on drugs. "Eradication and fighting a war on drugs with military bases is not the solution, as we've seen in some Andean countries, where there are US officials waging the war on drugs," he said. He was referring to the world's two largest coca and cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, where eradication efforts have provoked sometimes bloody strife.

Drug War Issues

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