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Tennessee's Scary New Law Criminalizing Drug-Using Pregnant Women [FEATURE]

When -- despite the objections of medical groups, reproductive health advocates, and even the drug czar's office -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1391 late last month, the Volunteer State became the first in the nation to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes. Other states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, have used fetal harm laws to charge drug-using pregnant women, but Tennessee is the first to explicitly criminalize drug use during pregnancy.

Passed in the midst of rising concern over prescription drug and heroin abuse and aimed, its proponents said, at protecting babies, the law allows women to be criminally charged with an "assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug or for criminal homicide if her child dies as a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant."

Felony assault can earn you up to 15 years in prison in Tennessee. And while some prosecutors have said they will only file misdemeanor charges, that's not written into the law.

Proponents cited recent reports that the number of babies being born addicted to drugs is on the rise. Such infants are diagnosed as having Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to opiates in the womb.

"Over the past decade, we have seen a nearly ten-fold rise in the incidence of babies born with NAS in Tennessee," the state Department of Health reported. Infants with NAS stay in the hospital longer than other babies and they may have serious medical and social problems."

But the state Health Department notwithstanding, experts in the field say that NAS doesn't actually have long-term effects, it's not accurate to call newborn infants "addicted," and that misrepresenting matters by vilifying pregnant women isn't helpful. In fact, more than 40 of them said so in an open letter last month.

More generally, leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association reject the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women who use drugs. The groups mentioned above and many others said so in this 2011 document.

A coalition of medical, public health, women's rights, and social justice groups worked to oppose the bill as it made its way through the legislature, and then to convince Gov. Haslam to kill it. A petition with over 11,000 signatures urging him to veto the bill went to his office late last month. More than two dozen organizations devoted to ensuring families have access to health care likewise urged a veto, as did the American Association of Pediatrics, the National Perinatal Association, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policy.

Even acting drug czar Michael Botticelli raised a warning flag.

"Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said during a visit to Nashville as the governor pondered. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease. What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders."

But none of that mattered. On April 29, Haslam signed the bill into law.

"In reviewing this bill, I have had extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials," Haslam said in a statement. "The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs."

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement in response to the signing. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

The statewide coalition Healthy and Free Tennessee also lambasted the new law.

"We are very sorry to see that Governor Haslam let an opportunity to do the right thing slip through his fingers," said Rebecca Terrell, the group's chairwoman."The experts could not have been clearer: this law is bad for babies and bad for Tennessee."

"This law says that women are to be held criminally accountable for the outcomes of their pregnancies," said Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which was part of the coalition fighting the new law. "It essentially creates a system of separate and unequal rights. Drug ingestion is not a crime in Tennessee, just possession, and now, only pregnant women are criminalized for ingesting. They can be surveilled and punished by the state in ways different from other people. The law also treats fertilized eggs or fetuses as if they were people independent of the pregnant woman," she told the Chronicle.

Gov. Bill Haslam (tn.gov)
"It's the wrong response to the problem of addiction," said Diaz-Tello. "It's a health problem that is not responsive to threats and punishment. What kind of society do we want to be? Do we want to punish the people most in need of help and support? These are women largely living in poverty, women of color, who are already made vulnerable by our social policies, and now we hold them solely responsible without looking at society and what else is going on leading to pregnancy among addicted people and this horrible punitive response."

Even framing the issue as "pregnant women taking drugs" is somewhat misleading, said Diaz-Tello.

"We often make the mistake of thinking of people using drugs during pregnancy as pregnant women who became addicted to drugs when it should be the other way around," she said. "The reasons for addiction are complex and often gender-based. Women who have experienced violence and trauma are often self-medicating, and there is a lot of unresolved pain and trauma out there. And half the pregnancies in our country are unintended, which disproportionately affects women on the margins. It's not like someone wakes up pregnant one day and decides they want to do drugs."

The law will not operate in a vacuum. Tennessee is one of those states that has refused to expand Medicaid and has rejected the Affordable Care Act. It is more difficult for poor women there to get access to health care services, including drug treatment, but now it will be easier to prosecute them.

"This is definitely for the most part going to affect poor, marginalized, predominantly rural women," said Cherisse Scott, founder of SisterReach, a Memphis-based group working for reproductive justice for women and girls in the city and the Mid-South area. "That's because of the many barriers they face. Many rural areas just don't have the facilities to offer help to these women."

Scott also bemoaned the criminalization of pregnant women who use drugs under the law, a process of stigmatization and punishment only made more severe for women lacking resources.

"Low income women, women of color, already have issues navigating the court system, and many don't have any kind of support system," she said. "When their children are taken, they don't have the resources to get them back. And the other piece of this is that jails aren't hospitals or treatment centers. They don't offer women an opportunity to be properly rehabilitated from drug use."

And then there's the aftermath of a criminal conviction.

"If you look at this through the lens of racial and reproductive justice, how does a woman with this on her record bounce back, how does she get a job? With a criminal background, she will be further locked out," said Scott. "These are the kinds of barriers and issues that will ultimately hurt the mothers of Tennessee. We can't support legislation that uses criminalization as a means of rehabilitating people," she told the Chronicle.

"Our lawmakers had good intentions, but they didn't think it through," said Scott. "They seem to be very ready to separate mothers and children as a way of helping, and we don't see it like that, especially when there are rehab programs that keep mother and children together."

The new law is also generating alarm with advocates for people who use opioid maintenance therapy to deal with opiate addictions. Methadone and buprenorphine maintenance are the gold standard for treating pregnant women addicted to narcotics. While state health officials have said they interpret the law to mean that a pregnant woman on methadone maintenance would not be in violation of it, there is no language in it that explicitly says that.

"I asked the governor to veto the bill because that exclusion wasn't made," said Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence. "The real question is whether some representative for the attorney general's office or a DA or child protection services interprets it that way. This is a potential problem. When you're talking about child protection, it's not unusual for a judge or child protection worker to say to a pregnant mom 'You can't be on methadone.' I hope this law will not be used as a method of forcing maintained patients out of care."

While babies born to opiate-addicted women can suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawals, they can be treated for that, mainly by slowly tapering the dose of opiates. But, Parrino said, not all pregnant mothers on methadone maintenance have babies with the syndrome, and consequences for fetuses can be serious if mothers are forced off opiates during their pregnancies.

"What happens to a fetus if you force mom to end her medication?" he asked. "In the first trimester, a sudden decrease can be harmful to the fetus. There could be spontaneous abortion. It's in the literature. That's why laws like this raise concerns in people who have some knowledge about how pregnant women are treated."

Parrino, too, saw race a playing a role, but in an unexpected way.

"What I am seeing for the first time in 30 years is a real interest by elected officials, many US senators and governors and legislators, who can't wrap their heads around why white teens and 20-somethings from middle class families in the suburbs and rural areas are shooting heroin," Parrino observed. "Those elected officials are right to be worried. This legislation in Tennessee is a result of those dynamics."

While the law may have been passed with the best motives, "the problem is the criminalization aspect," said Parrino. "Even if it can be explained as having a reasonably good intention of getting pregnant women not to use drugs and go to treatment, you are unwittingly subverting that goal by saying that being in methadone maintenance might be seen as not complete treatment. That uncertainty is creating anxiety."

The new law is set to go into effect on July 1, but efforts are already underway to block it and, barring that, to mitigate its effects.

"We're still trying to figure out the best plan of action," Scott said. "We want to figure out the best way to support women who are going to be victims of this policy. At the grass roots level, that means education, awareness, getting the word out through rehab centers to let the women know this is coming. Then we have to figure out what is the legal strategy to try to change this law. We're working on it."

"We're thinking about a legal challenge, especially on constitutional grounds," said Diaz-Tello. "We have worked with public defenders in Tennessee and other states on challenging similar laws on constitutional grounds. There's also the possibility of an affirmative suit to get the law enjoined. It would be ideal to stop this law before anyone gets arrested under it."

Barring the successful blocking of the law, drug-addicted pregnant women in Tennessee will face the tender mercies of the criminal justice system. But not all of them, of course.

"Race and class plays a role as always," said Scott. "Poor mothers go to jail; mothers with access to more resources may not be penalized at all. Women who have access to health care and can afford private prenatal care and treatment will get treatment; women who have no alternative but public aid or a public health clinic will be disproportionately impacted as always. Nothing's changed as far as race and class."

TN
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 8, 2014

Another poll has marijuana legalization at the tipping point, a Colorado bill to form credit co-ops for pot businesses passes, an Illinois bill to let kids with epilepsy use medical marijuana is moving, a New York naloxone bill passes, Pittsburgh needle exchanges get some breathing room, and more. Let's get to it:

Pittsburgh needle exchanges get some breathing room. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Fairleigh Dickinson Poll Has 50% Support for Legalization. A new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University has support for marijuana legalization at 50% nationwide. By a ratio of 2-to-1, Democrats (63%) favor legalization more than Republicans (32%), with independents (58%) more closely aligned with Democrats. Young people also are far more supportive of legalization, with 65% of the millennial generation and over half of Gen Xers (56%) in favor, compared with fewer than half (48%) of baby boomers and around a third (36%) of the World War II generation. "Democrats see getting high as a lifestyle choice, whereas Republicans are more likely to understand it through the prism of morality and social deviance," political science professor and poll director Krista Jenkins told the Associated Press. "However, the age differences we're seeing suggest that legal [marijuana] smoking in the future is more a question of 'when' rather than 'if.'"

Colorado Legislature Passes Marijuana Credit Co-op Bill. Legislation to create a state-backed credit co-op to provide banking services to Colorado's all-cash marijuana industry is on its way to the governor's desk. House Bill 1398, after a battle over whether or not to allow hemp businesses to take part, passed the full House on a 33-31 final vote after lawmakers there ended a standoff between various factions and the Capitol's two chambers by signing off on Senate changes to the bill, including allowing the inclusion of hemp businesses.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Bill to Allow Children With Epilepsy to Use Medical Marijuana Wins Committee Vote. A measure that would allow children with epilepsy to use medical marijuana is moving. The House Rules Committee approved Senate Bill 2636 Wednesday on a 15-0 vote. The legislation would add epilepsy to the list of treatable diseases in the state's medical cannabis pilot program. It would also allow children with epilepsy to use medical cannabis. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads for a House floor vote.

Drugged Driving

Michigan Drugged Driving Bills to Drop Roadside Saliva Tests. A provision pending in a pair of bills in the Michigan legislature that would let police give roadside saliva tests to drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs will be removed from the legislation today, according to a cosponsor of the bill. Critics including researchers said the tests are inaccurate and could lead to inappropriate arrests of medical marijuana patients. Republican state Rep. Mike Callton said he plans to introduce an amendment removing the saliva testing provision at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday. The bills are House Bill 5384 and House Bill 5385.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Tries Again to Drug Test All Welfare Recipients. Gov. Rick Scott (R) is at it again. Weeks after the Supreme Court refused to hear his argument for why all state employees should have to pee in cups, Scott has filed a new brief in appellate court asking to re-argue his right to drug-test all welfare recipients in Florida. The plan was originally halted by court order in October 2011 while the ACLU challenged it, and the US District Court threw out the rule in December 2013 based on the arguments of a Navy veteran who said it violated his right against unreasonable search and seizure. But now Scott is back in appeals court, arguing in the new brief that there is a "demonstrated problem with drug use" among welfare recipients. Except there isn't: More than 4,000 people were tested while the program was in place, and a grand total of 108 failed. That's less than 3%.

Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Medical Society Warns Don't Forget Pain Patients in Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse. Policymakers "need to balance the needs of legitimate patients with pain, against the dangers to the public of opiates being in circulation," the Massachusetts Medical Society said in a statement delivered to the state's Senate Special Committee on Drug Abuse and Treatment Options Tuesday. "It is critical that we not forget the needs of our patients in pain to comprehensive medical care that effectively helps them to have the best quality of life that their disease or diagnosis will allow," the doctors' group emphasized.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Mass Drug Sweeps Continue. Authorities are conducting a narcotics blitz and warrant sweep Thursday afternoon on the city's west side as part of the eighth and latest high-profile police raid. They're part of an ongoing police offensive called Operation Restore Order. In March, two crime-ridden neighborhoods were flooded as part of Operation Restore Order March Madness, which targeted problematic areas in the Ninth and Sixth precincts, on the city's east and west sides, respectively. The first Operation Restore Order raid came in November, when officers flooded the high-crime Colony Arms Apartments on Jefferson. Since then, there have been raids of the Martin Luther King Apartments, a 1.2 square-mile area of the west side known for heavy drug dealing, and warrant sweeps in the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Ninth Precincts. It's not clear yet whether order has actually been restored.

Harm Reduction

New York Bill to Expand Overdose Reversal Drug Access to Friends, Family Members Passes Legislature. State lawmakers have passed a bill expanding access to the drug naloxone (Narcan), which can reverse an overdose of opioids such as heroin and morphine. Assembly Bill 8637 would allow health care professionals and pharmacies to distribute Narcan, without a prescription, to at-risk people and those who know them. It was unclear late Wednesday whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to sign the bill into law.

Pittsburgh Needle Exchanges Get Some Breathing Room. The Allegheny County Board of Health unanimously passed a motion that will lift location restrictions for needle exchange programs within the city of Pittsburgh. The previous regulation banned needle exchanges within 1,500 feet of schools, daycare centers and drug treatment centers. But that proved far too restrictive for the densely populated city of Pittsburgh, where needle exchanges would have few places to operate. The motion passed today would lift that restriction, though city council would still have to approve new needle exchange locations. The location restriction remains the same in the rest of the county.

International

US Will Cut Off Anti-Drug Assistance to Ecuador. The United States will end decades of anti-drug trafficking assistance to Ecuador this month, pulling its staff from the INL office in the South American nation, a top official said Wednesday. "I am quite prepared to acknowledge right now the INL section, which has been in Ecuador now for more than 30 years, is also going to close up shop," Ambassador William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), told a congressional hearing. Brownfield said the move was a reflection of the level of cooperation the United States has right now from Ecuador.

South Australian Politicians Compete to See Who Can Be Toughest on Drugs. It seems so last century, but "tough on drugs" is the stance of the day in South Australia. Opposition politicians are seeking a three-strikes policy under which repeat drug offenders would not be offered diversion to counseling, while state Attorney General John Rau is renewing his own push to crack down on serious drug offenders, including measures to strip them of their assets regardless of whether they were proceeds of crime. Legislation is pending.

Chief Minister Says Isle of Man Should Consider Marijuana Decriminalization. The Chief Minister of the Isle of Man has said the island should consider decriminalizing cannabis. Allan Bell's comments followed a presentation on the island given by former Westminster drug policy advisor David Nutt, whom the Labor government fired after he criticized its move to increase penalties. Bell praised Nutt's "fresh perspective," saying "there is a consensus developing internationally now that the old-style war on drugs has failed miserably and there needs to be a new approach." Bell cited marijuana legalization in the US and Uruguay as examples of nations taking a positive approach to drug policy.

Chronicle Book Review: Hemp Bound

Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution by Doug Fine (2014, Chelsea Green Publishers, 145 pp., $17.50 PB)

Hemp shouldn't have anything to do with drug policy. It's a cannabis sub-species low in THC so it doesn't get you high, but impressive as an industrial agriculture crop, one with uses in a broad and ever-increasing range of activities. The applications are numerous, and farmers in countries around the world, including just across the border in Canada, are making a living growing for an ever-expanding market, both here in the US and abroad.

Drug War Chronicle shouldn't be writing about hemp any more than it should be writing about corn or flax or soybeans. This should be the stuff of rural radio station farm shows and county agricultural extension office pamphlets.

But here we are -- because in what is arguably the single stupidest manifestation of the war on drugs, and the war on marijuana in particular, our farmers can't grow it. And that's because the DEA cannot be convinced to change its boneheaded position that hemp is marijuana. In fact, it even took getting slapped down by a federal appeals court to force the DEA to allow hemp products -- oil and seeds, fibers, biofuels -- to be imported into the country.

Still, the ban on US domestic hemp production is hurting American farmers, American agriculture, and the American economy. Farmers in North Dakota can stare across that imaginary line in the prairie and see their Canadian counterparts pocketing $250 an acre in what is a billion-dollar a year industry north of the border. Meanwhile, the Chinese are now years ahead of us in the tech for "cottonizing" hemp; making it a soft, desirable fiber.

All that's standing in the way is the DEA. North Dakota is among 13 states that have already passed laws defining hemp as distinct from marijuana and removing barriers to its production. And now, with the recent passage of the federal farm bill complete with a hemp amendment authorizing universities and agriculture departments in those 13 states to produce hemp for research purposes, hemp is about to bust out of the gate.

It's not quite there yet. That's going to take the DEA having a change of heart -- fat chance -- or, increasingly more likely, an act of Congress. There are hemp bills in both Houses this session, and while I would be surprised if they passed this year, it's coming. It's coming both because of rapidly changing attitudes about marijuana and because it is just too damned stupid to shoot ourselves in the foot any longer by letting everybody else but us grow this valuable agricultural commodity.

And Doug Fine is here to cheer it on. The veteran journalist (and New Mexico goat farmer with an organic bent) came to hemp the way many of us have -- through marijuana -- as he researched his third book, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution. Now, with Hemp Bound, he's embraced an enthusiastic new role as an apostle of weed's country cousin. He's taken up the mantle of Jack Herer, but with more rigorous scientific backing, and while he doesn't want to shout out "Hemp will save the world!" one gets the definite sense that he thinks it's really going to help.

And he's done the research to back his claims. Fine interviews people in all aspects of the hemp industry, from Canadian farmers, scientists, and government officials to a Denver hemp-powered limo driver, a Dutchman whose company manufactures hemp fiber panels for the European luxury car market, and a Brit whose company uses hemp as a building material. The extent of the global hemp industry is truly eye-opening, and Fine is very seriously urging us here in the US to quit screwing around and get on the bandwagon.

Hemp Bound is not only informative and exciting, it's a fun read. Fine writes with passion, verve, and humor, and a sharp eye for bullshit. The chapters are fact-filled, but short, and are interspersed with interviews with the various players. And he gets bonus style points for managing to use the word "Saskatchewanian" (let that roll off your tongue), although there are style points foregone by using "separate the wheat from the chaff" instead of a hempier "separate the bast from the hurd" (if that's the correct analog; I defer to the true hemp experts here).

Mostly, Hemp Bound is a plea for us to take advantage of this plant. Fine waxes missionary over its multiple applications -- as he notes, a Popular Science article from the 1930s cited 25,000 industrial uses -- which I like to simplify and summarize as "The Three Fs" -- food, fiber, and fuel. And, if Fine and the people he talks to are correct, he's got good reason to be enthusiastic. With hemp, one can do good (by producing healthy, sustainable products with few nasty inputs and reducing reliance on petroleum products) and do well (make some money) at the same time.

But Hemp Bound is also an introduction to hemp and a how-to manual for American farmers thinking about making the leap. I come from an agricultural state. I know real live farmers. They are skeptical and tend to smirk at hippies, but they can also look around their acreages and see the ditch weed. Guys who are struggling to make a living with a thousand acres of corn and soybeans may be amenable to hemp if they think they can make a go of it. The profit is only $250 an acre, but when you have a thousand acres, that adds up, and farmers can count.

Fine speaks directly to these guys, some of whom are going to be the pioneers in America's next hemp boom. He can talk the talk that farmers talk. I think Hemp Bound needs to get in the hands of a lot of farmers, and I've made arrangements to see that it gets to a couple I know in central South Dakota. It also needs to get in the hands of legislators, state and university ag departments, and anyone else interested in starting our hemp revolution. We have some catching up to do, and Hemp Bound is our handbook.

Chronicle AM -- May 7, 2014

A reform rollback in New Zealand, a hearing on DC decrim in Congress tomorrow, a medical marijuana trial becomes a travesty, the DEA makes another change-nothing drug bust, and more. Let's get to it:

New synthetic drugs are going back to the black market after New Zealand rolls back its effort to regulate them. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

ACLU DC Branch Will Testify on District Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Tomorrow. The American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital will testify before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Operations about the District of Columbia's marijuana decriminalization bill tomorrow. The legislation would remove the criminal penalties under District of Columbia law for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana within the District. The bill passed the DC council overwhelmingly and was signed by Mayor Vincent Gray. It cannot become law until Congress and the president have had 60 days to review it. The Subcommittee on Government Operations called the hearing to discuss the enforcement in the District of local and federal marijuana laws. The ACLU will testify that nothing in the bill would prevent federal law enforcement officers from enforcing federal law throughout the District.

Colorado Legislature Approves Bills on Hashish, Edibles. House Bill 1361, which limits hash sales, and House Bill 1366, which further regulates edibles, both passed the Senate Wednesday, the last day of the session. Under current law, consumers can purchase up to an ounce of hash at a time, but that will be reduced by some as yet unspecified amount. The edibles bill would ban manufacturers from making edibles that "a reasonable consumer would confuse with a trademarked food product" (goodbye, Reefers Cups) or that are "primarily marketed to children." Both bills await the governor's signature.

MPP Releases Report on Collateral Consequences of Marijuana Convictions in New Hampshire. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has just released a new report, Marked for Life, that shows how the lifelong stigma associated with a marijuana conviction can derail dreams by making it difficult to obtain jobs, an education, and even housing. The moves two weeks after the state Senate refused to consider a marijuana reform bill, but the session isn't over yet, and MPP and its allies say they are not giving up for the year.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Denies Medical Marijuana Defense to Family Accused of Growing Medical Marijuana. A federal judge won't allow a family of a medical marijuana patients from Washington state to defend themselves against drug trafficking charges by arguing their pot plants were for medical purposes. US District Judge Fred Van Sickle of the Eastern District of Washington on Tuesday rejected the planned medical marijuana defense of Larry Harvey, 70, his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, and three others facing trial next week, saying they could not argue that growing marijuana was for medical purposes and legal under Washington state law. "The intent of the defendants is not relevant to the issues," Van Sickle said. "There's this concept of reliance on state law and the like. That's not relevant either." Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, federal courts generally don't allow evidence that the drug may have been used for medical purposes, even when medical marijuana is legal under a state's law, as it is in Washington. The Harveys, their son, Rolland Gregg, 33; Gregg's wife Michelle, 35; and family friend Jason Zucker, 38, sought to describe their doctor-recommended medical marijuana cultivation at their upcoming trial on federal drug charges.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Gains First Republican Sponsor. Sen. Joseph Robach (R-Rochester) added his name this week to the Compassionate Care Act, joining 17 other Democratic senators who have cosponsored the measure. The bill's primary sponsor is Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat. Republican Senate leaders have held up the bill. Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos said Tuesday there was a "good possibility" some sort of bill would be approved this session, but that he would only support a limited CBD bill.

Minnesota Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Tuesday approved Senate File 1641, which would allow for up to 55 dispensaries statewide and allow patients suffering from a list of approved medical conditions to use the plant -- but not to smoke it. A companion measure in the House is even more restrictive. It could be up for debate as early as Friday.

Law Enforcement

Courts, Legislators Moving to Curb Police Access to Prescription Drug Databases. For years, police across the country have had easy access to databases of prescriptions for controlled substances used by individuals they suspect of committing a crime. Not anymore. Some courts and legislators are now starting to restrict the data, amid concerns by privacy advocates and defense lawyers who say warrantless searches of these databases violate privacy rights, The Wall Street Journal reports. In February, a federal court in Oregon ruled for the first time that federal agents need a warrant to search that state's prescription-drug database. Last year, Rhode Island raised the barrier of entry to its database, and legislators in Florida and Pennsylvania are considering new limits on law-enforcement access to the records in those states.

DEA in Nationwide Raids on Synthetic Drugs, Sellers. The Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday broadened its national crackdown on synthetic drug manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers as federal agents served hundreds of search and arrest warrants in at least 25 states. Agents served warrants at homes, warehouses and smoke shops beginning early morning. The largest single operation was a statewide effort in Alabama. Agents also were active in Florida and New Mexico, among other states. Wednesday's crackdown was focused strictly on US targets and involved 66 DEA cases, seven investigations led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents and several others led by Customs and Border Protection that focused on express consignment shipments. Last year, the DEA and Customs and Border Protection wrapped up a 7-month investigation that ended in 150 arrests and the seizure of about a ton of drugs. And now it's rinse and repeat.

Sentencing Reform

Harry Reid Says Sentencing Reform Debate Could Hit Senate Floor Soon. CQ Roll Call (behind a pay wall; no link, sorry) reported Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was asked whether he intended to bring Sen. Richard Durbin's (D-IL) sentencing reform bill, Senate Bill 1410, to the floor for debate soon. "The answer is yes," Reid said, adding that he has been consulting with Durbin about it. The bill would slash mandatory minimums for some drug crimes and give judges more discretion to impose sentences beneath federal guidelines.

International

New Zealand Reverses Course on Regulating Synthetic Drugs. In a disappointing about-face, New Zealand reversed course on allowing some synthetic drugs to be legally sold after a rising public clamor about them. A law change effective Thursday will ban the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. That ends the sale of 36 substances, many of which had been designed to mimic marijuana. Five other substances were banned earlier this year. The country last year gained international attention after enacting a novel new law that allowed those synthetic drugs thought to be low-risk to be sold while waiting for pharmaceutical-style testing. The law still allows manufacturers to sell the drugs if they can prove them low-risk after rigorous testing. But health officials have yet to develop testing protocols. And manufacturers may find the hurdles insurmountable after lawmakers on Wednesday also banned the use of animals in testing the products.

Tunisia Activists Urge Reform of Harsh Marijuana Laws.Tunisia's tough law on cannabis use, laying down jail terms of at least one year, is "destroying lives" and overcrowding prisons, according to a group of activists urging reform. Since the law was passed more than 20 years ago, "tens of thousands of Tunisians have been convicted," the group said in an open letter to the government. "But the number of people sentenced and the number of users continue to grow, proving that this law is not a deterrent. It has failed," said the group, named Al Sajin 52 (or Prisoner 52) as the law is called. Health ministry director general Nabil Ben Salah said the health and justice ministries are trying to "humanize" the marijuana law, but that decriminalization is not an option.

Drug War Violence Flares in Northeast Mexico. Federal security forces killed five gunmen in separate shootouts in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, just across the border from McAllen, Texas, Monday. Army troops, meanwhile, detained 15 suspected criminals in different operations across the state. The Gulf and Zetas drug cartels have been fighting for control of Tamaulipas and smuggling routes into the United States for years, and now Gulf cartel factions are also fighting among themselves. The violence has spiked in recent weeks, but federal officials have not taken any additional measures to deal with the situation in the border state.

Chronicle AM -- May 6, 2014

Uruguay issues rules for legal marijuana growing and sales, the Argentines attack US drug policy, a new London School of Economics report trashes the drug war as a failure, the DEA orders a massive increase in marijuana for research purposes, a Minnesota medical marijuana bill is moving, and more. Let's get to it:

Legal marijuana sales and cultivation is about to get underway in Uruguay. By the way, that's Argentina just across the estuary.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Orders Massive Increase in Marijuana Production for Research Purposes. They're going to be busy this year at the US government's pot farm in Mississippi. The DEA announced Monday that it has dramatically increased the amount of marijuana to be grown for research purposes. The DEA had originally set the quota at 21 kilograms of marijuana, but has now increased that amount 30-fold, to 650 kilograms. The DEA acted at the behest of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which says the increase is needed "to provide for current and anticipated research involving marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. A proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota is headed for a vote by the full state Senate. Senate File 1641 passed out of the Senate Finance Committee Monday. It would authorize up to 55 dispensaries and provide access to marijuana for patients with specified medical conditions, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, PTSD, and several conditions that cause chronic pain. Patients would not be allowed to smoke marijuana, but could vape it. A more restrictive bill is moving in the House.

Iowa Governor Unsure About Signing CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said Monday he's unsure if he'll sign a CBD medical marijuana bill that has passed the legislature. He said he hadn't read the Senate File 2360 yet and noted that he has 30 days to take action. "This is not something that's been approved by the [Food and Drug Administration,]" Branstad said in response to questions from reporters during his weekly news conference.

International

Uruguay Releases Regulations for Legal Marijuana Commerce. Today, Uruguay's new marijuana commerce regulations (link is in Spanish) go into effect. The government will now embark on the implementation of the legal marijuana market, which is expected to be up and running by the end of 2014. The regulations for medical marijuana are to be released later this summer. Under the new regs, Uruguayans 18 and older can grow their own (up to six plants), grow as part of a club or collective (up to 45 members and 99 plants), or buy up to 10 grams of marijuana a week at a licensed pharmacy. Marijuana consumers will have to register with the government for one of the three options. The registry data will be confidential and protected. All forms of advertising and promotion of use are prohibited, as is smoking in closed, public spaces, in the workplace, and at health establishments, schools and sports institutions. Driving under the influence of marijuana is not allowed, and the newly created Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), tasked with regulating and controlling the whole system, will set the THC limits and types of test performed for DUI. Consumption at or during work is also prohibited. The price will vary, but will start at roughly $1 a gram.

Argentine Cabinet Chief Blasts US Drug Policy. Argentine Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich has joined Security Secretary Sergio Berni in harshly criticizing US drug policies. The attacks come in the wake of a US State Department report saying there was a "dramatic" increase in drug consumption there. Over the weekend, Berni rejected the report as "arbitrary" and said the US "imports drugs and exports death." Those statements were "clear, eloquent, and convincing," Capitanich said Monday. "Some countries are intent to teach lessons on drug policy when they should be taking a closer look at what happens in their own countries," he added.

London School of Economics Report Calls for New Approaches to Failed Drug War. A report from the London School of Economics released Monday night outlines the enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage from the war on drugs and calls for new, evidence-based approaches to drug use and the drug trade. The report, Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, has chapters authored by leading drug policy experts from around the world and has been signed onto by five Nobel Prize-winning economists, as well as political figures including British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former US Secretary of State George Schultz, and former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Dr. Javier Solana, among other luminaries. There's lots of good reading in it; click the link to access it.

European Drug Monitoring Agency to Release Annual Report Later This Month. The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) will present its annual overview of the European drug situation on May 27. Click on the link for more details.

Chronicle AM -- May 2, 2014

Washington state should see marijuana retail stores open in July after license lottery winners were announced, limited CBD medical marijuana bills continue to move, a Washington state family of patients faces a federal trial, and the OAS wraps up its drug meeting in Washington, DC. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Cannabis Credit Union Bill Modified Into Study Bill. A bill to create credit union-style financial institutions to handle money for the state's marijuana industry has been turned into a study bill. House Bill 14-1398 was amended in the House Finance Committee Thursday evening. Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) said he offered the amendment because he didn't feel comfortable approving a first-in-the-nation policy on short notice as the legislative session winds down. The session ends next week.

Colorado Bill to Seal Criminal Records for Minor Marijuana Convictions Fails. A bill to seal criminal records for some minor marijuana convictions died in a Senate committee Thursday. Senate Bill 14-218 was defeated in the Appropriation Committee after having been amended to apply only to crimes that were considered petty offenses before legalization. Advocates had hoped the bill could open the door to a broader sealing of marijuana-related convictions.

Washington State Announces Winners of Marijuana Store Lottery. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has announced the winners of the lottery for marijuana retail licenses. Some 334 stores will be licensed, but there were 1,174 applicants; thus, the lottery system. Some jurisdictions with little or no competition didn't require lottery participation, but most had multiple applications for the same spot. The board says it expects to start issuing retail licenses no later than the first week of July, so stores could be open there by the end of that month.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Legislature Approves Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill; Governor Says He Will Sign It. In something of a surprise move, the House yesterday approved a bill allowing the use of CBD cannabis oil for epilepsy. Senate Bill 1030 then went back to the Senate today, which approved it on the final day of the legislative session. Gov. Rick Scott (R) surprised supporters and told reporters late Thursday that if they pass it, he will sign it.

Latest Version of Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Bans Smoking It. The Senate Finance Committee has approved a medical marijuana bill, but one that doesn't allow patients to smoke it. Senate File 1641 would allow patients to use a vaporizer in non-public places, though. Sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) said he reluctantly included the smoking prohibition to appease opponents. Meanwhile, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, House File 1818, Rep. Carly Marlin (DFL-Hibbing) has now modified her bill to make it a limited clinical trial bill. It would also prohibit smoking. Medical marijuana advocates are split on the move, with some saying they feel betrayed. Minnesota is proving an awfully tough nut to crack when it comes to medical marijuana.

More Than Half of Oregon Cities and Counties Have Dispensary Moratoriums. The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday released a list of local governments that have imposed moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries. According to the state, 131 cities and 25 counties enacted moratoriums on dispensaries. Oregon has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties. Oregon passed a law regulating dispensaries, but localities could enact moratoriums until yesterday. Those moratoriums can only extend through May 2015.

Pennsylvania Governor Now Supports Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill.Gov. Tom Corbett (R) remains opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use but now makes one exception: the use of a marijuana extract to treat severe seizures in children, his office said Thursday. Corbett's office first confirmed to The Associated Press that the Republican governor had met with several parents to tell them in person about his decision. The move came a day before patients and their families had vowed to stage at a sit-in at his office.

Washington State Family of Medical Marijuana Patients Fights Federal Drug Trafficking Charges, Faces Decades in Prison. A Kettle Falls family and a close friend are being tried as drug traffickers by federal prosecutors, even though they were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws and even though they don't appear to meet Justice Department criteria for prosecution. Larry Harvey, his wife, their son and his wife, and a family friend have refused plea offers that would have seen them sent to prison and are now preparing for trial. The Huffington Post has an extensive report; just click on the link.

Harm Reduction

Missouri Legislature Passes Bill to Provide Overdose Reversal Drug to Police and First Responders. The legislature Wednesday night gave final approval to House Bill 2040, which will allow police and emergency first responders to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). No word on if the governor intends to sign the bill into law.

International

OAS Drug Commission Concludes Biannual Conference. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded on Thursday its 55th Regular Session with a review of current drug policies in the hemisphere, in compliance with the mandate that the hemispheric institution received from the leaders of the region at the Summit of the Americas in 2012. Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza highlighted the contributions that the hemispheric institution has made to the global drug problem, and called both the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas (Analytical Report and Scenarios Report), and the Declaration of Antigua Guatemala adopted by all Member States of the OAS at the 2013 General Assembly in in Guatemala, that calls for a Special General Assembly focused on the discussion of the issue, "substantial contributions to the discussions on this topic that are being developed around the world." Insulza added that the conclusions of the Special General Assembly that the OAS will hold on the world drug problem in September in Guatemala "will surely represent a major contribution to the debate on drug policy that the United Nations will undertake in 2016."

Chronicle AM -- May 1, 2014

Asset forfeiture gone wild is in the news, so is a Delaware drug lab scandal, there's a major report on imprisonment from the National Academy of Sciences, Silk Road is back, and more. Let's get to it:

Silk Road is back and as busy as ever.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill to Seal Old Marijuana Convictions Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bipartisan sponsored bill that would allow someone to have their marijuana conviction sealed, if the conviction is now legal under Amendment 64. The committee heard nearly two hours of public comment before approving the measure, Senate Bill 14-218. The bill passed on a 3-2 vote and is now headed to the Committee on Appropriations.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Dies in Committee. There will be no medical marijuana legislation passing through the Louisiana legislature this year. Senate Bill 541, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills (R-New Iberia) was defeated in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on a vote of 6-2.

Iowa Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. The Iowa Senate on Thursday approved a narrow opening for Iowa parents with children suffering from severe epilepsy to be able to access cannabis oil as a treatment option. After an emotion-charged debate, senators voted 36-12 to pass Senate File 2360, a bill that legalizes the possession and medical use under certain conditions of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that backers say possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits. Ten Republicans joined 26 Democrats in passing the bill. Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is the sponsor.

US House Narrowly Defeats Amendment to Allow VA Docs to Recommend Medical Marijuana. Nearly 200 members of Congress, including 22 Republicans, voted in favor of an amendment Wednesday intended to allow physicians within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states that allow it. The bipartisan-sponsored amendment failed 195-222. The amendment, sponsored by Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO), was the first of its kind to be introduced on the House floor. It would have become part of House Resolution 4486, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Sheriff on Asset Forfeiture Rampage. Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair is seizing criminal suspects' assets like never before, according to this report from The Ocala Star Banner. Prior to Blair taking office in 2012, asset forfeiture cases averaged 38 a year, but jumped to 57 last year, and there are already 33 so far this year. Now, Blair is expanding the practice beyond drug cases to include common crimes. Suspects face being stripped of their property after being arrested by officers for DUI, shoplifting, burglary, armed robbery, resisting arrest, driving with a suspended or revoked license, or grand theft. One woman had her 2008 Chevy seized after being caught with a few oxycodone pills. Here's the money quote (so to speak), as Blair's office explains the increase in seizures: "It shows the difference between a sheriff with 35 years of law enforcement experience and a sheriff who came from the business world," Chief Deputy Fred LaTorre explained. The whole article is worth the read; click the link.

Class Action Lawsuit Coming Over Nevada County's Highway Robbery Asset Forfeiture Program. Humboldt County already had to give back the money it stole from driver Tan Nguyen under the guise of its highway asset forfeiture program -- and pay his lawyer's fees -- but now the county faces a class action lawsuit from other victims of its overzealous law enforcement practices. After Ngyuen won his case against the Humboldt County Sherff's Department, 20 more people have come forward to say that they too had been stopped in Humboldt County and forced to give up money without any charges or even being accused of a crime. In many cases, they weren't even slapped with a speeding ticket. "What they're doing is profiling. They think they're stopping people who are on their way to California to buy drugs, and then bring them back to the Midwest or the Eastern states, and then sell them," said John Ohlson, he attorney for the cash seizure victims.

Drugged Driving

"Impaired" Driving Bill Wins Vermont Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a drugged driving bill, House Bill 501, but not before amending it to remove the zero tolerance language in the version passed by the House. Instead, the Senate version now says the amount of drugs in your system has to actually impair your ability to drive. While the distinction between the two bills seems small, it may be a tough fight to hammer out a compromise by next Friday, when the session adjourns. The version of the bill cited here is the original; the amended version is not yet available.

Law Enforcement

Delaware Drug Lab Scandal Could See Thousands of Drug Cases Thrown Out. The Delaware Public Defender's Office on Wednesday filed "the first wave" of legal challenges to try and overturn 9,500 drug convictions because of tampering and thefts at the state's drug testing lab. This is on top of the more than 3,700 pending drug prosecutions in Delaware courts that are at risk of being dismissed due to the scandal at the Controlled Substances Lab inside the Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. And on the same day that public defenders delivered five archive boxes containing 112 motions for post-conviction relief to prosecutors and the court, state officials revealed that an employee at the Medical Examiner's Office has been suspended with pay as an investigation into the missing drug evidence continues. Click on the link for all the sleazy details.

Georgia Narc Denied Immunity in Killing of Innocent Pastor in Drug Investigation. A narcotics officer who fatally shot a Baptist pastor in Georgia persuaded a federal judge to partly reduce the jury-imposed $2.3 million verdict, but failed in his bid to claim qualified immunity because he was acting in his capacity as a law enforcement officer. Billy Shane Harrison shot and killed Pastor Jonathan Ayers after Ayers attempted to flee in his car from undercover officers attempting to question him in a drug investigation. The judge in the case ruled that "defendant could not have reasonably believed that Ayers posed an imminent threat of serious harm or that deadly force was necessary to prevent his escape," the 11-page ruling states. "And because it is clearly established that it is unreasonable for a police officer to use deadly force under such circumstances, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law based on qualified immunity is denied." No criminal charges were ever filed against Harrison for the killing.

Maine Governor Says He Found Money to Pay for More Drug War. Gov. Paul LePage (R) announced Wednesday that his administration has found $2.5 million to pay for a drug enforcement bill that would add agents, judges and prosecutors and increase funding for addiction treatment programs. The bill was enacted with broad bipartisan support, but the Legislature's budget committee did not fund it. On Wednesday, the LePage administration said it has found a projected surplus in the state's unclaimed-property fund, which is overseen by the State Treasurer's Office and consists of money and personal assets that are considered lost or abandoned. The governor said he will propose emergency legislation today to allocate the surplus to the drug enforcement initiative. But it's unclear whether the Legislature will consider it. The ACLU of Maine, which has consistently opposed the bill, urged lawmakers to reject LePage's proposal. "The governor continues to push a proposal that would scale up an already bloated criminal justice system while giving a back seat to more effective treatment programs," the group said. "Plenty has been said about the need for a balanced approach, but this proposal is nothing of the sort... A truly balanced approach would mean scaling back law enforcement while increasing treatment and prevention."

Sentencing

National Academy of Sciences Report Calls for Big Cuts in Imprisonment. A groundbreaking report released yesterday by the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, documents the unprecedented and costly price of US incarceration rates. As the report points out, this unprecedented rate of incarceration is a relatively new phenomenon in US history. America's prison population exploded largely as a result of the failed drug war policies of the last 40 years. The report calls for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment and says that the rise in the US prison population is "not serving the country well." It concludes that in order to significantly lower prison rates, the US should revise its drug enforcement and sentencing laws.

Sentencing Commission Submits Federal Sentencing Guideline Amendments to Cut Drug Sentences. On Wednesday, the US Sentencing Commission submitted its proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines to Congress. In addition to recommending reductions in some drug sentences, the Commission is also seeking public comment on the issue of whether to apply the amendment to the drug quantity table retroactively. Comments can be made through July 7 and can be emailed to public_comment@ussc.gov.

Federal Judge Calls for Clemency for Convicted Cocaine Dealer. In an opinion issued Tuesday, US District Court Judge Paul Friedman urged President Obama to commute the sentence of Byron McDade, who was convicted following a jury trial in 2002 of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Friedman sentenced McDade to 27 years in prison, the shortest sentence possible under federal sentencing guidelines, which were mandatory at the time. Prior to his conviction in the drug case, McDade had only a single misdemeanor on his record, for which he paid a $10 fine. "The sentence this Court was required to impose on Mr. McDade was unjust at the time and is 'out of line' with and disproportionate to those that would be imposed under similar facts today," Friedman wrote in his opinion dismissing McDade's latest bid to overturn his conviction. "While the Court is powerless to reduce the sentence it was required by then-existing law to impose, the President is not. The Court urges Mr. McDade's appointed counsel to pursue executive clemency on Mr. McDade's behalf so that justice may be done in this case." The administration recently called on federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

International

Silk Road Internet Drug Sales Web Site Still As Busy As Ever. Eight months after federal agents brought down the man alleged to be running an underground Web site called Silk Road that had become a thriving venue for drug trafficking, not only is the site up and running again but the new version is more vibrant than ever. Busted Not Broken, a report from watchdog group the Digital Citizens Alliance claims the "online black market economy has done a complete somersault in the six months since the fall of the original Silk Road. New players have arisen, including a second incarnation of 'Dread Pirate Roberts' and a revived Silk Road (which seems to be thriving, even after law enforcement arrested and charged some of the new site's prominent figures) has replaced the original."

Jakarta Drug Crackdown An Exercise in Futility. The vice governor of Jakarta, commonly known as Ahok, has announced a crackdown on drugs in the Indonesian capital, but a thoughtful analysis from asiancorrespondent.com's Patrick Tibke shows how it is in exercise in both futility and hypocrisy. Click on the link; the read is worth it.

Lebanese Druse Leader Walid Jumblatt Says Legalize Marijuana. Walid Jumblatt, stalwart of the Lebanon's Druse community and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, said Thursday he supported marijuana legalization, for both medical and economic reasons. "Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north and the Bekaa Valley," Jumblatt told Al-Jadeed TV. "Let's legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation," the politician said. Crop substitution programs in the Bekaa Valley, which once saw a multi-billion marijuana trade, have been a failure, he added.

DEA Chief Opposes Marijuana Legalization, Supports Mandatory Minimums

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday to warn of the dangers of marijuana legalization and affirm her support for mandatory minimum sentences.

DEA administrator Michele Leonhart (usdoj.gov)
Leonhart's testimony put her increasingly at odds with the administration that employs her. The Obama administration has announced that it is not going to interfere with legal marijuana in states that have approved it -- unless some of its eight listed enforcement priorities are in play -- and it has made it very clear that it views mandatory minimum sentencing as a failed policy.

Leonhart mentioned two of the enforcement priorities -- the leakage of marijuana to non-legal states and the use of the herb by minors -- in her statement to the committee. She said she is worried by an increase in marijuana trafficking in states surrounding Colorado and that the same thing could happen in Washington state. She also worried that increasing acceptance of marijuana would lead to increased use.

"The trends are what us in law enforcement had expected would happen," she said. "In 2012, 438,000 Americans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that number were dependent on marijuana." But she did not provide any evidence tying the number of marijuana users to changing attitudes or laws.

The DEA is indeed concerned about marijuana legalization. Three months ago, DEA chief of operations James Capra called legalization in the states reckless and irresponsible and warned of looming disaster.

"It scares us," Capra said during a Senate hearing in January. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again."

Except that marijuana legalization has never been tried anywhere before Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington made the leap too recently to cite. In the Netherlands, where authorities turn a blind eye to sales at cannabis coffee shops and which is often cited as an example of "legalization," life goes on and marijuana use rates are well with European norms.

Leonhart continued singing the same old tune Wednesday, warning that emergency room visits related to marijuana increased by 28% between 2007 and 2011.

ER visits may be up, but it's the quality, not just the quantity that also matters. Marijuana has no fatal overdose potential; most marijuana-related ER visits are panic attacks or anxiety reactions, not life-threatening events.

Leonhart also had kind words for mandatory minimums, even though her immediate boss, Attorney General Eric Holder has said they create cruel, disproportionate punishments and contribute to federal prison overcrowding.

"Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work at the DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations," said Leonhart, in response to a question from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). "We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences equate the level of violator we are going after."

Leonhart is a holdover from the Bush administration. It is unclear how long she can continue to fit in under an Obama administration that is moving forward on drug policy reform.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 30, 2014

There was marijuana talk on Capitol Hill yesterday, a Vermont dispensary bill passes the Senate, Georgia's governor signs a welfare drug testing bill, a California drugged driving bill dies, and -- oh, yeah, we spent $7.5 billion to reduce Afghan opium production and got squat. And more. Let's get to it:

The US spent $7.5 billion to reduce Afghan opium cultivation. Now Afghanistan produces more than ever. Go figger. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

NIH Head Tells Congress Marijuana is a Gateway Drug. Dr. Nora Volkow, the director from the National Institutes of Health warned House lawmakers Tuesday against legalizing marijuana use, saying it could act as a gateway drug. Volkow told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations subpanel studies show that changes to brain chemistry after alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana use can prime users for harder drugs. Despite Volkow's claims, the gateway theory is widely discredited.

Treasury Secretary Defends Marijuana Banking Guidelines.Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Tuesday defended the Obama administration's guidelines to banks conducting transactions with legal marijuana sellers as congressional Republicans questioned whether the guidance amounts to tacit federal approval of a drug illegal in most states. Lew's comments came at hearing of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on financial services, where Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) accused the administration of providing a "rubber stamp" to drug dealers. Lew disagreed: "Without any guidance, there would be a proliferation of cash-only businesses, and that would make it impossible to see when there are actions going on that violate both federal and state law and that... would be a real concern," Lew said. "We thought that the clarity, bringing it into daylight, was a better solution." Congress should write a law to establish a policy, he added.

New York City Conference Today and Tomorrow Marks 70th Anniversary of LaGuardia Commission Report. A major one-and-a-half day conference at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) to discuss marijuana and broader drug policy reform gets underway today. The conference commemorates the 70th anniversary of one of the nation's first systematic studies to address many of the myths about marijuana, The La Guardia Committee Report: The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York, published in 1944. The NYAM published report concluded that "the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated," but marijuana prohibition has stood largely intact for seventy years -- until now. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Vermont Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Dispensary Improvement Bill. The Vermont Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that will expand access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. It will now be sent to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has expressed support for the measure. Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), will eliminate the cap on the number of patients who are allowed to access medical marijuana dispensaries. Currently, only 1,000 total patients are able to access dispensaries. The measure will also increase possession limits for dispensaries, allow them to deliver medical marijuana to patients, and permit naturopaths to certify patients for the program. The bill was amended by the House to initiate two studies: one to explore the possibility of adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program, and one to evaluate the potential impact of making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Excites Law Enforcement Opposition. Law enforcement agencies from across the state spoke out against a proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana at the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association today. "As the current bill stands in Louisiana, this still does not correct the fact that it is illegal in the United States of America to possess or use marijuana," president of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. The bill, Senate Bill 541, proposed by Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills (D-St. Martin Parish), will be heard by the Committee on Health and Welfare today.

Virginia Congressman Introduces Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) has filed House Resolution 4498, the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act. This bill would prohibit the federal government from preventing the prescription, possession, transportation, and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with applicable state law. The bill would also reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug.

Drug Testing

Georgia Governor Signs Bill to Drug Test Some Welfare Recipients. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed legislation on Tuesday requiring some applicants for food stamps and welfare benefits to undergo a drug test. Under the measure, House Bill 772, testing could be required if authorities have a "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. A person failing the test would temporarily lose benefits, although their children could receive assistance through another adult. Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, called the legislation "shameful" and said it violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

Drugged Driving

California "Per Se" Drugged Driving Bill Dies in Committee. A bill that would have made the presence of tiny amounts of marijuana metabolites per se evidence of impaired driving was killed in the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. Assembly Bill 2500, sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Antioch), was opposed by California NORML, whose head, Dale Gieringer, called it "a solution in search of a problem."

Law Enforcement

Bogus Highway Drug Search Yields $100,000 Settlement for Star Trek Fan. A Star Trek fan returning home from a convention on I-70 Illinois when he was stopped and searched by a Collinsville, Illinois, police officer has settled a lawsuit against the department for $100,000. Terrance Huff, who is also a documentary filmmaker, sued over the stop. After the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals refused to throw out the lawsuit, Collinsville settled. Click on the link for the whole juicy, sleazy story.

Colorado Bills That Would Have Removed Kids from Parents Suspected of Drug Use Die. The state Senate approved, but then rejected two bills that attempted to expand the definition of child abuse to include even attempts at drug use and/or possession. The bills were Senate Bill 177 and Senate Bill 178. They were opposed by a coalition of groups including the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of Colorado, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Defends Approval of Zohydro. FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, defended the agency's approval of the powerful opioid Zohydro ER (hydrocodone bitartrate) extended-release capsules, explaining that its highest dose is no more potent than the highest strengths of the opioid OxyContin ER (oxycodone) extended-release and extended-release morphine, in an FDA blog posted yesterday. Dr. Hamburg explained that with the drug approval, it is unlikely that opioid prescribing will change significantly or use by patients with pain. Zohydro ER is approved for the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment and for which alternative treatment options are inadequate. "Addressing the opioid crisis by focusing on a single opioid drug will simply not be effective," she stated. "Instead we must focus our collective attention and energy on the key drivers of the problem, which include excessive prescribing, illegal activity by a small number of providers, improper disposal of unused medications, and insufficient prescriber and patient education."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act to Eliminate the Disparities Between Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Passes its First Committee. The California Fair Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1010), authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), passed its first hurdle in the Senate Committee on Public Safety by a 4-2 vote. The bill will correct the disparity in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine that has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California. SB 1010 now moves on to the Appropriations Committee.

Bill to Up Meth Trafficking Penalties Passes New York Senate. The state Senate Monday passed legislation, cosponsored by Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida), that would increase the penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine. The measure, Senate Bill 3639, increases sentences by moving various meth manufacture and distribution offenses up one notch on the state's felony crime sentencing scheme.

International

OAS Drug Commission Meeting Underway. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) yesterday inaugurated its 55th Regular Session where it discussed, among other issues, policies related to micro-trafficking and the agenda of the Special General Assembly the hemispheric institution will hold in September in Guatemala, which will be dedicated exclusively to the Global Drug Problem in the Americas. The agenda of the CICAD meeting also includes discussions on alternatives to incarceration for drug dependent offenders and others in conflict with the law for reasons related to drugs, and the challenges and impacts surrounding the regulation of cannabis, with special attention to initiatives of this type in some States of the United States, as well as Uruguay. The meeting takes place between today and Thursday, May 1 at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, and is being chaired by Colombia. Click on the link for more details.

Singapore Bans New Synthetic Drugs Effective Tomorrow. Synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of controlled drugs like methamphetamine and heroin, will become illegal and attract the same penalties beginning May 1. While it is now legal to possess these drugs, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has the power to seize them to restrict their circulation. There are currently 11 types of compounds under the Fifth Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act, with over a hundred specific examples listed. Beginning in May, drugs listed under the Fifth Schedule will then be re-classified as Class A controlled drugs. This means that those convicted of abusing them may be jailed up to 10 years and fined up to S$20,000. Those found guilty of trafficking such substances will face a minimum of five years' jail and five strokes of the cane.

US Spent $7.5 Billion to Stop Afghan Opium, Got Squat, New Report Says. A new report from Washington's Afghanistan war watchdog has found that the US spent $7.5 billion in efforts to reduce Afghan opium cultivation, but that opium cultivation there is at an all-time high. The report is the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstuction. Opium-poppy cultivation takes up 209,000 hectares (516,230 acres) of land in Afghanistan, a 36% increase since 2012. Afghanistan is by far the world's largest opium producer.

Chronicle AM -- April 29, 2014

Pressure builds for marijuana legalization in Illinois, a California medical marijuana patient is bumped off the liver transplant list, the drug czar's office slams the idea of criminalizing drug use by pregnant women, and the founder of the Pirate Party has some choice words on drug policy. And more. Let's get to it:

The founder of Sweden's Pirate Party has some choice words about Swedish drug policies.
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Lawmakers Call for Legalization. Three Chicago-area Democratic state legislators and a Cook County commissioner held a press conference Monday to call for the decriminalization of marijuana possession, to be followed by complete legalization. The three reps are Mike Zalewski, Kelly Cassidy, and Christian Mitchell, ahd the commissioner is John Fritchey. They have not filed any legislation, but want fellow Democrats in the General Assembly to green-light a task force to study the issue.

Coloradans Still Favor Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that Colorado voters support their legalization law, with 54% in favor. Only two demographic groups -- Republicans and voters over 65 -- thought it was a bad idea; in all other demographic groups, there was majority support. A majority of respondents also agreed that driving has not become more dangerous and that legalization would save money in the criminal justice system. Only 15% of respondents said they had bought pot since it has been legalized.

Hawaii THC Ministry's Roger Christie Gets Five Years in Prison; Already Served Four Awaiting Trial. A Big Island man who openly used his ministry to promote marijuana use was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison for having 300 pot plants as part of a distribution ring. Roger Christie, founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, also known as the THC Ministry, has served nearly four years in federal detention. Based on how credit for time served is calculated, he could be released in a month or two. A federal grand jury indicted the Christies and 12 others on marijuana trafficking counts after a 2010 raid of the ministry. Christie has been in federal detention since, while his wife has been free on bail. Christie and his wife had tried to fight the charges on religious freedom grounds, but lost in the courts. They then pleaded guilty.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Passes Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday approved a bill that allows low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to be used by patients suffering seizure disorders. Senate Bill 1030, also known as the Charlotte's Web bill after a certain high-CBD strain, now heads to the House, where its fate remains uncertain as leaders there raise questions about whether an extract could be made safe enough to distribute.

Minnesota Senate Committee Approves Compromise Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. Senate File 1641 now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Wednesday hearing. Companion legislation has also moved in the House.

Colorado Bill to Make PTSD as Qualifying Medical Condition Killed in House Committee Vote. A bill that would have added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of 'debilitating medical conditions' that qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation was killed in committee Monday. House Bill 14-1364 failed to pass the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a move decried by the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's insane that in a state with legal marijuana veterans don't have the same right as anyone else over 21 -- especially considering how many lives are at stake," said Art Way, senior Colorado policy manager for the group. "No veteran should have to risk benefits or feel stigmatized when they use medical marijuana."

California Patient Denied Liver Transplant Over Marijuana; Sign the Petition Here. Stanford University Medical Center has removed Hep C and cirrhosis sufferer Richard Hawthorne from its list of people in line to get liver transplants because he uses medical marijuana to alleviate his symptoms. Stanford removed Richard from the list based on "national standards." It said: "The national protocols include factors that may lead to disqualification, which include both use of drugs and alcohol." Hawthorne uses medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. There were only 333 signatures on the petition to get him reinstated at press time. Click on the link to add yours.

Prescription Opiates

New York Lawmakers Introduce Package of Bills Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates. New York lawmakers have introduced a set of bills to help fight heroin with tougher penalties for dealers, more funding for overdose-reversal drugs and increased better coverage for treatment. The six bills would increase penalties for selling opioids -- a class of drugs including heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone -- that result in death; equip first responders with overdose-reversal drugs; require health insurance providers to cover rehab programs and anti-addiction medication; create a public service announcement targeted at teenagers; and provide rehabilitation in communities.

Reproductive Rights

Drug Czar's Office Slams Tennessee Bill Criminalizing Drug Use by Pregnant Women. As Gov. Bill Haslam (R) ponders whether to sign a recently passed bill criminalizing drug use by pregnant women, acting Office of National Drug Control Policy head Michael Botticelli visited the state to say it was a bad idea. "Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease." The proposal has garnered national attention and vocal state and nationwide opposition from constitutional and reproductive rights groups. More than 10,500 people signed a petition asking for the governor's veto. Today is Haslam's deadline to act.

International

Tory Think Tank Urges British Conservatives to Decriminalize Drugs, Embrace Marijuana Reform. The Conservative Party think tank Bright Blue has issued a series of policy proposals to reinvigorate Conservative electoral support, including abandoning the war on drugs and embracing at least partial marijuana legalization. While the proposal is unlikely to find favor with Home Secretary Theresa May and others on the Tory right it does reflect a growing international trend following the legalization of marijuana in some US states. The Liberal Democrats have already said they will set up a Royal Commission to overhaul Britain's drugs rules and some within Labor would back a similar approach.

Pirate Party Head Admits Drug Use, Tells Sweden to "Get Real" About Drug Policy. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party, has been identified as one of eight European Parliament candidates who have tried drugs. He is unapologetic: "No, I haven't 'tried' drugs. I have 'used' drugs, and enjoyed it. That's the whole damn point," he wrote. "The Swedish elitist debate is seriously deranged on these issues -- to start getting realistic, we must first acknowledge that people are using drugs because they enjoy doing so. It's really no difference from enjoying a glass of wine or a fine cognac. Or for that matter, a cup of coffee, which is a very common drug that was once banned in Sweden as -- wait for it -- a 'gateway drug to heavier abuse'. Yes, you read that right." The Pirate Party aims to decriminalize the personal use of controlled substances as well as the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. "This is a very firm anchor in our civil liberties platform," he said. The Pirate Party earned 7.1% of the vote in the 2009 European elections. It was founded amid the debate about illegal downloading of film and music. It initially focused on promoting looser copyright laws and restrictions on the authorities' powers to snoop on computer users. The party now campaigns on a wide range of issues.

Uruguayans Still Oppose Marijuana Legalization Law, But Want to Give It a Chance. A new poll from CIFRA finds that 64% still oppose the country's legalization law, basically unchanged from 65% against it before the law was passed last year. But a narrow majority, 51%, said "it is better to wait until the bill is in effect to see if it truly works before rejecting it." Meanwhile, 46% of respondents want the bill "abrogated immediately."

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