Overdose Prevention

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Fighting Stigmatization of Drug Users in Denver [FEATURE]

In many ways, ours is harsh, moralistic, and punitive society. One need only look at our world-leading incarceration rate to see the evidence. We like to punish wrongdoers, and our conception of wrongdoers often includes those who are doing no direct wrong to others, but who are doing things of which we don't approve.

We label those people of whom we don't approve. When it comes to drugs and drug use, the labels are all too familiar: Heroin users are "fucking junkies;" alcohol abusers are "worthless drunks;" cocaine smokers are "crack heads;" stimulant users are "tweakers;" people with prescription drug habits are "pill poppers." The disdain and the labeling even extends to the use of drugs on the cusp of mainstream acceptance. Marijuana users are "stoners" or "pot heads" or "couch potatoes."

Such labeling -- or stigmatizing -- defines those people as different, not like us, capital-O Other. It dehumanizes the targeted population. And that makes it more socially and politically feasible to define them as threats to the rest of us and take harsh actions against them. It's a pattern that we've seen repeatedly in the drug panics that sweep the nation on a regular basis. Drug users are likened to disease vectors or dangerous vermin that must be repressed, eradicated, wiped out to protect the rest of us.

(It is interesting in this regard to ponder the response to the most recent wave of opiate addiction, where, for the first time, users are being seen as "our sons and daughters," not debauched decadents or scary people of color who live in inner cities. Yes, the impulse to punish still exists, but it is now attenuated and superseded by calls for access to treatment.)

Never mind that such attitudes can be counterproductive. Criminalizing and punishing injection drug use has not, for example, slowed the spread of blood-borne infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. To the contrary, it has only contributed to the spread of those diseases. Likewise, criminalizing drug possession does not prevent drug overdoses, but it may well prevent an overdose victim's friends or acquaintances from seeking life-saving medical attention for him.

A recent survey from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reinforces the view that we tend to stigmatize drug users as morally decrepit. That survey found that Americans are significantly more likely to have negative attitudes about drug addiction and addicts than about mental illness.

Only one out of five said they would be willing to work closely on the job with a person addicted to drugs (as compared to 62% for mental illness), and nearly two-thirds said employers should be able to deny a job to someone with an addiction issue (as compared to 25% for mental illness). And 43% said drug addicts should be denied health insurance benefits available to the public at large.

"While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition," said study leader Colleen L. Barry, Ph.D. of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one's struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal."

"The more shame associated with drug addiction, the less likely we as a community will be in a position to change attitudes and get people the help they need," study coauthor Beth McGinty, Ph.D. said in a news release. "If you can educate the public that these are treatable conditions, we will see higher levels of support for policy changes that benefit people with mental illness and drug addiction."

As the survey suggests, the process of stigmatization is an impediment to smart, evidence-based approaches to dealing with problematic drug use. Now, the Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center is trying to do something about it.

In the last few days, it has rolled out a new anti-stigmatization campaign featuring the faces of injection drug users, the locations where they overdosed or suffered other bad consequences, and their individual stories in brief.

"My name is Alan," says a middle-aged man with a brushy mustache. "I overdosed on heroin. Right there in that parking lot in that picture. I know the risks of doing heroin, but drug dependency is strong."

The second part of Alan's message is repeated with each drug user pictured: "There are 11,500 injection drug users like me in Metro Denver. 73% of us carry Hepatitis C. 14% of us have HIV. The transmission of bloodborne diseases and drug overdoses are nearly 100% preventable. Support the Harm Reduction Action Center. Learn more about how our public health strategies keep you, and the people you know, safe."

"My name is Andrew," says a dreadlocked and pierced young man whose image is coupled with a photo of an empty apartment. "After a decade living as a homeless youth, the most traumatic thing that happened to me didn't happen to me at all. It happened to my best friend Val. She died of a heroin overdose. Right here in this picture. She was my friend. She was someone's daughter. Sobriety has taught me a lot about the thin line that separates us all. Val was someone you knew. She probably served you coffee. She probably even greeted you with a friendly smile."

"My name is Joanna," says a woman whose image is paired with a photo of a car parked beneath a highway overpass. "When I was diagnosed with lymphoma, I was prescribed a heavy dose of pain killers. Cancer huts, but with treatment, it went away. My dependency on opioids did not. Two years later, this is where I live; in a car, under the interstate. I did not choose to get cancer. I did not choose to get dependent on opioids."

The images and the messages are strong and direct. That's the idea, explained HRAC executive director Lisa Raville.

"This campaign is about bringing awareness of our work in the community, focusing on the common sense approach championed by harm reduction," she said. "Stigma, of course, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks, preventing otherwise reasonable conversation on the matter of communicable diseases and accidental overdoses. This campaign sets the scene that harm reduction is a valid and evidence-based approach to public health. Access to clean syringes, proper syringe disposal, and naloxone are key components to a comprehensive public health strategy that curbs the spread of HIV, HVC, and reduces the rate of otherwise fatal overdoses."

It's a message directed at the general public even more than drug users themselves, Raville said.

"One of the fundamental problems faced by health care advocates working with injection drug users is a generalized, public perception that the issue is isolated to people and places outside of the normal social sphere. Generally speaking, our tendency is to dissociate our ordinary experiences -- the people we know and the places we go -- from things that we consider dangerous, dark, or forbidden," she said.

"In the arena of injection drug use, the consequence of this mode of thinking has been historically devastating," she continued. "Instead of crafting public policy that works to minimize the harm caused by addiction, our trajectory tends towards amplifying consequences for anyone that wanders outside of the wire and into these foreign spaces. Rather than treating addiction as a disease, we treat it as something that is volitional and deserving of its consequences. Accordingly, our policies view the contraction of blood-borne pathogens and the risk of overdose as deterrents to the act of injecting drugs."

That cold-blooded attitude may make some people feel better about themselves and their policy prescriptions, but it hasn't proven useful in reducing deaths, disease, or other harms resulting from injection drug use. Instead, it tends to increase them.

"These 'consequences,' of course, have little impact on rates of addiction," Raville argued. "They do, however, all but ensure the continued spread of HIV and hepatitis C. Moreover, possession and distribution of naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of otherwise fatal opiate overdoses, remains criminal in many areas throughout the world."

At bottom, the campaign is not just about drug users but about better public health.

"As our campaign points out, when we drive things underground, we make them truly dangerous," Raville said. "Harm reduction is predicated on the fact that people use drugs. Those who inject drugs are among the most insular and at-risk for contracting HIV, HCV or dying of an overdose. Like a stone that falls in the water, these acute health-related events have ripples which touch all of us, regardless of whether or not we use drugs. HIV infects those who inject the same as those who do not; the best way to prevent its spread is to prevent its spread across all populations of people, not just those deemed more socially 'worthy.' By facing stigma head-on and by humanizing the people in our community who we serve, the Harm Reduction Action Center hopes to normalize the issue and bring the conversation about drug use and healthcare to a more practical level. As a public health agency that serves people who inject, we could get so much more done in our community without stigma."

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM: MO MJ Actions, CT Patients Want Buds, AL Goes After Pregnant Drug Users, More (10/13/14)

Missouri marijuana activists are keeping things hopping, Connecticut patients want actual buds, the Washington Post continues its asset forfeiture series, the Labor Department issues proposed rules for unemployment compensation drug testing, and more.

The opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone is coming to Michigan. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Show-Me Cannabis Activist Sues Missouri Narcs for Violating Sunshine Law. Aaron Malin, a member of the Missouri marijuana reform group Show-Me Cannabis, has filed suit against the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association for failing to hand over documents and information about budgets and training the group provides to narcotics officers. The lawsuit could clarify the question of whether the association is subject to the state's Sunshine Law. Malin argues that because much of the group's funding comes from dues and training paid for by members of taxpayer-funded drug task forces, it is a quasi-governmental entity and therefore subject to the law.

Columbia, Maryland, Cultivation Decriminalization Advances. The city's Disabilities Commission voted unanimously last week to endorse an ordinance that would decriminalize the cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. People caught growing two plants would face only a $250 fine; seriously ill people would face no fine. The city council had asked various commissions to weigh in; the Board of Health and the Substance Abuse Advisory Commission came down against the proposal. The council will take it up at a meeting next Monday.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Patients Want Whole Buds, Not Ground-Up Whole Plant. State medical marijuana regulations require that the plant be ground up, and that's not sitting well with some patients and activists. Homogenizing the plant results in "the degradation of the cannabinoids, the actual essential oils that are in the flower," explained Peter Mould, executive director of Connecticut NORML, who has posted a petition at change.org (search for "medical marijuana CT") asking state regulators to allow the sale of whole buds.

Asset Forfeiture

Seized Cash Fuels Law Enforcement Spending. The Washington Post continues to hammer away at asset forfeiture. This latest in an ongoing series of articles examines what law enforcement agencies are buying with the hundreds of millions of dollars they have seized under federal asset forfeiture laws. The Post examined 43,000 annual reports from police agencies under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing program. While some of the spending is justifiable, the Post also found seized funds paying for luxury vehicles, travel expenses, and even a clown named Sparkles. It's a long, but worthwhile read.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Issues Proposed Rule for Unemployment Compensation Drug Testing; Limits It to Job Categories Where Drug Testing is Required. The department is responding to the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which has a provision allowing states to drug test people seeking unemployment compensation. "We propose that an applicant may be drug tested by the State in order to be eligible to receive State UC if the applicant's only suitable work, as defined under the State UC law, is in a position or class of positions, i.e., an 'occupation,' for which Federal law or that State's law requires employee drug testing in that occupation," the department proposed.

Harm Reduction

Michigan Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) today signed into law a bill that requires emergency medical responders to be trained to administer the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). The legislation, House Bill 5407, is part of a package of bills dealing with the issue. Snyder signed them all.

Pregnancy

Two More Alabama Counties Start Charging Pregnant Women Who Test Positive for Illegal Drugs. Calhoun and Cleburne counties now join Etowah County in seeking to prosecute pregnant women who use drugs, saying the move is designed to deter them from using drugs. That's even though there is a strong consensus among the medical community that criminalizing pregnant women hooked on drugs is not good for either mother or child, because the threat of arrest may deter pregnant women from seeking adequate prenatal health care.

International

Medical Marijuana Momentum in Australia. The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) announced today that it will join in a national clinical trial on medical marijuana. It will join in trials being conducted by the New South Wales government. Nearly two-thirds of Australians support medical marijuana, according to a July poll, and both the national and various state governments are becoming more receptive.

Chronicle AM: Decrim in Jamaica/MD/Philly, Chris Christie Talks Drugs, PA ODs Bill, More (10/1/14)

Decrim comes to Maryland and Philadelphia, and Jamaica is working on it, too; the Oregon initiative campaign heats up, Chris Christie talks drugs, a SWAT reporting bill in Michigan gets a hearing, and more. Let's get to it:

Rastas down Jamaica way will soon have something to smile about. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Campaign Unveils First TV Ad. The Measure 91 legalization initiative campaign has unveiled the first of its TV spot ads, featuring a former veteran Oregon law enforcement officer explaining why he supports legalization. The campaign has about $2 million budgeted for TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign. Click on the title link to view the ad.

Leading Legalization Foe to Make Oregon Campaign Appearances. The man who is arguably the leading public opponent of marijuana legalization, Dr. Kevin Sabet of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), will make seven appearances in Oregon this week to campaign against the Measure 91 legalization initiative. He had planned a 13-stop "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour" partly funded with federal grant dollars, but that was scrapped after the Measure 91 campaign cried foul. Now, Sabet's crusade is privately funded.

Philadelphia Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Mayor Michael Nutter (D) today signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Up to an ounce will be considered a civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine or a $100 fine for public consumption. The new law will go into effect October 20.

Decriminalization Now in Effect in Maryland. As of today, the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a crime, but a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100. The move comes after the legislature earlier this year passed and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed into law SB 364. Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Louisiana Poll Shows Little Support for Harsh Marijuana Sentences. A new Public Policy Polling survey released by the ACLU of Louisiana found that 78% opposed sentences of longer than six months for pot possession, 71% opposed life sentences for felons caught with marijuana, and 68% support medical marijuana. Louisiana has some of the nation's harshest marijuana laws, including a sentence of up to life in prison for marijuana possession by a felon and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for repeat pot possession offenders. Simple possession first offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, but 60% of respondents said it should be decriminalized. Click on the poll link for demographics and methodologies.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers to Hear High CBD Cannabis Oil Testimony Today. A legislative panel is meeting today in Lawrenceville to hear testimony from law enforcement, health care professionals, and others about medical marijuana extracts and cannabis oils. This could lay the groundwork for new legislation to be filed next year.

New Mexico Credit Unions Will Close Medical Marijuana Producer Accounts. Some credit unions have sent letters to nearly half the state's licensed medical marijuana producers saying they no longer accept their business and are closing their accounts. The credit unions said they could not comply with federal guidelines. Medical marijuana supporters are demanding to know why.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Talks Drug Treatment, Ending Mandatory Minimums. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, called Tuesday for making drug and alcohol treatment "more available for everybody" and criticized mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. "With 23 million folks addicted, it's not working," Christie said of the war on drugs. "There's gotta be a separation between the criminal act [of using illegal drugs] and the disease." Click on the link for more details.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) Tuesday signed into law SB 1164, which has two harm reduction measures aimed at reducing drug overdoses. The bill creates a "Good Samaritan" immunity from prosecution for people helping overdose victims and it makes the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) more available to police and the public. The new law will go into effect on October 20.

Law Enforcement

Michigan House Committee Hears Testimony on SWAT Reporting Bill. The state House Criminal Justice Committee is hearing testimony today on a bill that would require SWAT teams in the state to report on their activities. The SWAT Team Reporting ACT, HB 4914, would require agencies with SWAT teams to n the number, location, reason, authorization and outcome of all deployments, and to file reports with the Attorney General's office twice a year.

International

Jamaica on the Way to Marijuana Decriminalization. Justice Minister Mark Golding said today that a bill to decriminalize marijuana has been drafted and should be passed into law before the end of the year. The bill would make possession of up to two ounces a petty offense and would also allow decriminalization for religious purposes, allowing the island nation's Rastafarians to smoke "Jah herb" without fear of arrest.

Chronicle AM: MPP Files for 2016 in CA, Addiction Group Calls for FDA Head's Head, More (9/24/14)

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Opiates

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

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM: NFL Relaxes Marijuana Policy, Bolivia Rejects US Criticism, Aussie PM Supports MedMj, More (9/18/14)

MPP fights to get a third local Maine initiative on the ballot, Florida CBD cannabis oil growers fight for better rules, the NFL relaxes its marijuana policy, Bolivia's president rejects US claims on drugs, Australia's prime minister supports medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales shrugs off US criticism of his country's drug policies. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

MPP Files Complaint to Get York, Maine, Initiative on Ballot. The Marijuana Policy Project filed a complaint yesterday in York County Superior Court seeking a temporary injunction to force the town Board of Selectmen to put a possession legalization question on the November ballot. The board has twice refused to put the matter to voters, despite petitioners gathering enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. The complaint seeks a hearing by tomorrow. Similar initiatives are already set for Lewiston and South Portland; Portland voted to legalize it last year.

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Program Delayed After Growers Complain About Proposed Rules. The Department of Health's issuance of proposed rules on who could qualify for one of five licenses to grow low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana under a new state law have run into stiff opposition from potential growers. The growers have filed challenges to the rules, and now an administrative judge must deal with those challenges. He has up to 60 days to do so.

Drug Policy

NFL, Players Agree on New Drug Policy, League Eases Up on Marijuana. The league's new drug policy allows for immediate testing for the presence of human growth hormone (HGH). It also raises the acceptable level of THC found in a player's system from 15 nanograms per millileter to 35 nanograms. The change in policy will allow several suspended players to return immediately; others will see the lengths of their suspensions reduced.

Opiates

Senator Whitehouse Files Bill to Address Prescription Opiate, Heroin Use. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) yesterday introduced SB 2389, "a bill to authorize the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use." The next of the bill is not yet available online. The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

North Carolina Conference on Heroin Set for February. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, legislators, medical professionals, law enforcement, and heroin users and people impacted by its use will hold a conference in February to discuss legislative solutions to heroin use and heroin-related drug overdoses. Click on the link for more information.

International

Irish Review Calls for Easing Drug Laws. A government study of sentencing policy has called for an easing of mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug dealing offenses, which currently stand at 10 years. The Strategic Review of Penal Policy also recommends increasing the monetary threshold that triggers serious drug dealing charges, which is currently at about $20,000. And it calls for increasing "good time" for good behavior in prison from 25% to 33%.

Bolivia Rejects US Claim It Hasn't Done Enough to Curtail Drug Production. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a coca growers' union leader, rejected the White House's designation last week of Bolivia as one of three countries (along with Burma and Venezuela) that had failed to comply with US drug policy mandates. "Whatever they do and whatever they say, or yell from the United States, the people won't be confused by this type of information," Morales said Wednesday in a speech. Although the US complains that "illegal cultivation for drug production remains high," the UNODC said in June that coca leaf production in Bolivia last year had declined 9% and was at the lowest level since 2002.

Mexico Orders 18 Black Hawk Helicopters for More Better Drug War. The Pentagon announced this week that it has awarded a $203 million contract to Sikorsky to build 18 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Mexican Air Force. That contract doesn't include the cost of engine and mission systems; the total cost for supplying the choppers will be about $680 million. Mexico will use the choppers "to enhance its counter-narcotics capabilities."

Australia Prime Minister Backs Medical Marijuana. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has written in a letter to a radio host saying he is prepared to support legalizing medical marijuana. "I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates," Abbott wrote. "If a drug is needed for a valid medicinal purpose though and is being administered safely there should be no question of its legality. And if a drug that is proven to be safe abroad is needed here, it should be available. I agree that the regulation of medicines is a thicket of complexity, bureaucracy and corporate and institutional self interest. My basic contention is that something that has been found to be safe in a reliable jurisdiction shouldn't need to be tested again here."

South Africa Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Support of Christian Democrats. The Medical Innovation Bill, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana, has gained the support of the African Christian Democratic Party. The bill was reintroduced by an Inkatha Party member last week, and the governing African National Congress Party approved letting it move forward.

Chronicle AM: Obama Names Drug Producing Countries, CDC Overdose Report, CA Narcan Law, More (9/16/14)

Congress is back and bills are picking up cosponsors, Guam will vote on medical marijuana, Wyoming moves toward ending civil asset forfeiture reform, the president names drug producing and transit countries (again), and more. Let's get to it:

The rate of increase in opiate OD deaths is slowing. (CDC/NCHS)
Marijuana Policy

Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act Picks Up New Sponsor. The bill, HR 4137, would "prohibit assistance provided under the program of block grants to States for temporary assistance for needy families from being accessed through the use of an electronic benefit transfer card at any store that offers marijuana for sale." Introduced in March by Rep. David Weichert (R-WA), the bill now has 16 cosponsors, all Republicans. The latest is Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). The House Speaker has indicated the bill could see action this week.

Medical Marijuana

Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014 Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would exclude low-THC, cannabidiol-based medicines from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The latest cosponsors are Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Tom McClintock (R-CA). The bill now has 24 cosponsors -- 14 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Guam Medical Marijuana Legislative Initiative Published, Pro and Con Arguments Sought. The Guam Election Commission has released the text for Proposal 14A, the legislatively-initiated medical marijuana measure that will go before voters in November. The election commission is urging opponents and proponents of the measure to submit written arguments not exceeding 500 words by this Friday.

At Harrisburg Rally, Top Pennsylvania House Republican Says He Supports Medical Marijuana Bill. State Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) told a rally on the capitol steps Monday that he now supports pending medical marijuana legislation. This could be a sign that Republican opposition to Senate Bill 770 in the House is softening. The bill has some bipartisan support in the Senate, but the session only has a month left.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Votes to Sponsor Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee voted last Thursday to sponsor a draft bill for next year's legislative session that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The draft bill is 15LSO-009. Under the bill, defendants would have to be convicted of a crime before property could be seized, they would have to be told what property is being considered for seizure, and, if they are convicted of a crime, they could challenge the forfeiture and request a hearing.

Drug Policy

In Annual Determination, White House Names 22 Countries as Major Drug Producers or Transit Countries. The White House has named the following countries as "major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries:" Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Among that group, the determination singles out Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as "having failed demonstrably" to undertake drug war policies to Washington's liking. But it also says Washington will keep supplying aid to Burma and Venezuela because it is "vital to the national security interests of the United States."

Harm Reduction

California Governor Signs Naloxone Access Expansion Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 1535, which allows pharmacists to furnish the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) without a prescription. Previously, the drug was only available with a prescription or through a handful of programs throughout the state.

Prescription Pills

CDC Finds Slowing Rate of Increase in Prescription Opiate Overdose Deaths. Opioid pain relievers were involved in about 11,700 drug overdose deaths in 2011, up about four-fold over 1999, but the rate of increase in such deaths has leveled off since 2006, according to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. But while ODs from opiates alone seem to be stabilizing, ODs from a combination of opiates and benzodiazepines were on the increase, with benzos involved in 31% of opiate ODs in 2011, up from 13% in 1999.

Sentencing

Second Chance Reauthorization Act Gets New Sponsor. The bill, HR 3465, would amend the Second Chance Act of 2007 to allow continued authority for grants for drug treatment in prisoner reentry programs. The bill has 41 cosponsors -- 33 Democrats and eight Republicans -- with the latest being Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL).

House Smarter Sentencing Act Gets New Sponsor. The bill, HR 3382, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, allow for applications for resentencing for some crack offenders, and allow judges to sentence beneath mandatory minimums in some cases. The bill has 50 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 14 Republicans -- with the latest being Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA).

CBO Says Senate Smarter Sentencing Act Would Save $3 Billion Over Next Decade. The bill, SB 1410, would reduce Justice Department corrections spending by about $4 billion, but would also result in about $1 billion in costs related to ex-offenders receiving federal benefits earlier than they otherwise would have, the Congressional Budget Office reported. The bill would see about 250,000 prisoners released earlier than they would have been over the next decade.

International

Australia's Victoria State to See Government-Sponsored Medical Marijuana Bill. Victoria Health Minister David Davis said a bill to make it easier to conduct medical marijuana clinical trials will be introduced today.

Chronicle AM: NIDA Seeks Marijuana Grower, NC OD Awareness Events, LSD Lifer Seeks Freedom, More (8/28/14)

NIDA seeks a marijuana grower, South Dakota state fair medical marijuana protest, an LSD lifer seeks his freedom, Gambia to reduce marijuana penalties, and more. Let's get to it:

South Dakota medical marijuana and hemp protest organizer Cody Gardner in downtown Huron. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Initiative Effort Ongoing. The effort to legalize marijuana in Nevada continues. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada has until November 11 to collect just over 100,000 valid voter signatures for its legalization initiative. If they succeed, the measure goes to the legislature next year, and if the legislature does not approve it, it goes to the voters in 2016. In addition to urging people to sign up now, the campaign is also looking for signature gatherers. Click on the title link for more information.

Brookings Institution Report Finds Washington Legalization Doing Well. The report is Washington's Marijuana Legalization Grows Knowledge, Not Just Pot. Author Philip Wallach likes the built-in funding for research, the coordination of efforts across state agencies, the mandated cost-benefit analysis, and more.

NIDA Seeking a Marijuana Farmer. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is preparing to solicit proposals from people who can "harvest, process, analyze, store and distribute" marijuana, the agency announced Tuesday night. The research agency is looking for someone who can produce between 400 and 700 kilograms of raw marijuana, rolled joints, and extracts.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire About to Enter Formal Rule-Making Phase for Dispensaries. Long-delayed dispensaries are about to get a bit closer. The Department of Health and Human Services has produced its first draft rules, and after public comment ends tomorrow, will enter its formal rule-making phase. Click on the link for more details, or visit the state's Therapeutic Cannabis Program.

Medical Marijuana, Hemp Protest at South Dakota State Fair Tomorrow. South Dakotans Against Prohibition is holding a march in support of medical marijuana and industrial hemp at the state fair in Huron tomorrow. The march starts at the fairgrounds and ends at Campbell Park in downtown Huron. This is the hometown of your correspondent. Go, neighbors!

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Overdose Awareness Day Events Planned. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition is organizing events statewide for International Overdose Awareness Day. There will be events in Fayetteville, Franklin, and Greensboro. Click on the title link for more details.

Sentencing

Petition Drive to Free LSD Lifer Roderick Walker. Deadhead Roderick "Rudd" Walker is more than a decade into a life sentence in what the federal government claimed was a major LSD trafficking conspiracy. But Walker was never caught with any LSD; instead he was convicted and sentenced to life based solely on the testimony of others, including federal agents. There is now a petition drive. Visit and like the Free Roderick "Rudd" Walker page on Facebook and sign the Change.org petition to free him, which has already garnered more than 79,000 signatures. If it gets more than 100,000 signatures, the White House will respond.

International

Medical Marijuana Clinical Trials Coming to Victoria, Australia. Victoria Health Minister David Davis has announced that he will amend state law to allow medical marijuana clinical trials. The move comes one day after the Labor opposition announced it would legalize medical marijuana if elected.

Guatemalan President Says US More Open to Discussing Drug Legalization. In an interview with the Spanish EFE news agency, President Otto Perez Molina reiterated his support for some drug legalization and said the US seemed more open to discussing the issue than in the past. "From totally rejecting and avoiding the topic (of drug legalization), the US has moved on to say that they are ready to discuss the issue even though they may not agree with it, which is a significant change," he said. "I am convinced that we have to do things differently from how they have been done over the last 50 years," he said, adding that "prohibition has not worked for us" in the battle against drug trafficking. Click on the link for additional comments.

Gambia Legislature Votes to Reduce Marijuana Possession Penalties. The National Assembly has voted to reduce penalties for possession of less than 150 grams of marijuana. Currently, offenders face a large fine and up to three years in jail, but under the new law, the fine would drop by 60% and the maximum jail sentence would be one year. Since the current tough law was introduced in 2010, the prison population has increased under the weight of marijuana offenders, putting pressure on prison authorities.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Initiatives, CT SWAT Lawsuit, ISIS Burns Syria Pot Fields, More (8/27/14)

Local marijuana initiatives move forward, the Oregon initiative is set to get a high-profile endorsement, a lot of people want to start medical marijuana businesses in Nevada, ISIS is burning pot fields in Syria, there's a harm reduction pre-event ahead of NYC's Electronic Zoo festival this weekend, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

City Club of Portland Draft Report Endorses Oregon Legalization Initiative. The influential City Club of Portland has issued a draft report in support of Measure 91, the legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach Oregon. If approved by City Club members, the recommendation will be a powerful, high-profile endorsement of the measure. It picked up the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, on Sunday.

Santa Fe County Commission Approves Decriminalization Initiative, But…. The commission voted Tuesday to put the initiative on the November ballot, but questions remain about whether there is enough room on a crowded ballot to add the measure to it. State officials have outlined their concerns, but County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said she is confident those issues can be overcome. Stay tuned.

York, Maine, Activists Hand in Initiative Signatures. Citizens for Safer Maine is handing in more than 900 signatures today for its initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The initiative needs 641 valid voter signatures to qualify. The signature turn-in comes after town selectmen voted against putting the measure on the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Marijuana Rules Come Under Fire. The state commission charged with writing the rules for medical marijuana in the state heard an earful from physicians, patients, advocates, and potential growers at a hearing Tuesday. They criticized the proposed rules as too burdensome and vague, and said they would preclude a dispensary from operating anywhere in the city of Baltimore. The commission has three weeks to finalize the rules, and the hearing in Annapolis was the first public hearing.

More Than 500 Apply for Nevada Medical Marijuana Business Licenses. The state has received applications from more than 500 people to run dispensaries, grows, testing labs, and edible and infused product companies. Under a new state law, up to 66 medical marijuana businesses will be licensed. State officials will score the applications and announce their selections in November, with the first medical marijuana sales expected early next year.

Harm Reduction

DanceSafe to Do Harm Reduction Event Ahead of NYC Electronic Zoo Music Festival. The rave culture harm reduction group DanceSafe is hosting a "Surviving Zoo" event tomorrow night ahead of this weekend's Electric Zoo music festival. They will be giving away gift bags containing drug information cards, earplugs, and condoms, and will be offering personal drug testing kits for sale. Click on the link for more details. Last year, two people died from drug use at Electronic Zoo, and festival organizers have responded by adding more law enforcement and making attendees watch an anti-drug PSA before entering.

Drug Policy

British Drug Reform Group Transform Publishes Drug Debater's Guide. The Transform Drug Policy Foundation today made available Debating Drugs: How to Make the Case for Legal Regulation. "This is a guide to making the case for the legal regulation of drugs from a position of confidence and authority. Organized into 12 key subject areas, it provides an at-a-glance summary of the arguments for legal regulation, followed by commonly heard concerns and effective responses to them. It is the product of Transform's extensive experience debating the issues around legal regulation, and running workshops to equip supporters of reform with the arguments and nuanced messaging needed to win over a range of audiences." Check it out.

Drug Reform Funder John Sperling Dies. John Sperling, best known as the founder of the University of Phoenix, has died at age 93. Along with George Soros and Peter Lewis, Sperling was one of the troika of deep-pocketed funders whose financial support helped secure the passage of California's medical marijuana and sentencing reform initiatives (Prop 215 and Prop 36, respectively). He also helped fund Arizona's medical marijuana initiative, Prop 200.

Law Enforcement

Federal Court Says Lawsuit Over Fatal Connecticut SWAT Drug Raid Can Continue. A US federal appeals court has ruled that police cannot claim immunity to quash lawsuits filed in the wake of a botched 2008 raid that left one man dead and the homeowner wounded. In the raid, a heavily armed SWAT team shot and killed Gonzalo Guizan and wounded Ronald Terebesi as the two men were watching television. The ruling said that because police responded with unnecessary and inappropriate force, they are not protected by "qualified immunity." Police were responding to a claim by a stripper that she had seen a small amount of cocaine in Terebisi's home. They found only a personal use quantity of the drug and no weapon.

International

ISIS Burns Syrian Marijuana Fields. As if we didn't have enough reasons not to like these guys. Amateur video posted on the internet reportedly filmed recently in Akhtarin, near Aleppo, purportedly shows ISIS members burning a marijuana field. Syrian human rights observers reported that ISIS had captured the village from rival Islamists weeks ago. Click on the link to see the video.

Australia's Victoria Labor Party Vows Harsh New Laws Against Meth. The opposition Labor Party is hoping to gin up votes ahead of November's elections by vowing to crack down on meth if elected. Leader Daniel Andrews is calling for new criminal offenses to be enacted and penalties of up to 25 years in prison for sales to minors. New offenses would include writing or circulating meth "cookbooks" and owning or operating properties that "turn a blind eye" to meth production, as well as selling meth near a school.

Chronicle AM: Medical Marijuana and Opiate ODs, ME Welfare Drug Test Law, Colombia Drug Talks, More (8/26/14)

Medical marijuana may reduce opioid overdose death rates, International Overdose Awareness Day is coming, the drug war claims another victim, new studies from the NIJ, and more. Let's get to it:

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana States Have Lower Opiate Overdose Rates, JAMA Study Finds. States with medical marijuana laws have significantly lower rates of opiate overdose deaths than states that don't, according to an article published Monday in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. The article is Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010.

Illinois Seeks Nominees for Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. The state medical marijuana program is looking for health professionals and patients to serve on its advisory board, which will be appointed by the governor. For more information, visit the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

New Mexico Cannabis Medical Advisory Board Holds Public Hearing on Proposed New Rules. The state's cannabis program's Medical Advisory Board (MAB) held a public hearing yesterday on proposed rule changes to the program. The MAB is frustrated that the Department of Health did not formally consult with it before releasing proposed rule changes, which have garnered unhappy responses from patients and providers.

Harm Reduction

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. In Los Angeles, members of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) are hosting an event at the Santa Monica Pier and Palisades Park. Click on the title link for more details. For details on other Overdose Awareness Day events, visit International Overdose Awareness Day.

Drug Testing

Maine Welfare Drug Test Program Gets No Support at Public Hearing. Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told a public hearing on Gov. LePage's (R) welfare drug testing plan that it was a "common sense approach," but no one else seemed to agree. The ACLU of Maine and Maine Equal Justice Partners vehemently differed. The drug testing scheme, which had been okayed in 2011, but which LePage just rolled now as he faces reelection, would require people with past felony drug convictions to be tested before being approved. A written public comment period is open through Sept. 7, after which Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, will need to sign off on whether the final rule complies with federal law and the intent of the original state-level legislation.

Drugs and Crime

National Institute of Justice Releases Reports on Crime and Drugs. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service at the National Institute of Justice has released five technical reports on drugs and crime. They are: How Much Crime Is Drug-Related? History, Limitations, and Potential Improvements of Estimation Methods, Reducing Drug Violence in Mexico: Options for Implementing Targeted Enforcement, Measuring the Costs of Crime, Drug Control and Reductions in Drug-Attributable Crime, and Managing Drug-Involved Offenders. Click on the title link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Puerto Rico Police Officer is Year's 30th Drug War Fatality. Puerto Rican police officer Geniel Amaro Fantauzzi died Monday after being taken off life support six days after he was shot and critically wounded during a drug raid at a residence. He was an agent of the Humaco Drug Division.

International

Colombia Drug Policy Talks Get Underway. The National Dialog for the Future of Drug Policy got underway last Friday in Bogota. The meeting with members of academia, political groups, and unions is the first of 10 national and regional forums organized by the ministries of Justice, Health and Social Welfare, and Public Affairs. In the first forum, a survey of 61 recognized drug experts was presented, with all 61 saying drug policy "must change" and 42 of them considering current policy "ineffective, costly, and repressive."

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

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

coca plants (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Prescription Opiates

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

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

Drug War Issues

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