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Powerful Coalition is Building Pressure on Feds to Think Again on Kratom Ban [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In a last ditch bid to stop the DEA from criminalizing an herb widely hailed for its ability to treat pain, depression, and anxiety, and help people wean themselves from more dangerous opioid pain relievers, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the agency Monday asking it to reconsider its decision to place kratom on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Kratom is a southeast Asian herb made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciose, a tree related to the coffee plant. In small doses, it has a mild stimulant effect, but in larger doses, it acts like a mild opioid. To be precise, the DEA has moved to criminalize not the herb itself, but two alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxmitragynine, which activate opioid receptors in the brain.

Last month, the DEA exercised its emergency scheduling powers in announcing that it was moving kratom to Schedule I, effective at the end of this week. The drug agency said kratom poses "an imminent hazard to public safety," citing only press reports of some 15 deaths linked to kratom use. But in at least 14 of those cases, the victims were also using other drugs or had pre-existing life-threatening conditions. (Meanwhile, some 25,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses last year.)

Kratom users, who could number in the millions, immediately raised the alarm, organizing campaigns to undo the decision and lobbying Congress for help. That's what sparked Monday's letter from 51 lawmakers, including 22 Republicans.

"This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders," reads the letter, drafted by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Matt Salmon (R-AZ). "This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement."

Given the ongoing high level of heroin and prescription opioid use and the associated overdose deaths, he DEA was hypocritical in mounting a campaign against kratom, the lawmakers said.

"The DEA's decision to place kratom as a Schedule I substance will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions -- a significant public health threat," they wrote.

The lawmakers called on DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to delay the emergency scheduling and instead "engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters."

Since first emerging in the US a few years ago, kratom has been unregulated at the federal level, although the Food & Drug Administration began seizing shipments of it in 2014. At the state level, a half dozen states have entertained moves to ban it, but such efforts failed in all except Alabama. In other states, kratom advocates have managed to turn bans into regulation, with age restrictions and similar limits.

Kratom capsules (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
A ban on kratom would be disastrous, said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association. Ash said she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2006 and ended up essentially disabled under the weight of 13 different prescriptions, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines (to counter the opioids and the benzos). She became addicted to the opioids and finally tried kratom as a last resort.

"I didn't really want to have anything to do with a plant, but I decided to try it, and it worked day and night," she said Tuesday. "Within two weeks, I went from home bound to starting this organization."

With the kratom ban looming, her members are facing "our darkest hour," Ash said. "Our average member is a middle-aged woman, about 40% of whom have experienced addition, and tens of thousands of them are using it as an alternative to pharmaceutical medications because they believe it is safer and more natural. Now, people are saying they are going to lose their quality of life, that they will be re-disabled. People are terrified. What we need is regulation, not prohibition."

"Despite the moral, political, and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as public health issues, the DEA wants to subject people with kratom to prison sentences," said Jag Davies, director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is also fighting the ban. "The DEA's move would also effectively halt promising scientific investigations into the plant's uses and medicinal benefits, including helping many people struggling with opioid addiction."

The scientific studies are promising indeed. Researchers at Columbia University just published a study on kratom alkaloids and found that they activate opioid receptors in a way that doesn't trigger respiratory depression, the lethal side effect of most opioids. Such research could lead to the "holy grail" of narcotic analgesics, a painkiller that doesn't kill users and doesn't get them addicted.

"Our research shows that mitragynine and its analogs activate the opioid receptors in a unique way compared to morphine or oxycodone," said Dr. Andrew Kruegel, one of the Columbia researchers. "They activate a certain protein pathway while avoiding other pathways, and that gives you a better safety profile, mostly for respiratory depression. The scientific data is consistent with an improved safety profile from the alkaloids and suggestive of the same with the raw plant," he explained.

"This new prohibition will really restrict our ability to purse new opioid painkillers based on alkaloids and new safer drugs for pain," Kruegel said.

And then some, DPA's Davies added.

"Placing kratom in Schedule I would place regulatory and funding barriers in front of research, drive users into the black market, and leave them facing lengthy prison terms," he said. "It's troubling that the DEA is moving hastily to criminalize kratom at the same time Congress and the president have been made sentencing reform a priority this year and when communities are grappling with unprecedented rates of heroin and opioid overdoses, the DEA is threatening to punish people for using it instead of potent pharmaceutical preparations. Kratom has a role to play in mitigating the opioid crisis."

But not if the DEA refuses to budge from its ban plan. If the DEA cannot be moved, kratom is illegal as of this coming Friday.

Chronicle AM: OR Top Cops Want Defelonization, SC County Wants to Jail Overdosers, More... (9/27/16)

NORML updates its congressional scorecard, Bay State legalizers cry foul over a misleading voter guide, the number of babies suffering from opioid withdrawals has jumped dramatically, Oregon top cops want to defelonize simple drug possession, and more.

Oregon sheriffs and police chiefs jointly call for defelonizing simple drug possession. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

NORML Releases Updated and Revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard. To mark national Voter Registration Day, NORML has released its updated and revised guide to members of Congress. The guide gives letter grades to our representatives based on the comments and voting records. Only 22 of the 535 senators and congressmen got "A" grades, while 32 members got an "F" grade.

Massachusetts Legalizers Cry Foul Over State-Issued Voter Guide. Campaigners behind the Question 4 legalization initiative say a state-issued guide sent to voters across the state inaccurately describes the fiscal consequences of the measure. The guide says they are "difficult to project due to lack of reliable data" and cites a report from a committee headed by a top opponent of legalization to the effect that taxes and fee revenues from legal marijuana sales "may fall short of even covering the full public and social costs. The Yes on 4 campaign points out that there is "reliable data" from legal marijuana states and that those states have easily covered administrative and other expenses.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study: Number of Babies Born Suffering Withdrawal Symptoms More Than Doubles in Four Years. Researchers studying neonatal abstinence syndrome, which results from withdrawal from opioids to which fetuses were exposed in utero, report that the incidence of the syndrome has jumped from 2.8 cases per thousand live births in 2009 to 7.3 cases in 2013. At least some of the surge may be a result of drug policies aimed at cracking down on prescription drug use. "The drug policies of the early 2000s were effective in reducing supply -- we have seen a decrease in methamphetamine abuse and there have been reductions in some aspects of prescription drug abuse," said lead study author Dr. Joshua Brown. "However, the indirect results, mainly the increase in heroin abuse, were likely not anticipated and we are just starting to see these." The researchers also noted wide variations by state, from 0.7 cases per thousand in Hawaii to 33.4 cases in West Virginia.

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill to Criminalize More New Synthetics Passes House. A bill sponsored by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-TX) to add several new synthetic cannabinoids and opioids to the Controlled Substances Act passed the House Monday. The measure, HR 3537, now goes to the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Law Enforcement Calls for Defelonizing Drug Possession. The Oregon Association of Police Chiefs and the Oregon State Sheriff's Association have jointly called for people caught with "user amounts" of illegal drugs to face misdemeanor charges -- not felonies -- and be sent to treatment. Elected officials and prosecutors should "craft a more thoughtful approach to drug possession when it is the only crime committed," the top cops said, because felony charges "include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities."

South Carolina County Ponders Mandatory Jail Time for People Who Overdose. The chairman of the county council in Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located, has inquired during a council meeting about whether to make people who suffer opioid overdoses spend three days in jail. Chairman Mark Lazarus would also like to see mandatory drug treatment required. He added that jailing people who overdose wouldn't discourage them from getting medical help because they're usually unconscious and someone else calls for emergency assistance.

Seattle Aims to Open the First Safe Injection Sites in the US [FEATURE]

Seattle and surrounding King County are on a path to establish the country's first supervised drug consumption sites as part of a broader campaign to address heroin and prescription opioid misuse. A 99-page report released last week by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force calls for setting up at least two of the sites, one in the city and one in the suburbs, as part of a pilot project.

The facilities, modeled on the Canadian government-funded InSite supervised injection site in Vancouver, just 140 miles to the north, would be places where users could legally inject their drugs while under medical supervision and be put in contact with treatment and other social services. There have been no fatal overdoses in the 13-year history of InSite.

Although such facilities, which also operate in various European countries and Australia, have been proven to reduce overdose deaths and drug use-related disease, improve local quality of life, and improve the lives of drug users, they remain controversial, with foes accusing them of "enabling" drug use. Thus, the report refers to them not as "safe injection sites," or even "supervised consumption sites," but as the anodyne "Community Health Engagement Locations" (CHELs).

"If it's a strategy that saves lives then regardless of the political discomfort, I think it is something we have to move forward," said County Executive Dow Constantine, discussing the plan at a news conference last week.

The safe sites will address the region's high levels of opioid and heroin use, or what the task force called "the region's growing and increasingly lethal heroin and opioid epidemic." As the task force noted, the number of fatal overdoses in the county has tripled in recent years, with the rate of death rising from roughly one a week (49) in 2009 to one very other day (156) in 2014. The current wave of opioid use appears centered on young people, with the number of people under 30 seeking treatment doubling between 2006 and 2014, and now, more young people are entering detox for heroin than for alcohol.

Outside Vancouver's InSite (vch.ca)
Overdose deaths actually dropped last year to 132, thanks to Good Samaritan laws that shield people who aid overdose victims from prosecution and to the wider use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. But that's still 132 King County residents who needn't have died. Task force members said the CHELs would help reduce that number even further.

"The heroin epidemic has had a profound effect not just on our region, but across our country as a whole," said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. "It is critical that we not only move forward with meaningful solutions that support prevention and treatment, but that we remove the stigma surrounding addiction that often creates barriers to those seeking help.

Not only are key local elected officials on board, so is King County Sheriff John Urquhart. He said the safe site plan was workable.

"As long as there was strong, very strong, emphasis on education, services, and recovery, I would say that yes, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks," he said. "We will never make any headway in the war on drugs until we turn the war into a health issue."

The region may willing to embrace this ground-breaking harm reduction measure, but it is going to require some sort of federal dispensation to get around the Controlled Substances Act and the DEA. How that is going to happen remains to be seen, but Seattle is ready.

The task force wasn't just about CHELs. In fact, the safe sites are just a small, if key, component of a broad-based, far-ranging strategy to attack the problem. The task force report's recommendations come in three categories:

Inside Vancouver's InSite (vch.ca)
Primary Prevention

  • Increase public awareness of effects of opioid use, including overdose and opioid-use disorder.
  • Promote safe storage and disposal of medications.
  • Work with schools and health-care providers to improve the screening practices and better identify opioid use.

Treatment Expansion and Enhancement

  • Make buprenorphine more accessible for people who have opiate-use disorders.
  • Develop treatment on demand for all types of substance-use disorders.Increase treatment capacity so that it’s accessible when and where someone is ready to receive help.

Health and Harm Reduction

  • Continue to distribute more naloxone kits and making training available to homeless service providers, emergency responders and law enforcement officers.
  • Create a three-year pilot project that will include at least two locations where adults with substance-use disorders will have access to on-site services while safely consuming opioids or other substances under the supervision of trained healthcare providers.

Will Seattle and King County be able to actual implement the CHELs? Will the federal government act as obstacle or facilitator? That remains to be seen, but harm reductionists, policymakers, and drug users in cities such as Portland, San Francisco, and New York will be watching closely. There have been murmurs about getting such sites up and running there, too.

Chronicle AM: IL Gov Signs Decrim Bill, Marijuana Foes Pony Up to Fight Reform, More... (8/1/16)

Your correspondent was on vacation last week, but drug policy and the drug war weren't. Illinois has decriminalized marijuana possession, Republicans are shifting on marijuana prohibition, Minnesotans with chronic pain now qualify for medical marijuana, Floridians can now get naloxone without an individualized prescription, and more.

It's official: Massachusetts will vote on marijuana legalization this fall. (regulatemass.org)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Even Republicans Now Favor Marijuana Legalization. For the first time, a plurality if not a majority of people who identify as Republicans say they support marijuana legalization. A new YouGov poll has 45% of Republicans in favor, with 42% opposed. Only eight months ago, Republicans opposed legalization in the same poll, by a margin of 50% to 36%.

Pot Prohibitionists Put Up $2 Million to Fight Legalization. The political arm of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana has raised more than $2 million to fight legalization initiatives in five states this year, including California, where Prop 64 is on the November ballot. The bulk of the money will go to California. The group is led by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) and former drug czar's office official Kevin Sabet.

Illinois Decriminalizes Marijuana. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 2228, which decriminalizes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and creates a maximum fine of $200. The law goes into effect immediately, making Illinois the 21st state to have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative is Officially on the November Ballot. State officials last month quietly certified that the initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has overcome the final hurdle to going before the voters in November. Advocates had to hand in a small number of signatures this summer when the legislature refused to act after the campaign handed in tens of thousands of signatures earlier this year. The initiative will be Question 4 on the November ballot.

Northern Marianas Could Vote on Legalization in November. A lawmaker in the US territory has pre-filed a bill that would let residents vote on legalization in November. Senator Sixto Igisomar is the man behind the move. The legislature must approve it by August 10 for it to make the ballot this year.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment Initiative Gets More Time to Gather Signatures. Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment initiative, had come up short of the 82,000 valid voter signatures required to qualify for the November ballot, but it handed in 72,000 valid signatures, qualifying it for additional time to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Another medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, has already qualified for the ballot.

Minnesota Chronic Pain Patients Now Qualify for Medical Marijuana. As of today, the state's medical marijuana program includes people suffering from chronic pain that is not eased by traditional drugs or therapies.

Harm Reduction

Florida Makes Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Available Without Prescription. The overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) is now available through a "standing order" from a doctor, meaning drugs users, friends, and family members no longer need an individual prescription to obtain the antidote. Additionally, the pharmacy chain CVS will begin stocking naloxone in all its pharmacies in the state beginning this month.

International

Italian Parliament Begins Debate on Marijuana Legalization.Last week, parliament began discussing whether to approve a marijuana legalization bill. The bill would allow for the possession of up to 15 grams at home and 5 grams on the street and let people grow up to five plants. It would also allow growing collectives of up to 50 growers. Rightist opponents of the measure have already filed more than 1,300 proposed amendments aimed at snuffing it. Debate on the bill will resume in September.

Indonesia Executes Four Drug Prisoners. Ignoring a growing global clamor against the practice, Indonesian authorities executed four convicted drug offenders last Friday. Ten others set to be executed at the same time won a temporary reprieve when a storm hit the island where the executions were taking place, but officials said they would be put to death later.

Chronicle AM: UK Public Health Groups Call for Decrim, MPP Endorses Gary Johnson, More... (6/16/16)

Busy, busy: There's movement on marijuana banking, Gary Johnson picks up MPP's endorsement, a leading California cannabis oil producer gets busted, the AMA casts on leery eye on patient pain reports, a congresswoman wants to drug test the rich, British public health groups call for decrim, the Thai government wants to end the war on meth, and more.

Libertarian Gary Johnson has won the endorsement of the Marijuana Policy Project because of his pro-legalization stance.
Marijuana Policy

Senate Committee Approves Measure to Ease Pot Businesses' Access to Financial Services. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted 16-14 to approve an amendment that would bar the Treasury Department from punishing banks that do business with state-legal marijuana businesses. The amendment is part of the FY 2017 Financial And General Government Services Appropriations Act, which now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Marijuana Policy Project Endorses Libertarian Gary Johnson for President. MPP has formally endorsed Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson for president, saying he was the obvious choice as the most pro-marijuana legalization candidate on the ballot. The group said its endorsement was based solely on his marijuana policies.

New York Assembly Passes Bill to Seal Records for Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions. The Assembly has passed Assembly Bill 10092, which will seal the conviction records of people charged with misdemeanor offenses. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the move was in response to New York City police charging people with misdemeanors for possession of marijuana in public. Simple possession is decriminalized in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Leading California Medical Marijuana Oil Maker Busted.Police, including DEA agents, raided five properties associated with a well-known medical marijuana products manufacturer in Northern California's Sonoma County Wednesday morning, detaining at least nine people and arresting one on suspicion of felony drug manufacture for his role in cannabis oil production.The operation raided was Care By Design (CBD Guild), which produces CBD-rich cannabis oils for use in sprays, gels, and cannabis oil cartridges for vaporizers. The company offers products with five different ratios of CBD to THC so "patients can adjust their cannabis medicine to suit their specific conditions and personal preferences." Police accused the operation of using dangerous and illegal butane extraction for their oils, but Care By Design says that is not the case.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA Resolutions Aim to Curb Opioid Abuse, Will Ignore Patients' Pain Reports. At its annual meeting in Chicago, the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a number of resolutions aimed at curbing the misuse of prescription opioids. One called for removing any barriers to non-opioid pain therapies, one calls for promoting increased access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), but "the group also voted in favor of efforts to remove pain as a vital sign in professional standards, as well as disconnecting patient satisfaction scores from questions related to the evaluation and management of pain," a move that may not bode well for chronic pain patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Company Now Offers Asset Forfeiture Insurance to Cannabusinesses. CBZ Insurance Services is now offering coverage to protect state-legal marijuana businesses from the threat of seizure and asset forfeiture. The company's "search and confiscation" coverage applies only to entities that are state-legal and are found innocent of any raid-related charges. "A legally operating cannabis business has unique challenges other types of businesses don't have," said CBZ's Jeffrey Rosen. "One challenge is the threat of being shut down at any time by law enforcement. Whether you're a grower, distributor or manufacturer, search and seizure coverage is the best protection for a company's assets."

Drug Testing

Congresswoman Wants to Drug Test the Rich Before Approving Tax Deductions. US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has called for requiring wealthy Americans to undergo a drug test before approving their tax deductions. Moore said she will file the bill because she is "sick and tired, and sick and tired of being sick and tired, of the criminalization of poverty," referring to efforts pushed by Republican governors and legislators to impose drug testing requirements on people seeking public benefits. "We're not going to get rid of the federal deficit by cutting poor people off SNAP. But if we are going to drug-test people to reduce the deficit, let's start on the other end of the income spectrum."

International

British Public Health Bodies Call for Drug Decriminalization. Two leading public health bodies say drug use is a health issue, not a criminal one, and have called for drug decriminalization. The Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health said that criminalizing drug use has not deterred people from using drugs, and that those harmed by drug use are harmed again by punishment. "We have taken the view that it is time for endorsing a different approach," said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society. "We have gone to our stakeholders and asked the public and tried to gain some consensus from our community and the public, because that is very important." The society has detailed in its new line in the aptly named report Taking a New Line on Drugs.

Thailand Government Proposes Ending War on Meth and Regulating It Instead. Thai Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has suggested removing meth from the country's dangerous illicit drug list and putting it in the same category as medicinal drugs, with controls -- not bans -- on distribution, sale, and use of the drug. Current measures to suppress the drug have not worked, he said. Paiboon's comments came in a discussion of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), which met in April. "The world has now surrendered to drugs, and has come to think of how to live with drugs. It is like a man suffering from cancer and having no cure and he has to live a happy life with the cancer," Gen Paiboon said. The government has drawn up a bill that would do that, he said.

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

Chronicle AM: CA ACLU Endorses AUMA, Nadelmann Testifies at Senate Hearing, More... (6/15/16)

Summer is here, and the initiative campaigns are heating up, DPA head Ethan Nadelmann slams drug prohibition at the Capitol, New York legislators announce agreement on a heroin and prescription opioids package, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Anti-Legalization Group Gets Big Donation From Electric Utility. A group organized to defeat the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol's legalization initiative has received a $10,000 donation from the state's largest electric utility. Arizona Public Services made the donation to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy because the company is concerned about employment law language in the measure, "especially considering the public safety aspects involved in providing reliable electric service to APS customers. But the initiative's language says "[it] does not affect the ability of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana and marijuana products by employees."

California ACLU Formally Endorses AUMA Legalization Initiative.The ACLU of California Tuesday endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). "The disastrous war on marijuana in California continues to ensnare thousands of people -- particularly young people of color -- in the criminal justice system every year," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, criminal justice and drug policy director with the ACLU of California. "It is time to move from prohibition to regulation. AUMA will establish a controlled and regulated market for adults, significantly reduce the harm done to young people under current marijuana laws, and generate substantial revenue for drug education and for the communities most devastated by the war on drugs."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Initiative Campaigns Face Ticking Clock. Two separate medical marijuana initiative campaigns have until July 8 to get enoughvoter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act of 2016 campaign says it has gathered some 70,000 signatures so far. It needs 67,000 valid ones to qualify. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016 says it has 40,000 signatures; because it is a constitutional amendment, it needs 85,000 valid signatures to qualify.

Washington Lawsuit Challenges New State Medical Marijuana Law. Seattle attorney and marijuana activist Douglas Hiatt has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the July1 implementation of the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, arguing that the law's folding of medical marijuana into the recreational marijuana market will cause harm to patients.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Leaders Reach Agreement on Heroin, Opioids Bill Package. Legislative leaders announced Tuesday they had agreed on a package of bills aimed at growing heroin and prescription opioid use in the state. The bills would mandate insurance coverage for overdose reversal drugs, ease getting insurance coverage for drug treatment, and reduce prescription limits for opioids from 30 days to seven days, among other provisions.

Drug Policy

Ethan Nadelmann Testifies at US Senate Committee Hearing. The Drug Policy Alliance head testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as part of a round table on drug policy. "The war on drugs in this country and around the world has been a monumental disaster," Nadelmann said. "We developed an addiction. It was an addiction to drug war thinking, drug war ideology, and drug war policies." Nadelmann wasn't alone in criticizing drug prohibition; Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) also criticized it, saying prohibition now fuels drug cartels, just as alcohol prohibiton fueled gangsters.

International

Dutch Justice Minister Rejects Study Calling for Legal Marijuana Production. Justice Minister Ard van der Steur told members of parliament that last week's study finding legalizing pot production would have public health and human rights benefits would have no impact on his government's policies regarding cannabis cafes. The conservative government has moved to restrict them and refused to countenance creating a legal supply system for them.

Chronicle AM: Report Scorches NY MedMJ Program, OH "Bad" Good Samaritan Bill Signed, More... (6/14/16)

The Drug Policy Alliance has some unkind words for New York's medical marijuana program, fentanyl is killing more Kentuckians than last year, Canada won't decriminalize marijuana ahead of legalization, Indonesia prepares a new round of drug executions, and more.

Canada will legalize it, but won't decriminalize it first.
Medical Marijuana

New York's Medical Marijuana Program Pretty Lame, DPA Report Finds. In a new report, Assessing New York's Medical Marijuana Program: Problems of Patient Access and Affordability, the Drug Policy Alliance finds severe problems with patient and caregiver access under the program. The report, which relied on patient surveys, finds that more than half of patients and caregivers had not yet found a doctor to certify them and 60% of those had been looking for three to four months for a physicians. Also, more than three-quarters (77%) said they could not afford their medicine. DPA recommends further legislation to improve the program and urges the Health Department to provide more information about the implementation and performance of the program.

Industrial Hemp

Petition to Deschedule Hemp Launched. A Portland attorney and a Southern Oregon environmentalist have filed a petition asking the DEA to remove industrial hemp from the federal governments list of controlled substances. The petition was filed Monday. The petition asks DEA to declare that a cannabis plant is hemp, not marijuana, it its THC level does not exceed 1%. The Oregon petition is the second hemp petition this month. The Kentucky Hemp Industries Council earlier filed a similar petition.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Kentucky Report Sees Fentanyl Deaths More Than Tripling. The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy has issued a 2015 overdose report that finds fentanyl was a factor in 420 fatal overdoses last year, up from 121 in the previous year. Fentanyl is implicated in 34% of all overdose deaths in the state. State officials said it is often consumed unwittingly by users because it is mixed with heroin.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs "Bad" 911 Good Samaritan Law. Gov. John Kasich (R) has signed into law House Bill 110, which grants immunity from prosecution to overdose victims and people who seek help for them. But the bill contains a pair of provisions added by the Senate that critics say will discourage people from seeking help. One limits immunity to two occasions and makes it unavailable for people on parole, and the second allows medical professionals to share overdose information with law enforcement.

International

Canada's Liberals Reject NDP Call for Decriminalization Ahead of Legalization. Liberal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould said Monday the government would not support the New Democrat's proposal to quickly decriminalize marijuana while awaiting the arrival of legalization. Decriminalizing now would "give a green light to dealers and organizations to continue to sell unregulated and unsafe marijuana to Canadians," she said.

Low-THC Marijuana Based Medicines Now Legal in Macedonia. Medicines containing less than 0.2% THC can now be prescribed by doctors and purchased in pharmacies, Macedonia's agency for medicines announced Monday.

Indonesia Set to Execute 16 Drug Offenders After Ramadan. The convicts will be "immediately executed" after next month's Eid holiday, a spokesman for the attorney general's office said Tuesday. The country has not seen an execution since April 2015, but it executed 14 people that year, mostly foreigners, stoking international outrage.

Chronicle AM: Mass MJ Init Sees Court Challenge, Governors Sign MedMJ Bills, More... (6/8/16)

Foes of marijuana legalization are in court today in Boston to try to block a pending initiative, medical marijuana expansion bills become law in Colorado and Vermont, a public summit on new psychoactive substances is coming to New York, and more.

It just got easier to obtain the overdose reversal drug naloxone in Illinois. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Hears Challenge to Legalization Initiative. Opponents of the legalization initiative from the Maine Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol sought to block it Wednesday by arguing that it is fatally flawed because it doesn't explicitly say it would allow the use of marijuana edibles. Attorney John Scheft argued that voters were "significantly misled" when they were told the measure would legalize marijuana because it would legalize "marijuana, hashish, marijuana concentrates, and also food products." The summary language does refer to "marijuana products." But at least one justice expressed skepticism: "Having read your summary I would have no idea that the measure allows the infusion of a hallucinogen into food and drink at all," said Justice Robert Cordry.

Sheldon Adelson Buys Nevada Newspaper; Newspaper Reverses Support for Legalization. Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a large contributor to conservative politicians and anti-marijuana efforts, bought the Las Vegas Review Journal last December. The paper had supported marijuana legalization, but no longer after Adelson "and his wife Miriam pressured editorial board members to visit a drug treatment center and reconsider the publication's support for legalization." A legalization initiative from the Nevada Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will be on the ballot in November.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Signs Medical Marijuana in Schools Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Tuesday signed into law "Jack's Law," which allows for the use of medical marijuana in schools under strict conditions. The measure is House Bill 1373.

Vermont Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 14, which will expand the state's medical marijuana system. Shumlin used the occasion to emphasize medical marijuana as an alternative to opioid pain relievers: "At a time when opiate addiction is ravaging our state and drug companies continue to urge our doctors to pass out painkillers like candy, we need to find a more practical solution to pain management. This bill ensures that Vermonters who are suffering will have access to medicine that is high quality, laboratory tested, and most importantly non-addictive," he said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Illinois Legislature Overrides Veto, Passes Opioid Overdose Access Reversal Drug Bill. Both the House and the Senate have voted to override a partial veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) of House Bill 1, which will allow access to naloxone (Narcan) without a prescription, require private insurers to provide coverage for anti-overdose drugs, and expand drug courts.

New Psychoactive Substances

Senate Committee Holds Hearing on New Psychoactive Substances. The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday held a hearing on new psychoactive substances (NPSs) weighted heavily toward pushing for giving the DEA and the Justice Department greater latitude to prosecute people for selling and distributing NPSs. The hearing devoted little attention to policy approaches that could reduce demand for NPSs or harms associated with their use.

New York City Summit on New Psychoactive Substances Tomorrow and Friday. "New Strategies for New Psychoactive Substances: A Public Health Approach" is going on Thursday and Friday at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Click the link to get more info and to register.

Asset Forfeiture

Delaware House Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform With Big Loophole. The House Tuesday approved House Bill 309, which claims to bring public disclosure to the state's civil asset forfeiture fund. But the bill also allows law enforcement to apply for money from the fund in secret. Law enforcement said the language was necessary to not jeopardize ongoing investigations. The bill is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Driving Bill Killed, OH MedMJ Init Quits, More... (5/31/16)

An effort to create a per se marijuana DUID law in California ran into a brick wall of science, the Ohio effort to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot shuts down, a US senator seeks an investigation into Purdue Pharma over its claims on OxyContin's extended effectiveness, and more.

The California Assembly rejects a per se marijuana DUID bill after hearing there is no scientific basis for it. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Driving While High Bill Killed. A bill that sought to create a per se marijuana drugged driving level of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood has been killed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The committee killed it and a bill that would have let police use oral swabs to strengthen cases after cannabis industry officials said they were not supported by science.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Program Gets Extension, Expansion. The House Friday voted to approve a plan to expand the state's medical marijuana program by adding PTSD and terminal illness to the program's list of qualifying conditions and by extending the program for an additional 2 ½ years. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has now come around and says he supports the bill, which still needs a final Senate vote. The measure is Senate Bill 10.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Call It Quits. Faced with a medical marijuana bill approved by the legislature and awaiting the governor's signature, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana announced Saturday that they were ending their campaign to put an initiative on the November ballot. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed effort decided to call it quits because "the reality is that raising funds for medical marijuana policy changes is incredibly difficult, especially given the improvements made to the proposed program by the Ohio General Assembly and the fact that the Governor is expected to sign the bill." The bill passed by the legislature will allow people with about 20 different diseases and conditions to use marijuana, but not to smoke it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

US Senator Calls on Feds to Investigate Purdue Pharma Over OxyContin Time-Effectiveness Claims. A US senator has called for a federal investigation of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, in the wake of reports that the money-making pain reliever wears off early in many patients, leaving them exposed to pain and increased risk of addiction. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) Friday sent letters to the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission urging them to begin probes of the Connecticut-based drug maker.

New York Overdose Tracking Bill Goes to Governor. The Senate and the Assembly have both approved a bill that requires the state Health Department to track non-fatal drug overdoses in a bid to get a more complete picture of opioid drug use in the state. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Taxes Could Generate $1 Billion/Year, CVS Expands Narcan Program, More... (5/25/16)

There's a pot of gold waiting in California, a Republican congressman comes out of the closet on his medical marijuana use, CVS is expanding expanded access to naloxone to seven more states, and more.

CVS is moving to get the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone into the hands of more drug users. (gov.pa.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Legislative Analyst's Office Says Legalization Could Generate $1 Billion a Year in Taxes and Fees. In a report presented to state lawmakers, the Legislative Analyst's Office said the figure was a mid-range estimate. "Our best estimate is that the state and local governments could eventually collect net additional revenues that could range from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually," analyst Aaron Edwards told lawmakers. The analysts cautioned that legalization could also incur some costs, with likely increased marijuana use requiring additional money to be spent on drug treatment.

New Hampshire Legislature Balks at Decriminalization. The Granite State will remain the only one in New England that has not embraced decriminalization. House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a version of Senate Bill 498 that would lower the penalty for possessing small amounts of pot, but still leave it a criminal offense. The bill does lower the fine from $500 to $350, but possession remains a misdemeanor criminal offense. The House had voted twice in favor of decriminalization this year, but the Senate wouldn't go for it.

Medical Marijuana

GOP Congressman Steps Out of the Closet on Medical Marijuana Use. Long-time medical marijuana supporter Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has told marijuana reformers lobbying on Capitol Hill that he uses medical marijuana for arthritis pain. "I went to one of those hemp fests in San Bernardino," he explained, adding that a vendor showed him a topical preparation he could rub on his sore shoulder. "And you know what? I tried it about two weeks ago, and it's the first time in a year-and-a-half that I've had a decent night's sleep, because the arthritis pain was gone."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Bill Would Tax Prescription Opioids to Fund Drug Treatment Facilities. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Tuesday introduced the Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment (BOAT) Act, which would impose a one-penny fee for each milligram of opioid prescription drugs. That fee would generate $1.5-2 billion annually, Manchin said. The bill has not yet been assigned a number.

Harm Reduction

CVS Health to Expand Naloxone Access to Seven More States. CVS Health, the massive pharmacy chain, announced Wednesday that it will increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in the states of Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington this summer. CVS has already increased access to naloxone in 23 other states. The CVS program establishes a standing order with a physician in the state, allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone to patients without an individual prescription.

911 "Bad" Samaritan Law Goes to Ohio Governor's Desk. The state Senate Tuesday approved House Bill 110, which was originally designed to save lives, but has been amended to the point where advocates say it will actually make people less likely to seek emergency help for overdoses. The amended bill limits the number of times people can seek overdose help to the first two times they call and it requires medical providers to give patient information to law enforcement. The bill also requires people to get mandatory treatment screening within 30 days or face arrest. Harm reduction advocates are calling on Gov. John Kasich (R) to veto the bill.

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