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Chronicle AM: CA&MA Polls, Kratom Proponents Mobilize, Canada OKs Prescription Heroin; More... (9/14/16)

The polling is looking good in Massachusetts and better in California, there will be no initiative for Michigan this year, kratom proponents fight a proposed DEA ban, Canada gives the go-ahead for expanded heroin prescribing, and more.

The Canadian government has cleared the way for limited heroin prescribing for hard-core users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Could Be a $50 Billion a Year Industry Within a Decade. A new report from financial analysts Cowen & Company says the legal weed industry could grow to a $50 billion a year business by 2026. The report notes that legalizing pot in California alone could triple the size of the industry, currently around $6 billion a year.

California: LA Times Poll Has Prop 64 at 58%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative is supported by 58% of voters, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Only 34% said they would vote against the measure, with 8% undecided. "It's very clear that Californians' attitudes have changed dramatically on this issue over the last several years," said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "The opposition is going to have to identify a fairly sizable source of campaign funding if this initiative is to be close," he added.

California: Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup Poll Has Prop 64 at 52%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative has 52% in a new poll from Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup. Some 40% said they would vote no, with 8% undecided.

Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Up By Five Points. A new poll from WBUR TV has support for the Question 4 legalization initiative at 50%, with 45% opposed. "There's some big demographic splits, particularly along age lines," pollster Steve Koczela said. "Younger people are very much in favor of legalization, and it declines steadily as you move up the age brackets to where you get to voters who are 60-plus, and they're opposed to it by a 17-point margin."

Federal Judge Puts Final Nail in Coffin of Michigan Legalization Initiative. A federal court judge rejected a last chance effort by MI Legalize to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot. Judge Linda Parker Tuesday denied a motion from the group to stop the printing of election ballots, saying there was not enough time to stop the election process. MI Legalize gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them came outside a 180-day mandated by state law. MI Legalize challenged rulings by state officials that knocked those signatures off the tally, but lost in the state courts -- and now, in federal court.

Kratom

Kratom Supporters Fight Proposed DEA Ban. Proponents of the Southeast Asian plant with mild opium-like qualities have mobilized to block the DEA proposed emergency move to place the substance on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Hundreds marched in front of the White House Tuesday and more than 120,000 have signed a Change.org petition opposing the ban, meaning the White House will have to publicly address the issue.

International

Canada Has Approved Prescription Heroin. The Canadian government last week quietly approved new regulations that will allow doctors to prescribe diacetylmorphine (heroin) to long-term users who have not responded to more conventional approaches to weaning them from the drug. The Crosstown clinic in Vancouver is currently the only place in the country with a heroin maintenance program, but that should now not be the case for long.

British MPs Call for Medical Marijuana. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform has called for medical marijuana to be legalized in the United Kingdom. The call comes on the heels of a report by neurologist Dr. Mike Barnes urging that marijuana be moved from Schedule I to Schedule IV on the British drugs classification scheme. "Many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are already taking cannabis for primarily medical reasons," said MP Caroline Lucas, who co-chairs the group. "It is totally unacceptable that they should face the added stress of having to break the law to access their medicine."

Chronicle AM: House GOP Wants Unemployment Drug Tests, MI Senate OKs Dispensaries, More... (9/9/16)

House Republicans unleash another drug testing for benefits campaign, marijuana legalization foes start making moves, Michigan has moved a big step closer to explicitly allowing dispensaries, and more.

House Republicans want laid off workers to have to urinate in a cup before receiving benefits. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Approves First Permit for Retail Pot Shop. The state's Marijuana Control Board Thursday approved the first permit for a retail marijuana store. The permit went to Frozen Budz in Fairbanks. Co-owner Destiny Neade said she hoped to be open by October 1. "Now all I need is some herb," she said. The board was also considering 16 other permit applications.

California Anti-Legalization Effort Gets Big Gift from Pennsylvania Millionaire. Pennsylvania millionaire Julie Schauer has donated $1.3 million to the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana/No on 64 campaign committee. Most of the money will be used to try to defeat the Prop 64 legalization initiative, but some will go to fight legalization campaigns in other states, too. Schauer's money made up most of the $64,000 that has gone to a separate committee opposing Prop 64. That committee has only raised $300,000, while committees supporting Prop 64 have raised more than $6 million.

Maine Police Chiefs Oppose Legalization Initiative. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association Friday formally announced its opposition to the Question 1 legalization initiative. "We're concerned about the effect (legalization) may have on the communities and the youth after looking at what's happened in Colorado," said Falmouth Police Chief Edward Tolan, incoming president of the association. "That's what prompted us to take this position as police chiefs."

Michigan Legalizers Ask Federal Court to Intervene in Signature Dispute. A day after being turned away by the state Supreme Court, the MI Legalize campaign has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the printing of state election ballots until disputed petition signatures are counted. The group handed in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them were gathered outside a 180-day period and not counted, keeping the measure off the ballot. MI Legalize has gotten nowhere in the state courts. Ballots were supposed to be printed today.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Senate Passes Industry Regulation Bill Allowing Dispensaries. The state Senate Thursday passed a bill that would tax and regulate medical marijuana businesses and explicitly allow for dispensaries. The bill would set a 3% tax on dispensaries' gross retail income, require licensing to grow, process, transport, and sell medical marijuana, and explicitly allow for forms of medical marijuana that include infused, non-smokable forms of the herb. The House approved much of this package almost a year ago. Now, it goes to the desk of Gov. Ricky Snyder (R).

Drug Testing

House Republicans in New Push to Drug Test Unemployment Applicants. House Republicans are pushing a new bill that would give states the option of forcing drug tests on applicants for unemployment benefits. They say the bill is needed because a Labor Department rule bars states from using a 2012 law to do so. The measure is HR 5945, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX).

International

Canada Wants US to End Travel Ban on Residents Who Smoke Pot. The case of a Canadian man barred from entering the US because he admitted to recreational marijuana use has provoked the Canadian government to seek a re-set of US border policy. "We obviously need to intensify our discussions with our border authorities in the United States, including the Department of Homeland Security," the public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp late on Thursday. "This does seem to be a ludicrous situation," he said, noting that marijuana is legal in Washington state as well as "three or four other jurisdictions in the United States." First, though, Canada might want to work on its own border policy; it bars US pot smokers from entering the country.

Chronicle AM: Poll Finds More Republicans Want to Legalize Pot Than Not, More... (7/22/16)

It's one of those all-weed news days, with Republicans reaching the tipping point on marijuana legalization, Canadian provincial leaders demanding quick action on legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Poll Finds For First Time More Republicans Support Marijuana Legalization Than Oppose It. A new YouGov.com survey has support for legalization nationwide at 55%, in line with other recent polls, but also finds that for the first time, more Republicans support ending pot prohibition than continuing it. Among GOP voters, 45% favored legalization and 42% were opposed. As recently as January 2014, 60% of Republicans opposed legalization. The shift comes not because Republicans are warming to marijuana, but because they trying to suppress it is a waste of money, YouGov pollster Peter Moore said. "The most interesting thing about this is, literally, that the Republican attitude towards marijuana itself hasn't changed that much. The only thing that's changed is the attitude toward prohibition."

Medical Marijuana

Guam Lawmakers Reject Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. Lawmakers Wednesday unanimously passed a measure to reject the health department's latest draft of proposed rules and regulations as too strict. The move came after stakeholders and the public raised concerns about the latest draft. "They have stated that this set of rules and regulations will not be beneficial to patients for a number of reasons, including the high fees and strict layers of regulations," Sen. Tina Muna Barnes told her fellow lawmakers during the session.

Illinois Judge Orders State to Reconsider Rejecting Medical Marijuana for Migraines. Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Rita Novak has overturned the Department of Public Health's denial of a petition to add migraines to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana can be recommended. That doesn't mean that migraines will necessarily be added to the list, but the department must now reconsider its decision.

International

Canadian Provincial Premiers Call for Quick Action on Marijuana Legalization. Meeting in Whitehorse, Yukon, provincial heads of government called on the federal government to move quickly on legalizing marijuana. The premiers said they wanted to avoid a situation of patchwork enforcement and distribution across the country. The Liberal federal government has said it will legalize marijuana and has recently created a task force to do so.

Chronicle AM: AZ MJ Init Prospects Look Good, Canada Supports Legalization, More... (7/1/16)

The prospects for the Arizona marijuana legalization initiative just brightened, law changes affect medical marijuana patients in Minnesota and Washington, Canada shows strong public support for freeing the weed, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalizers Actually Handed In 258,000 Voter Signatures. We reported yesterday that the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in some 200,000 signatures to qualify its legalization initiative for the November ballot and expressed some concern because it needs 150,000 valid voter signatures and didn't have a big cushion. Well, that cushion is bigger and our concerns are smaller. The actual number of signatures handed in was more than 258,000, meaning a whopping 40% would have to be invalidated for the initiative to fail to qualify. That happens, but not very often, so Arizona is very likely to vote on legalization this fall.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Chronic Pain Patients Now Qualify for Medical Marijuana. As of today, intractable chronic pain that can't be controlled with existing treatments is approved for medical marijuana use. The state Department of Health added intractable pain to the list of qualifying conditions effective today, the one-year anniversary of the beginning of medical marijuana availability in the state.

Washington State Folds Medical Marijuana Sales Into Adult Sales System. As of today, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana sales are combined, and only shops that have sought a special license can advise patients on medical marijuana. All medical marijuana dispensaries that are not licensed under the new scheme were to shut down by midnight last night. Only patients registered with the state will be able to avoid paying sales tax on their weed purchases.

International

Seven Out of 10 Canadians Support Marijuana Legalization. A new Nanos Poll has a whopping 69% either supporting or "somewhat supporting" marijuana legalization, with only 26% opposed. Some 43% fully supported legalization, while 26% somewhat supported it. Only yesterday, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced it had formed a task force to move forward with legalization and planned to file a legalization bill next spring.

South African Drug Authority Calls for Dagga Decriminalization, Not Legalization. The country's Central Drug Authority has called for marijuana to be decriminalized -- not legalized -- with strategies to reduce the harm of chronic use. "There are few data to indicate that supply reduction via criminalization is effective in reducing cannabis abuse. At the same time, there are insufficient data to indicate that the legalization of cannabis will not be harmful. The immediate focus should therefore be on decriminalization rather than legalization," executive committee member Dan Stein said.

Chronicle AM: Jamaica Airport Pot Shops Coming, AZ Legalizers Hand in Signatures, More... (6/30/16)

Arizona marijuana legalization advocates turned in signatures today, Massachusetts legalizers filed a campaign complaint against a police chief, Canada takes its first step toward legalization, Jamaica wants airport pot shops, and more.

Good times are coming to Jamaica. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Hands in 200,000 Signatures. The Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Thursday handed in more than 200,000 signatures in a bid to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot. The campaign needs 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify. Given that petition drives typically end up with 20%-30% of signatures deemed invalid, this is going to be a nail-biter. If 20% of signatures are invalid, it qualifies; if 30% are invalid; it fails to qualify.

Arizona Legalization Would Bring in Tens of Millions in Tax Revenues. A new report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that legalization would be a half-billion a year market in the state and would generate $82 million a year in revenues for the state from taxes and fees.

Massachusetts Legalization Campaign Files Campaign Finance Complaint Against Police Chief. The Massachusetts Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Thursday filed a complaint against Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The complaint says Carmichael appeared at an event by campaign opponents dressed in police uniform, during working hours, and had arrived in a work vehicle. Under state campaign law, appointed officials may not promote or oppose ballot questions during working hours or use public resources to do so.

Law Enforcement

Texas Man Facing Murder Trial in Cop's Death During Botched Drug Raid Says Friendly Fire Killed Him. Marvin Louis Guy, the Waco homeowner who has been jailed on capital murder charges ever since the May 2014 raid in which Officer Charles Dinwiddie was killed, has filed a federal civil rights complaints charging that Dinwiddie was actually killed by fellow officers as they fired a hail of bullets into his home. The raiders were serving a "no knock" search warrant looking for cocaine; they found none. Guy admitted firing a weapon through his window as the police attempt to break his door down "put me in fear of me and my family's safety," but said that his were not the fatal shots. He is seeking the dismissal of the murder charge and monetary damages.

International

Canada Announces Launch of Marijuana Legalization Task Force. The federal government has taken a first step toward implementing marijuana legalization by announcing the formation of a task force to draft legalization legislation. The government expects to have a bill ready to go by next spring. Over the next four months, the task force will consult with provincial, local, and indigenous governments, as well as youth and experts in healthcare, criminal justice, economics, industry, and law enforcement. It will also talk with companies that have experience in the sale, production, and distribution of the herb.

Jamaica Wants Airport Pot Shops for Tourists. The island nation's Cannabis Licensing Authority is drafting plans for marijuana shops that would allow tourists to buy up to two ounces of weed at airports as they enter the country. People from abroad who are medical marijuana patients could buy ganja without any further ado, but others would have to be licensed by workers at the airport shops.

Chronicle AM: Dem Senators Push DEA on Rescheduling, More Toronto Pot Shop Raids, More... (6/24/16)

Sanders supporters eye a pot plank in the Democratic Party platform, Democratic senators push the DEA on rescheduling, the UN says US heroin use is at a 20-year high, Toronto pot shops get raided, and more.

Cannabis Culture storefront bust in Toronto Thursday (Twitter/@EbonyReneeBaker)
Marijuana Policy

Sanders Pushes Marijuana Reform in the Democratic Platform. Bernie Sanders' campaign is not quiet. The Vermont senator has lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, but he and his delegates are pushing for reformist planks in the Democratic Party platform, including removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. At least 12 state Democratic Party platforms have embraced marijuana law reform; perhaps this year, the national party will, too.

Democratic Senators Urge DEA to Reschedule Marijuana. The DEA has said it's thinking about it -- in fact, it's in the "final stages" of deliberation -- but the Democratic lawmakers want to renew the pressure on the agency to act. Signers of the letters are Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkle of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Delaware Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Legalization. State Sen.Colin Bonini (R-Dover) said Thursday that the legislature's passage of a bill allowing deferred judgment for small-time pot possessors has removed the last vestige of criminal accountability for pot possession and that the state might as well just legalize it. The Dover conservative is seeking his party's gubernatorial nomination.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Heroin Use in US at 20-Year High, UN Says. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the US now has a million heroin users, up three-fold from 2003, a situation the office described as "alarming." The finding came in the World Drug Report 2016, released yesterday.

International

Toronto Police Raid Four More Dispensaries, Including Jody and Marc Emery's. Police in Toronto raided four more dispensaries yesterday, including the Cannabis Culture storefront owned by Vancouver's leading cannabis couple, Marc and Jody Emery. Police Chief Mark Saunders said the dispensaries are operating illegally and police will continue to bust them. An earlier round of dispensary raids last month was widely criticized, with proponents noting that the Liberal government is moving to legalize marijuana.

(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: Federal Marijuana Charges Drop, Toronto Dispensary Raids Cause Ruckus, More... (5/27/16)

Federal marijuana trafficking charges are on the decline, although it's not clear why; Britain's prohibitionist Psychoactive Substances Act has gone into effect, Toronto dispensary raids cause a ruckus, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Trafficking Charges Decline in Age of Legalization. According to the latest drug trafficking statistics from the US Sentencing Commission, federal marijuana trafficking offenses have declined dramatically since 2012, the year Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana. "The number of marijuana traffickers rose slightly over time until a sharp decline in fiscal year 2013 and the number continues to decrease," the commission reported. It's not clear why the decline has occurred since marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Senate Votes to Waive Medical Marijuana Fees for Veterans. The Senate Tuesday approved a rider to the FY 2017 budget bill that would waive registration fees for veterans for qualify for the state's medical marijuana program. Other patients would still have to pay the $50 registration fee and an annual $50 renewal fee.

International

British Law Banning "Legal Highs" Goes Into Effect. The Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect Tuesday, essentially banning any substance that has an effect on the brain -- even if it doesn't exist yet. The new law is attracting criticism from activists and scientists, who say it is overly broad and could lead to an increase in the use of more harmful substances.

Toronto Police Raid Dozens of Dispensaries. Toronto Drug Squad officers raided up to 43 dispensaries across the city Thursday in a crackdown on the shots, which have proliferated in anticipation of marijuana legalization. Cash and marijuana were seized, and some dispensary employees were temporarily detained, but it's unclear what charges, if any, will be coming.

Toronto Police Chief's Press Conference on Raids Disrupted by Angry Protestors. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders ran into a buzz saw of opposition at his press conference Friday attempting to explain the raids on 43 dispensaries a day earlier. Saunders claimed the raids were done in part because of health concerns, but was interrupted repeatedly by protestors challenging his claims. "These clubs have literally been around for 20 years and literally the medical marijuana has been around for hundreds of years and have literally never killed anybody. So how do you justify that there's a health concern when really it's the most benign substance you can ingest?" one protestor shouted.

Chronicle AM: Bratton Blames MJ for Prohibition Violence, Opioid Prescriptions Decline, More... (5/23/16)

Bill Bratton misses the point on prohibition and violence, Nebraskans will have to wait for medical marijuana, Fentanyl is displacing heroin in Vancouver, and more.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York City's Top Cop Blames Marijuana Legalization -- Not Prohibition -- for Black Market Violence. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton Sunday criticized states that have legalized weed because there is violence around the black market in his city, which hasn't legalized weed. "Here in New York, the violence we see associated with drugs, the vast majority of it, is around the issue of marijuana, which is ironic considering the explosion in use of heroin now in the city," Bratton said. "Interestingly enough, here in New York City most of the violence we see -- violence around drug trafficking -- is involving marijuana and I have to scratch my head as we are seeing many states wanting to legalize marijuana, and more liberalization of policies."

Medical Marijuana

No Medical Marijuana Initiative for Nebraska This Year. Cornhusker medical marijuana advocates have decided to delay a petition drive to get the issue on the ballot until 2018. They cited the late start this year and the expense involved.

Rhode Island Senate Approves Adding PTSD to List of Qualifying Conditions. The Senate last Friday unanimously approved a bill that will add PTSD to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the House.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Opioid Prescriptions are Falling for the First Time in 20 Years. Two reports from health information providers show that opioid prescriptions have declined in recent years. IMS Health reported a 12% decline in opioid prescriptions nationally since 2012, while Symphony Health Solutions reported an 18% drop during those years. IMS said prescriptions have fallen in 49 states, with only South Dakota showing an increase. The figures could have implications not only for overdose and addiction rates, but also for pain patients. "The climate has definitely shifted," said Dr. Daniel B. Carr, the director of Tufts Medical School's program on pain research education and policy. "It is now one of reluctance, fear of consequences and encumbrance with administrative hurdles. A lot of patients who are appropriate candidates for opioids have been caught up in that response."

International

In Vancouver, Heroin Has Been Displaced by Fentanyl. The synthetic opioid has been identified in half of all drug overdoses in the city this year, which is on track to exceed last year's drug overdose toll. Advocates for drug users in the city's Downtown East Side say there's no more heroin on the street after it has been pushed out by the cheaper and more potent Fentanyl. "Traditionally, heroin comes in about four different colors,"said the longtime drug advocate Hugh Lampkin of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, describing a bland palette of beiges, browns and blacks. "Well now you're seeing multiple colors, like colors of the rainbow: green and pink and orange and white... Right away, when you see these colors that's a pretty good indicator that it's fentanyl that you're doing. The people who are controlling the supply, they're passing off what should be heroin as fentanyl because of the close proximity of the high."

Afghans Celebrate Bumper Opium Harvest. Hundreds of laborers from across the Pashtun heartland gathered in Naqil, Uruzgan province, to harvest a bumper crop of opium poppies and celebrate with after-work games in a festival-like atmosphere. "This is the only time of the year to make money," said Afzal Mohammad, who came all the way from Kandahar, standing amid chest-high poppy stalks nearby. "People work here for about 15 days and then are jobless for the rest of the year."

Chronicle AM: MJ Taxes Could Generate Billions, Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin, More... (5/16/16)

A Tax Foundation study finds that legal pot could generate $28 billion a year in tax revenues, CBD cannabis oil isn't enough for Oklahoma medical marijuana activists, Canada will allow prescription heroin, and more.

DC activists and veterans head for the White House next week to press for end to marijuana prohibition. (Adam Eidinger/Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Study Finds Legal Marijuana Could Generate Billions a Year in Tax Revenues. A new report from the Tax Foundation estimates that a nationwide "mature marijuana industry" could generate up to $28 billion a year in federal, state, and local tax revenues. That would include $7 billion for the feds, $5.5 billion in business taxes, and $1.5 billion from income and payroll taxes. The report also estimated that a 10% federal surtax could generate $5.3 billion a year.

Veterans, DC Activists to Rally at White House on May 20. Organizers with the Weed For Warriors Project and the DC Cannabis Campaign are planning to rally in front of the White House to call on the Obama administration to end federal marijuana prohibition. The date, May 20, marks the 124th anniversary of the birth of arch-prohibitionist and proto-drug warrior Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for three decades in the mid-20th Century.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Medical Marijuana Supporters Appeal to US Supreme Court. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association last Thursday filed a petition with the US Supreme Court seeking to reverse a state Supreme Court decision that guts the state's once-thriving medical marijuana industry. Petitioners argue that the state Supreme Court mistakenly held that marijuana is universally illegal under federal law and point to the Obama administration's decisions to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws.

Oklahoma Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has signed into law a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill. Last year, the state approved the use of the oil, but only for people under 18. This bill removes that age restriction.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Advocates Begin Initiative Signature Gathering Campaign. CBD cannabis oil isn't enough for Oklahomans for Health, which began gathering signatures over the weekend for a full-blown medical marijuana initiative. The group has 90 days to gather 66,000 valid voter signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congress Passes Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Both houses of Congress have approved the measure, Senate Bill 524 and HR 953, which now goes to President Obama. The bill would expand the availability of naloxone, increase prescription drug monitoring programs, increase jail- and prison-based drug treatment, and bar the Education Department from asking about drug convictions on federal student loan application forms, among other provisions. The bill does not include extra funding to pay for its measures.

Obama Administration Calls on Congress to Fund $1.1 Billion for Opioid Effort. Last Thursday, as Congress was passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the Obama administration noted that Congress didn't allocate money to pay for it and called on Congress to come up with $1.1 billion in additional spending to do so.

International

Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin. Health Canada announced Friday that it is proposing new regulations to allow access to prescription heroin under its Special Access Program (SAP). That program allows for emergency access to drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional treatments have failed or are unsuitable. "A significant body of scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for the treatment of chronic, relapsing opioid dependence. Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine," the statement said.

Macedonia Will Have Medical Marijuana by Month's End. Health Minister Nikola Todorov said Saturday that medical marijuana products will be in pharmacies across the country by the end of the month. The country had earlier amended its Law on the Control of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances to allow the move.

In Cutting Edge Move, Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin

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

Health Canada announced Friday that it is proposing new regulations to allow access to prescription heroin under its Special Access Program (SAP). That program allows for emergency access to drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional treatments have failed or are unsuitable.

Health Canada clears the way for prescription heroin. (Wikmedia/Creative Commons)
"A significant body of scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for the treatment of chronic, relapsing opioid dependence. Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine," the statement said.

The move is yet another reversal of hardline Conservative drug policies by the Liberal government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which was elected last fall. The Trudeau government has pivoted sharply away from Conservative positions in favor of mandatory minimum drug sentences and against marijuana legalization, and now is moving to undo Conservative efforts to block the limited use of prescription heroin.

Canadian scientists had laid the groundwork for prescription with the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI), which first tested "heroin-assisted maintenance" in Vancouver a dozen years ago, and which was followed by the Study to Assess Long-Term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness (SALOME) between 2005 and 2008. SALOME examined whether giving hard-core heroin users heroin was more effective than giving them methadone.

SALOME showed that the users in the study were more likely to stay in treatment, reduce other illegal drug use, engage in fewer other illegal activities and have better physical and mental health outcomes if given heroin than if given methadone. But when that study ended in 2008, researchers were faced with the ethical dilemma of cutting off the patients whose lives were being improved by prescription heroin.

The doctors began applying for, and receiving, permission under the Special Access Program, and Health Canada approved those applications in 2013. But that infuriated the Conservatives, and then-Health Minister Rona Ambrose introduced new regulations to bar doctors from prescribing "dangerous drugs" such as heroin, cocaine, and LSD.

Former SALOME participants launched a constitutional challenge to the ban and in 2014 won a temporary injunction giving them the right to continue to receive prescription heroin while the case was being decided. Now, with Health Canada's move, the federal government will no longer attempt to block prescription heroin.

That was good news for the Pivot Legal Society, which argued the case for continuing the prescriptions, and for Providence Health Care, in whose Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Lower East Side the heroin was administered.

"Allowing access to diacetylmorphine, or medical heroin, to patients who need it, ensures that life-saving treatments get delivered to vulnerable people suffering from chronic opioid use," the two groups said in a joint statement.

Canada is leading the way on cutting edge responses to heroin addiction in North America. In addition to the groundbreaking NAOMI and SALOME studies, which cannot be replicated in the US under current law and regulations, Canada has also had safe injection sites operating in Vancouver for more than a decade. We still don't have any of those in the US.

Ottawa
Canada

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