Harm Intensification

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Chronicle AM: Open Letter to UN Head Urges Global Drug Policy Changes, PA to Become 24th MedMJ State, More... (4/15/16)

Global celebrities and political figures call for change at the UN, Maine's pot legalization initiative remains alive, Pennsylvania is now set to become the 24th medical marijuana state, and more.

Medical marijuana is coming to Pennsylvania. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Won't Appeal Judge's Ruling to Recount Invalidated Signatures. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday he won't appeal a judge's ruling that overturned his decision to invalidate a marijuana legalization initiative. This doesn't mean that the initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is now qualified for the ballot, but it does mean that state officials will have to review thousands of signatures in threw out last month, including some 17,000 invalidated because they came from a notary whose signature on petition sheets supposedly didn't match his signature on file. If those signatures are found to be valid, the initiative qualifies. It handed in 99,000 and only needs 61,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot.

Top Massachusetts Politicians Form Anti-Legalization Committee. Governor Charlie Baker (R), Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D), Speaker Robert DeLeo (D), and a number of other political figures and health care professionals have formed a bipartisan committee, A Campaign For A Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, to oppose the marijuana legalization initiative there. "I’ve met far too many families in Boston and elsewhere where kids have lost their way in school and been shut out of success in the workplace due to addiction and abuse of marijuana," Mayor Walsh said in a release. "Where marijuana is legal, young people are more likely to use it and a vote against legalizing the commercial marijuana industry is a vote to protect our kids and communities."

NORML Endorses Michigan Legalization Initiative. "The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is pleased to announce our endorsement of the MI Legalize initiative to regulate the adult use, production and retail sale of marijuana in Michigan. MI Legalize, also known as the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, has collected more than 270,000 signatures in its effort to legalize marijuana via the petitioning process. The grass-roots effort has been collecting signatures from registered voters since June, 2015, and represents the best opportunity to enact a regulatory system in Michigan, a state where it is highly unlikely the state legislature will take any similar action."

Champaign/Urbana to Vote on Legalization Advisory Referendum. The Illinois cities will vote on the advisory measure in the November election. The advisory question will ask voters "Should the state of Illinois legalize and regulate the sale and use of marijuana in a similar fashion to the state of Colorado?"

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Approves Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bipartisan amendment Thursday, 20 to 10, allowing Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The vote is the second time the U.S. Senate has advanced this issue. The amendment did not make the final appropriations bill last year after narrowly losing in the House.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. After months of delay in the House, Senate Bill 3 has finally been approved by the legislature and is headed for the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who supports it. The Keystone State is now set to become the 24th medical marijuana state.

Harm Reduction

Hawaii House Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. The House has approved a bill to increase access to overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone (Narcan) and provide immunity to those who administer them. The measure is Senate Bill 2392, which has already passed the Senate and now heads for the governor's desk.

International

Open Letter to UN Head Calls for Shift in Global Drug Policy. Over a thousand people, including financier Warren Buffett, US Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), rock star Sting, and the former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Switzerland, among others, have signed an open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon saying the drug war has failed and calling for a shift in global drug policy away from criminalization and force and toward health  and human rights. The letter comes ahead of next week's UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs.  

Chronicle AM: New Obama Opioid Initiative, DOJ Backtracks on Forfeiture Reform, More... (3/29/16)

The drug czar uses a recycled and updated version of the gateway theory to oppose marijuana legalization, the Justice Department restarts its Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, the president announces a new package of initiatives to fight heroin and opioid death and addiction, and more.

Obama has plans for fighting heroin and prescription opioid death and addiction. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Leans On Gateway Theory Variant to Explain Opposition to Legalization. In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week, Office of National Drug Control Policy head Michael Botticelli reaffirmed the Obama administration's opposition to marijuana legalization, using a familiar, if discredited, argument to do so: "I think the evidence is pretty clear that early use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana -- often used together -- significantly increases the probability that someone will develop a more significant addictive disorder later in their life," he said. "Early substance use actually effects brain development and predisposes people for more significant vulnerabilities later in their life." That sounds a whole lot like an updated version of the roundly criticized gateway theory.

Hawaii Resolution Seeks Study on Marijuana and Driving. Rep. Cindy Evans (D-North Kona) and 15 other lawmakers have introduced a resolution asking the state health department to study the effect of marijuana on driving. State law bans people from driving under the influence of impairing drugs, but there is no threshold set for marijuana because there is no widespread consensus on what an acceptable level might be.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Obama Announces New Moves to Fight Heroin and Opioid Abuse. In a speech in Atlanta today, President Obama unveiled a package of new initiatives to help stem the tide of death and addiction from prescription and non-prescription opioids. These initiatives are above and beyond the $1.1 billion in new spending he proposed last month. The package includes expanded access to medication-assisted treatment (methadone, buprenorphine) for addicted users, doubling the cap on the number of patients to whom a doctor may prescribe buprenorphine, increasing the number of doctors who can prescribe it, funding an increase in access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), ensuring that substance abuse and mental health benefits are offered for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, and $7 million for the Justice Department to conduct law enforcement operations aimed at heroin distribution.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Resumes Equitable Sharing Program -- More Money for Cops. The Justice Department has announced it is resuming its program that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to do an end run around state asset forfeiture laws by handing investigations over to the feds. State laws may mandate that seized funds go in the general fund or other specified funds, but under the federal program, 80% of the seized funds go to the seizing law enforcement agency, not the state's general or other specified funds. Law enforcement lobbying groups had been loudly protesting the program's shutdown last fall, claiming they needed the windfalls to do their jobs. Now, the program is back on line.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Has Saved 2,500 Lives in North Carolina. In less than three years, some 2,500 North Carolinians have had their heroin or prescription opioid overdoses reversed by people using naloxone (Narcan), the North Carolina Harm Reduction Center reported today. As of today, the number stands at 2,503. "Through distributing naloxone with NCHRC, I have been able to save the lives of many of my friends, loved ones and peers," says Kendra, a volunteer distributor in Wilmington. "Without this amazing group of people and this life-saving drug, many people who are very close to me may not have had a second chance at life. In the last few months alone I have had close to 100 reversals reported to me personally and many of those people are now in recovery because they were ready to make a change in their lives after overdosing."

International

Mexican Popular Support for Marijuana Legalization Rising, But Still Low. This year's officially-supported debate on marijuana legalization appears to be having an impact. Mexico has never been a legalization-friendly country, and in October, daily polls had support for legalization at only 7%, with 92% opposed. But six months later, after the issue has been publicly debated, pro-legalization sentiment has increased four-fold, to 29%, with opposition dropping to 66%. The trend is in the right direction, but there's still a long way to go.

A Maryland Lawmaker's Paradigm-Shifting Approach to the Heroin and Pain Pill Crisis [FEATURE]

With nearly 47,000 Americans dying of drug overdoses in 2014 -- more than from gunshots or car crashes -- the problem of heroin and prescription opioid (pain pill) addiction is getting well-deserved attention. From community town halls to state capitals, as well as in Congress and on the rival presidential campaigns, the crisis is spawning demands for solutions.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dan-morhaim-180px.jpg
Dan Morhaim
The response, in general, has been more sympathetic than to earlier waves of hard drug use, such as heroin in the 1960s or crack cocaine in the 1980s, which brought down the harsh drug war policies of Nixon and Reagan. Now, there are more calls for drug treatment than for further law enforcement crackdowns, police departments are carrying overdose reversal drugs, and public health agencies are taking on a more prominent role.

But addicts continue to be arrested, with all the deleterious consequences that entails, and, when it comes to policy, the problem of addiction remains largely in the realm of criminal justice. Harm reduction practices proven in other parts of the world improve both the lives of drug users and those of the communities they live in continue to be shunted aside in the US.

That could change in at least one state. Veteran Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) has just introduced a paradigm-shifting package of bills that would begin to move the state's posture toward drug use from prohibition to public health and harm reduction. Morhaim, a practicing physician with three decades of frontline hospital ERs, brings to his approach a vision formed by that experience.

If enacted, Morhaim's package would mark a radical, but commonsensical, humane, and scientifically-supported shift in Maryland's drug policies. Here's what it includes:

  • Emergency Room Treatment on Demand. House Bill 908 provides treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings. The bill requires acute care hospitals to have a counselor available or on-call at all times and specified arrangements for transferring patients to appropriate treatment settings. Addicted patients make up a large percentage of uninsured visits to ERs, making them an ideal place for initial therapeutic contact.
  • Safe Consumption Sites. House Bill 1212 allows individuals to use drugs in approved facilities while supervised by trained staff who also provide sterile equipment, monitor the person for overdose and offer treatment referrals. Similar on-going programs in Australia, Canada, and several European countries have eliminated overdose deaths, reduced the spread of disease, and provided points of accessto the most hard-to-reach drug users.
  • Drug Decriminalization. House Bill 1219 decriminalizes the possession and use of small quantities of drugs: one gram of meth or heroin, two grams of cocaine, 10 hits of MDMA, 150 micrograms of LSD. The object is to keep otherwise non-criminal drug users out of the criminal justice system, saving resources and avoiding saddling more residents with criminal records.
  • Heroin Maintenance. House Bill 1267 allows a four-year pilot study of "poly-morphone assisted treatment" with pharmaceutical grade opioids, including heroin, to treat under medical supervision a small number of hardcore users who have proven resistant to other forms of treatment. Ongoing heroin maintenance programs in several European countries have been shown to reduce illegal drug use, decrease crime, reduce the black market for heroin, and lead to less chaotic lives for their participants.

The package didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Morhaim's experiences in the ER, where he dealt not only with direct consequences of drug use -- overdoses, infections -- but also direct consequences of drug prohibition -- old women injured in muggings for black market drug money, the toll of dead and wounded in black market drug turf battles -- colored his approach.

"I'm a physician, not a prosecuting attorney," Morhaim told the Chronicle. "I come at this from a public health perspective. We talk about 'surges' to fight this and that, but what we haven't had in this country is a surge in the public health approach, real, substantive public health. This is different, and some will see it as controversial, but I'm comfortable with that. This is something that's really corroding the heart and soul of our society."

He wasn't alone.

"I've had a lot of conversations, and my district has generally been very supportive of these kind of innovative things. No negative feedback. There's a broad consensus that the war on drugs is a failure," Morhaim said. "People are really cognizant of that. And I'm an Emergency Room physician at a Level II trauma center, I've also done healthcare for the homeless. I've been on the front lines, seen the carnage, the death, the violence, and the way this affects the families, and I'm speaking from true experience, and people respect that."

Not only did Morhaim have support in his community, he had support from a strong group of advocates and experts.

"As things were coming to a head, Delegate Morhaim reached out to us at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)," said DPA staff attorney Lindsay LaSalle, who was involved in developing the proposals. "He said he felt like he could offer progressive solutions to the crisis and he wanted our subject matter expertise to help develop those proposals."

DPA, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), whose executive director, Neill Franklin, is a former Baltimore police officer, and the Open Society Foundations joined with academics, lawyers, doctors, and harm reductionists to develop and refine the policy proposals that became the bill package. Local institutions of higher learning, including the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University, had academics involved in the effort as well.

Passing the bills won't be easy, and it's not likely to happen this year, but Morhaim and his supporters are playing to win in the not-too-distant future.

"Dan is currently on the second year of a four year term," LaSalle said. "These bills were introduced strategically this term with the understanding that it would be a year of educating colleagues and generating positive media coverage. This is always a long game; we don't expect passage this year, but we hope to gain traction on one or more of these in the next two or three years."

"I've been in the legislature a long time, and I've learned you just have to be persistent, you listen and address concerns, maybe you accept an amendment to a bill," Morhaim said.

He pointed to the successful effort to get medical marijuana through the legislature.

"On that, people had suggestions, and we said let's fix it in the bill," he recalled. "Law enforcement didn't oppose it because I sat down and worked with them."

He also recalled legislative battles he had fought -- and won -- around smoking in restaurants and the use of safety seats for children.

"Banning smoking in restaurants seemed impossible in 1995, but now it's commonplace," he said. "The same with kids safety seats. Both of those were hard-fought on the political level, but when we talk to people, we can convince them. These things take time, but when you recognize what's not working, then you can explore what is. People are looking for answers."

Although Morhaim's package of bills is the most comprehensive, explicit harm reduction interventions are being considered in other places, too. California will see a safe consumption site bill introduced next week, and activists and officials in a number of cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle are laying the groundwork for such facilities at the local level.

"We're getting traction on these issues," said LaSalle. "Nevada was the first state with a heroin-assisted treatment bill, and while it didn't get out of committee, we had robust hearings, with international experts. And that California bill will be moving forward this session. Drug treatment and harm reduction don't always go hand in hand, but in this case the treatment community is cosponsoring or officially supporting safe consumption sites."

Meanwhile, some states are moving in the opposite direction. In Maine, the administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul Le Page (R) is seeking to reverse a law passed last year that defelonized drug possession. (The rambunctious Republican has also called for guillotining drug dealers, blamed black drug dealers for impregnating white Maine girls, and called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers.) And next door in New Hampshire, the attorney general wants to start charging heroin suppliers with murder in the event of fatal overdoses. Prosecutors in other states have also dusted off long-unused statutes to bring murder or manslaughter charges.

"We need to ask those people why they're doubling down on a failed policy," said LaSalle. "Why would this work now when it's just more of the same that's been in place for four decades, and now we have use and overdoses and Hep C increasing."

"I understand the impulse to 'Do Something!' in response, and because criminalization has been our go-to response, it seems logical that increasing penalties or prosecutions is a way to solve the problem, but we know, we have shown, that it is not. It's frustrating."

It can be worse than frustrating, too, LaSalle noted.

"Using murder charges as a whipping stick in the case of overdoses is really counterproductive," she said. "If the goal is to reduce overdoses, this is going to reduce the likelihood of anyone calling 911. Maybe they shared their stash, and if they could face murder charges, they now have a serious disincentive to call."

Clearly, the war on drugs is not over. But after half a century of relying predominantly on the forces of repression to deal with drug use, a new vision, both smarter and more humane, is emerging. Now comes the political fight to enact it.

Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init Qualifies for Ballot, VT Gov Endorses Pot Legalization Bill, More... (1/28/16)

Busy, busy. State legislatures are in full swing, and the bills just keep coming. Meanwhile, Florida's medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the ballot, Vermont's governor endorses legalization, and more.

Heroin is on the agenda at statehouses this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Colorado's Legalization. A Colorado US District Court judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the legality of marijuana legalization in the state. The lawsuit was filed by a Washington, DC-based anti-marijuana group, the Safe Streets Alliance, and asked the court to find the state and Pueblo County guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The judge in the case rejected the claims, concluding that private parties have no standing to seek recourse for alleged violations of the Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land. Another lawsuit, filed by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, is still being decided.

New Mexico Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization. Three out five (61%) adult New Mexicans support legalizing and regulating marijuana, according to a new poll from Research & Polling. The poll comes as the legislature ponders two bills, one that would amend the state constitution to let voters decide the issue, and one that is a straightforward legalization bill. The bills are Senate Joint Resolution 5 and House Bill 75, respectively.

Vermont Governor Endorses Legalization Bill. Gov. Peter Shumlin has endorsed the Senate Judiciary Committee's legalization bill, Senate Bill 137. "The War on Drugs has failed when it comes to marijuana prohibition," Gov. Shumlin said. "Under the status quo, marijuana use is widespread, Vermonters have little difficulty procuring it for personal use, and the shadows of prohibition make it nearly impossible to address key issues like prevention, keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, and dealing with those driving under the influence who are already on Vermont's roads. The system has failed. The question for us is how do we deal with that failure. Vermont can take a smarter approach that regulates marijuana in a thoughtful way, and this bill provides a framework for us to do that."

DC Poll Finds Residents Want District to Move Ahead With Regulation -- Despite Congress. A substantial majority of District residents believe Mayor Bowser should move forward with taxation and regulation of marijuana despite Congressional prohibition, according to a survey conducted over the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Drug Policy Alliance, DC Vote, DC Working Families and the Washington City Paper. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents believe the mayor should pursue a legal method (such as use of reserve funds) to implement taxation and regulation of marijuana in the District. In light of congressional interference attempting to prevent such regulation, 63% of residents view marijuana legalization as a statehood issue for the District.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Releases Report on State Medical Marijuana Programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded harshly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

California Bill to Halt Medical Marijuana Bans Heads to Governor's Desk. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for the November Ballot. The group behind the effort, United for Care, said Wednesday the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Injection Drug Use Driving Appalachian Hepatitis B Infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that acute Hepatitis B was up 114% in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia between 2009 and 2013. The report found that injection drug was tied to 75% of the new cases. Unlike Hep C, Hep B can be prevented with a vaccine, but vaccine coverage is low among adults nationwide.

Maine Governor Wants Gunowners to Shoot Drug Dealers. Just days after saying Maine should revive the guillotine to execute drug dealers, Gov. Paul LePage suggested just shooting them instead. "I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry," LePage said in an on-camera interview in Lewiston. "Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they're killing our kids," the governor said. He then denied that he was encouraging vigilantism.

New York Assembly Minority Task Force Releases Report on Heroin Addiction. The task force has come out with suggestions for combating heroin and opiate addiction. The recommendations include earlier drug education, involuntary "emergency medical" detention of addicts, and a felony "death by dealer" statute. Now, the task force must work with Assembly Democrats to create legislation.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Killed in Committee. The Health and Human Services voted to kill a bill that would have required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Even the Republican governor had opposed the bill.

International

Producers of Prohibited Plants Issue Declaration Ahead of UNGASS. The Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants (coca, opium, marijuana) is demanding that growers be heard at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in April. In a joint declaration from producers in 14 countries, the group urged an end to forced eradication of drug crops, the removal of the three plants from international drug control treaties, and sustainable rural economic development. Click the title link for a full list of participants and recommendations.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Decrim Killed in VA, Ireland Ponders Pill Testing for Festivals, More (1/26/16)

Alaska's commercial marijuana regulations advance, so does a Kansas bill lowering pot penalties and a pair of Florida asset forfeiture reform bills, the Irish government ponders pill testing for nightclubs and festivals, a medical marijuana bill is filed in Mexico, and more.

Hillary Clinton reiterates support for state-level legalization without federal interference. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Hillary Clinton Reiterates Support for Letting States Legalize Marijuana. In an interview Monday, the Democratic presidential contender restated her position that the federal government shouldn't interfere with state-level legalization. "I think that states are the laboratories of democracy, and four states have already taken action to legalize, and it will be important that other states and the federal government take account of how that's being done, what we learn from what they're doing,"said Clinton. "I think that the states moving forward is appropriate and I think the federal government has to move to make this more available for research that they can then distribute to interested people across our country."

Alaska Legal Marijuana Rules Advance, With Two Exceptions. The Marijuana Control Board's rules and regulations for commercial marijuana activity have been approved by the state Law Department, with two exceptions. The Law Department struck down a requirement for a national criminal history check, saying that authority must come from statute, not regulations, and it struck down marijuana testing requirements for rural growers. The Law Department said the Board's allowance of "alternative means of testing" for rural growers lacks standards. The Board said the legislature is already working on a fix for the background checks, but it doesn't yet have a fix for the rural grower issue.

Kansas Senate Panel Okays Lessening Pot Penalties, Legalizing CBC Cannabis Oil. The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee Tuesday approved bills lessening marijuana possession penalties and allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil for people with epilepsy. The bills now head for the Senate floor.

Virginia Decriminalization Bills Killed By House Committee. The House Courts of Justice Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Law Monday voted down a pair of bills that would decriminalize marijuana possession in the Commonwealth.

New Orleans Ordinance Would Give Police Discretion to Ticket Marijuana Possessors. Currently, only first-time pot possession offenders are eligible for a summons instead of an arrest, but Councilwoman Susan Guidry is offering a measure that would allow police to only ticket pot possessors no many how many offenses they had. The measure is on the council's agenda today.

Medical Marijuana

California Senate Approves Bill to Slow Medical Marijuana Bans. The state Senate Monday approved Assembly Bill 21, designed to fix what lawmakers called a mistake in the state's comprehensive medical marijuana regulation laws. The bill had a paragraph that gave the state authority to license cultivation in localities that didn't have their own laws on the books by March 1, and many localities had responded by passing preemptive cultivation bans. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bills Win Committee Vote. Two competing reform bills passed a Senate panel Tuesday. A bill from Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) would leave civil asset forfeiture intact, but increase oversight, while a bill from Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would require a criminal conviction before seizure of assets. Law enforcement supports the first bill, but not the second. The committee passed both measures.

Drug Policy

Poll: New Hampshire Voters Support Drug Decriminalization. Two-thirds of state voters supported not arresting small-time drug possessors, but instead offering them counseling and treatment. And nearly three-quarters (73%) supporting doing away with mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession offenses.

International

Ireland Considering Pill Testing for Nightclubs, Festivals. In the wake of the drug-related death of a teenage clubber last week, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the government is considering allowing pill testing kits for music venues. But he said that prevention is the first pillar in the department's approach to the problem.

Mexico Medical Marijuana Bill Coming. A senator from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has proposed a bill to legalize medical marijuana and says she thinks it can pass by May. Sen. Cristina Diaz said she hoped the national debate on marijuana, which began this week, would help the bill progress.

(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: Top Cops Call for Sentencing Reform, GOP Senators Split On Reform, More... (1/20/16)

GOP legislators are busy filing retrograde drug bills across the land, from chipping away at medical marijuana in Arizona to public benefits drug testing bills in several states. Meanwhile, a battle looms over federal sentencing reform.

The fight is heating up over a federal sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legislators Face Plethora of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session has barely started, but lawmakers in Jefferson City have already filed nearly 20 bills aiming at reforming marijuana policy. The bills range from legalization and medical marijuana to barring asset forfeiture in pot cases and expunging the record of nonviolent offenses, including marijuana offenses. Click on the link to see the whole list.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Legislators Try to Chip Away at Medical Marijuana Access. Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) has filed House Bill 2061, which would bar pregnant women from qualifying for the medical marijuana program, and Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale) has filed House Concurrent Resolution 2019, which removes homeopaths and naturopaths from the list of doctors who can issue medical marijuana recommendations.

Fix in the Works for California's Medical Marijuana Local Regulation Deadline. Legislators are working to fix a provision of the medical marijuana regulation law that requires localities to pass their own rules by March 1 or face loss of regulatory control to the state. The provision has caused a stampede of cities and counties seeking to get measures in place by that date, with most of them resorting to simple bans. The Senate Finance Committee last week passed a bill to remove the date.

Drug Testing

Indiana Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute) has filed Senate Bill 245, which would require people applying for unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing if they were fired for drug use or if they work in an occupation the federal Bureau of Labor has determined is one where drug testing is common. The bill had a hearing set for today.

West Virginia Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require drug testing of food stamp recipients passed the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources Tuesday and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill would only require testing of those for whom state officials had a "reasonable suspicion" were drug users. The measure is Senate Bill 6.

Sentencing

Police Chiefs, Prosecutors Urge Congress to Pass Criminal Justice Reform. More than 70 top police chiefs and prosecutors organized as Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration today called on Congress to pass sentencing reform. They are urging support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (Senate Bill 2123). The letter comes on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a major hearing on criminal justice reform. "Today, law enforcement leaders from across the nation join together to let our lawmakers know that reforming federal mandatory minimum sentences will help keep down crime and unnecessary incarceration. As police chiefs and prosecutors, our first priority is public safety. But we know first-hand from our experience that our country's high levels of incarceration are not making us safer," said the letter they sent out today.

GOP Split on Mandatory Minimums Threatens Sentencing Reform Bill. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is keeping mum about how he plans to proceed on the bill, which is cosponsored by several Republicans. GOP hardliners are balking, threatening passage of the measure. "I don't think it’s a healthy thing to do," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a fervent opponent of the justice bill. "If we lay off drug prosecutions, we're going to see even more murders and crimes, deaths and destruction. I think we need to slow down, be careful about this." The bill had appeared to be one of the few areas where bipartisan support could ensure passage, but now GOP support looks to be eroding.

International

Indian Has a Booming Industry Manufacturing New Psychoactive Substances. Recent raids by drug police have uncovered a domestic party drug manufacturing industry cranking out drugs by the ton. Police busted more than 1,200 pounds of mephedrone in one bust, 750 pounds in another, and more than 2500 pounds of ketamine in yet another. The drug makers are behaving like legitimate drug manufacturers, finding factories, chemists, and workers, then obtaining licenses to manufacture legitimate drugs, then cranking out party drugs.

Costa Rica Court Clears Activist of Marijuana Cultivation Charges. In a case that could be a step down the path to decriminalization, a court refused to convict Cerdas Salazar on drug trafficking charges for growing his own marijuana. Police contended he grew for sale, but provided no evidence of that. "Yes, marijuana cultivation is illegal; nonetheless, it is not a crime if it is not utilized for sale," the judge hearing the case, Carolina Leitón, said.

Chronicle AM: DC Council See-Saws on Pot Clubs, Fed Judge Throws Out Pot Credit Union Lawsuit, More (1/6/16)

Marijuana business access to banking services takes a hit from a federal judge, DC marijuana social clubs take a hit from the city council, Vermont legalization prospects get downplayed, pain patients are in the cross-hairs, and more.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera says legalize it. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Throws Out Marijuana Credit Union Lawsuit. US District Court Judge R. Brooke Johnson today dismissed a lawsuit seeking approval from the Federal Reserve branch in Kansas City for the first credit union for pot businesses in the state. Jackson said he was compelled to dismiss the suit because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

DC City Council Approves, Then Bans Marijuana Social Clubs. In a topsy-turvy day, the council first voted 7-6 to let an emergency ban on pot social clubs expire, but moments later, two council members switched positions, and the ban was extended a a 9-4 vote. The ban remains in effect for 90 days, and activists will continue to agitate for it to be allowed to expire.

Vermont Legislative Leaders Pour Cold Water on Legalization Prospects This Year. As the legislative session opens, House Speaker Shap Smith (D) said that there are still too many unanswered questions about how legalization would work and that he doesn't think it is ready for a full debate at this time. Minority Leader Sen. Joe Benning (R) said he, too, had similar questions and that the effort was "not quite ready for prime time." Both Smith and Benning said they generally support legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Cultivation Bill Filed. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has filed House Bill 722 (not yet available on the legislative website), which would allow the state to issue up to six licenses for medical marijuana growers. The legislature last year passed a bill allowing for the use of high-CBD marijuana, but included no provisions for growing it in the state.

New Psychoactive Substances

Florida Grand Jury Calls for Statewide Bans on Broad Classes of NPSs. Empaneled to confront the use of "flakka," a synthetic cathinone called alpha-PDP, a Broward County grand jury has issued a report calling for a state law that would ban entire classes of new psychoactive substances, such as synthetic cathinones, rather than limited bans on specified chemical compounds. The report calls for passage of the 2016 Florida Designer Drugs Enforcement Act proposed Monday by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). Flakka has been linked to some 60 deaths in the state over the past four years.

Pain Treatment

CDC Proposed Opiate Prescribing Guidelines for Chronic Pain Include Provisions for Drug Testing All Pain Patients -- Still Time to Comment. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain includes provisions for requiring drug testing of all pain patients -- including those with cancer or terminal illnesses. Comment on the proposed guidelines here. Comments are open until January 13.

International

Mexico City Mayor Supports Marijuana Legalization, Says Would Hurt Cartels. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said last week that marijuana legalization is an issue of personal freedom and that it would hurt illegal drug trafficking organizations. "My position is always in defense of freedom," he told El Universal. "I do support legalization." Legalizing marijuana would not be attractive for drug cartels, he added, saying "it would be a blow to them." Mancera's comments come as the country prepares for a national debate on legalization later this month.

Chronicle AM: Colombia Legalizes MedMJ, MD MedMJ Delayed Until 2017, More (12/22/15)

DPA ups the pressure on Louisiana Gov. Jindal to free Bernard Noble, Maryland patients face further delays, Colombian patients won't, and more.

Colombian President Santos signs medical marijuana decree today. (colombia.gob)
Marijuana Policy

The Drug Policy Alliance Requests Sentencing Reprieve for Louisianan Given 13-year Prison Sentence for Possession of Two Marijuana Cigarettes. The Drug Policy Alliance today formally requested the Louisiana governor today to grant Bernard Noble a gubernatorial reprieve and release Mr. Noble from prison, where he has served more than four years behind bars having been sentenced to a term of 13.3 years of hard labor without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes. "The sentence inflicted by Louisiana on Mr. Noble for simple, low-level marijuana possession, on a gainfully employed father with absolutely no history of any serious or violent crime, is a travesty," said Daniel Abrahamson, senior legal advisor to the Drug Policy Alliance. "Mr. Noble's sentence does not enhance public safety. It has devastated Mr. Noble and his family. And it flies in the face of what Louisianans believe and what current law provides. Governor Jindal should exercise mercy and use his power as Governor to advance fairness, justice and compassion by issuing Mr. Noble a sentencing reprieve."

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Introduced. For the third year in a row, Rep. Jim Byrd (D-Cheyenne) has introduced a bill to decriminalize pot possession. House Bill 3 would decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana, with a $50 for less than a half ounce and a $100 fine for up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Patients Will Wait Until 2017 to Get Their Medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission said Monday that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

New Jersey Senate Panel Approves Employment Protections for Patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 Monday to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

Harm Reduction

Indiana County to Start Needle Exchange in Bid to Fend Off Hep C. Monroe County will become the fourth in the state to authorize needle exchange programs after officials there declared a public health emergency amid an outbreak of Hepatitis C. That declaration allows the county to start a needle exchange program.

International

Colombia Legalizes Medical Marijuana. President Juan Manuel Santos today signed a decree legalizing medical marijuana. "This decree allows licenses to be granted for the possession of seeds, cannabis plants and marijuana," he said from the presidential palace. "It places Colombia in the group of countries that are at the forefront... in the use of natural resources to fight disease."

Israel's Top Ethicist Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Professor Asa Kasher, described as "Israel's preeminent expert on ethics and philosophy," told the Knesset Committee on Controlled Substances Tuesday that restrictions on medical use of marijuana violated the principles of medical ethics and that general legalization "can be promoted, but only if the process includes relevant regulation."

Chronicle AM: Pittsburgh Decriminalizes, College Drug Testing News, ODs Hit Record High, More (12/21/15)

Pittsburgh decriminalizes, Detroit restricts dispensaries, the Univ. of Alabama is forcing all frat members to be drug tested, fatal drug overdoses hit a record high last year, and more.

Rastaman has reason to smile after Jamaica grants festival a "marijuana exemption." (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Signature Count Certified. The initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has been certified as handing in enough signatures to force the legislature to consider it this spring. If the legislature rejects it or fails to act by May 3, the campaign must then come up with another 10,000 signatures to put the issue directly to the voters in November.

Pittsburgh City Council Approves Decriminalization. The council voted 7-2 today to approve a decriminalization ordinance. The bill makes possession of 30 grams or less a ticketable offense, with a fine of $100. The measure was intended to "help break the damning life-long consequences of unemployment, lack of education, and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system," said bill sponsor Public Safety Chair David Lavelle.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Approves Restrictive Dispensary Ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

Public Health

CDC: Drug Overdoses Hit New High Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control reported last Friday that more than 47,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014, with 60% of them involving heroin or prescription opiates. Heroin overdose deaths were up 26%, prescription opiate deaths were up 9%, and synthetic opiate deaths (mainly fentanyl) nearly doubled over 2013.

Drug Testing

University of Alabama Subjects All Frat Members to Mandatory Drug Tests. Every fraternity member at the school was required to pass a drug test at the beginning of the academic year, and now, fraternity members are being randomly selected each week for more drug tests. If students test positive, they get several warnings before they are expelled from the fraternity and a university anti-drug program intervenes to "help students get back on track before the school doles out harsher penalties. The drug testing program has been criticized by fraternity members and others as invading the privacy of students, but no one has yet challenged it in court.

ACLU to Appeal Federal Court Ruling Allowing Drug Testing of All Students at Missouri Tech College. The ACLU of Missouri said it will appeal an 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the suspicionless drug testing of all students at the State Technical College of Missouri. The ACLU is seeking a rehearing of the case before the same three-judge appeals court panel that ruled in the school's favor or by the entire bench in the 8th Circuit. The ACLU had filed suit in 2011 to challenge the policy and won at the district court level, but the appeals court last year reversed the lower court decision. The federal courts have held that, with a handful of exceptions, mandatory suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures. The ACLU said the appeals court decision is "poorly crafted and departs from the 8th Circuit and Supreme Court precedent."

International

"Marijuana Exemption" Granted for Jamaica Rasta Festival. The Rebel Salute 2016 festival, to be held next month in St. Ann, has been granted a "marijuana exemption" personally delivered by Justice Minister Mark Golding. "Persons who are adherents of the Rastafarian faith, or Rastafarian organizations, may apply for an event promoted or sponsored by them to be declared an exempt event. In order to apply, the event must be primarily for the purpose of the celebration or observance of the Rastafarian faith," explained a Justice Ministry factsheet. "Where an event is declared exempt, persons who attend the event will not be liable to be arrested, detained or prosecuted for smoking ganja or possession of ganja at the event, or transporting ganja to the event, as long as they have complied with the amounts and conditions specified in the order declaring it an exempt event." This is the second time such an exemption has been granted.

Spending Bill Just Passed By Congress Includes Important Drug Reforms

The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects, and it also softens a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs.

But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

The language blocking the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana where it is legal also came in the form of an amendment from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was passed last year, but had to be renewed this year. In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sponsored the amendment.

Drug and criminal justice reformers welcomed the progress on Capitol Hill.

"The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It's encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies."

"Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "It's very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state's rights and the rights of patients."

Reformers also cheered the softening of a ban on states and localities spending federal AIDS funds on needle exchange programs. The ban was put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988, and repealed in 2009 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.

Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding, but not completely. There is still a ban on federal funding of syringes for the programs, but funds can be used for other program expenses such as staff, if a local or state authority has issued an emergency finding.

"Syringe access programs are a sound public health intervention, rooted in science, and proven to drastically reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C," said DPA's Collins. "Lifting this archaic ban will save thousands of lives."

"Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity," said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. "This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles."

Needle exchange programs are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne diseases and are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and US Conference of Mayors, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International Red Cross-Red Crescent Society.

Washington, DC
United States

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