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NH House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, CA Methadone Access Bill Filed, More... (4/12/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1208)

Customs and Border Patrol announces a new fentanyl crackdown, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and others file the SEEK HELP to protect people administering naloxone, and more.

The Rio Grande River marks the US-Mexico border in Texas. And fentanyl flows like water across that border. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, But Not the One the Senate and Governor Want. The House on Thursday approved a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana, but not one that includes a state-controlled retail model supported by Gov. Chris Sununu (R) and Senate leaders, leaving its prospects clouded.

The measure, House Bill 1633 from Rep. Erica Layton (R), would legalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana but would only allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own. It would allow for 15 retail stores statewide with a 10 percent tax on recreational purposes. Medical marijuana would be exempt from the tax.

Layton described her "agency store" approach as being "where the state requires agreement and compliance from private businesses granted limited licenses by the Liquor Commission beyond the traditional health and safety regulatory role of government."

But the governor and the Senate want a model akin where pot shops would operate under state control similarly to state liquor stores -- the "franchise model."

Harm Reduction

Booker, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan SEEK HELP Act to Save Lives Amidst Overdose Crisis. On Wednesday, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Kennedy (R-LA), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced the Samaritan Efforts to Ensure Key Health Emergency and Life-saving Protections Act (SEEK HELP Act), a bipartisan bill that would provide limited legal protections to individuals who administer naloxone or other FDA-approved opioid reversal drugs to save a life in the event of an overdose. The bill also directs federal government resources toward raising public awareness about these lifesaving protections.

"Drug overdose deaths in our nation have continued to soar to unprecedented levels, exceeding 112,000 for the first time within a 12-month span in 2023," Booker said in a press release. "Research has shown fear of police involvement and the possibility of facing criminal charges is cited as one of the most common reasons people avoid calling 9-1-1 to get assistance when they experience or witness a drug overdose. To address this problem, over 40 states have enacted Good Samaritan laws to provide limited criminal immunity to those who call emergency assistance to save an overdose victim. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), these laws have been effective in curbing overdose deaths, but their impact is limited due to lack of public awareness. There is currently no federal Good Samaritan statute or substantial government investment in raising awareness about these laws."

"The SEEK HELP Act would fill this void and bring our nation one step closer to ensuring that no American dies simply because they or their loved ones are afraid to seek help."

Specifically, SEEK HELP would:

  • Grant protections against federal prosecution for simple drug possession and violations of supervised release to individuals who seek emergency assistance during a drug overdose;
  • Provide protections against civil liability for individuals who administer an FDA-approved opioid reversal drugs during a drug overdose;
  • Allow DOJ Byrne JAG funds to be used to train law enforcement personnel in assisting individuals during drug overdoses;
  • Require the Secretary of HHS to conduct a public awareness campaign on Good Samaritan Laws;
  • Permit existing federal block grants to be used by states to promote awareness of their respective Good Samaritan Laws; and
  • Require a comprehensive GAO study on the impact of Good Samaritan Laws and the implementation of the SEEK HELP Act.

The SEEK HELP Act is endorsed by the following organizations: Americans for Prosperity, Association of Prosecution Attorneys, Due Process Institute, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, National District Attorneys Association, R Street Institute, and Vera Institute.

California Bill Would Ease Methadone Access. Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) has filed a bill that would ease access to the opioid addiction medication methadone, Assembly Bill 2115. The bill comes after the federal government updated its methadone regulations this year, allowing people to take home their medicine. Haney says his bill would align state law with the new federal regulations.

"It is infuriating and mind-boggling that during the worst drug crisis in history, as thousands of Californians die every year, that we would keep one of the most effective treatments for addiction locked away where people can’t access it," Haney said.

Dr. Leslie Suen, an addiction medicine physician at UCSF, said the state has some of the most restrictive methadone practices in the world. Neither addiction specialists nor family physicians can prescribe take-home doses under state law.

"In other countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, methadone is widely available in primary care settings," she said. "So anybody walking into their primary care doctor’s office is able to enroll into methadone treatment."

Haney's bill expands access to methadone in the following ways:

  • It allows doctors in a hospital to prescribe patients up to 72 hours worth of take-home doses of methadone.
  • It increases the amount of methadone a patient can take home from a specialized clinic.
  • Expedites entry into a treatment program.
  • Patients no longer need to show at least one year of recorded opioid usage before receiving treatment or participating in frequent counseling services.
  • Allows physicians greater discretion to determine the appropriate dosage of methadone to administer for a patient.

The bill has been referred to the Business and Professions Committee and the Committee on Health. Both committees have postponed hearings on the bill.

The Border

Customs and Border Patrol Announces Next Phase in Fight Targeting Criminals Funneling Fentanyl into American Communities. Decades of experience suggests that drug interdiction policies are not likely to make a lasting difference in the fentanyl traffic. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is tryying anyway. Some excerpts from the agency's press release:

"US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) today announced that it will lead an expanded, multi-agency effort to target the transnational criminals funneling fentanyl from Mexico into American communities. Operation Plaza Spike targets the cartels that facilitate the flow of deadly fentanyl, as well as its analogs and precursors, and tools to make the drugs. It is designed to disrupt operations in the "plazas," cartel territories located directly south of the United States that are natural logistical chokepoints within the cartels’ operations. This is the next phase in CBP's Strategy to Combat Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Drugs, a whole-of-government and international effort to anticipate, identify, mitigate, and disrupt illicit synthetic drug producers, suppliers, and traffickers."

"Operation Plaza Spike will employ multiple tactics, including seizing illicit proceeds and scrutinizing related cross-border business entities and cross-border trade. Operation Plaza Spike includes releasing the name of the plazas' senior ranking cartel officials, the "plaza bosses," to increase public and law enforcement pressure on them. Plaza bosses control and profit from all illicit activity through the plaza -- extortion, kidnapping, as well as the smuggling of humans, dangerous drugs, and firearms. CBP will leverage partnerships, authorities, and resources of other government agencies in our efforts to gather intelligence, disrupt and degrade illicit operations, and deliver legal consequences."

"CBP is also in the midst of Operation Apollo, and announced today that it will expand into Arizona to continue gathering and utilizing intelligence, and focusing on state and local partnerships to interdict fentanyl. Operation Apollo was launched by CBP in Southern California in October 2023 as a counter-fentanyl joint operation. CBP has evaluated the successes and lessons learned from Operation Apollo, and Operation Apollo -- Arizona is now replicating it within the Arizona corridor, integrating all local law enforcement resources in Arizona to interdict finished fentanyl products, illicit precursor chemicals, adulterants, pill press equipment, illicit proceeds, and weapons."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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