Nevada will soon see the first syringe vending machines in the country, the Colorado legislature responds to a threatened federal crackdown -- for better and worse -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is moving forward with plans to drug test Medicaid recipients, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
A Majority of American Adults Have Tried Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Marist/Yahoo poll finds that 52% of American adults have tried marijuana at least once, and that 56% find the drug "socially acceptable. The same poll has support for legalization at 49%, with 47% opposed.
DC Marijuana Activists to Hand Out Free Joints on Capitol Hill for 4/20. The same folks who brought legal marijuana to the nation's capital are planning to hand out more than a thousand free marijuana joints on Capitol Hill Thursday, 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. Anyone over 21 who has a congressional ID is eligible for the free weed, said DCMJ. The activists said the action was meant to life the "special interest smokescreen" blocking marijuana reform in Congress.
Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana "Not a Factor" in Drug War. DHS Secretary John Kelly said Sunday that marijuana is "not a factor" in the country's drug war and that "arresting a lot of users" will not solve the country's drug problems. Kelly responded to a question about whether legalizing marijuana in the US would help or hinder his work attempting to interdict drug shipments to the US. "Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," Kelly responded, adding later: "It's three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south." And rather than arresting users: "The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south."
Colorado Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have set up the country's first statewide law allowing for on-premises marijuana consumption at licensed businesses is dead, with legislators citing fear of a federal crackdown for its demise. The House voted last Thursday to amend Senate Bill 17-184 to remove the provision that would have allowed adults to bring their own weed to businesses and consume it on-premises.
Colorado Senate Approves Bill to Shift Legal Marijuana Inventories Over to Medical Marijuana in Event of Federal Crackdown. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 17-192, which would allow adult-use marijuana businesses to transfer their inventory to medical marijuana status if a federal crackdown on adult-legal weed happens. The bill now goes to the House.
Nevada Legislature Still Faces Heavy Load of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session marked its first key deadline last Friday when all proposed bills had to have passed out of their committee of introduction or be declared dead. And fourteen marijuana-related bills remain alive, including one, Senate Bill 302, that would allow dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to any adult beginning in July. Click the link for the rest of the bills and their status.
Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Killing Decrim in Memphis and Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The bill was a response to moves by the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, which had passed municipal decriminalization ordinances.
Arkansas Regulators Finalize Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission last Tuesday gave final approval to rules governing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The rules must still be approved by the legislature, which has passed some legislation that appears to conflict with them. The legislature only has until May 8 to modify the rules or the state will be out of compliance with the Medical Marijuana Act, which is now part of the state constitution.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Alabama House Approves Tougher Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl. The House voted last week to approve harsh new penalties for the possession and sale of heroin and fentanyl. In a unanimous vote, the chamber approved a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession and increased penalties for trafficking, including a mandatory life sentence without parole for trafficking 10 or more kilos of either drugs. The bill is House Bill 203, which is now before the Senate.
Maryland General Assembly Passes Package of Heroin/Opioid Bills. The Assembly last week approved a package of bills aimed at tackling the state's heroin and prescription opioid crisis. One bill would create 24/7 drug treatment centers for addicts, increase reimbursements for drug treatment, and ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. A second bill would create drug awareness programs in schools and allow school nurses to stock and dispense naloxone. A third bill would require doctors to follow best practices when prescribing opioids, while a fourth bill increases prison sentences for people convicted of fentanyl offenses. The bills now await the governor's signature.
Arizona Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last week signed into law House Bill 2477, which requires a higher evidentiary standard before police and prosecutors can seize assets from suspects. Instead of a "preponderance" of the evidence, cops must now provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the assets are linked to a crime.
New York City Council Passes Bill to Coordinate Drug Policy Among City Departments. The city council recently passed legislation to create a coordinated municipal drug strategy. The bill empowers the Mayor to designate a lead agency or office to convene stakeholders including city agencies, outside experts, and communities impacted by drug use to develop a city-wide, health-focused plan for a coordinated approach in addressing issues related to drug use.
West Virginia Legislature Passes Bill Creating Drug Policy Office. A bill that would create an Office of Drug Control Policy within the Department of Health and Human Services has passed both houses of the legislature and awaits the governor's signature. The measure, House Bill 2620, passed last Friday, the final day of the session. Gov. Jim Justice (D) has fifteen days to sign the bill.
Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday posted his proposal for moving people off state Badgercare Medicaid, which includes a provision requiring drug screenings for Medicaid recipients. People suspected of illegal drug use after screening would be ineligible for coverage until they are tested. People who test positive would be offered drug treatment, while people who refuse the test would lose benefits for six months.
Nevada Becomes First State to Install Needle Vending Machines. In a bid to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hep C, a needle exchange program in Las Vegas is now providing clean needles in vending machines. The Las Vegas Harm Reduction Center worked together with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society to install the new machines. Each client will be limited to two kits per week, with the kits including syringes, alcohol wipes, condoms, and a needle disposal box.
Canada Unveils Plan for Legal Marijuana Sales by June 2018. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Thursday filed legislation designed to implement marijuana legalization by June of next year. The bill would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana and would allow the federal government to regulate producers, while the provinces would regulate sales to consumers. Other issues, such as pricing, taxation, and packaging are still to be worked out.
President Trump will name Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino (R) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), CBS News reported Tuesday. The White House gave no official comment, but sources told CBS that an official announcement would come soon.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marino's legacy of legislative achievements around drug policy offers little comfort to reformers looking for signs that the "law and order" theme of the Trump administration may not be as bad as it sounds. Marino is a former prosecutor now in his third term in the House. His 2016 Transnational Drug Trafficking Act expands the ability of US prosecutors to use extraterritoriality to go after international drug traffickers, but while the law is touted as aiming at "kingpins," but observers south of the border have argued that the law "targets people on the lowest rungs of the trafficking ladder, i.e. Colombia's coca farmers." Marino has also been a reliable vote in opposition to marijuana reform in Congress.
Marino's rural congressional district has seen rising concern about heroin and opioids, and he serves on the House bipartisan committee combating the opioid epidemic. A bill he was an author and key supporter of in that area may suggest a more complex picture -- the 2016 Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which supporters characterized as balancing the needs of patients, the pharmaceutical industry, and law enforcement, but which critics describe as a means of undercutting the DEA's ability to hold pharmaceutical drug distributors accountable for the diversion of large amounts of opioid pain relievers.
The ability of pain patients to have access to the drugs that can help them is a continuing -- and under-covered -- issue in the debate around prescription opioids. So is the ability of physicians to appropriately prescribe them within running afoul of regulatory authorities or even drug enforcement authorities. If Marino's bill reflects a concern with such issues, or a more general willingness to treat DEA pronouncements on such matters with skepticism, that could be useful. Conversely, however, the nation is also in the midst of a much more well-covered increase in the misuse of opioids. ONDCP has a role to play in promoting public health measures that can reduce overdoses and the risk of addiction. If Marino is too deferential to the preferences of big pharma lobbyists, while otherwise hooked on hard-line drug war approaches, opportunities to advance positive approaches for reducing the risks that go with opioids may be squandered.
In the fight over the 2016 Act, Marino, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Regulatory Reform, clashed repeatedly with DEA Office of Diversion Control head Joseph Rannazzisi. In a 2014 conference call with congressional staffers, Rannazzisi warned that the bill, backed by a pharmaceutical industry lobbying campaign, would protect corporations engaged in criminal activity.
"[If t]his bill passes the way it's written we won't be able to get immediate suspension orders, we won't be able to stop the hemorrhaging of these drugs out of these bad pharmacies and these bad corporations," Rannazzisi recalled telling them. "What you're doing is filing a bill that will protect defendants in our cases."
Rannazzisi's opposition infuriated Marino, who ripped into the veteran DEA official's boss, then-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart at a congressional hearing later that year.
"It is my understanding that Joe Rannazzisi, a senior DEA official, has publicly accused we sponsors of the bill of, quote, 'supporting criminals,' unquote" Marino said. "This offends me immensely."
A week later, Marino and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) demanded that the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General investigate Rannazzis for "intimidating" members of Congress. Rannazzissi was replaced and retired in October 2015.
Marino's record is good enough for anti-marijuana crusader and former ONDCP advisor Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM). "My understanding is that Tom has a deep understanding of the issue and is excited to get started," he enthused to CBS News.
But it's not good enough for anyone interested in a truly progressive approach to drug policy.
As part of his effort to fight heroin trafficking, Lake County, Florida, Sheriff Peyton Grinnell has released a video pledging to go after drug dealers, but the effort from the sheriff's "Community Engagement Unit" is both creepy and wrong-headed.
[image:1 align:left]The video features the sheriff surrounded by four masked officers, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their torsos protected by bullet-proof vests, wearing the olive green pants of the military -- not the blue of law enforcement. They look like some sort of paramilitary hit squad, and that's what Sheriff Grinnell promises they will be.
"To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you," the glowering sheriff warns. "We're coming for you. As a matter of fact, our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you… To the dealers, I say: Enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if today is the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight as you wonder if tonight's the night our SWAT team blows your door off its hinges."
The message is presumably designed to be reassuring for the good citizens of Lake County, but the sheriff's promise of increased resort to paramilitarized, high-intensity, middle-of-the-night drug raids is anything but, given the record of SWAT raid errors over the years.
The New York Times recently reported that in the past six years alone, at least 81 civilians and 13 cops have been killed in "dynamic entry" raids, oftentimes after police obtained a "no-knock" warrant allowing them to bust in a door and go in heavy without warning. And as the Washington Post noted in a roundup of SWAT raid mishaps last fall, such mistakes -- sometimes fatal -- continue to occur with depressing regularity.
But even when no one is killed and no headlines are made, mistaken SWAT raids corrode public confidence. Families whose children are subjected to screaming masked intruders kicking their doors down in the middle of the night and pointing guns at their heads are likely to be traumatized for years even if the cops say "sorry."
Bad raids happen for a variety of reasons. An informant may lie to score points with the cops. The cops might hit the wrong address by mistake. Or they may hit the right address, but without necessary information about who they may encounter, as was the case with the notorious 2014 Georgia raid where a SWAT member threw a flashbang grenade into a baby's crib and blew a hole in the 19 -- month-old's chest, nearly killing him. (Police in this case were also acting on a bad informant's tip.)
Heroin is a serious problem, and it is illegal. We expect police to enforce the law, but there has to be a better way than treating drug suspects like they're ISIS terrorists or Iraqi insurgents. What ever happened to, "We've got the place surrounded. Come out with your hands up!"?
Here's the video:
Chronicle AM: Uruguay Legal Pot Sales to Start in July, ID Gov Vetoes Forfeiture Reform, More... (4/7/17)
The Uruguayan government sets the date for legal marijuana sales in pharmacies to begin, West Virginia is just a governor's signature away from becoming the 29th medical marijuana state, Idaho's Republican governor vetoes a broadly-supported asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.
[image:1 align:left]Marijuana Policy
Montana Bill to Study Marijuana Legalization Filed. State Rep. Mary Dunwell (D-Helena) filed House Joint Resolution 35 on Thursday. The bill calls for "a study of the legalization and control of marijuana," with results to be reported to the next session of the legislature. The study would include input from the Departments of Public Health and Human Services, Justice, Revenue, and Agriculture, as well as local law enforcement, courts, schools, and lobbying groups.
Arizona Appeals Court Strikes Down Criminal Ban on Possession of Medical Marijuana on College Campuses. The state Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that even though colleges and universities can bar the possession of medical marijuana through administrative means, the state cannot make on-campus possession a criminal offense. The state's medical marijuana law barred its possession in prisons, schools, and on school buses, but the legislature in 2012 added college campuses to the list. Now, the appellate court has ruled the state couldn't do that. The case is Arizona v. Maestes.
Ohio Medical Marijuana Grower Applications Will Be Accepted Starting in June. The state Department of Commerce will begin accepting applications for 24 medical marijuana grow licenses beginning in June, the department announced on Friday. Once licenses are awarded, holders will have nine months to meet all requirements. Application forms and instructions should be released in the next two to three weeks, the department said.
West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Mountaineer State is poised to become the 29th medical marijuana state after the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 386 Thursday, sending the measure to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D). The bill would set up a dispensary system, but does not authorize patients to smoke marijuana or grow their own.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Kentucky Bill to Raise Heroin, Fentanyl Penalties Awaits Governor's Signature. The General Assembly last week approved House Bill 333, which would increase penalties for the sale of heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil. Under current laws, adopted as sentencing reform measures in 2011, traffickers face one to five years in prison. Under this bill, they would face five to 10 years in prison. The bill is currently on the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin (R).
Idaho Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reform. Gov. Butch Otter (R) on Thursday vetoed House Bill 202, a civil asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the legislature with broad bipartisan support. The bill would have ended asset forfeiture absent a criminal conviction, as well as imposing reporting and other requirements on law enforcement. The governor insisted there is no problem to fix, although lawmakers clearly disagreed.
Beto O'Rourke Leads Bipartisan Bill that Repeals Federal Transportation Law Requiring States to Suspend Driver's Licenses for Drug Offenses. US Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) and five bipartisan cosponsors have filed House Resolution 1952, which would repeal a 26-year-old federal law that mandates states to automatically suspend driver's licenses for anyone convicted of a drug offense or risk losing federal highway aid money. Some 38 states have already opted out of that program, but 12 states -- including Texas, New York, Michigan, and Florida -- still comply with the requirement.
Rand Paul, Elijah Cummings File Bills to Seal Criminal Records for Federal Nonviolent Offenses. US Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have filed identical bills in the Senate and House to seal the federal criminal records of non-violent offenders, which includes tens of thousands of federal drug offenders. The measures are Senate Bill 827 and House Resolution 190, respectively.
Uruguay to Allow Marijuana Sales at Pharmacies Beginning in July. The office of President Tabare Vasquez said Thursday that legal marijuana sales through pharmacies will begin in July. That's the last step in implementing a 2013 law that made Uruguay the first country to legalize marijuana. While other parts of the law have been in place, pharmacy sales had been on hold under Vasquez, who isn't nearly as enthusiastic about legalization as was his predecessor, Jose "Pepe" Mujica, who shepherded the law to passage during his term. A gram of weed will go for $1.30.
Four Out of Five French Presidential Candidates Support Marijuana Reform. The leading candidate, centrist Emmanuel Macron, and the rightist candidate, Francois Fillon, both support decriminalizing marijuana possession, leftist candidates Jean-Luc Melenchon and Benoit Hamon have both called for marijuana legalization, while only far-right candidate Marine LePen favors the status quo, which calls for up to a year in jail for the possession of any drug.
The United States is in the grips of the worst drug overdose crisis ever, with prescription opioids and illicit opiates like heroin killing tens of thousands of people each year, but many of those people aren't dying from opioids alone. Another class of prescription drugs is too often involved.
[image:1 align:right]Those drugs are the benzodiazepines -- with brand names like Valium and Xanax -- and are prescribed by the millions to treat anxiety, They can be deadly on their own, with federal data showing nearly 9,000 fatal benzo ODs in 2015. But here's the kicker: Nearly half of all fatal benzo ODs involve both them and opioids.
And a new study published in the British Medical Journal provides further evidence of the risks of doing benzos and opioids together. That study drew on a sample of more than 300,000 patients continuously enrolled in private health insurance plans between 2001 and 2013, and researchers looked at emergency room visits for drug overdoses among those prescribed only opioids versus those prescribed both opioids and benzos.
The results were dramatic: People prescribed both types of drugs had nearly double the risk of an ER or inpatient visit for a drug overdose. Based on the results, researchers estimated that cutting benzo prescriptions for opioid users reduced the risk of ER visits by 15%. If that figure holds true for overdose deaths, some 2,630 opioid-related overdose deaths could have been prevented in 2015 alone.
The policy implications are clear, said study coauthor and Stanford University drug policy expert Keith Humphreys: Don't prescribe benzos to people being prescribed opioids.
"Even if we didn't change opioid prescribing at all, the data here suggest that we could cut overdoses dramatically just by getting prescribers to not put people on a benzodiazepine at the same time," Humphreys said.
That would require a real shift in prescribing practices. The number of patients in the study being prescribed both benzos and opioids nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013, from 9% to 17%.
Reducing co-prescriptions could be problematic for some patients. If they are suffering both pain and anxiety, they and their doctors will have to work together to decide which issue is most serious and which could be treated with alternatives. But making such tough choices could lead to a reduced risk of fatal overdose.
The BMJ study has its limits. It looked only at legally prescribed benzos and opioids, missing the effects of concurrent use of illicit drugs, and it looked only at ER and inpatient visits, not fatal overdoses. And it only demonstrated correlation, not causation. It's possible some factor other than co-prescribing was driving up overdose rates among study patients, but given that the overdose risks of mixing benzos and opioids are well established, suggesting that co-prescribing them results in increased overdoses is not exactly controversial.
Doctors can do their part to reduce the number of overdose deaths by reducing benzo and opioid co-prescribing, but since much benzo and opioid use occurs outside legal medical channels, users in non-medically supervised settings are also going to have to be keenly aware of the dangers of mixing those drugs. If they are, the evidence suggests they can save some lives.
A leading doctors' group comes out for a progressive approach to opioid addiction, new research suggests medical marijuana can reduce opioid-related emergencies and overdoses, the Tennessee legislature slaps down pot decriminalization in Memphis and Nashville, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Tennessee Bill to Block Municipal Decriminalization Passes Legislature. After the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, passed municipal marijuana decriminalization ordinances, the legislature has struck back. The Senate on Monday approved House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The measure passed the House last week and now head's for the governor's desk.
Legalized Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic, Study Finds. A new study reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence finds that in states with medical marijuana, hospitalization rates for opioid pain pill dependence and abuse dropped by nearly a quarter (23%), while opioid overdose rates dropped by 13%. Researchers had expected to see an increase in marijuana-related visits. "Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers," said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.
Maine Bill Would Make Medical Marijuana Users Eligible for Organ Transplants. Legislators heard powerful testimony from patients removed from life-saving organ transplant lists because they used marijuana as they considered Legislative Document 764 Monday. The bill would targets the Maine Medical Center, the only transplant center in the state, whose transplant policy states that "use of prescribed or recreational marijuana by any route of administration is absolutely prohibited." No vote was taken, and the bill is scheduled for more hearings next month.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
American College of Physicians Calls for Opioid Addiction to Be Treated as Chronic Condition, Not Moral Failing. In a position paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians released a comprehensive set of public policy recommendations for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders that calls for treating addiction as a treatable chronic condition, not a moral failing or criminal activity. The guidelines call for expanded access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone and opioid maintenance therapies, as well as urging physicians to avoid opioids as first-line treatments for most chronic pain and to limit opioids for acute pain to the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. And they suggest that it is time to consider drug decriminalization or legalization: "Stakeholders should assess the risks and benefits of removing or reducing criminal penalties for nonviolent offenses involving illicit drugs."
Canada says it will legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018; Chris Christie will be named White House "drug commissioner," Illinoisans are ready to legalize weed, and more.
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
Illinois Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for marijuana legalization at 66% if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol. The poll comes days after legislators filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2353.
Michigan Legalizers Release 2018 Initiative Draft. Backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has released the latest draft of the cannabis legalization initiative the group hopes to put to voters in November 2018. Under the draft, adults would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and grow up to 12 plants, and marijuana commerce would be taxed and regulated. An initiative campaign last year came up just short in signature gathering.
Nevada Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Sell Recreational Weed. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) rolled out Senate Bill 302 last Friday. The bill would allow for an early start to recreational marijuana sales by allowing existing dispensaries to sell to non-patients before the January 1, 2018 deadline set in last fall's voter-approved ballot initiative. The move is aimed at stamping out the black market and allowing the state to get tax revenues. A similar move is afoot at the state Department of Taxation.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Maryland Democrats File Pair of Heroin Bills. Some three dozen Democratic General Assembly members gathered last Friday to announce a pair of bills aimed at fighting rising heroin overdoses in the state. Senate Bill 1060, the Start Talking Maryland Act, would require drug education programs to address the high lethality of fentanyl and colleges that teach medical providers to include addiction treatment education. Senate Bill 967, the Heroin and Opiate Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish 10 heroin crisis centers around the state, as well as easing access to buprenorphine and naloxone.
Idaho Legislature Gives Final Approval to Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House last Friday gave final approval to House Bill 172, which would limit civil asset forfeiture to cases involving drug trafficking -- not simple possession -- and would clarify that simply being in possession of large amounts of cash is not evidence drug trafficking. The House had approved the bill earlier, but had to have a final concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.
New Mexico Bill That Would Have Directed Seized Funds to Cops Dies. A bill that would have diverted seized assets from the state general fund and given them to law enforcement agencies handling the cases has died in the House, and the cops are unhappy. Senate Bill 202 had passed the Senate unanimously, but couldn't get out of the House Judiciary Committee. "I'm utterly disgusted," said Pecos Valley Drug Task Force Commander James McCormick. "That's just takes away another avenue we have to thwart drug dealing. The money we used to get, we don't have any more."
Jared Kushner's White House "SWAT Team" Will Include Chris Christie as Drug Commission Chair. The White House "SWAT team" to be led by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and aimed at streamlining policy-making will include an official drug commission to be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). The commission will emphasis combating opioid abuse, a favorite theme for Trump.
New Hampshire Senate Approves Funding More Troopers to Fight Cross-Border Drugs. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to spend nearly $4.5 million over the next two years to hire five new state troopers to wage war on the state's opioid epidemic by targeting traffic from Massachusetts, expand the "Granite Hammer" program counts to local law enforcement, and pay for overtime for specialized enforcement units such as the State Police and Narcotics Investigation Unit. The measure, Senate Bill 131, is now headed for the House, where it is expected to pass.
NYPD Cop Who Killed Ramarley Graham Quits. Graham, 18, was shot and killed in 2012 by Officer Richard Haste after he fled into his own apartment bathroom and was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down a toilet. Haste avoided criminal charges for the killing, but a departmental trial found him guilty of violating department policies and he was facing firing when he decided to turn in his badge and gun.
Canada Will Legalize Marijuana By July 1, 2018. The governing Liberals will announce legislation next month to legalize marijuana, with the new law set to go into effect on Canada Day -- July1 -- next year. The legislation will set 18 as the age limit for legal use and set up a legal, regulated, and taxed system of marijuana commerce. People who want to grow their own will be limited to four plants. [Update: The government's point man on legalization has called this date "highly speculative." Hat tip: Marijuana Moment.]
Illinois lawmakers want to see marijuana legalization; California lawmakers want to protect marijuana legalization, and more.
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
California Bill Would Block Cops From Aiding Federal Pot Crackdown. Six Democratic legislators have filed Assembly Bill 1578, which would bar state and local law enforcement from cooperating in any federal enforcement activities aimed at state-legal marijuana operations. "Prohibiting our state and local law enforcement agencies from expending resources to assist federal intrusion of California-compliant cannabis activity reinforces… the will of our state's voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 64," said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of the new bill.
Illinois Lawmakers File Legalization Bill. A group of Chicago Democratic legislators have filed a marijuana legalization bill by amending an existing bill, House Bill 2353. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults (a half-ounce for non-residents), set up a system of legal marijuana manufacture and distribution $50 per 28 grams on all cannabis flowers, and give state regulators 180 days to get a system up and running.
Supreme Court Rules Lawsuit From Man Jailed Over Bottle of Vitamins Can Advance. An Illinois man jailed for two months after police claimed the pills in his vitamin bottle were ecstasy despite lab tests that showed they weren't can continue to pursue his federal civil rights claim, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. Elijah Manuel, who is black, said officers pulled over the vehicle in which he was riding, falsely claimed they smelled marijuana, screamed racial slurs, then claimed their field drug test indicated his vitamins were ecstasy. Police continued to hold him in jail even after other tests verified the pills were not ecstasy until prosecutors eventually dropped the case. "No evidence of Manuel's criminality had come to light in between the roadside arrest and the county court proceeding initiating legal process; to the contrary, yet another test of Manuel's pills had come back negative in that period," according to the opinion. "All that the judge had before him were police fabrications about the pills' content. The judge's order holding Manuel for trial therefore lacked any proper basis. And that means Manuel's ensuing pretrial detention, no less than his original arrest, violated his Fourth Amendment rights."
Vietnam Sentenced Nine to Death for Drug Trafficking. A court in Hoa Binh province sentenced nine men to death for trafficking more than a thousand pounds of heroin in a trial that ended Tuesday. Vietnam sentences dozens of people to death each year; about a third of them for drug offenses.
The US Congress has voted to allow states to force drug tests on people seeking unemployment benefits, decriminalization bills get filed in Florida and advance in New Mexico, another mass grave is uncovered in Old Mexico, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of lawmakers have filed identical decriminalization bills. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill1403, while Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill1662. Under the bills, possession of up to an ounce would be decriminalized, with a maximum $100 fine. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana has passed out of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and now faces only one more vote in the House Judiciary Committee before heading to the House floor. The measure, Senate Bill 258, has already passed the Senate.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Washington State Bill Would Force Heroin and Opioid Users into Treatment. State Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-University Place) has filed a bill that could force opioid users into involuntary drug treatment by declaring them "gravely disabled" under the Involuntary Treatment Act. The measure, Senate Bill 5811, had a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Human Services, Mental Health, and Housing, but no vote was taken, and O'Ban said he didn't think the bill was going anywhere this year.
Mississippi Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) Monday signed into law House Bill 812, under which state law enforcement agencies will have to report their seizures, create a searchable website for seizure information, and submit civil seizure warrants to judges within 72 hours. The new law doesn't end civil asset forfeiture in the state, but advocates said "it's a start."
Senate Votes to Allow States to Drug Test People Seeking Unemployment Benefits. The Senate voted 51-48 along party lines to roll back an Obama-era regulation that blocks states from demanding drug tests of people seeking unemployment benefits. Under a 2012 law, states can only drug test individuals applying for unemployment benefits if they were previously fired for drug use or work in jobs for which workers are regularly drug tested. The Obama rule specified a list of jobs that could be included under the law. The measure has already passed the House, and President Trump is expected to sign it.
Mass Grave Discovered in Mexico's Veracruz. Searchers have uncovered a series of mass graves on the outskirts of the city of Veracruz where scores, if not hundreds, of people believed to have been killed in drug gang violence have been buried. On Tuesday, local prosecutor Jorge Winkler told reporters that 250 human skulls had been found at the sites. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars in the past decade, and tens of thousands more have gone missing.
Colombia Coca Cultivation at Two-Decade High, US Says. The US estimates that coca production in Colombia increased 18% last year over 2015, with nearly half a million acres under production. The spike in production comes as the country begins implementing a peace accord with FARC rebels, and be the result of a "perverse incentive" for farmers to grow coca last year in order to qualify for subsidies for switching to substitute crops.
This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions once again displayed his ignorance about drugs Wednesday as he claimed that marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. In the same speech, he acknowledged rising heroin and prescription opioid overdose death levels, but failed to note that no one dies from overdosing on marijuana.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Heroin produces physical addiction and is linked to thousands of overdose drug deaths each year. Marijuana does not produce physical addiction, and although it may lead to psychological dependency for a small percentage of users, the dependency rate is much lower than it is even for users of alcohol and tobacco, both of which are more dangerous than marijuana.
Sessions' uninformed claim is likely to increase jitters in the country's nascent legal marijuana industry as it confronts an attorney general whose rhetoric so far has strongly suggested he would like to crack down on legal weed -- although he has yet to take any concrete steps to do so.
Sessions made the claim in prepared remarks for a speech to state, local, and federal law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia. The long-time foe of marijuana and marijuana law reform again sketched his stance toward pot, saying "life-wrecking dependency" on marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction.
I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana -- so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.
Sessions would not be so "astonished" at the notion that access to marijuana lead to declines in opioid overdose deaths if he actually followed the field. At least three recent studies have found a link: A 2014 Johns Hopkins study found that states with medical marijuana laws have a 25% lower opioid death rate than other states; a 2015 RAND study found a decline in opioid deaths of between 16% and 31% in states that had medical marijuana dispensaries; and a 2016 Health Affairs study found that doctors in medical marijuana states wrote fewer opioid prescriptions for Medicaid patients.
Actual science notwithstanding, Sessions suggested he was prepared to embark on a 21st Century version of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" and the "this is your brain on drugs" anti-drug propaganda campaigns of the 1980s:
In the '80s and '90s, we saw how campaigns stressing prevention brought down drug use and addiction. We can do this again. Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.
But if Sessions wants to educate Americans on "the terrible truth" about drugs, he should probably start with himself. An attorney general who cannot recognize the difference between marijuana and heroin is not one who is fit to pronounce on such matters.
Attorney General Sessions hints at a return to tough federal drug sentencing, Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin announces a campaign to fend off marijuana legalization, Bolivia's president signs a law nearly doubling legal coca cultivation, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of Democratic lawmakers has filed identical decriminalization bills in the House and Senate. State Rep Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill 1403, while state Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill 1662. The bills would make possession of up to an ounce a civil violation punishable by a fine of no more than $100. Under current Florida law, small time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Rhode Island Attorney General Gins Up Anti-Legalization Campaign. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) launched a campaign against marijuana legalization Thursday. Kilmartin said he was mobilizing lawmakers, business leaders, and others concerned about public health and public safety issues to fight ongoing efforts in the legislature to legalize it. He's joining forces with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, among others.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Florida Bills Would Have Dealers Facing Manslaughter Charges for Opioid Overdose Deaths. A pair of Republican state lawmakers has filed identical bills that would allow prosecutors to bring manslaughter charges against people who sold opioids to people who overdosed and died on them. Sen. Gregg Steube (R-Sarasota) filed Senate Bill 150 Tuesday, while Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) filed House Bill 477.
Attorney General Sessions Signals He Could Reverse Obama Policy of Seeking Less Serious Charges in Drug Cases. Sessions sent a memo to federal prosecutors Wednesday calling on them to crack down on violent crime, and in that memo, he hinted at rolling back Obama administration policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences by leaving drug quantities out of charging documents. "I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority -- including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases -- will be forthcoming."
Bolivian President Signs Law Nearly Doubling Amount of Legal Coca Grown. President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, signed into law Wednesday a bill that will increase the amount of coca that can be legally planted from 30,000 acres to 55,000 acres. "We want to guarantee coca supplies for life," he said.