A new study from the Rand Corporation links the introduction of abuse-resistant Oxycontin in 2010 to the rise in heroin overdose deaths, Bolivia and Colombia take different approaches to coca, a Georgian political party office gets raided, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
New Mexico Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces) has filed House Bill 89, the Cannabis Revenue and Freedom Act. It would allow the possession of up to two ounces by adults at home and one ounce outside the household, the cultivation of up to six plants (or 12 per household) and the possession of a harvest up to eight ounces. The measure would revamp the state's existing medical marijuana system and allow for marijuana sales beginning in 2019.
Georgia House Forms Medical Marijuana Study Committee. House Speaker David Ralson (R-Blue Ridge) announced Wednesday that a medical marijuana study committee had been formed with Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) as its chair. Peake is the author of the state's current limited medical marijuana law and has already announced plans for legislation this year.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
RAND: Introduction of Abuse-Deterrent Oxycontin Led to Rise in Heroin Overdose Deaths. In a new working paper released this week, the RAND Corporation looked at supply-side attempts to limit access to opioids and found unintended consequences. Focusing on the 2010 introduction of abuse-resistant Oxycontin, the RAND analysts found "large differential increases in heroin deaths immediately after reformulation in states with the highest initial rates of OxyContin misuse" and concluded that "a substantial share of the dramatic increase in heroin deaths since 2010 can be attributed to the reformulation of OxyContin."
North Dakota Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Eight state legislators jointly filed House Bill 1170 last week. The bill would prohibit the seizure of property without a criminal conviction in most cases. The measure would also require that most proceeds from forfeitures go into the state's general fund; currently, law enforcement agencies can keep up to 100% of the proceeds. The bill would also ban passing busts off to the feds in a bid to evade state restrictions.
Bolivia Government Files Bill to Expand Coca Production. The bill would expand legal coca production from 30,000 acres to 50,000 acres. But not all coca growers are happy because some regions are getting more expansion than others.
Colombia Starts Spraying Glyphosate on Coca Crops Again. Colombia recommenced the controversial program on January 2, but this time, it's not using airplanes. Instead, the spraying is being conducted by hand. The aerial spraying campaign had been ended in 2015 over health and environmental concerns, but faced with an increasing amount of coca under cultivation, the government is now resorting once more to the herbicide.
Republic of Georgia Police Raid Party Office, Seize Pot Plants. Georgian police raided the office of the Girchi Party Wednesday, seizing 84 marijuana seedlings that had been planted New Year's Day in a bid to gain publicity for drug decriminalization. Police had threatened party activists with up to 12 years in prison for drug cultivation, but so far have only seized the plants. "This is the price of the action, that something like this would have consequences. Let's see what level this absurdity will reach. I worry about the plants. I am not sure if they will take proper care on them," Iago Khvichia, a member of the party's political council said.
Chronicle AM: Asset Forfeiture Actions in Three States, Trump Kratom Petition Needs Signatures, More... (1/5/17)
It's going to cost big bucks to get into the Arkansas medical marijuana growing business, a petition urging Donald Trump not to let the DEA ban kratom seeks signatures, there is asset forfeiture action in three states, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Medical Marijuana
Arkansas Sets Grower License Fee at $100,000. People who want one of the five commercial medical marijuana cultivation licenses the state is preparing to issue better have deep pockets. The Medical Marijuana Commission has set an annual fee of $100,000 for those licenses. But wait, there's more: That's in addition to a $15,000 application fee, only half of which will be refunded if the application is rejected. And applicants must show proof they have a million dollars in assets or surety bond and $500,000 in cash. One commission member argued for a lower, $15,000 license fee, saying he didn't want some residents to be shut out of the opportunity, but that move didn't fly.
Less Than Three Weeks Remain to Sign Trump Kratom Petition. The American Kratom Association has organized a petition urging President-elect Donald Trump to halt the DEA's effort to criminalize kratom or to reverse any last-minute ban that might occur under the Obama administration. The group has set a target of 25,000 signatures before January 22, but only has 8,000 so far.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Ohio Governor Signs Naloxone Expansion Bill. Gov. John Kasich (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 319, which expands access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone to entities such as homeless shelters, halfway houses, schools, and treatment centers that deal with populations at higher risk of overdose. It also offers civil immunity to law enforcement officers who carry and use naloxone.
Kansas Bill Would Undo Police Asset Forfeiture Reporting Requirements. The first bill introduced in the 2017 legislative session, Senate Bill 1, would repeal a state law requiring law enforcement agencies to file annual reports on the money and other assets they seize. The bill is the creation of the Legislative Committee on Post Audit, which filed a report last summer noting that few police agencies comply with the reporting requirements, so the committee's solution was to kill the requirement. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website. The session starts next week.
Michigan Bill Would Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture. State Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Macomb County) has introduced House Bill 4629, which would reform the state's forfeiture laws by killing a provision that requires property owners whose property is seized to pay 10% of what police feel it is worth within 20 days to get the property back. Lucido said that the next step is getting rid of civil asset forfeiture. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.
Ohio Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. John Kasich (R) has signed into House Bill 347, which limits civil asset forfeiture proceedings to cases involving at least $15,000 in cash and requires a criminal conviction or at least a criminal charge be filed in most cases before forfeiture proceedings can begin.
Massachusetts marijuana shops get delayed by six months, Nevada personal legalization goes into effect next week, the national prison population continues a slow decline, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Amid Protests, MA Governor Signs Law Pushing Back Legalization Implementation. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) Friday signed into law a bill delaying the opening of retail marijuana shops for six months, from January 2018 to July 2018. He did so as demonstrators gathered at the capitol to protest the measure, which was hot-rodded through the legislature by a mere handful of solons on Wednesday. The delay "not only flies in the face of the will of the voters who voted for the January 2018 deadline, it shows contempt for the legislature itself, having been passed, not after three readings to the full House and Senate, but in the course of less than an hour by just two senators and five representatives," said the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, which organized the protest.
Nevada Legalization Goes Into Effect Next Week. Voters approved the Question 2 marijuana legalization initiative in November and will begin to enjoy the fruits of their victory on January 1, when the new law goes into effect. It will allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of weed or an eighth-ounce of cannabis concentrates. But retail sales won't go into effect until the state sets up a regulatory structure. The state has until January 2018 to get it done.
Vote Hemp Issues Year-End Report: Four More Hemp States. The industry lobbying and educational group points to hemp victories in Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island this year, as well as hemp-related bills passing in some other states that have already approved industrial hemp production. In all, hemp bills were introduced in 29 states in 2016.
Nation's Prison Population Now at 13-Year Low. Driven largely by a drop in the federal prison population, the country's overall prison and jail population dropped 2% in 2015, pushing it down to levels not seen in more than a decade, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Thursday. The decline continues a downward trend that began in 2009. A 7% decline in federal prisoners accounting for 40% of the overall decrease, but states including California and Texas also saw significant prisoner population reductions.
Activist and Author Tony Papa Wins a Pardon. The Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Papa was granted a pardon by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Friday. Papa served 12 years of a 15-to-life sentence for drug trafficking before he was granted clemencyby then Gov. George Pataki (R) in 1997. Since then, he has authored two books, pursued a career as an artist, and been a devoted drug reform activist.
Poll: British Columbia Voters Ready to Legalize Hard Drugs to Fight Opioid Crisis. A new survey of provincial attitudes toward drugs and addiction finds that nearly two-thirds of residents are open to considering hard drug legalization in the context of the province's ongoing opioid crisis. Some 63% said they were either completely willing to consider legalization or open to considering it with more information, while only 20% flat-out rejected it. Another 17% said they were not willing now, but might change their minds with new information.
As 2016 comes to a tumultuous end, we look back on the year in drugs and drug policy. It's definitely a mixed bag, with some major victories for drug reform, especially marijuana legalization, but also some major challenges, especially around heroin and prescription opioids, and the threat of things taking a turn for the worse next year. Here are the ten biggest domestic drug policy stories of the year. (Check back for a top ten international drug policy stories soon.)
[image:1 align:left]1. Marijuana Legalization Wins Big
Legalization initiatives won in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, losing only in Arizona. These weren't the first states to do so -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following in 2014 -- but in one fell swoop, states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people just freed the weed. Add in the earlier states, and we're now talking about around 67 million people, or more than one-fifth of the national population.
The question is where does marijuana win next? We won't see state legalization initiatives until 2018, (and conventional wisdom may suggest waiting for the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election year), and most of the low-hanging fruit in terms of initiative states has been harvested, but activists in Michigan came this close to qualifying for the ballot this year and are raring to go again. In the meantime, there are the state legislatures. When AlterNet looked into the crystal ball a few weeks ago, the best bets looked like Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
2. Medical Marijuana Wins Big
Medical marijuana is even more popular than legal marijuana, and it went four-for-four at the ballot box in November, adding Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota to the list of full-blown medical marijuana states. That makes 28 states -- more than half the country -- that allow for medical marijuana, along with another dozen or so red states that have passed limited CBD-only medical marijuana laws as a sop to public opinion.
It's worth noting that Montana is a special case. Voters there approved medical marijuana in 2004, only to see a Republican-dominated state legislature gut the program in 2011. The initiative approved by voters this year reinstates that program, and shuttered dispensaries are now set to reopen.
The increasing acceptance of medical marijuana is going to make it that much harder for the DEA or the Trump administration to balk at reclassifying marijuana away from Schedule I, which is supposedly reserved for dangerous substances with no medical uses. It may also, along with the growing number of legal pot states, provide the necessary impetus to changing federal banking laws to allow pot businesses to behave like normal businesses.
[image:2 align:right caption:true]3. The Republicans Take Control in Washington
The Trump victory and Republican control of both houses of Congress has profound drug policy implications, for everything from legal marijuana to funding for needle exchange programs to sentencing policy to the border and foreign policy and beyond. Early Trump cabinet picks, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) to lead the Justice Department, are ominous for progressive drug reform, but as with many other policy spheres, what Trump will actually do is a big unknown. It's probably safe to say that any harm reduction programs requiring federal funding or approval are in danger, that any further sentencing reforms are going to be in for a tough slog, and that any federal spending for mental health and substance abuse treatment will face an uphill battle. But the cops will probably get more money.
The really big question mark is around marijuana policy. Trump has signaled he's okay with letting the states experiment, but Sen. Sessions is one of the most retrograde of drug warriors in Washington. Time will tell, but in the meantime, the marijuana industry is on tenterhooks and respect for the will of voters in pot legal states and even medical marijuana states is an open question.
4. The Opioid Epidemic Continues
Just as this year comes to an end, the CDC announced that opioid overdose deaths last year had topped 33,000, and with 12,000 heroin overdoses, junk had overtaken gunplay as a cause of death. There's little sign that things have gotten any better this year.
The crisis has provoked numerous responses, at both the state and the federal levels, some good, but some not. Just this month, Congress approved a billion dollars in opioid treatment and prevention programs, and the overdose epidemic has prompted the loosening of access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and prodded ongoing efforts to embrace more harm reduction approaches, such as supervised injection sites.
On the other hand, prosecutors in states across the country have taken to charging the people who sell opioids (prescription or otherwise) to people who overdose and die with murder, more intrusive and privacy-invading prescription monitoring programs have been established, and the tightening of the screws on opioid prescriptions is leaving some chronic pain sufferers in the lurch and leading others to seek out opioids on the black market.
5. Obama Commutes More Than a Thousand Drug War Sentences
In a bid to undo some of the most egregious excesses of the drug war, President Obama has now cut the sentences of and freed more than a thousand people sentenced under the harsh laws of the 1980s, particularly the racially-biased crack cocaine laws, who have already served more time than they would have if sentenced under current laws passed during the Obama administration. He has commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history, and he has commuted more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined.
The commutations come under a program announced by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who encouraged drug war prisoners to apply for them. The bad news is that the clock is likely to run out before Obama has a chance to deal with thousands of pending applications backlogged in the Office of the Pardons Attorney. The good news is that he still has six weeks to issue more commutations and free more drug war prisoners.
6. The DEA Gets a Wake-Up Call When It Tries to Ban Kratom
Derived from a Southeast Asian tree, kratom has become popular as an unregulated alternative to opioids for relaxation and pain relief, not to mention withdrawing from opioids. It has very low overdose potential compared to other opioids and has become a go-to drug for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people.
Perturbed by its rising popularity, the DEA moved in late summer to use its emergency scheduling powers to ban kratom, but was hit with an unprecedented buzz saw of opposition from kratom users, scientists, researchers, and even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who authored and encouraged his colleagues to sign a letter to the DEA asking the agency to postpone its planned scheduling.
The DEA backed off -- but didn't back down -- in October, announcing that it was shelving its ban plan for now and instead opening a period of public comment. That period ended on December 1, but before it did, the agency was inundated with submissions from people opposing the ban. Now, the DEA will factor in that input, as well as formal input from the Food and Drug Administration before making its decision.
The battle around kratom isn't over, and the DEA could still ban it in the end, but the whole episode demonstrates how much the ground has shifted under the agency. DEA doesn't just get its way anymore.
7. Federal Funds for Needle Exchanges Flow Again
It actually happened late in 2015, but the impact was felt this year. In December 2015, Congress approved an omnibus budget bill that removed the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges. The ban had been in place for 20 years, except for a two-year stretch between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled the House.
Federal funding for needle exchanges is another drug policy response that could be endangered by Republican control of both the Congress and the presidency.
[image:3 align:left caption:true]8. The Slow Turn Towards Safe Injection Sites Accelerates
When will the US join the ranks of nations that embrace the harm reduction tactic of supervised drug consumption sites? Maybe sooner than you think. Moves are underway in at least three major US cities to get such facilities open, a need made all the more urgent by the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, as the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a December report calling for a number of interventions, including safe injection sites, to address it.
In New York City, the city council has approved a $100,000 study into the feasibility of safe injection sites, while in San Francisco, city public health officials have endorsed a call for them there and have even suggested they need as many as a half dozen. But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee opposes them, so battle lines are being drawn.
The best bet may be Seattle, where city and surrounding King County officials are on board with a plan to open safe injection sites to fight heroin and prescription opioid abuse. That plan, conceived by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, was released in September.
9. Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances
Nearly 20 years after Congress passed limited federal civil asset forfeiture reform, the practice is now under sustained assault in the states. More than a half-dozen states had passed civil asset forfeiture reforms before the year began, and this year the following states came on board (although some of the new laws did not end, but only modified or restricted civil asset forfeiture): California, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.
And next year looks to be more of the same. Bills have already been filed in Missouri and Texas, and renewed efforts are likely in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where they were thwarted this year.
10. The DEA is Busting Fewer People
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reported in December that convictions for drug cases referred by the DEA continued a 10-year decline. During Fiscal Year 2016, federal prosecutors won 9,553 criminal convictions on cases referred by the DEA. That's down 7.1% from the previous year, down 25% from five years ago, and down 35% from 10 years ago. TRAC notes that the decline in convictions is the result of fewer referrals by the DEA, not a lowered conviction rate, which has held steady.