New Spending Law Could Empower Sessions on Pot

A provision of the current spending law that protects state medical marijuana programs from federal interference, is close to expiring. If the government shuts down at the expiration of the current resolution on December 22, or if negotiations fail to insert it in a new spending bill Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be free to unleash federal drug agents on marijuana.

Thanks to Congress’ fumbling over the bill to fund federal government operations, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threatened crackdown on marijuana may get a major boost, Politico reports. A provision of the current spending law known as Rohrabacher-Farr that protects state medical marijuana programs from federal interference, is close to expiring. If the government shuts down at the expiration of the current resolution on December 22, or if negotiations fail to insert it in a new spending bill—entirely possible given House Republicans’ hostility to marijuana—Sessions would be free to unleash federal drug agents on a drug that under federal law is considered the equal of heroin and LSD.

The politics on this issue has shifted so dramatically that reform advocates are actually itching for the fight. “Part of me just thinks: Let ‘em try. There will such a ferocious backlash,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). Blumenauer replaced Sam Farr as the amendment’s Democratic co-sponsor after Farr’s retirement. Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project agreed, saying, “There’s no way that Sessions can start rolling back medical marijuana policies or attacking patients and providers without looking like the bad guy.” With the legislative barrier gone, there would be plenty of ways for Sessions to make life difficult for marijuana businesses. DOJ could quietly send letters to landlords who rented to legal marijuana businesses to threaten them with asset forfeiture. Soon after he took office, Sessions undid the protections of the 2013 memo granting U.S. Attorneys that granted them a great degree of prosecutorial discretion on enforcing federal laws against marijuana. “I … am dubious about marijuana,” Sessions told the National Association of Attorneys General in February. “States can pass whatever laws they choose, but I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Spending Law Could Empower Sessions on Pot

A provision of the current spending law that protects state medical marijuana programs from federal interference, is close to expiring. If the government shuts down at the expiration of the current resolution on December 22, or if negotiations fail to insert it in a new spending bill Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be free to unleash federal drug agents on marijuana.

Thanks to Congress’ fumbling over the bill to fund federal government operations, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threatened crackdown on marijuana may get a major boost, Politico reports. A provision of the current spending law known as Rohrabacher-Farr that protects state medical marijuana programs from federal interference, is close to expiring. If the government shuts down at the expiration of the current resolution on December 22, or if negotiations fail to insert it in a new spending bill—entirely possible given House Republicans’ hostility to marijuana—Sessions would be free to unleash federal drug agents on a drug that under federal law is considered the equal of heroin and LSD.

The politics on this issue has shifted so dramatically that reform advocates are actually itching for the fight. “Part of me just thinks: Let ‘em try. There will such a ferocious backlash,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). Blumenauer replaced Sam Farr as the amendment’s Democratic co-sponsor after Farr’s retirement. Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project agreed, saying, “There’s no way that Sessions can start rolling back medical marijuana policies or attacking patients and providers without looking like the bad guy.” With the legislative barrier gone, there would be plenty of ways for Sessions to make life difficult for marijuana businesses. DOJ could quietly send letters to landlords who rented to legal marijuana businesses to threaten them with asset forfeiture. Soon after he took office, Sessions undid the protections of the 2013 memo granting U.S. Attorneys that granted them a great degree of prosecutorial discretion on enforcing federal laws against marijuana. “I … am dubious about marijuana,” Sessions told the National Association of Attorneys General in February. “States can pass whatever laws they choose, but I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Teen Marijuana Use Remains High, Vaping a Factor

For years, teen marijuana use in the U.S. has been seen as relatively flat. Some experts have expected it to rise as states loosened marijuana laws, more adults used it and fewer kids considered marijuana harmful. This year’s survey showed marijuana use was up overall about 1 percent, with nearly a quarter saying they’d vaped, smoked or eaten marijuana in the previous year.

Teen use of marijuana remains high and vaping appears to be one reason, a new U.S. survey shows. One in 10 high school seniors said they had vaped marijuana at least once in the past year. It was the first time the annual survey asked about marijuana vaping and “it’s much higher than I expected,” said Richard Miech, the University of Michigan researcher who leads the study, the Associated Press reports. For years, teen marijuana use in the U.S. has been seen as relatively flat. Some experts have expected it to rise as states loosened marijuana laws, more adults used it and fewer kids considered marijuana harmful. This year’s survey showed marijuana use was up overall about 1 percent, with nearly a quarter saying they’d vaped, smoked or eaten marijuana in the previous year. Included in the survey: about 45,000 students in grades 8, 10 and 12.

Marijuana use was significantly higher than cigarette smoking. About 5 percent of teens said they’d smoked in the last 30 days, compared to nearly 15 percent who said they’d used marijuana. The survey found that the use of cocaine, heroin and other illicit drugs continues to decline overall, to the lowest levels seen in the 43 years of the survey. Vaporizers, including electronic cigarettes, are used with a wide assortment of liquids, including oils that contain the active ingredients of marijuana. Experts say vaping marijuana is probably less harmful to the lungs than smoking joints, though they know less about its long-term effects and worry about its potency. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funds the Michigan study, said that clearly, marijuana use isn’t declining and that’s a problem.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Drug Treatment Programs Can’t Keep Up With Police

Police officers in many areas want to refer drug users to treatment instead of arresting them. Overburdened treatment providers are wary of cooperating with some police programs called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD).

Police officers in Charleston, W. Va., have stopped arresting every drug user who shoplifts and steals weed whackers off porches to pay for their drug habit. They’re referring some of them to treatment, leaving more time to pursue major drug arrests. The approach seems to be working. In the last three years, more than 170 low-level drug offenders have signed up for addiction treatment instead of being taken into custody, and more than 70 percent of them have turned their lives around, reports Stateline. In a worsening opioid epidemic, West Virginia’s effort to replicate the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program has run into a daunting obstacle: wariness among overburdened treatment providers. Like the rest of the nation, West Virginia has a severe shortage of behavioral health professionals. With hundreds of people outside of the criminal justice system on waiting lists for treatment, county mental health officials are hesitant to make room for drug users when not enough beds and treatment services are available for existing clients.

Lisa Daugaard of the King County, Wa., Public Defender Association, said many police departments want to start LEAD programs, but are unable to find addiction treatment partners. Launched in Seattle six years ago, LEAD was driven by critics of racial disparities in drug arrests. Civil rights leaders and health advocates argued that the only way to break the cycle of repeated petty crimes and arrests was to provide housing and mental health and addiction services to people who needed it most. Ten other cities and counties in Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington state and West Virginia have launched similar programs. LEAD will launch next year in Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, King County, and Waynesville, N.C. At least 49 other locations are considering LEAD or similar diversion programs.

from https://thecrimereport.org

MA Proposes Involuntary Rehab for Overdose Patients

In an aggressive proposal, Massachusetts wants to allow hospital staff to send overdose patients to treatment centers against their will for up to three days. The goal is to buy more time for addicts facing imminent risks to accept long-term treatment.

A big challenge in the opioid crisis is getting overdose patients from emergency rooms into treatment. In an aggressive proposal, Massachusetts authorities want to allow hospital staff to send overdose patients to treatment centers against their will for up to three days. The goal is to buy more time for addicts facing imminent risks to accept long-term treatment, the Wall Street Journal reports. Overdose patients revived with the widely used naloxone are eager to flee hospitals because of withdrawal symptoms. “Often people leave the emergency room, right back onto the street to find their next fix,” said Marylou Sudders, the Massachusetts Secretary for Health and Human Services.

Addicts spilling out of hospitals are at high risk. One study found that one in 10 Massachusetts patients who initially survived after first responders treated them with naloxone died within a year. Opioid-related deaths in the state are trending lower in 2017 after record highs in recent years. Addiction experts agree on the most effective way to help opioid addicts: Medication-assisted treatment. Most inpatient rehab facilities in the U.S. don’t offer this option. Efforts are growing to bridge this hospital gap, though not with mandatory treatment like what Massachusetts is proposing. Softer approaches are more common, often employing recovery experts, some of whom are former addicts themselves, who meet overdose patients in the hospital and urge treatment. Such programs are known as warm handoffs; Pennsylvania county officials started developing them last year. Sherry Green, former chief executive at the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, expects other states to watch the aggressive Massachusetts approach. The state is “taking the lead and trying to figure out how to deal with this,” she said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How We Win the Opioid War: Report

The Sentencing Project released a report Wednesday assailing the grievous lack of medical treatment for addiction in prisons and jails, hours before the newly appointed Bureau of Prisons director was scheduled to testify before the House of Representatives.

A national advocacy group released a report Wednesday assailing the grievous lack of medical treatment for addiction in prisons and jails, hours before the newly appointed Bureau of Prisons director was scheduled to testify before the House of Representatives.

opioids

Table courtesy of The Sentencing Project

 

While expanded use of drug courts helps divert people from the criminal justice system, authors of the Sentencing Project report excoriated policies that they said  limit treatment within the correctional environment, arguing that lawmakers need to get on board with evidence-based methods in the war on opioids.

The report calls on the federal Bureau of Prisons, state prisons and local jails to follow recommendations of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis to increase access to medication-assisted treatment, particularly the use of substitutions such as methadone or buprenorphine.

This treatment is also backed by the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the World Health Organization.

A majority of the roughly 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S. report having a drug addiction, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics; from 58 percent of people in state prisons, to 63 percent of those serving time in jail.

Talk therapy, support groups, and “drug education” are not enough to combat an epidemic that kills at least 91 Americans every day, according to researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Decades of empirical research and the “reflections of police chiefs” show that last century’s punitive War on Drugs model was not effective in reducing either drug use or crime, according to the report.

Authors note that the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act gives us legislative tools to help close the treatment gap, but are widely under-enforced. The report emphasizes for the population at large, cutbacks to health care coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act are creating the larges barrier to treatment.

This summary was prepared by Victoria Mckenzie, Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. Click here to view the full report, Opioids: Treating an Illness, Ending a War by Ghandnoosh and Casey Anderson, Program Associate at The Sentencing Project.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Should Drug Courts Expand in the Federal System?

President Trump’s opioid commission favors more drug courts in the federal judicial sytem, where they are scarce. Some state drug courts are quick to send participants who relapse to prison, which critics say defeats the program’s purpose.

The federal court system has long had a reputation for hard-line drug policies, handing down mandatory sentences that send even low-level offenders to prison for years. Drug courts, specialized diversion programs that let eligible nonviolent defendants avoid incarceration if they undergo treatment, have become increasingly prevalent at the state level. They remain unusual in the federal system, found in fewer than one in four judicial districts, the Boston Globe reports. The Trump administration’s opioid commission wants that to change, calling for drug courts to be extended nationwide as “a proven avenue to treatment for individuals who commit nonviolent crimes because of their SUD [substance use disorder].”

Supporters say drug courts are a compassionate, practical response to addiction-fueled crime and a revolving prison door. The experience in Massachusetts, where participants in drug courts often have been sent to jail for days, weeks, and even months if they relapse or are kicked out of treatment programs, has given rise to skepticism about expanding the approach on the federal level. Offenders are required to remain sober as a condition of the program. Critics say incarcerating participants who relapse defeats the purpose of the program and violates national standards for drug courts, which recommend jail only when participants pose a threat to public safety or when all other measures have failed. “What matters is what sort of care people are getting,” said Sarah Wakeman of the Substance Use Disorders Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital. “If people . . . are sent to prison because they continue to use substances, that’s not effective treatment.” Treatment specialists also cautioned that any expansion of federal drug courts must include oversight to ensure that defendants are being treated consistently and being sent to effective, well-run treatment programs.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DEA Wants to Change Law on Opioid Regulation

The Drug Enforcement Administration tells Congress that a law enacted last year made it harder for the agency to show that a drug maker’s conduct poses an immediate danger of death or harm. Democrats agree, Republicans defend the measure.

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration office that regulates pharmaceutical opioids told senators that a 2016 law has made enforcement more difficult in urgent circumstances and should be revised, the Washington Post reports. Demetra Ashley, who leads the agency’s Diversion Control Division, said Congress should choose between repealing and amending the law. Since passage of the law, Ashley said, DEA investigators have faced a greater challenge showing that a company’s conduct poses an immediate danger of death or harm to shut down shipments of painkillers from a distributor to a pharmacy. That burden has moved the agency away from its traditional posture of preventing harm, she said.

During an oversight hearing on Tuesday, Ashley told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the agency continues to do its job, relying on tools other than the “immediate suspension orders” reserved for the most egregious cases. Those tools include forcing doctors, pharmacists and others to surrender their DEA licenses, bringing them to hearings and seeking civil penalties. Senators broke down largely along party lines about whether changes are needed. “In my view, this bill has done harm,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), the committee’s top Democrat. “It seems to me that we should look very closely at repeal.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who led negotiations over the law in the Senate, was openly skeptical of what he called a rush to “rewrite history” after reports by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” that highlighted the legislation’s effect. “This wasn’t some effort to help drug companies kill people. Give me a break,” Hatch said. “This was an effort to ensure that DEA’s efforts . . . didn’t end up hurting legitimate patients.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

U.S., Colombia, Mexico Agree To Cooperate on Drugs

Attorney General Jeff Sessions meets with his Colombian counterpart in Cartagena three months after President Trump threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war against drugs unless Colombia reverses a rise in coca cultivation.

U.S. and Colombian officials vowed Thursday to redouble efforts against drug trafficking as the South American nation contends with a record surge in coca production that has tested the relationship between the two nations, the Associated Press reports. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with his Colombian counterpart, chief prosecutor Nestor Martinez, and a delegation from Mexico in the Caribbean city of Cartagena. The meeting came three months after President Trump threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war against drugs unless Colombia reverses a rise in coca cultivation.

Cultivation of the plant used to make cocaine rose in 2016 to levels unseen in nearly two decades of U.S. eradication efforts, said a White House report. The prosecutors also discussed money laundering and human trafficking, two issues frequently intertwined with the illegal drug trade. Martinez said the three nations would “strengthen cooperation among each other to effectively battle this scourge.” Sessions said, “We’re gonna make progress.” Colombia is the U.S.’s staunchest ally in the region and one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid. The U.S. has spent more than $10 billion in counter-narcotics work in Colombia over the course of nearly two decades. The amount of land devoted to coca cultivation had steadily declined but began rising again in 2014, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Maryland Prosecutors Filing Charges in Overdose Cases

“They’re dealing in death,” said Charles County State’s Attorney Tony Covington. “It’s our job to hold them accountable.” Not everyone agrees. Critics say holding dealers criminally responsible for overdoses assigns the blame wrongly and won’t stem the death toll.

As the opioid death toll mounts, Maryland prosecutors are bringing charges of manslaughter and even murder against those who are supplying users with fatal doses, the Baltimore Sun reports. The move remains rare. Prosecutors in seven counties have brought such charges, says the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association. “They’re dealing in death,” said Charles County State’s Attorney Tony Covington. “It’s our job to hold them accountable.” Not everyone agrees. Critics say holding dealers criminally responsible for overdoses assigns the blame wrongly and won’t stem the death toll. “Southern Maryland has been hit very hard in this opioid crisis,” said Matthew Connell  of the St. Mary’s County public defender’s office. “It’s a tragic thing. … But it’s not murder.”

At least 21 people have been charged with manslaughter in overdose cases since 2014, the Sun found in a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense attorneys. Most were charged in the past two years. A Queen Anne’s County judge convicted a man of manslaughter last month in the 2016 overdose death of a 23-year-old man. More drug-related manslaughter trials are scheduled in Queen Anne’s, Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s counties. In St. Mary’s, the charges also include second-degree “depraved heart” murder. “You’re seeing people die and your natural reaction as a prosecutor is to want do something about it,” said Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura Martin, president of the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association. “There are some of us who feel that legally, that’s not an appropriate charge, and others who feel that it is.”

from https://thecrimereport.org