The article was prepared in collaboration with AlterNet.
Ohio is state with a serious opioid problem. It's tied with neighboring Kentucky for the third-highest overdose death rate in the county, and the state Department of Health reports that fatal overdoses, mostly due to opioids, have jumped eight-fold in the past 15, killing more than 3,000 Ohioans in 2015.
[image:1 align:left]In a bid to address the problem, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law last year. Such laws, which are also in place in 36 other states, provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession offenses for overdose victims and people who seek medical assistance to help them. The idea is to encourage people to seek help for their friends rather than hesitate, perhaps with lethal consequences, out of fear of being busted.
But one Ohio town is getting around the intent of the law by using an unrelated statute to go after overdose victims. If you OD in the city of Washington Court House, you can expect to be charged with -- wait for it -- "inducing panic," which is used for cases that "cause serious public inconvenience or alarm."
In the last two months, Washington Court House police have used the "inducing panic" statute at least a dozen times to charge overdose victims. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The move has drawn fire from the ACLU of Ohio, which sent a demand letter to city officials urging the city to "immediately end its practice of charging people experiencing a health crisis under this vague and inappropriate criminal statute." The city's "unlawful application of this statute will intensify the dangers of heroin use -- not help to control them," the ACLU argued.
The arrests have also caught the attention of Human Rights Watch, which called them "misguided and counterproductive." The advocacy group added that "increasing penalties for drug use is not the solution to Ohio's opioid crisis" and "what city of Washington Court House should be providing is access to health and harm reduction services, including clean syringes, the overdose reversal medication naloxone, and access to treatment."
But the city isn't heeding those warnings. Instead, in the face of the criticism, the city last week dug in its heels, saying the arrests weren't about punishment, but were a means to help addicts.
"We are not after jail time. We are not after fine money. We are simply looking to get these people some assistance. Obviously they need it, but they are not seeking it willingly upon themselves to get the assistance," said Police Chief Brian Hottinger.
City Manager Joe Denen added that the city is not planning any changes to its policy.
"In challenging circumstances, charging some individuals with inducing panic provides the court system with a means of connecting people in need of treatment with treatment opportunities," he said.
Or they could just offer them treatment.
A Justice Department review of marijuana policy is underway, congressional overseers subpoena the DEA over its snitch program, California's governor moves to reconicle the state's legal and medical marijuana programs, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
DOJ Task Force is Reviewing Marijuana Policy. Attorney General Sessions issued a memo Wednesday saying that a task force on crime and public safety is reviewing federal marijuana policy and is charged with making initial recommendations by July 27. The task is reviewing ways to reduce violent crime and illegal immigration and is reviewing marijuana policy under that rubric.
California Governor Proposes Means of Melding Legal and Medical Marijuana Systems. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Tuesday released proposed legislation aimed at uniting the state's legal and medical marijuana regulatory systems. The draft language generally favors the less restrictive language of Prop 64, the state's successful marijuana legalization initiative. The Drug Policy Alliance, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the UFCW Western States Council, and the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association are all backing the draft language.
Alaska Regulators Punt (Again) on Onsite Consumption. The Marijuana Control Board was supposed to take up the thorny issue of permitting onsite consumption of marijuana Wednesday, but instead the board spent its meeting going through a backlog of license applications for production facilities and pot shops. "They really wanted to focus on approved applications at this meeting so people could get started with their businesses as we move into summer," said Erika McConnell, director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board. "On site consumption was kind of the big time consuming issue that they pushed until the end and then we ran out of time." Onsite consumption decisions will now be pushed back until at least the May 15 meeting, she said.
Connecticut Legalization Bill Dead -- At Least for Now. A bill that would legalize marijuana, Senate Bill 11, appears dead in the water after it failed to make the agenda for a Friday meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Reports are the bill, sponsored by Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven), was pulled because it didn't have enough votes to pass the committee. Legalization is not quite dead yet, though: The Looney bill or one of several other legalization proposals could still be attached as an amendment to another bill.
Virginia Commission to Study Decriminalization. The State Crime Commission decided on Wednesday that it will study marijuana decriminalization. The decision was made by the commission's executive committee.
North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sens. Teresa Van Duyn (D) and Valerie Jean Fousher (D) filed Senate Bill 648 on Tuesday. Under the bill, patients could possess up to 24 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 250 square feet of their own medicine. The bill would also establish a system of licensed cultivation centers and dispensaries. It has been referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations.
West Virginia Legislature Approves Industrial Hemp Bill. The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 2453, which would allow for the licensing of qualified producers and state institutions to grow hemp for industrial purposes. The bill passed the House last month and now heads to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D).
Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Awaits Governor's Signature. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is in a tight spot, caught between the wishes of legislators, who approved the asset forfeiture reform measure House Bill 2477, and county prosecutors, who are urging him to veto it. The measure would change Arizona's civil asset forfeiture laws to require prosecutors to prove property was involved in a crime by "clear and convicting" evidence, a step above the current standard. Gov. Ducey has said he thinks this is an area of law that needs reform, but hasn't said whether he would sign the bill into law.
DEA Gets Hit With Congressional Subpoenas Over Its Informant Program. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), head of the House Oversight Committee, has subpoenaed the DEA for documents related to its confidential informant program. Congress members have been seeking copies of the guidelines since last year, when a Justice Department report detailed how DEA spent more than $200 million on informants with little oversight, but DEA has only allowed members to view the guidelines on-site. "Congress has a right to have this material," Chaffetz said, during an Oversight Committee hearing that he chaired on Tuesday morning. "It is unbelievable to me that you think we shouldn't have a copy of it," he told Deputy DEA Administrator Robert Patterson. Chaffetz then went next door to the House Judiciary Committee, where DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg was testifying, and issued a subpoena. "We are issuing a subpoena, and so I see no choice," he then told DEA chief Rosenberg. "The Department of Justice just doesn't get to hide things from the United States Congress," Chaffetz said, adding that there is evidence of "massive problems" in the program.
It's jail and prison guards gone wild, plus a Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs cop gets in trouble for sticky-fingers. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left]In Dover, New Hampshire, a Strafford County jail guard was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly attempting to take heroin into the jail. Guard Bryant Shipman, 25, went down after a joint investigation by local and federal officials. He is charged with one count of delivery of contraband.
In Goshen, New York, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday after police seized 43 bags of heroin from his home. Guard Michael Leake, 24, went down after an investigation by the town of Deerpark and city of Port Jarvis Crime Suppression Unit. He is charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminally using paraphernalia in the second degree. Although the charges don't reflect it, local authorities said the dope, a scale, and other seized materials were "commonly used by drug traffickers."
In Sterling, Pennsylvania, a Wayne County jail guard was arrested Monday for selling morphine pills from his home. Howard Hums, 44, went down after an informant for the Wayne County DA's Drug Task Force bought pills from him on two occasions in February and March. He now faces two counts each of possession of a controlled substance and delivery of a controlled substance.
In Madison, Wisconsin, a state Department of Veterans Affairs Police officer was sentenced last Tuesday to two years' probation for stealing prescription opioids from the department's evidence room and replacing them with similar-looking pills. David Walters, 37, also stole pills from the VA's drug drop-off receptacle. He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance in January.
Arkansas' governor signs a package of medical marijuana regulation bills, a West Virginia medical marijuana bill is just a vote away from final passage, and more.
On Monday, the governor signed into law a dozen medical marijuana-related bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a dozen bills aimed at regulating the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Bills that actually modified the law required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the link.
Last Wednesday, legislators proposed using marijuana to treat opioid addition. A House of Delegates committee has added "opioid use disorder" to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. The bill was set to be heard by the House Friday.
On Tuesday, a bill to allow more license and increase diversity passed the House. The House of Delegates voted to approve House Bill 1443, which would allow five more licenses to grow and process medical marijuana. The bill is aimed at increasing minority participation in the developing industry, which the state's medical marijuana law explicitly calls for. "Passing this bill will show the country that this is not an issue that we're going lock African Americans and other minorities from participating in this business venture," bill cosponsor Del. Cheryl Glenn said before the House vote. "Less than 1% of the licenses held in the entire country are held by African Americans and other minorities. I'm very proud at the state of Maryland that we are passing this legislation. Nothing is perfect, but this is really moving us along the path of having a fair system in the state of Maryland."
Last Thursday, the House fast-tracked a medical marijuana bill. Less than a day after the Senate approved a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, the House has put it on path to quick consideration. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday, and on Thursday, the House voted to allow the bill to skip consideration by committees there and proceed directly to House floor debate. The move came in response to constituent pressure. "Like every member of this body, I can't count the number of emails and phone calls I received on this subject today," said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.
On Monday, the House amended the medical marijuana bill. The state House on Monday amended the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, to bar its use in leaf form. Medicines from marijuana would have to be in patch, pill, or potion form. Opponents of the amendment said it drastically changed the nature of the bill already approved in the Senate and worried that the Senate would not accept the changes, leaving patients in the lurch for another year. The bill must now have a final House floor vote, and then any differences will have to either be approved by the Senate or settled in a joint conference committee.
On Tuesday, the House approved the amended medical marijuana bill. The House voted to approve Senate Bill 386, which would establish a medical marijuana system in the state. The Senate passed the measure last week, but since it was amended in the House, reconciliation or a conference committee agreement must occur before it can head to the governor's desk.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Kansas City votes to decriminalizes, a Maryland bill to expand medical marijuana business opportunities advances, so does a package of Maryland bills aimed at the state's opioid crisis, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Alaska Regulators Again Taking Up Onsite Marijuana Consumption. The state Marijuana Control Board will today resume its debate over whether to permit businesses to allow onsite consumption of marijuana. The board had decided in February to kill the idea, citing uncertainty over the Trump administration, but now it has reopened the process, inviting members to submit proposed new regulations. One proposal would impose a two-year moratorium on onsite consumption, while two others would allow for it, but one of those would not allow smoking or vaping.
Kansas City Votes to Decriminalize. Kansas City, Missouri, residents voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Unofficial vote counts had the measure winning with 71% of the vote. The measure will amend local laws regarding the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana for adults age 21 and older from a criminal misdemeanor, previously punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine -- with no arrest made or criminal record imposed.
Maryland Bill to Allow More Licenses, Increase Diversity Passes House. The House of Delegates voted Tuesday to approve House Bill 1443, which would allow five more licenses to grow and process medical marijuana. The bill is aimed at increasing minority participation in the developing industry, which the state's medical marijuana law explicitly calls for. "Passing this bill will show the country that this is not an issue that we're going lock African Americans and other minorities from participating in this business venture," bill cosponsor Del. Cheryl Glenn said before the House vote. "Less than 1% of the licenses held in the entire country are held by African Americans and other minorities. I'm very proud at the state of Maryland that we are passing this legislation. Nothing is perfect, but this is really moving us along the path of having a fair system in the state of Maryland."
West Virginia House Votes for Medical Marijuana. The House voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 386, which would establish a medical marijuana system in the state. The Senate passed the measure last week, but since it was amended in the House, reconciliation or a conference committee agreement must occur before it can head to the governor's desk.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Maryland General Assembly Adopts Bills to Combat Opioid Epidemic. The House of Delegates voted Tuesday to approve a package of bills aimed at increasing access to drug treatment and crisis services, education, and public awareness around opioids. The bills are House Bill 869, which will require the state to compile a list of accredited recovery residences, House Bill 1082, which will require public schools to provide drug education and train personnel to respond to an opioid overdose; and House Bill 1329, which establishes a Health Crisis Hotline and network of crisis treatment centers. Because the bills were adopted with minor differences in the House and Senate, the House must vote one more time to approve the measures before they head to the governor's desk.
Florida Welfare Drug Test Bill Moving. A bill to require welfare applicants with drug convictions to submit to mandatory drug testing has been approved by two subcommittees and now sits before the House Health and Human Services Committee. The measure, House Bill 1147, passed out of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday. Under the bill, applicants who test positive for drugs would lose benefits for a year, but could reapply after six months if they've completed a drug treatment program at their own expense.
Indiana Bill Criminalizing Use of Synthetic Urine Passes Legislature. The state Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved House Bill 1104, which would make it a misdemeanor to use synthetic or another person's urine for a drug test. The bill now heads to the governor's desk.
The governors of the first four states to legalize marijuana have written to Washington asking to be left alone, decrim advances in Texas, asset forfeiture reform advances in Arizona, and more.
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
Governors from Four Legal Marijuana States Ask to Be Left Alone. The governors of the first four states to legalize marijuana -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking them not to interfere in state-level legalization. The governors said legal weed could be safely regulated and that a federal crackdown "would divert existing marijuana product to the black market." They also asked the Treasury Department not to make it even more difficult to marijuana businesses to deal with banks than it already is.
Texas Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 4-2 on Monday to advance House Bill 81, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The bill now heads to the House floor.
West Virginia House Amends Medical Marijuana Bill. The state House on Monday amended the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, to bar its use in leaf form. Medicines from marijuana would have to be in patch, pill, or potion form. Opponents of the amendment said it drastically changed the nature of the bill already approved in the Senate and worried that the Senate would not accept the changes, leaving patients in the lurch for another year. The bill must now have a final House floor vote, and then any differences will have to either be approved by the Senate or settled in a joint conference committee.
Arizona Senate Passes Bill Taking on State, Federal Asset Forfeiture. The state Senate on Monday unanimously approved a bill to reform the state's civil asset forfeiture law, House Bill 2477. The bill raises the evidentiary standard for forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence," establishes stringent forfeiture reporting requirements, and bars prosecutors from handing cases off to the feds to get around state law. The bill now goes back to the House for a concurrence vote on Senate amendments and, if passed, then heads for the governor's desk.
Maine Tests Few Welfare Recipients Under New Law. Since 2015, only 23 people have set off enough drug screening alarms to be tested under the state's welfare drug testing law. That's about 0.01% of welfare recipients in the state. Of those, 11 lost temporary cash assistance benefits after testing positive, while four more lost benefits for refusing to undergo the test. The Le Page administration blames Democrats, saying they limited drug screenings to people drug felonies, and is behind bills this year to expand drug screenings of cash assistance applicants, prohibiting food stamps for repeat drug offenders, and requiring treatment for first-time drug offenders.