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Legal Marijuana Coming to New Jersey and Virginia?

Legal Marijuana Coming to New Jersey and Virginia?

Author: Justin Mckibben

The elections held this past Tuesday may not have directly addressed the status of marijuana, but voters in multiple states did elect officials who are adamant about making legal marijuana more available.

Next Year in New Jersey

One of those states is New Jersey, who’s outgoing governor is Chris Christie, chairman of the White House commission on opioids.

Last week Democrat Phil Murphy, who made legal marijuana one of the cornerstones of his campaign, won the state over. This creates a radical change for the state. For years Chris Christie has blocked attempts to legalize cannabis, and even maintains his opposition to it while fighting to help the country get a grip on the opioid epidemic.

Phil Murphy has been pretty open about his support for marijuana legalization. According to Forbes, Murphy even talked about it during his primary night victory speech saying,

“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,”

“And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”

Apparently, it isn’t just Murphy in the state that is looking forward to pushing this legislation along. The Democratically-controlled state Senate is expecting to bring up legal marijuana as early as next year. In regards to the topic, earlier this year Senate President Stephen Sweeney said,

“We are going to have a new governor in January 2018. As soon as the governor gets situated we are all here and we intend to move quickly on it.”

Voters in Virginia

Voters in the Commonwealth of Virginia also elected an official who advocates for loosening restrictions on marijuana. Current lieutenant governor Ralph Northam is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession. While it may not be as liberal a stance as Murphy, it is still a big step in a lot of people’s minds. Northam writes,

“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana. African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia.”

But it isn’t just about the individuals. Northam also points out the resources going to this issue. He has written to the Virginia State Crime Commission as part of its review of the effects of marijuana decriminalization.

“Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement—enough to open up another 13,000 pre-K spots for children,”

Again, not that he is pushing for complete legalization, but to stop stiff penalties for those with small amounts of marijuana. Northam also advocates for research into the medicinal uses of marijuana. According to Richmond Times-Dispatch, he has stated,

“As a doctor, I like to make the point to people, over 100 of the medicines that we use on a daily basis come from plants,” he said in an interview Monday. “So I think we need to be open-minded about using marijuana for medical purposes.”

He isn’t alone in Virginia either. Even the Republican state Senate leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. questioned whether or not small amounts of marijuana should remain a crime.

Marijuana in More Areas

But it isn’t just these two offices that indicate there may be more change coming for marijuana policy. In other areas around the country, there are other notable shifts that may dramatically impact marijuana policy.

  • Athens, Ohio

77% of voters in the college town eliminated fines and court costs for possessing or growing up to 200 grams of marijuana.

  • Wayne County, Michigan

In an area that includes Detroit, voters now allow cannabis businesses to operate in more areas and to stay open longer. Michigan is expected to have a marijuana legalization bill on the 2018 ballot.

  • Philadelphia

Lawrence Krasner won the election for District Attorney. Krasner has been outspoken about the benefits of marijuana reform. According to Krasner,

“One of the things we see in other jurisdictions is that, where marijuana is readily available, there’s a 25% reduction in opiate/opioid overdose deaths.”

“So if Philadelphia is looking at 500 opiate/opioid overdose deaths a year, a district attorney, by choosing not to enforce against marijuana usage, can potentially save 125 lives. That’s what a district attorney should exercise his or her discretion to do.”

It seems between lightening the punishments for possession, expanding programs for legal marijuana, and electing officials that will advocate for its use, marijuana may have already seen some real change this November.

What to Remember about Legal Marijuana

It is important to note for anyone who has a history of substance use disorder that the legal status of a substance does not make it safer. You could argue that marijuana is much safer than opioids like prescription drugs or heroin. While marijuana is not as lethal concerning overdose deaths, it still should not ignore the risks.

Marijuana reform has the potential for some positive and negative outcomes. Ultimately voters will have to consider weighing the pros and cons of reform. Either way, it is important to remember that any substance, legal or not, can be addictive. While marijuana may become more accepted on a legal level, it is still unhealthy to abuse this drug. If you find yourself abusing this or any drug it is very important that you seek safe and effective treatment resources.

Because drug abuse is always destructive, marijuana abuse is no exception. If you or someone you love are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please seek help. Regardless of whether a drug is legalized or not, losing control of your use can lead to something much worse. We want to help. You are not alone. Call toll-free now. 

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Global Commission on Drug Policy Suggests Harm Reduction and Decriminalization

Global Commission on Drug Policy Suggests Harm Reduction and Decriminalization

Author: Justin Mckibben

The Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) is an international institution of global leaders and intellectuals working to help study and inform initiatives on addressing drug use all around the world. This think tank offers recommendations concerning drug use and its consequences for societies across the globe.

The GCDP consists of members from various nations, including but not limited to:

  • The United States of America
  • The United Kingdom
  • India
  • France
  • Greece
  • Spain
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Canada

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter wrote an op-ed in The New York Times explicitly endorsing the recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and the group has released various reports over the years focusing on the efforts to curb the spread of drug abuse.

Recently the GCDP released a position report on the North American opioid epidemic. In this report, the commission issues recommendations that appear to endorse the expansion of harm reduction techniques to battle the ongoing crisis.

The Turning Point for America

According to the GCDP’s new report, North America is at a turning point in the way that drug addiction is viewed. This is not too much of a surprise, considering now more than ever there has been a push for a more compassionate perspective on drug use and addiction. America now finds itself in a unique position where the stigma that has so long been attached to addiction is starting to be abandoned, and more progressive action is being taken.

Now the Global Commission on Drug Policy believes national policymakers should take advantage of this unique opportunity to reduce opioid-related deaths through harm reduction. In the report the authors state:

“While in recent years media and politicians have been more open to viewing addiction as a public health problem, leadership is needed to turn this into an urgent and commensurate response to the crisis,”

One way that the Global Commission on Drug Policy ideals clashes with that of the Trump administration, currently steering drug policy in America is that the GCDP does not endorse the old policies of the War on Drugs.

GCDP vs War on Drugs

Back in June of 2011, the GCDP stated:

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”

Again, this recent report echoes that sentiment, saying that attempting to cut off the opioid supply is not the answer. The new report notes how this approach has been tried before, as the first reactions to the opioid epidemic were to limit prescriptions and to introduce pills that were harder to manipulate.

The report goes on to note that this response drove people to use cheaper and often much more potent street drugs instead of prescription pills. Fentanyl is one of the worst synthetic opioids to contribute to the outbreak of overdoses and deaths across the country.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy says cutting off the supply of opioids into the country cannot be effectively executed until after supportive measures are put in place. This means supporting not only both people battling addiction but also people with chronic pain. The report insists:

“The aim is to achieve the right balance in regulation to provide effective and adequate pain care, while minimizing opportunities for misuse of these medications.”

To reduce the harmful impacts of opioids, the commission calling for the acceptance and implementation of harm reduction strategies.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy Suggests Harm Reduction

So if they are saying that the War on Drugs did not work, and neither will bulking up borders, then what will?

Well, according to the GCDP, harm reduction is the right move. The new report calls on American lawmakers to promote programs like:

  • Naloxone Distribution and Training

As the opioid overdose antidote, Naloxone is an invaluable tool to have in the fight against the opioid epidemic in America, but the price for the drug continued to skyrocket as the epidemic got worse. Making it more available could give access to and train people with life-saving medication to thousands or even millions more.

Safe locations where IV drug users can trade old, contaminated needles for new, sterile needles to help prevent the spread of blood-borne illness like HIV.

Facilities where drug users can go to use their drugs with sterile equipment safely, reducing the number of overdose deaths by providing a place free of punishment for them to use with medical emergency resources on site.

  • Drug Checking

These kinds of programs would allow for users to check their drugs for the presence of any unknown substances it may have been diluted with. For example, most fentanyl users do not know they are using fentanyl.

Decriminalizing Drugs in America

In another aspect of the report, GCDP also makes a much more revolutionary and more radical suggestion that many may consider qualifying as harm reduction: decriminalization.

The report states:

“The Global Commission on Drug Policy also calls for the elimination of illicit drug markets by carefully regulating different drugs according to their potential harms. The most effective way to reduce the extensive harms of the global drug prohibition regime and advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation.”

With this philosophy in mind, the GCDP made two more drastic recommendations:

  • End the criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs nation-wide in Canada and the United States.
  • Allow and promote pilot projects for the responsible legal regulation of currently illicit drugs including opioids.

The idea is that by decriminalizing drugs, they can bypass criminal organizations and ultimately replace the current black market.

“Do not pursue such offenses so that people in need of health and social services can access them freely, easily, and without fear of legal coercion,”

We have begun to see a watered-down variation of this kind of strategy with many Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) programs, where law enforcement is helping addicts get into treatment instead of arresting them when they ask for help.

Better Treatment Research

The report insists that more research is necessary in a few critical areas in order the effectively address the opioid crisis and the overall drug problem in America.

One of the key points of research the GCDP proposes is for finding the most effective treatments for addiction, specifically to prescription opioids. In addition, the report shows support for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and opioid substitution therapy (OST) as a means to preserve life to assist in the recovery process. While these programs are met with some of the same contentions as safe injection sites or decriminalization, the commission seems adamant about using harm reduction to keep people alive long enough to get better.

Michel Kazatchkine, a doctor and commission member, said in a recent interview:

“Repression is harmful. Wherever repressive policies are in place, people will not be in the best condition to access services.”

While he and other commission members are in no way naïve to the fact there is no way decriminalization will happen at the federal level soon in the U.S., they remain hopeful that states or cities will make decisions which don’t require federal approval, or for which they are willing to enter to fight with the federal process.

Overall, the hope of the GCDP is that these suggestions, coming from a group of world leaders fully invested in understanding the issue, will convince American and Canadian lawmakers to take a progressive approach to the crisis.

What could some of these changes mean for those trying to recover from opioid abuse? How could some of these ideas change the way addiction treatment operates within America?

One thing is for certain, in fighting opioid addiction, whether as a society, as a family or as an individual, there needs to be compassion and action. It takes courage and it takes a degree of uncertainty. But with the right resources, there is hope for a greater future. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Ben Carson Blames Drug Addiction on a Lack of ‘Values and Principles’  

Ben Carson Blames Drug Addiction on a Lack of 'Values and Principles'  

Author: Shernide Delva

Despite medical science that reveals that drug addiction has a biological component and should be treated as an illness, Ben Carson believes that drug addiction is due to a lack of “values and principles.” Ben Carson, instead, calls for a return to a morality-based view of drug addiction and believes we should continue the War on Drugs of the past.

Just two weeks ago, Carson did an interview where he stated that he not only wants to continue the war on drugs, he wants to intensify it. Quite a bold statement for Carson during the campaign considering the tone of the rest of the candidates has been on the decriminalization of drugs and emphasizing addiction treatment options.

On opposite end of the spectrum, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders just announced he would be pushing a bill to make marijuana legal on a federal level. He believes that criminalization is ineffective and has not helped drug addiction issues in the United States. Though the War on Drugs of the early 70s may have had good intentions, there is overwhelming evidence that it failed to actually increased drug addiction rates and resulted in mass incarcerations.

Now, Dr. Ben Carson announced that he believes drug addiction has more to do with character than having an illness. Many are surprised by this opinion since Ben Carson is a retired neurosurgeon and evidence shows that addiction actually alters the way the brain functions on a chemical level. However, Ben Carson on “Face the Nation” Sunday did not blame addiction on biology or physiology, he blamed it on morals.

 Dr. Carson told CBS News anchor John Dickerson that there are ” all kinds of addictions and addictions occur in people who are vulnerable who are lacking something in their lives, so we really have to start asking ourselves what have we taken outside of our lives in America?”

He continued on to say that he is not going to throw away his values and principles for the sake of political correctness. When asked about a recent poll that showed 25 percent of New Hampshire voters believe drug addiction is the state’s most serious problem, Carson stated that America must have the determination to continue the war on drugs and not lose focus because opinions that are gaining in popularity:

“What are some of those values and principles that allowed us to ascend the ladder of success so rapidly to the pinnacle of the world and the highest pinnacle anyone else had ever reached, and why are we throwing away all of our values and principles for the sake of political correctness?”

Carson’s comments come after Princeton released findings that rising death rates for middle-aged white population may be due to substance abuse problems. There also had been a sharp rise in suicide rates and drug abuse was cited as being a major reason for the increase.

Heroin-related overdose and death across the U.S. has become a national epidemic. Recently, President Obama issued a memorandum to combat addiction to heroin and other opioids. Obama’s focus is also on treatment and not criminalization and he has attempted to change the focus of drug addiction in the United States. Obama traveled to West Virginia to unveil a series of initiative to combat addiction to heroin and other opioids.

Overall, Ben Carson believes we should not give up on the war on drugs and should push to promote values for those suffering from addiction. What do you think? Drug addiction is a multifaceted illness that can be looked at in various angles. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Oregon Will Now Expunge Past Marijuana Records

Oregon Will Now Expunge Past Marijuana Records

Author: Shernide Delva

Oregon is one of the first states to address the concerns of marijuana legalization answering the debated question: what do you do with someone with a record for something that used to be a crime but now isn’t? With this new policy, anyone with any low-level felony or misdemeanor on their record that’s at least ten years old can wipe their record clean (as long as they have not re-offended).  As many as 50,000 people will benefit from this law passed in Oregon.

Oregon is known for its progressive marijuana legislation that spans over the past few decades. Back in 1973, Oregon was the first state in the country to decriminalize low-scale marijuana possession. Now legal experts and marijuana business people are saying that the state is leading the way in creating new laws that would allow people with past marijuana offenses to wipe their slates clean.

In 2016, Oregon will allow more serious felony pot convictions, like growing, to be eligible for record sealing. The law is not restricted to drug offenses. A second law will allow expungement for people who were under 21 at the time of a past conviction.

Citations for marijuana possessions can haunt a person for years preventing them from career opportunities, renting an apartment, loans, and grants. Oregon is one of three states in the United States that allow marijuana use on a recreational level and now this law will give those who were prosecuted for the now legal crime to be able to move on with their lives.

So far, no state has gone further than Oregon on this issue.  Even in states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, the idea of expunging past records still remain controversial. In states like Colorado, Alaska, Washington and the District of Colombia where recreational marijuana is legalized, similar laws are available yet are still unclear. Oregon’s law will be one of the first structured policy following marijuana reform.

Expungement for pot conviction is gaining attention since the legalization of marijuana has raised questions for those convicted in the past. Years after the arrests, citizens are left with a record that will haunt them for the rest of their life, for getting caught doing something that is legal in many states today.

The expunge center in Oregon elaborated on how significant this law is for those who need it most:

“It really doesn’t matter if you had been arrested on a petty charge. The stigma of having an arrest or conviction record against your name can make it difficult for you to find housing, seek employment opportunities and obtain grants for school…. Regardless of how much you have changed or how many dreams you might have, one single mistake of your past can affect your chances of having a good future.”

Even for those with more serious marijuana crimes who are unable to qualify for expungement or reduce their impact may be qualified to reduce the impact of past criminal convictions. They may be able to reduce the severity of their charges so they are granted access to certain rights.

The law comes very soon after Oregon legalized marijuana recreationally. Time will tell if other states will follow Oregon in also expunging records now the drug is continuously decriminalized and marijuana reform continues to stir debate around the country.

Whether or not you agree with marijuana reform, the fact of the matter is more and more states are legalizing the drug either recreationally, medically or both. The next logical step would be deciding best policy when it comes to addressing those who were criminalized for something legal today. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588  

4 Plans for Drug Reform from 4 Presidential Candidates

4 Plans for Drug Reform from 4 Presidential Candidates

Author: Justin Mckibben

It’s about that time ladies and gentlemen. Once again we will be voting on a new leader of the free world. With the 2016 around the corner it is time for the presidential campaign season. We have at least 4 serious candidates for the next commander and chief, 3 of which are Republicans, and 1 Democrat that is sure to make waves if elected for various reasons. Each is developing a plan of action for various issues, so considering the state of the nation it only makes sense that one of those be the subject of drug addiction and substance abuse.

Let’s take a closer look at the 4 individuals now, and see what they have in mind for the future of America’s drug policies.

  1. Marco Rubio- Republican Senator from Florida

First let’s just get this one out of the way. If you are about positive advancement in drug reform, you won’t be wearing a button saying “Rubio for President” anytime soon.

Last year there was an article published that described Rubio as:

“casually clinging to the War on Drugs”

This scrutiny was not without substance, as the information was based on an October 2014 Washington Times op-ed, in which he wrote:

“While individuals from a variety of perspectives have made a compelling case that American law has been over-criminalized and over-federalized, reform must come from Congress, not the administration. Also, reform should not begin with careless weakening of drug laws that have done so much to help end the violence and mayhem that plagued American cities in prior decades.”

So what’s wrong with this statement? 2 things.

  1. The first sentence seems to say “it’s not my job to fix this”
  2. The second sentence to say “drug policy doesn’t need reforming anyway.”

He has been an unwavering opponent of marijuana legalization, yet he has been evasive about questions regarding his own drug use. He was once quoted:

“You know why I never answer that question? I’ll tell you why I never answer that question. If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me. And if I tell you that I did, then kids will look up to me and say, ‘Well, I can smoke marijuana, ‘cause look how he made it. He did all right, so I guess I can do it, too.’”

So instead of being transparent and openly answering the question, he seems to deflect it. So if you are so firm on the idea that drug use (including marijuana) is wrong, why not share your experience on the subject?

  1. Rand Paul- Republican Senator from Kentucky

Rand Paul’s positions on these issues might surprise you, considering he’s undeniably conservative. Then again Rand Paul’s father Ron Paul was a former presidential candidate who was in favor of outright legalization of drugs. However Rand fell a little farther from the tree in the sense that he is not in favor of legalizing all drugs.

Rand Paul does however oppose strict prison sentences for drug crimes. Last year, he sponsored a bill called Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment (RESET) designed to:

  • Reduced some drug felonies to misdemeanors
  • Eliminate the difference in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine (see #4 Hillary Clinton)

Rand Paul currently cosponsors the REDEEM Act with Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey which if passed would:

  • Raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18
  • Restrict the use of solitary confinement of minors
  • Restore food stamp eligibility for nonviolent drug felons
  • Create a possible mechanism for sealing criminal records

Some say these stances won’t please the Republican base during the primaries, and at the same time won’t be enough to win over many Democrats. Still though, REDEEM seems like it has the right idea when it comes to addressing the drug offenders without crippling their future.

  1. Ted Cruz- Republican Senator from Texas

Ted Cruz is another republican with an apparently refreshing view on drug policy reform. Along with Paul Cruz cosponsors the Smarter Sentencing Act. This legislation hopes to roll back mandatory minimum sentences.

Now at one point Cruz criticized President Obama for not enforcing federal marijuana laws when the Obama administration said it would not challenge laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington State as long as those states maintain strict rules involving the sale and distribution of the drug. In a 2014 interview Cruz said,

“Now, that may or may not be a good policy, but I would suggest that should concern anyone—it should even concern libertarians who support that policy outcome—because the idea that the president simply says criminal laws that are on the books, we’re going to ignore [them]. That is a very dangerous precedent.”

But with the current campaign it appears Cruz has had a change of heart in regards to marijuana legalization. Cruz now says legal marijuana is states’ rights issue, and back in February, he told Sean Hannity,

“Look, I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called the ‘laboratories of democracy.’ If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

So while he has flipped the script on us, if this is how he really feels than he has become open to the idea that states have the right to make the call themselves and not worrying about heat from the federal level coming down on them.

  1. Hillary Clinton- Democratic Former Senator for New York and Former Secretary of State

Now the Democrat who is already a household name as a former First Lady, former Senator of New York, and former Secretary of State… Hillary Clinton. Clinton has already made a point to show voters she is listening to their concerns about mental health and addiction, and says it is a huge part of her campaign.

Firstly, some have pointed out that the Clintons’ drug policies in the 1990s have made a vast contribution to the current incarceration rate. That being said, Hillary has spoken out against a criminal justice system she calls “out of balance”, and she currently advocates for treatment instead of prison, much like her last run for office in 2007 when Clinton pushed alternatives to incarceration.

During this time there was also on the federal level a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Meaning 5 grams of crack cocaine would trigger the same 5-year mandatory minimum sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine. In 2007 Clinton cosponsored a bill in an effort to eliminate that sentencing disparity. While that legislation didn’t pass, thanks to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 there is an 18-to-1 sentencing disparity today.

In terms of marijuana legalization Clinton had opposed decriminalization in 2007, has continued expressing interest in further research. That being said she seems to take the same stance as Rand Paul when supporting marijuana legalization at the state level.

General elections are still over a year away, so don’t be surprised when more names pop up on the campaign trail. Either way we can remain hopeful that the subject will stay on how to improve our culture and thus our communities with drug reforms and rehabilitation. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

 

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