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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.

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California says NO to Pot Delivering Drones

California says NO to Pot Delivering Drones

Californians expecting to get their marijuana delivered via drone should not hold their breath. A new set of regulations will make it harder for California businesses who try to deliver pot in unique ways.

The legalization of marijuana has raised a host of controversy. For one, the question of who has the right to distribute pot is already a complex issue. However, now there is the question of how these products get delivered.

Pot Drones? Should they be allowed?

California legislators are hoping to get these questions answered before issuing dispensary licenses next year. They came together this month to lay down the rules. Ultimately, it was decided that marijuana could NOT be delivered by drones.

The decision was part of the Commercial Cannabis Business Licensing Program Regulations released by the state.

“Transportation may not be done by aircraft, watercraft, rail, drones, human-powered vehicles, or unmanned vehicles,” the regulations read, according to Ars Technica.

While deliveries will be allowed, they must adhere to the following guidelines:

Deliveries may be made only in person by enclosed motor vehicle. Cannabis goods may not be visible to the public during deliveries. Cannabis goods may not be left in an unattended motor vehicle unless the vehicle has an active alarm system. Vehicles used for delivery must have a dedicated, active GPS device that enables the dispensary to identify the geographic location of the vehicle during delivery.”

The news will be a major disappointment to the handful of businesses in California who already promised future pot deliveries by drone. One company, MDelivers, said the opportunity to deliver marijuana via drone was “unmistakable.”

Nevertheless, the company CEO did not count on lawmakers forbidding drone deliveries:

After navigating the complexities of medical marijuana permitting, the state and FAA licensing process was actually pretty simple. Nobody can jump in at the 11th hour and rewrite the laws of aerodynamics,” Chris Boudreau, CEO and founder of MDelivers said in a blog post before the regulations were announced.

With the new policies in place, there is no telling how entrepreneurs will get marijuana to their customers. Even if drones are off the table, there are a variety of other new, interesting methods being considered.

We may see a vending machine attached to a self-driving car before we see a drone,” Marshall Hayner, CEO of Trees Delivery, told Mashable.

As California prepares to expand its cannabis market, there continues to be challenges among those against marijuana legalization, especially when it comes to the products crossing state lines illegally. This has already been a major concern for states where port had been legal for recreational use such as Colorado and Oregon.

Surrounding states are trying to address the marijuana diversion issue by requiring pot businesses to track their product from “seed to store.” Time will tell how these sorts of issues will be regulated.

Furthermore, there remains to be conflicting ideologies on whether or not marijuana use is beneficials. While there has been proven benefits of marijuana use, there are also negative effects of marijuana use. Like any drug, marijuana has the potential to be abused.

As more and more states legalize marijuana, logistical challenges remain such as how the products can be delivered. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, where it’s still classified as a controlled substance. This results in a variety of challenges in states like Colorado where recreational marijuana is legal.

The federal government requires that Colorado and any state that legalizes marijuana work together to prevent:

  • Distribution of marijuana to minors.
  • Transporting marijuana from states where it’s legal to other states.
  • Growing marijuana on public lands.
  • Marijuana possession or use on federal property.
  • Other criminal activity or violence associated with the sale of marijuana.

It is important to remember that like any drug, marijuana has the potential to be abused. Do not feel shame for feeling out of control of your marijuana use. Stigma should not prevent you from seeking treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please reach out today. Do not wait. Call toll-free now.

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New Florida Bills: One to Protect Addicts and One to Punish

New Florida Bills: One to Protect Addicts and One to Punish

Author: Justin Mckibben

Sometimes new policy can be good. Sometimes, not so much.

The opiate epidemic in America has hit some states with staggering rates of overdose and death. The paralyzing truth gripping the nation today is that more people are dying from drug overdose than homicides and car crashes. Heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers collectively decimate entire communities. People from all over are starting to push officials and lawmakers for more progressive and effective solutions.

Addiction has led to an overdose outbreak that shakes the country to the core, everywhere. Now, Florida lawmakers are pushing for new legislation to try and protect and serve those who suffer from an overdose. One of the first bills on the 2017 agenda is one that hopes to change how law enforcement treats overdose victims.

Although, another bill is trying to turn things in a very different direction.

Florida HB 61 Bill

Florida Representative Larry Lee, a Democrat from Port St. Lucie, has filed a proposal titled HB 61. If approved, this piece of reform would require several new policies for healthcare providers, starting with hospitals.

  • It would require hospitals to screen overdose victims to determine the need for additional health care services
  • Prohibits hospitals from discharging overdose patients to a detox or treatment facility until stabilized
  • Requires attending physician to attempt contact with patients primary care physician, or other treatment providers, who prescribe controlled substances to notify them of overdose
  • Requires hospital to inform medical director of treatment center (if patient is currently in treatment) of the overdose
  • Hospital must inform overdose victim’s family or emergency contact of overdose
  • Must inform contacts what drugs they suspect to have caused overdose
  • Attending physician must provide list of drug treatment providers and information about Florida’s Marchman act and Backer act in case the family or contact wishes to seek legal action to protect the addict

The Big Change in HB 61

Lastly, what is probably the most progressive part of this legislation, is the HB 61 bill would prohibit criminal charges from police officers and prosecutors against the overdose victim for possession of any drugs found on them during the incident.

This final aspect of HB 61 this writer thinks is a big deal, because from personal experience I have seen and heard many stories of individuals not calling for help in the event of an overdose out of fear of prosecution. In some cases people actually die because of the fear of criminal punishment. Adding this kind of measure to the bill is an attempt at eliminating the loss of life due to fear of discrimination. Even if it is not a perfect system, this kind of reform takes first responders and law enforcement a step closer to dealing with addicts who are fighting a fatal illness like sick people instead of criminals.

Florida SB 150 Bill Attacks Fentanyl

From across the aisle we see another push from Republican Senator Greg Steube from Sarasota. The question is, will this push go in the right direction? On December 12, he introduced bill SB 150. This is set to be a direct attack on fentanyl.

For those who are not yet familiar, fentanyl is an incredibly powerful, and lethal, opioid painkiller. It’s medical use is to sedate surgical patients and relieve chronic pain. However, being several times more powerful than heroin, it has crept into the illicit drug trade in various parts of the country. And with its arrival also came a horrifying increase in overdose and death.

This proposal means to make 4 grams or more of fentanyl a first-degree felony through:

  • Manufacturing
  • Selling
  • Buying

November 20, the Palm Beach Post released an analysis of people who died in 2015 from heroin-related overdoses. Out of the 216 individuals profiled in this report, 42% of the cases were found to involve fentanyl. So of course, with Steube coming from a district hit particularly hard by the opiate epidemic, it is logical to want to do everything you can to cut the flow of fentanyl off.

Yet, some say that this kind of strategy is too close to the concept of mandatory minimums.

Is SB 150 Too Close to Mandatory Minimums?

For those who need more clarification, mandatory minimum sentencing laws were a “one-size-fits-all” strategy implemented originally back in 1951 against marijuana, then repealed in the 1970s, and refined in 1986. In 1973, New York State enacted mandatory minimums of 15 years to life for possession of more than 4 ounces of any hard drug.

The idea is that regardless of the individual or the circumstances that a certain crime will have an inflexible punishment across the board. Ever since their introduction, criminal justice advocates have fought these laws, and they have always been surrounded by debate and controversy.

Essentially, some are already saying that SB 150 will ruthlessly make addicts into victims of the already overpopulated prison system. To be clear and fair- the bill does not seem to directly require a specific prison sentence like mandatory minimums, but it’s similar in that it treats every issue related to fentanyl the same.

The issue has already been argued time and time again that non-violent low-level drug offenders have spent excessive amounts of time in prison for possession of a substance. In some cases, an individual will do more time behind bars for possessing a large quantity of drugs than someone who has actually killed someone. Some have come to the conclusion that this tactic just doesn’t work.

The fear with SB 150 is not about the manufacturers or the dealers as much as it is for the consumers. Sometimes individuals purchase drugs on the street believing it to be heroin or another substance without even knowing there is fentanyl in it. So this bill would make first-degree felons out of desperate addicts?

What is Right?

The big question we all face at the end of the day is- what is the right thing to do? How is the best way to handle something that feels so utterly out of hand?

Well, it would seem like its time to finally let go of the archaic stigma. More states and law enforcement officials are turning to compassionate and supportive progress. Many places in America are starting to do everything they can to help people struggling with addiction to find help before it is too late. So why move backwards?

In my opinion, strictly based on what has been presented so far, SB 150 seems dangerous. There are countless advocates out there who say that intensifying the punishment is not how you deter the crime. Especially when it comes to addiction, because this kind of method still suggests it is a moral failing and not a psychological and physical illness.

HB 61 seems to be trying to call health care providers to action and add more accountability on the front lines in the fight against the overdose outbreak. At the same time it seems to move in the opposite direction of SB 150 by trying to limit the persecution of addicts. HB 61 makes more room to help preserve life and offer treatment and solutions. By now we should already know, the solution isn’t a War on Drugs, it is community and compassion.

These are some of the initial responses to recommendations recently made by the grand jury. Every day there are countless people suffering. And every day there are countless more recovering and fighting to help others recover. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help. You are not alone.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Drug Testing The Rich For Their Tax Breaks

Drug Testing The Rich For Their Tax Breaks

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

There is no typo in the title. We are talking about requiring the top 1% to submit to drug testing to get their special tax treatment! As I read this story, I wonder if anyone even honestly entertains this. Not because I think it’s a bad idea, but because it seems so unlikely to actually succeed. Still, there is a Congresswoman who is pushing to make it happen.

So what brought this about, what would it mean for the rich and would it actually change things?

Fanning the Flames

What brought this idea about? Well, for years now Republicans seem to have become obsessed with drug testing the poor. Across the country lawmakers attempted to establish regulations for recipients of food stamps and welfare to make sure those who would be recreational drug users would not get these benefits. Examples:

  • Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker created legislation requiring those who applied for Temporary Assistant for Needy Families (TANF) to answer questions concerning their history of drug use. Based on the answers some would then have to submit to urinalysis to receive social aid.

  • Florida

You may remember we touched on Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida who pushed for a drug testing policy. However, in 4 months there were only 108 applicants out of 4,086 who actually tested positive for illegal drugs. This shows the policies are incredibly inefficient and expensive. Not to mention nowhere near cost-effective.

  • Tennessee

Tennessee had a drug testing policy for welfare and food stamps put in place. But after an entire year the program only denied 30 people out of 28,559 applications based on failed drug testing.

Time and time again trying to impose a rule, which many have described as blatantly discriminatory, to further inhibit the disenfranchised has proven expensive and embarrassing.

Drug Testing Double Standards

After all this, Democratic Representative Gwen Moore has decided she is sick of these one-sided and offensive regulations which she called “criminalization of poverty” being pushed by Republicans. So, to make a bold statement that challenges the double standard these kinds of drug testing policies seem to promote, she proposed a bill called “Top 1% Accountability Act” to level the field.

What is the aim of this ambitious act? Anyone claiming itemized tax deductions over $150,000 per year must pass a urinalysis in order to get full benefits. Moore thinks since the richest Americans take advantage of their tax breaks they should be held accountable for drug use.

But why?

Well, drug testing poor people in order for them to obtain social help is rooted in stigma, enforcing the idea that poor people are addicts. Moore isn’t making this stuff up. A variety of studies analyzing drug testing of welfare recipients show these people are no more likely to use drugs than the general population.

No More Rich VS Poor

In essence, if you want to say that the poor need to be clean in order to get help from the government, why should rich people get a pass for abuse illegal drugs when they ask for lenience on their taxes? If rich people can drug test the poor to save tax-payer dollars, isn’t it only fair that the richest people should be drug tested in order to save on the taxes they pay for all the hundreds of thousands they make?

Plus, if a poor person fails drug testing, there may be a little chunk of money saved from welfare and food stamps, but history has shown it is not even worth the expense of testing. But, if a rich person fails their drug testing they are going to pay a much larger chunk of change into taxes and helping the economy.

Plenty of states have already spent enough on programs to drug test for social assistance that don’t seem worth the effort, so maybe it’s time we move past stigma into a solution. Combating drug abuse and the fight against addiction can start with the right treatment program. 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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