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CRS Insights — District of Columbia: Marijuana Decriminalization and Enforcement; Issues of Home Rule and Congressional Oversight

July 25, 2014 Comments off

CRS Insights — District of Columbia: Marijuana Decriminalization and Enforcement; Issues of Home Rule and Congressional Oversight (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Decriminalization of marijuana in the District is one of several issues that have engendered controversy and congressional intervention. Like the controversies surrounding the District’s medical marijuana initiative, needle exchange, and abortion services, the District’s marijuana decriminalization act pits the principle of home rule against Congress’s constitutional authority and prerogative to intervene in District affairs.

Supporters of the law point to the shift in public opinion surrounding the legalization of marijuana use; noting that the majority of the country favors legalization. They also note that the act is intended to address the racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates in the District. According to a committee report accompanying the legislation, blacks accounted for 90% of the marijuana arrests in the District despite evidence that they use marijuana at a rate comparable to use by whites. Supporters note that a single arrest for marijuana possession has a significant impact on future employment and career prospects.

Opponents of the law argue that enforcement will be problematic given the unique status of the District as the Nation’s Capital. On the one hand, possession of a small quantity of marijuana on non-federal lands would be reduced to a misdemeanor punishable by a small fine. On the other hand, possession of that same quantity of marijuana on federal lands, including the Mall, the National Zoo, and Rock Creek Park could be prosecuted, at the discretion of the Department of Justice, as a federal offense and subject the offender to six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine, given that marijuana is defined as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. §811). The matter of enforcement is further complicated by the presence of 32 federal law enforcement agencies that provide assistance to the District’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) through cooperative agreements that expand the area of jurisdiction an agency’s law enforcement personnel may patrol with the power to arrest.

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U.S. Sentencing Commission Authorizes Delayed Retroactive Sentence Reductions for Drug Offenders

July 19, 2014 Comments off

U.S. Sentencing Commission Authorizes Delayed Retroactive Sentence Reductions for Drug Offenders (PDF)
Source: United States Sentencing Commission

On July 18, 2014, the Commission voted unanimously to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively. Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts to reduce their sentences. Offenders whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than November 1, 2015.

+ Retroactivity Amendment and Synopsis (PDF)
+ Chair’s Remarks on Retroactivity Vote (PDF)
+ Public Comment on Retroactivity
+ Impact Analysis: Retroactive Application of 2014 Drug Guidelines Amendment (PDF)
+ Recidivism Analysis: Offenders Receiving Retroactive Sentence Reductions (PDF)

Decline in Drug Overdose Deaths After State Policy Changes — Florida, 2010–2012

July 15, 2014 Comments off

Decline in Drug Overdose Deaths After State Policy Changes — Florida, 2010–2012
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

During 2003–2009, the number of deaths caused by drug overdose in Florida increased 61.0%, from 1,804 to 2,905, with especially large increases in deaths caused by the opioid pain reliever oxycodone and the benzodiazepine alprazolam (1). In response, Florida implemented various laws and enforcement actions as part of a comprehensive effort to reverse the trend. This report describes changes in overdose deaths for prescription and illicit drugs and changes in the prescribing of drugs frequently associated with these deaths in Florida after these policy changes. During 2010–2012, the number of drug overdose deaths decreased 16.7%, from 3,201 to 2,666, and the deaths per 100,000 persons decreased 17.7%, from 17.0 to 14.0. Death rates for prescription drugs overall decreased 23.2%, from 14.5 to 11.1 per 100,000 persons. The decline in the overdose deaths from oxycodone (52.1%) exceeded the decline for other opioid pain relievers, and the decline in deaths for alprazolam (35.6%) exceeded the decline for other benzodiazepines. Similar declines occurred in prescribing rates for these drugs during this period. The temporal association between the legislative and enforcement actions and the substantial declines in prescribing and overdose deaths, especially for drugs favored by pain clinics, suggests that the initiatives in Florida reduced prescription drug overdose fatalities.

CRS — Domestic Federal Law Enforcement Coordination: Through the Lens of the Southwest Border

July 8, 2014 Comments off

Domestic Federal Law Enforcement Coordination: Through the Lens of the Southwest Border (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

Federally led law enforcement task forces and intelligence information sharing centers are ubiquitous in domestic policing. They are launched at the local, state, and national levels and respond to a variety of challenges such as violent crime, criminal gangs, terrorism, white-collar crime, public corruption, even intelligence sharing. This report focuses on those task forces and information sharing efforts that respond to federal counterdrug and counterterrorism priorities in the Southwest border region. More generally, the report also offers context for examining law enforcement coordination. It delineates how this coordination is vital to 21st century federal policing and traces some of the roots of recent cooperative police endeavors.

Vital Signs: Variation Among States in Prescribing of Opioid Pain Relievers and Benzodiazepines — United States, 2012

July 3, 2014 Comments off

Vital Signs: Variation Among States in Prescribing of Opioid Pain Relievers and Benzodiazepines — United States, 2012
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

Background:
Overprescribing of opioid pain relievers (OPR) can result in multiple adverse health outcomes, including fatal overdoses. Interstate variation in rates of prescribing OPR and other prescription drugs prone to abuse, such as benzodiazepines, might indicate areas where prescribing patterns need further evaluation.

Methods:
CDC analyzed a commercial database (IMS Health) to assess the potential for improved prescribing of OPR and other drugs. CDC calculated state rates and measures of variation for OPR, long-acting/extended-release (LA/ER) OPR, high-dose OPR, and benzodiazepines.
Results: In 2012, prescribers wrote 82.5 OPR and 37.6 benzodiazepine prescriptions per 100 persons in the United States. State rates varied 2.7-fold for OPR and 3.7-fold for benzodiazepines. For both OPR and benzodiazepines, rates were higher in the South census region, and three Southern states were two or more standard deviations above the mean. Rates for LA/ER and high-dose OPR were highest in the Northeast. Rates varied 22-fold for one type of OPR, oxymorphone.

Conclusions:
Factors accounting for the regional variation are unknown. Such wide variations are unlikely to be attributable to underlying differences in the health status of the population. High rates indicate the need to identify prescribing practices that might not appropriately balance pain relief and patient safety.

Implications for Public Health:
State policy makers might reduce the harms associated with abuse of prescription drugs by implementing changes that will make the prescribing of these drugs more cautious and more consistent with clinical recommendations.

UN World Drug Report 2014

July 2, 2014 Comments off

World Drug Report 2014
Source: United Nations
From press release (PDF):

Drug use prevalence is stable around the world, according to the 2014 World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with around 243 million individuals, or 5 per cent of the world’s population aged 15- 64 having used an illicit drug in 2012. Problem drug users meanwhile numbered about 27 million, roughly 0.6 per cent of the world’s adult population, or 1 in every 200 people.

Not an ‘Ebay for Drugs’: The Cryptomarket ‘Silk Road’ as a Paradigm Shifting Criminal Innovation

June 6, 2014 Comments off

Not an ‘Ebay for Drugs’: The Cryptomarket ‘Silk Road’ as a Paradigm Shifting Criminal Innovation
Source: Social Science Research Network

The online cryptomarket Silk Road has been oft-characterised as an ‘eBay for drugs’ with customers drug consumers making personal use-sized purchases. Our research demonstrates that this was not the case. Using a bespoke web crawler, we downloaded all drugs listings on Silk Road in September 2013. We found that a substantial proportion of transactions on Silk Road are best characterised as ‘business-to-business’, with sales in quantities and at prices typical of purchases made by drug dealers sourcing stock. High price-quantity sales generated between 31-45% of revenue, making sales to drug dealers the key Silk Road drugs business. As such, Silk Road was what we refer to as a transformative, as opposed to incremental, criminal innovation. With the key Silk Road customers actually drug dealers sourcing stock for local street operations, we were witnessing a new breed of retail drug dealer, equipped with a technological subcultural capital skill set for sourcing stock. Sales on Silk Road increased from an estimate of $14.4 million in mid 2012 to $89.7 million by our calculations. This is a more than 600% increase in just over a year, demonstrating the demand for this kind of illicit online marketplace. With Silk Road functioning to considerable degree at the wholesale/broker market level, its virtual location should reduce violence, intimidation and territorialism. Results are discussed in terms of the opportunities cryptomarkets provide for criminologists, who have thus far been reluctant to step outside of social surveys and administrative data to access the world of ‘webometric’ and ‘big data’.

Outbreaks of Infections Associated With Drug Diversion by US Health Care Personnel

June 5, 2014 Comments off

Outbreaks of Infections Associated With Drug Diversion by US Health Care Personnel (PDF)
Source: Mayo Clinic Proceedings

Objective
To summarize available information about outbreaks of infections stemming from drug diversion in US health care settings and describe recommended protocols and public health actions.

Patients and Methods
We reviewed records at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to outbreaks of infections from drug diversion by health care personnel in US health care settings from January 1, 2000, through December 31, 2013. Searches of the medical literature published during the same period were also conducted using PubMed. Information compiled included health care setting(s), infection type(s), specialty of the implicated health care professional, implicated medication(s), mechanism(s) of diversion, number of infected patients, number of patients with potential exposure to blood-borne pathogens, and resolution of the investigation.

Results
We identified 6 outbreaks over a 10-year period beginning in 2004; all occurred in hospital settings. Implicated health care professionals included 3 technicians and 3 nurses, one of whom was a nurse anesthetist. The mechanism by which infections were spread was tampering with injectable controlled substances. Two outbreaks involved tampering with opioids administered via patient-controlled analgesia pumps and resulted in gram-negative bacteremia in 34 patients. The remaining 4 outbreaks involved tampering with syringes or vials containing fentanyl; hepatitis C virus infection was transmitted to 84 patients. In each of these outbreaks, the implicated health care professional was infected with hepatitis C virus and served as the source; nearly 30,000 patients were potentially exposed to blood-borne pathogens and targeted for notification advising testing.

Conclusion
These outbreaks revealed gaps in prevention, detection, and response to drug diversion in US health care facilities. Drug diversion is best prevented by health care facilities having strong narcotics security measures and active monitoring systems. Appropriate response includes assessment of harm to patients, consultation with public health officials when tampering with injectable medication is suspected, and prompt reporting to enforcement agencies.

See also press release: CDC Report: Patients Harmed After Health Care Providers Steal Patients’ Drugs

European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments

June 2, 2014 Comments off

European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments
Source: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction

How many new drugs were detected in Europe over the last year? Is cannabis getting stronger? How many Europeans have ever used an illicit drug? What are the latest drug policy developments in the region? These are just some of the questions explored in the European Drug Report: Trends and developments. This report provides a top-level overview of the long-term drug-related trends and developments at European level, while homing in on emerging problems in specific countries. Such a perspective is valuable, as it allows differing national experiences to be understood within the broader European context.

On the Distributed Costs of Drug-Related Homicides

May 27, 2014 Comments off

On the Distributed Costs of Drug-Related Homicides
Source: Center for Global Development

Reliable estimates of the effects of violence on economic outcomes are scarce. We exploit the manyfold increase in homicides in 2008-2011 in Mexico resulting from its war on organized drug traffickers to estimate the effect of drug-related homicides on house prices. We use an unusually rich dataset that provides national coverage on house prices and homicides and exploit within-municipality variations. We find that the impact of violence on housing prices is borne entirely by the poor sectors of the population. An increase in homicides equivalent to one standard deviation leads to a 3% decrease in the price of low-income housing. In spite of this large burden on the poor, the willingness to pay in order to reverse the increase in drug-related crime is not high. We estimate it to be approximately 0.1% of Mexico’s GDP.

Methamphetamine trafficking increases, new psychoactive substances flood markets, according to new UNODC report

May 26, 2014 Comments off

Methamphetamine trafficking increases, new psychoactive substances flood markets, according to new UNODC report
Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Synthetic drugs are taking an ever-greater share of the illicit drugs market, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). New psychoactive substances (NPS) are also flooding a market for synthetic drugs long dominated by amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), such as ecstasy and methamphetamine, which are more widely used than cocaine, opium or heroin.

Rates of methamphetamine seizures are higher than ever across the world, largely driven by the rise in seizures in East and South-East Asia as well as in North America, according to the 2014 Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment . Methamphetamine, which can seriously harm users, continues to spread in Asia, posing a growing challenge to health care providers and drug control authorities dealing with large youthful populations. Methamphetamine supply grew rapidly in Asia, already the largest market for ATS, between 2008 and 2012 when methamphetamine seizures tripled to 36 tons.

CRS — Afghanistan: Drug Trafficking and the 2014 Transition

May 19, 2014 Comments off

Afghanistan: Drug Trafficking and the 2014 Transition (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Afghanistan is the world’s primary source of opium poppy cultivation and opium and heroin production, as well as a major global source of cannabis (marijuana) and cannabis resin (hashish). Drug trafficking, a long-standing feature of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban political economy, is linked to corruption and insecurity, and provides a source of illicit finance for non-state armed groups. Based on recent production and trafficking trends, the drug problem in Afghanistan appears to be worsening—just as the U.S. government finalizes plans for its future relationship with the government of Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond and reduces its counternarcotics operational presence in the country to Kabul, the national capital. As coalition combat operations in Afghanistan draw to a close in 2014, and as the full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces is achieved, some Members of the 113th Congress have expressed concern regarding the future direction and policy prioritization of U.S. counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan in light of diminishing resources and an uncertain political and security environment in 2015 and beyond.

SEC Warns Investors About Marijuana-Related Investments Amid Recent Trading Suspensions

May 16, 2014 Comments off

SEC Warns Investors About Marijuana-Related Investments Amid Recent Trading Suspensions
Source: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

The Securities and Exchange Commission today cautioned investors about the potential for fraud in microcap companies that claim their operations relate to the marijuana industry after the agency suspended trading in the fifth such company within the past two months.

The SEC issued an investor alert warning about possible scams involving marijuana-related investments, noting that fraudsters often exploit the latest growth industry to lure investors with the promise of high returns. “For marijuana-related companies that are not required to report with the SEC, investors may have limited information about the company’s management, products, services, and finances,” the SEC’s alert says. “When publicly available information is scarce, fraudsters can more easily spread false information about a company, making profits for themselves while creating losses for unsuspecting investors.”

Spearheaded by its Microcap Fraud Task Force, the SEC Enforcement Division scours the microcap market and proactively identifies companies with publicly disseminated information that appears inadequate or potentially inaccurate. The SEC has the authority to issue trading suspensions against such companies while the questionable activity is further investigated.

CRS — Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress

May 14, 2014 Comments off

Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Central America faces significant security challenges. Criminal threats, fragile political and judicial systems, and social hardships such as poverty and unemployment contribute to widespread insecurity in the region. Consequently, improving security conditions in these countries is a difficult, multifaceted endeavor. Since U.S. drug demand contributes to regional security challenges and the consequences of citizen insecurity in Central America are potentially far-reaching, the United States is collaborating with countries in the region to implement and refine security efforts.

Improving Interagency Information Sharing Using Technology Demonstrations: The Legal Basis for Using New Sensor Technologies for Counterdrug Operations Along the U.S. Border

April 3, 2014 Comments off

Improving Interagency Information Sharing Using Technology Demonstrations: The Legal Basis for Using New Sensor Technologies for Counterdrug Operations Along the U.S. Border
Source: RAND Corporation

The Department of Defense (DoD) has developed new sensor technologies to support military forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. These new capabilities may be useful in counterdrug (CD) operations along the southern U.S. border. DoD has held technology demonstrations to test and demonstrate new technologies along the southern border — because the field conditions along the border closely resemble those in current military theaters of operation and because they can also reveal whether new technologies are useful for CD operations led by domestic law enforcement agencies. However, there are legal questions about whether such technology demonstrations fully comply with U.S. law and whether advanced DoD sensors can legally be used in domestic CD operations when they are operated by U.S. military forces.

In this report, the authors examine federal law and DoD policy to answer these questions. Some parts of U.S. law mandate information sharing among federal departments and agencies for national security purposes and direct DoD to play a key role in domestic CD operations in support of U.S. law enforcement agencies, while other parts of the law place restrictions on when the U.S. military may participate in law enforcement operations. Reviewing relevant federal law and DoD policy, the authors conclude that there is no legal reason why a DoD sensor should be excluded from use in an interagency technology demonstration or in an actual CD operation as long as a valid request for support is made by an appropriate law enforcement official and so long as no personally identifiable or private information is collected. The authors recommend DoD policy on domestic CD operations be formally clarified and that an approval process should be established for technology demonstrations with a CD nexus.

America’s New Drug Policy Landscape; Two-Thirds Favor Treatment, Not Jail, for Use of Heroin, Cocaine

April 3, 2014 Comments off

America’s New Drug Policy Landscape; Two-Thirds Favor Treatment, Not Jail, for Use of Heroin, Cocaine
Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

The public appears ready for a truce in the long-running war on drugs. A national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 67% of Americans say that the government should focus more on providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Just 26% think the government’s focus should be on prosecuting users of such hard drugs.

Support for a treatment-based approach to illegal drug use spans nearly all demographic groups. And while Republicans are less supportive of the treatment option than are Democrats or independents, about half of Republicans (51%) say the government should focus more on treatment than prosecution in dealing with illegal drug users.

As a growing number of states ease penalties for drug possession, the public expresses increasingly positive views of the move away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes. By nearly two-to-one (63% to 32%), more say it is a good thing than a bad thing that some states have moved away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders. In 2001, Americans were evenly divided over the move by some states to abandon mandatory drug terms.

The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults, finds that support for the legalization of marijuana use continues to increase. And fully 75% of the public –including majorities of those who favor and oppose the legal use of marijuana – think that the sale and use of marijuana will eventually be legal nationwide.

DoJ OIG — Review of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces Fusion Center

April 3, 2014 Comments off

Review of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces Fusion Center (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General

INTRODUCTION
This review examined the operations of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Fusion Center (OFC) and assessed its process for sharing its analytical products. The OFC is a multiagency intelligence center that produces intelligence products in response to requests from federal investigators (requesters). The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Special Operations Division (SOD) supports the OFC in developing these products.

ISSUES THAT AROSE DURING THE REVIEW
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) learned during the course of the review that OFC management took actions that created difficulties for us in obtaining information from OFC employees and in ensuring that interview responses were candid and complete.

We had issues in obtaining documents directly from OFC personnel. Further, two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) employees detailed to the OFC, who met with us to describe their concerns about the OFC’s operations, told us that thereafter they had been subjected to retaliation by the OFC Director. The OIG recently completed its review of these retaliation allegations and concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe that actions were taken against the FBI employees in reprisal for making protected disclosures. We have referred our findings to the appropriate authorities for adjudication and resolution under applicable law.

Given this troubling conduct, we cannot be sure we obtained complete information from or about the OFC or that other OFC employees may not have been deterred from coming forward and speaking candidly with us. The results of our review reflect the findings and conclusions that we were able to reach based on the information that was made available to us.

RESULTS IN BRIEF
Although we found that OFC products may provide information that is valued by the investigators and prosecutors who use them, the OIG review identified deficiencies in the OFC’s operations that could limit its contribution to the OCDETF Program’s effectiveness.

See:

The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006

April 2, 2014 Comments off

The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006
Source: PLoS ONE

Background
Debate has surrounded the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes for decades. Some have argued medical marijuana legalization (MML) poses a threat to public health and safety, perhaps also affecting crime rates. In recent years, some U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, reigniting political and public interest in the impact of marijuana legalization on a range of outcomes.

Methods
Relying on U.S. state panel data, we analyzed the association between state MML and state crime rates for all Part I offenses collected by the FBI.

Findings
Results did not indicate a crime exacerbating effect of MML on any of the Part I offenses. Alternatively, state MML may be correlated with a reduction in homicide and assault rates, net of other covariates.

Conclusions
These findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.

CRS — Marijuana: Medical and Retail–Selected Legal Issues

April 1, 2014 Comments off

Marijuana: Medical and Retail–Selected Legal Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) outlaws the possession, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana except for authorized research. Twenty states have regulatory schemes that allow possession, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Two have revenue regimes that allow possession, cultivation, or sale generally. The U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause preempts any state law that conflicts with federal law. Although there is some division, the majority of state courts have concluded that the federal-state marijuana law conflict does not require preemption of state medical marijuana laws. The legal consequences of a CSA violation, however, remain in place. Nevertheless, current federal criminal enforcement guidelines counsel confining investigations and prosecutions to the most egregious affront to federal interests.

How Big is the U.S. Market for Illegal Drugs?

March 11, 2014 Comments off

How Big is the U.S. Market for Illegal Drugs?
Source: RAND Corporation

Using data from 2000 to 2010, RAND researchers estimated the number of users, expenditures, and consumption for four illicit drugs: cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine (meth).

See also: What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs 2000–2010

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