NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s Board of Medical Examiners voted to lift the cap on the number of patients a doctor can treat with medical marijuana at its meeting here Monday.
After a smashing success with SMPL’s 2018 Lobby Day, the organization is now shepherding several important reform bills through the legislature. From multiple medical marijuana (mmj) or therapeutic Cannabis bills to a statewide decriminalization effort, the organization is pushing many long overdue reforms. We are able to do this, of course, in large part because of the help that the organization gets from its many members and allies. Together, these citizens and citizen’s groups have helped Representative Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, pass his omnibus mmj reform bill (HB 579) out of the House Health and Welfare Committee (8-4). This essential bill, in its current form, adds chronic pain, PTSD and restores glaucoma as qualifying conditions or “disease states” to the Alison Neustrom Act, but it would also provide physicians with the option to discuss inhalation as a delivery method for Cannabis-based medicines in cases where patients might respond better to that option. Most of the 30 states + D.C. that have a functioning mmj program allow inhalation which is deemed essential for certain patients like those suffering from break-through pain or seizures who cannot wait the 45-60 minutes it sometimes takes for orally ingested medicine to take effect. Through inhalation, which does not include smoking under any circumstance, the patient is able to inhale vapors via an atomizer, inhaler or vaporizer that can transport the medicine to his or her lungs and into the bloodstream almost immediately or within just a few minutes. That critical bill which is considered indispensable to a properly functioning mmj system and without which Louisiana is not even counted among the 30 legal mmj states by national reform groups, is presently scheduled to be considered by the full House tomorrow (April 12).
In addition to that bill, SMPL has authored other essential reforms like the Sunset Bill and the THC Cap Removal Bill as well as the statewide Decriminalization bill. Among these, only the Sunset Bill has been considered in committee where today, it passed unanimously out of the same House Health and Welfare Committee that previously passed James’ HB 579. Watch this bill too and call, write or email your elected officials to show your support as HB 823 will remove the “Sunset” provision or deadline for the entire statewide program beyond which the law would need to be reauthorized by the entire legislature in order to survive. Presently, the program expires in 2020 unless reauthorized by both chambers. HB 823 makes mmj in LA permanent under state law. Tune in, sign up and help out!
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President Trump has again hinted at wanting the death penalty for drug dealers. It’s “a discussion we have to start thinking about,” he said at a Saturday night rally in Pennsylvania. But he added, “I don’t know if this country’s ready for it.”
“Do you think the drug dealers who kill thousands of people during their lifetime, do you think they care who’s on a blue-ribbon committee?” Trump asked Saturday. “The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness.”
As The Washington Post reported, it was not the first time Trump had suggested the United States might consider executing drug dealers. Earlier this month, he suggested it might help solve the opioid crisis. And as The Post’s Katie Zezima reported, Trump has privately expressed interest in Singapore’s policy of executing drug dealers.
The Post reported Friday that the Trump administration was considering policy changes to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty — and that Singaporean representatives have briefed senior White House officials on their country’s drug policies
Trump’s comments have been consistent with his penchant for embracing no-holds-barred policies and rhetoric on drug crimes, from his Justice Department’s directive to federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest penalties possible, to his extraordinary endorsement of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose drug war has left thousands of suspected drug dealers dead without as much as a day in court.
But Singapore’s unyielding stance on law and order has long raised red flags among human-rights groups, especially as more countries eliminate the death penalty. Advocates say Singapore’s judicial process is often shrouded in secrecy and misinformation and is designed to tip the scales of justice heavily toward prosecutors, who have nearly limitless power over who dies and who is spared.
The method of execution has also been met with harsh criticism.
People convicted of capital offenses in Singapore are executed by hanging, which Kirsten Han, co-founder of an anti-death penalty group in Southeast Asia, described in chilling detail: “A noose — measured according to the individual’s height — is placed over the prisoner’s head, the knot behind the right ear to ensure the spinal cord is snapped upon the impact of the long drop through the trapdoor.”
Families are never present, just prison officers and doctors.
In a seemingly unusual part of the execution practice in Singapore, the small city-state once known as the world’s most active executioner per capita, those condemned to die are allowed to change into regular clothes the day before they’re killed — so they can pose for a picture that will be given to loved ones as a keepsake.
Australia’s then-attorney general called the method “a most unfortunate, barbaric act” in 2005, when an Australian heroin trafficker was executed in Changi Prison. Many Australians held candlelit vigils on the eve of Nguyen Tuong Van’s execution.
Hanging was the most common method of execution in the United States in the 1800s before widespread adoption of the electric chair. It remains widespread in several countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
It is the lone method of capital punishment in Singapore, where executions are on the decline: The government has executed 24 people over the past decade — 16 of whom were convicted of drug crimes.
Singapore’s mandatory death sentence would be imposed equally on a person who trafficked more than 15 grams of heroin and a person who bombed a government building and killed dozens. To place this in context, trafficking a much larger amount of heroin in the United States — 100 to 999 grams — is punishable by five to 40 years in prison.
Similarly, Singapore has some of the world’s toughest gun laws. For example, a person who fires a gun, or attempts to fire a gun, while committing a crime in Singapore faces a mandatory death sentence upon conviction — even if nobody is wounded or killed.
“Simply having the keys to a car or to a room or to a house where drugs were found” means that a person is a presumed drug trafficker and, therefore, could face the death penalty, said Chiara Sangiorgio, a death penalty expert for Amnesty International.
Hence, there is no presumption of innocence. The burden of proof is on the accused, who are often poor people far down the drug chain, and foreigners who might not be fluent in the local languages, Sangiorgio said.
Advocates say there’s no evidence that executions are any more of a crime deterrent than lesser punishments. In 2009, researchers from Columbia Law School compared murder rates in Singapore and Hong Kong, where capital punishment was abolished in 1993, and found little difference.
But Singaporean officials have long insisted that the specter of death, particularly for drug traffickers, has worked for their city-state.
“Singapore is relatively drug-free, and the administration is under control. There are no drug havens, no no-go zones, no drug production centers, no needle exchange programs,” K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s minister of home affairs and law, said in 2016.
A “soft approach,” he said, would flood the island state with narcotics — a line of thinking that appears to be similar to Trump’s.
The number of executions every year, however, has significantly dropped, and changes have been adopted.
Singapore, which is about half the size of Los Angeles, executed 76 people in 1994 and 73 in 1995, when the population was just more than 3 million. In 2015 and 2016, there were just eight executions in total on the island — five for people convicted of drug crimes.
Changes in 2013 to Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act gave judges leeway in sentencing if defendants meet two conditions: (1) they were merely couriers or drug mules and (2) they have greatly cooperated with law-enforcement officers by tipping them about other drug traffickers. Alternatively, those who have proven that they are couriers can also be spared if they are mentally or intellectually disabled. A judge can impose lesser sentences, such as life imprisonment and caning — a type of punishment that drew controversy in the United States in 1994, when a 19-year-old American was caned for vandalism.
The revised laws have cut the number of those sentenced to death. According to a recent study by Amnesty International, 38 out of 93 people convicted of murder and drug trafficking from Jan. 1, 2013, were spared from hanging.
Shanmugam, the Singaporean minister, also said last year that the drug trade has hardly flourished since the changes: Officials have caught 90 traffickers since 2012 through the help of drug couriers who cooperate in exchange for leniency, he said.
Eugene K.B. Tan, a professor at the Singapore Management University School of Law, called the revisions “tempering justice with mercy” in a 2016 column for the Straits Times.
“The Government has determined that the mandatory death penalty (MDP) may not be needed for all types of serious crimes. This is an important first step, notwithstanding the attraction and force of the MDP was its unequivocal demonstration of zero tolerance and resolve in maximum deterrence,” Tan wrote. “Yet, the shift to the discretionary death penalty regime should not be misconstrued as Singapore letting up on drug trafficking and murders. Instead, this shift was necessary to retain public confidence and legitimacy in our administration of criminal justice.”
But the revisions did little to ease the concerns of human-rights advocates.
Amnesty International analyzed judgments issued by Singapore’s High Court and Court of Appeal on the cases of 137 people charged with capital offenses from 2008, five years before the changes took place, to 2017, four years after. The organization said it found that although executions are happening far less often, major human-rights violations still occur.
Defense attorneys, for example, are never present during interrogations. In many cases, particularly in the case of foreigners, the statements that lead to conviction were either misrepresented or were lost in translation, Sangiorgio said.
Prosecutors and not the judges still have unchallenged power to decide whether defendants should be spared from the gallows based on their level of cooperation. Prosecutors must first issue what is called a “certificate of substantive assistance,” which confirms that a defendant has given them substantial information about other drug traffickers. Only then can judges decide on a lesser punishment. In many cases, however, defendants can be so far down the drug hierarchy that they do not have any meaningful information to give, Sangiorgio said.
“In other words, people pay with their lives for failing to provide information which they are incapable of providing,” according to the study.
Take, for example, the case of a 32-year-old Malaysian man who was convicted after the Central Narcotics Bureau found him with 16.56 grams of heroin, just above the legal threshold. He told police that a friend had offered to pay him the equivalent of $236 to deliver the heroin. His attorney asked the High Court to consider him a courier, but prosecutors, without explanation, declined to issue a certificate of substantive assistance, leaving the judge with no other choice but to sentence him to death.
Here’s how the High Court described the state of affairs in a 2016 ruling on the case of a man who was convicted of trafficking more than 100 grams of heroin:
“He is not given a certificate of substantive assistance. … We do not know why. He might not have much assistance to give. He might have declined to assist, in which event we do not know if his depressive illness had any connection to that attitude. … The language of the law here is precise and simple. Life, on the other hand, is not so. Every life is complex in its own way. The mandatory death penalty has been the law for a long time and I do not think that in providing the changes set out in [Section 33B Parliament] has become more lenient towards drug trafficking. This crime is no less serious today than it was before the amendment.”
Singapore and the United States were among the 40 countries and territories that voted against a United Nations resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions in 2016.
Axios reporter Jonathan Swan first reported in February that Trump had been pondering the idea of executing drug traffickers and that the president had “talked up” executions of drug dealers in China, the Philippines and Singapore to not just confidants but also members of Congress and some foreign leaders.
At the White House’s opioid summit at the beginning of March, the president said the United States needs to be “very strong on penalties,” but he did not explicitly say that he wants capital punishment for drug dealers.
“If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them…. Some countries have a very, very tough penalty, the ultimate penalty,” the president said, without naming any specific country. “And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do.”
This post, originally published on Feb. 27, has been updated.
CALL FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA SUPPORTERS TO JOIN US AT THE CAPITOL FOR SMPL LOBBY DAY 2018
Inclusion of Chronic Pain, PTSD AND Inhalation in State Law
The reform of Cannabis law is a hot topic nationwide. The Louisiana Medical Marijuana Law is evolving, and the non-profit organization SENSIBLE MARIJUANA POLICY of LOUISIANA (SMPL) is urging the Louisiana Legislature to expand eligible medical conditions to include chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as to permit inhalation/vaporization as a delivery method for patients who need it.
This Wednesday, March 28, 2018, SMPL will have a table in the rotunda of the State Capitol in between the two chambers. SMPL invites all patients, caregivers and supporters of Medical Marijuana to join us and help create the changes needed for a sustainable program that will be meaningful for the patients involved.
S.M.P.L. Lobby Day
Wednesday, March 28th 9-5pm
State Capitol Rotunda table between Senate and House chambers
Join SMPL (Sensible Marijuana Policy of Louisiana) to speak on behalf of patients for the inclusion of PTSD, Chronic Pain as qualifying conditions and inhalation as a delivery method in Louisiana’s new medical marijuana program. All patients, caregivers and supporters of Medical Marijuana are welcome.
SMPL is an organization dedicated to statewide coalition building, sound policy research, education and advocacy for substantive drug law reform. The non-profit organization wishes to undo some of the deep damage that results from the stigmatism of any non-violent fully consenting private consumption of a naturally occurring medicinal plant. www.smplouisiana.org
While 15,000 Americans die from prescription opiate overdoses each year, medical cannabis has not caused a fatal overdose. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that medical cannabis laws are associated with a 25% lower rate of fatal prescription opiate overdoses than states without the laws. Studies have shown medical Cannabis allows patients to reduce or eliminate their need for dangerous prescription painkillers.
CURRENT MEDICAL CONDITIONS APPROVED for MEDICAL MARIJUANA DOCTOR RECOMMENDATION:
Patients in Louisiana diagnosed with one of the following severe, debilitating or life-threatening medical conditions, are afforded legal protection under the Louisiana Medical Marijuana law:
- Cancer, HIV/AIDS or the treatment of these conditions
- A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following:
For more information and interview requests, contact: Bonnie Burkert, 213–200-0786.
With years of passionate and steady effort, we’ve made significant progress on drug law reform in Louisiana. Thing is, there’s a lot left to do. We’re not there yet. It takes a while. Always does. What it also takes, though, is teamwork. A lot of people have to get motivated. People have to get sick of waiting or hearing empty excuses from the opponents of reform. We have to be motivated to challenge and cut through the lies to get at sounder public policy. It isn’t as hard as we always imagined. Hard for Louisiana so far, yes. But it isn’t as if Louisiana is writing anything new in the play book. Other states are literally decades ahead of us and benefitting mightily from it.. So what’s it take to move the bar? You. Yeah, you. You gotta sign up, plug in and help out. Together, we will change laws right here in our house. In the people’s house. Together we can shine a brighter light on on the motivations of our opposition. Please join us here at SMPL as the state’s oldest and best established Cannabis reform organization.
February 8th, 2017 by Tom Angell
A bipartisan group of seven Republicans and six Democrats filed new Congressional legislation that would protect people who are acting in compliance with state marijuana laws from federal prosecution and punishment.
Titled the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017,” the bill adds a new provision to the Controlled Substances Act that reads:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.”
In a lengthy floor speech announcing the bill, chief sponsor Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) argued that the legislation falls in line with the principles of limited government and states’ rights that so many in his party profess to value:
“My bill would then make sure that Federal law is aligned with the States’ and the people in those States’ desires so that the residents and businesses wouldn’t have to worry about Federal prosecution. For those few States that have thus far maintained a policy of strict prohibition, my bill would change nothing. I think that this is a reasonable compromise that places the primary responsibility of police powers back in the States and the local communities that are most directly affected.”
“I happen to believe that the Federal Government shouldn’t be locking up anyone for making a decision of what he or she should privately consume, whether that person is rich or poor, and we should never be giving people the excuse, especially Federal authorities, that they have a right to stop people or intrude into their lives in order to prevent them and prevent others from smoking a weed, consuming something they personally want to consume.”
Rohrabacher, who ardently supported Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and was reportedly considered as a possible secretary of state nominee, cited the new president’s pledges to respect state marijuana laws.
The California congressman then gave a bit of a history lesson, likening current federal policy impeding state laws to the British monarchy that U.S. founding fathers rebelled against, and comparing marijuana criminalization to the earlier failed prohibition of alcohol.
Turning one marijuana stereotype on its head, he decried the federal government’s “paranoia” regarding the truth about marijuana as evidenced by the DEA’s longstanding efforts to block research on its medical benefits.
And referencing the increasingly contentious debate about health care reform, Rohrabacher said:
“Remember, as we discuss people’s health care, Republicans over and over again say: You shouldn’t get in between a doctor and his patient. We believe in the doctor-patient relationship. That is true for medical marijuana as well. Do we believe in these principles?”
The new bill is the fourth piece of marijuana reform legislation to be introduced in the 115th Congress.
It is is identical to a bill Rohrabacher and others filed in the last Congress, which ended up garnering 20 co-sponsors but did not receive a hearing or a vote.
An Israeli government committee gave an initial nod on Sunday for the export of medical marijuana in what could be a windfall for companies in Israel, widely regarded as a leader in research in the field.
A government statement announcing the vote said it could take months for the legislation to make its way through parliament.
In the United States, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and since 2012, Colorado, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have also approved marijuana for recreational use. The market there, by some estimates, will reach $50 billion over the next decade.
Israel is widely regarded as one of the world leaders in medical marijuana research, even though the local market is small. Only 23,000 people have Health Ministry permits to purchase medical cannabis from nine licensed suppliers, creating a market of $15 million to $20 million at most.
Saul Kaye, CEO of iCAN, a private cannabis research hub in Israel, said there are about 50 Israeli medical marijuana companies active in many aspects of the industry, from agriculture to delivery devices, such as inhalers.
Kaye estimated that international investments in Israeli companies reached about $100 million in 2016.
Last month, Israel moved toward decriminalizing small-scale personal use of marijuana and authorities are supportive of research. Israeli Health Minister Yakov Litzman supports medical cannabis usage and has introduced steps to ease its prescription and sale.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)