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Chronicle AM: Dems Debate Drugs, Detroit Regulates Dispensaries, Amsterdam Ecstasy Rules, More (10/14/15)

Democratic contenders briefly touched on marijuana and sentencing policy during last night's debate, Ohio's largest medical marijuana group switches sides to endorse the legalization initiative, Detroit moves to regulate dispensaries, and more.

Amsterdam takes an enlightened approach to Ecstasy use at electronic dance music festivals. (
Marijuana Policy

In Democratic Debate, Sanders Says He Would Probably Vote "Yes" on Nevada Legalization. Sen. Bernie Sanders said "I suspect I would vote yes" when asked his stance on a marijuana legalization initiative in Nevada. Hillary Clinton said she wasn't ready to support legalizing marijuana, but supported medical marijuana. Both candidates also called for criminal justice system reforms and shorter drug sentences, as did the other contenders. Click on the link for more.

Ohio's Largest Medical Marijuana Group Endorses ResponsibleOhio Legalization Initiative. The Ohio Rights Group, the state's largest pro-medical marijuana organization, has shifted from opposing to supporting Issue 3, the controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The group said it would never get the funding to pay for its own medical marijuana initiative campaign and that other legalization proposals also lacked the support to make the ballot. ORG President Jack Pardee said that to oppose Issue 3 while there is no available alternative would be a disservice to patients.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Passes Dispensary Regulations. The city council Tuesday approved regulations to govern the city's booming dispensary business. There are an estimated 150 dispensaries operating in the city. Now, dispensaries will have to get a license or be shut down, and operators will have to undergo a police background check. The regulations also bar drive-through service and bans dispensaries from staying open 24 hours a day.


Amsterdam Fends Off Critics, Allows Possession of Five Ecstasy Tabs at EDM Festival. As the city hosts the annual electronic dance music festival Amsterdam Dance Event, attended by over 300,000 music fans, it is allowing festival-goers to possess up to five Ecstasy tablets. The move is a harm reduction measure, with authorities hoping the lenient stance will encourage pill testing and responsible behavior if problems arise. In the rest of the country, you can only possess one Ecstasy tablet without fear of arrest, and conservative politicians have been complaining about Amsterdam's stance, but the city is ignoring them.

Canada NDP Leader Says Party Would Move Toward Marijuana Legalization. New Democratic Party head Tom Mulcair has said that his party would immediately decriminalize pot possession if elected and then move toward legalization. "We are on track to full legalization, but it is more complicated than snapping your fingers. We are not going to have weed being sold at the LCBO tomorrow morning," Mulcair said. That's a slight advance in the NDP position, which had been that it would study the regulation and legalization of marijuana. The NDP's Liberal Party competitors have staked out a full legalization positions, while the governing Conservatives are firmly opposed. The election is later this month.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Music Festival Drug Deaths Spark Controversy, GOP Candidates on MedMJ, More (8/4/15)

GOP presidential contenders talk pot, drug overdose deaths at an LA music festival and an Italian nightclub excite controversy over how to respond, and more.

How to deal with drugs in club land -- bans, cops, or harm reduction? (
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Says Strictly Regulated Medical Marijuana Okay, But Not Legalization. The New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender told a crowd in Cedar Falls, Iowa, last Friday that medical marijuana should be allowed through tightly regulated, state-run programs, but that he would enforce federal law on recreational marijuana. "This is a decision on medical marijuana that I think needs to be made state-by-state," Christie said. "I don't want it used recreationally, but for medical purposes, it's helpful for certain adult illness and certain pediatric illness. So where it's helpful and when a doctor prescribes it, I have no problem with it."

Marco Rubio Says He's Willing to Look at Medical Marijuana, But Not Legalization. Florida senator and Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio said Tuesday that he could support medical marijuana if it went through an FDA approval process, but that he did not support full legalization. "I'm not in support of any additional intoxicants being legalized," he said at a Republican presidential forum in Manchester, New Hampshire.


In Wake of Two Overdose Deaths at HARD Summer Festival, LA Considers Ban on Music Festivals. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she planned to introduce a motion today to ban major music festivals on county property after two women died from suspected drug overdoses during the HARD Summer Festival in Pomona last weekend. "No one -- no one should have to lose their life while attending a public concert," Solis said, adding that she and Supervisor Michael Antonovich would propose a ban on "these kinds of events on county-owned land until we conduct a full investigation into this matter."

In Wake of Two Overdose Deaths at HARD Summer Festival, Experts Call for New Approaches to Festival Drug Use. The correct response to drug use at festivals is not to ban music events or focus on heavier policing, but to turn to harm reduction measures such as abundant free water and calm open spaces and to make drug information more available, experts responding to last weekend's overdose deaths at the HARD Summer Festival said. "What I want is for people to be safe, and we should be treating this as a public health issue," one expert said. "There needs to be a public health movement about this with education on campuses." Click on the link for much more.

Drug Testing

Ohio Republicans Revive Welfare Drug Testing Push. Legislators are preparing to once again try to pass welfare drug testing in the Buckeye State. Under the as yet un-filed bill, people applying for cash assistance would be forced to undergo screening for substance abuse. If the initial screening showed a likelihood of drug dependence, the applicant would be subjected to a drug test. If the applicant tests positive, he or she would be barred from receiving benefits for six months and would be referred to drug treatment.


Famous Italian Nightclub Closed After Ecstasy Overdose Death. Italian authorities have ordered a four-month closure of one of the country's most well-known nightclubs, Cocorico, after a 16-year-old died after taking Ecstasy there. The club is renowned for its enormous glass pyramid, which held raves with thousands of attendees. The move is proving controversial, with some consumer and health groups saying it didn't go far enough, while others said it was a severe overreaction.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: WA Gets Big Bucks From First Year Pot Taxes, Synthetic Drugs Now Banned in NH, More (7/6/15)

Marijuana sales tax revenues exceeded expectations in Washington state, New Hampshire bans new synthetics, Colombia's FARC rebels say they're ready to move on implementing drug provisions of the long-negotiated peace plan, and more.

You can't sell or possess this stuff in New Hampshire anymore. (
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Collected $70 Million in Marijuana Taxes During Its First Year of Sales. As its first year of legal marijuana sales came to an end, state officials reported that pot sales had generated $70 million in tax revenues and that sales are now topping more than $1.4 million a day. The state had originally forecast it would take in about $36 million in marijuana taxes in the first year. More much at the link.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Hampshire Governor Signs Synthetic Drug Ban Bill. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) today signed into law Senate Bill 106, which bans the sale and possession of new synthetic drugs. Businesses that sell the drugs could be hit with fines and civil violations, while people caught in possession will have their drugs seized and be hit with a fine. The new law goes into effect immediately.


FARC Says It's Ready to Move Forward With Implementing Drug Provisions of Colombia Peace Plan. FARC negotiators in peace talks with the Colombian government said they were ready to agree on procedures necessary for implementing that part of the peace plan. "To establish the basis for building a stable and lasting peace it is necessary, among other things, to find a definitive solution to the problem of illicit drugs, including the cultivation for illicit use and the production and commercialization of illicit drugs. One step in that direction, accompanied by other gestures of de-escalation, which in a short time may lead the parties to definitively suspend armed actions, would not only restore the confidence and credibility of the process but would also put it in a new place, safe from pressures and provocations of its enemies," said a communique read by FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, whose real name is Luis Antonio Losada. The agreement on drugs includes three provisions: crop substitution programs, public health efforts toward prevention, and dealing with drug trafficking.

Call for Ecstasy to Be Sold Over the Counter in Australia. A leading Australian pharmacist and a drug policy expert are calling for ecstasy to be sold legally to make it safer. Pharmacist Joshua Donelly, former chair of the Victoria drug policy drug policy advisory committee, and Professor David Pennington said most of the risks associated with ecstasy are a result of users taking adulterated black market pills. "Australians are one of the highest consumers of MDMA in the world, yet we resolutely resist exploring the fact that most of the uncommon ill consequences of its use arise from impurities in the illicitly manufactured drug and the 'illicit', uncontrolled circumstances of its use," Professor Penington said. Donnelly added that ecstasy caused "negligible" harm to users and people around them and was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

Chronicle AM: Chicago Cops Still Target Blacks for Pot, VT Ibogaine Bill, TX Med MJ Bill, More (3/16/15)

Chicago is still arresting way more blacks than whites for pot possession, marijuana bills are moving in Missouri, Texas sees full-blown medical marijuana bills filed, an ibogaine bill gets filed in Vermont, MAPS wins DEA approval for an ecstasy study, and more.


Chicago Pot Arrests Continue to Target Blacks. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that police statistics show "progress" being made in racial disparities around marijuana arrests (he says roughly the same percentage of whites are being ticketed instead of arrested as blacks), the numbers show that blacks are getting arrested for at a rate 16 times that of whites. More than 8,000 blacks were arrested for pot possession, but only 500 whites were, even though whites are 60% of the city's population. Blacks were busted for pot possession at a rate of 977 per 100,000, while whites were arrested at a rate of 60 per 100,000.

Alaska Regulation Bill Still Pending. Senate Bill 30, which seeks to adjust state criminal laws to recognize the legality of marijuana, is getting messy. The Senate Finance Committee was to finish work on the bill Saturday, but that didn't happen. The committee is split over an amendment that passed Friday on a 4-3 vote. That amendment would ban concentrates, including edibles, after two years. In addition to unhappiness over that measure, advocates say the language of the amendment is so unclear it could even ban marijuana leaves. Stay tuned.

Missouri Marijuana Bills Move. Committees in the legislature advanced four different marijuana bills last week. The House Corrections Committee approved HB 978, which would free Jeff Mizanskey, who is serving life without parole for a non-violent cannabis offense; the House Emerging Issues Committee approved a medical marijuana bill, HB 800, although it added restrictions; the House Economic Development and Business Attraction and Retention Committee approved an industrial hemp bill, HB 830, and the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee approved SB 386, which will expand the ailments for which CBD oil could be recommended, as well as increase the number of cultivators from two to 10 and dispensaries from six to 30.

New Mexico Senate Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate voted narrowly Saturday to approve marijuana decriminalization. Senate Bill 383 passed on a vote of 21-20. Under the bill, possession of an ounce of less would be a ticketable offense punishable by a $50 fine. The bill now goes to the House.

Medical Marijuana

Florida's CBD Cannabis Oil Program Delayed Again. For the second time, the Department of Health has posted "final rules" for the program, and now, for the second time, it is being challenged by lawsuits. That pushes back the timeline for getting the program up and running by another 60 to 90 days. It was supposed to be running by January 1.

Idaho Limited CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Moves. The Senate State Affairs Committee has narrowly approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, Senate Bill 1146. It passed on a 5-4 vote after law enforcement objections scuttled an earlier bill. The new bill only allows for an affirmative defense; the old one would have explicitly made it legal for patients and providers to possess the oils.

Texas Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. Rep. Marissa Marquez (D-El Paso) Friday introduced HB 3785, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, in the House, and Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) filed a companion bill in the Senate. The bills would allow qualifying patients to use and possess small amounts of marijuana and obtain it through regulated dispensaries.


Vermont Ibogaine Drug Treatment Pilot Program Bill Filed. Reps. Paul Dame (R-Essex Junction) and Rep. Joe Troiano (D-Stannard) have introduced HB 387, which would set up a pilot program to dispense the drug for substance abuse treatment. The bill goes to the House Committee on Human Services.


DEA Approves Study of MDMA for Anxiety in Terminal Illnesses. The DEA Friday approved a Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illnesses. The study will take place in Marin County, California, and will be conducted by Dr. Phil Wolfson.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Legislature Approves Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. The measure, House Bill 108, passed the House last month and the Senate last Thursday. The bill would allow pharmacists to prescribe naloxone to friends and family members of people at risk of an opiate overdose. It now goes to the governor's desk.

Law Enforcement

SUNY New Paltz Students Protest Honoring Campus Cops for Drug Busts. Students and community activists gathered together Friday to protest a police union award ceremony congratulating campus cops for having the highest percentage of on-campus drug arrests nationwide in 2013. "Don't honor the police for disturbing the peace!" read one sign. Students said they didn't have an on-campus drug problem, but an over-policing problem SUNY New Paltz police arrested 105 people for drugs on campus in 2013.

Chronicle AM: NV Pot Init Will Go to Voters Next Year, Dark Web Drug Bust, Saudis Behead Three, More (3/13/15)

Nevada is the first state in line to legalize it in 2016 after the legislature failed to act this week, a controversial Ohio legalization initiative wins a preliminary approval to move forward, there was a major dark web drug bust in Germany this week, and more.

thousands of ecstasy pills seized by German police in bust of one vendor on one dark web drug sales site

DC Cannabis Campaign to Host Pot Seed Exchange. The folks behind the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative will be hosting two seed exchanges this month. "This will be DC residents' opportunity to share seeds with other adults and start down the path of legally growing your own cannabis in the safety and privacy of your home," the campaign announced Thursday.

Nevada Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization Next Year. After the state legislature failed to act by a deadline today, marijuana legalization is headed to the ballot next year. Initiative organizers have already taken all the necessary steps for the vote to take place. The legislature could have approved the initiative itself, but instead punted. Read the initiative here.

Ohio Attorney General Approves Petition Summary for Responsible Ohio Legalization Initiative. The attorney general's approval means ResponsibleOhio now goes to the Ohio Ballot Board for its approval. Their meeting will take place in about 10 days. Read the ResponsibleOhio initiative here. If the Ballot Board approves, ResponsibleOhio must then gather 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters from at least 44 of 88 counties to get the measure on the fall ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Gets New GOP Cosponsor. A second Republican senator has signed on to the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act (Senate Bill 683). Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) joins fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul (KY) and Democrats Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY).

Georgia Senate Passes Restrictive CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate passed Senate Bill 185, which would allow parents bringing CBD cannabis oil into the state to treat their children with epilepsy to be exempted from criminal prosecution, but would not allow medical marijuana in any other form and would not let adults or children with other diseases use it. The House has passed a broader CBD bill; the Senate Health Committee chair has promised it will try to reconcile the two bills.


China Withdraws UN Motion to Make Ketamine a Controlled Substance. After lobbying from Canadian researchers and others who said ketamine is a crucial anesthetic for poorer countries, China today withdrew its motion before the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs to schedule the drug. The Chinese said they would defer their resolution for another year so ketamine can be studied more.

Germans in Major Dark Web Drug Bust. Police in Leipzig announced yesterday that they had raided 38 locations and arrested seven people, as well as seizing more than 700 pounds of cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines, marijuana, and hash. The bust was of only one seller on the dark website Evolution, but the Deep Dot Web blog, which closely tracks the online narcotics trade, calls the law enforcement operation the biggest Dark Web drug bust ever. Still, the vendor busted represented only a fraction of the 20,000 drug listings on Evolution, and that's just one dark web drug sales site.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Three For Drug Smuggling. A Yemeni, a Syrian, and a Saudi national were executed in the kingdom this week for smuggling amphetamines and hashish into the country. That makes about 20 drug executions so far this year in the county, about half of the 43 executions reported so far.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Pot Vapor Lounges, VA Pot Poll, Here Comes California, Iran Drug Executions, More (1/6/15)

Seattle's city attorney wants a place for marijuana users to congregate, California activists start moving toward 2016, Dr. David Nutt criticizes British Ecstasy policy, Iran starts the New Year with a bakers' dozen drug executions, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic executed more than 300 drug offenders last year. (
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants Marijuana Vapor Lounges. In a new memo on marijuana policy, City Attorney Peter Holmes is calling for the legalization of pot vapor lounges in the city. "Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options," he noted in the memo. "You can enforce that law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand," Holmes said. The lounges would be open only to those 21 and over, require customers to bring their own weed, and would only allow vaping, not smoking. Such a move would require the approval of the city council and the city health department.

Virginia Poll Finds Majority Support for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that 74% of respondents supported allowing medical marijuana and 60% supported decriminalization. The poll also had a near-majority for legalization, with 49% in favor and 44% opposed.

California Activists Set First Meeting for 2016 Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will kick off the effort to legalize pot in the state in 2016 with a meeting in Oakland this Friday. The meeting will be a seminar examining lessons from the successful initiative efforts in Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the roll-out of marijuana commerce in Colorado. Click on the link for meeting details.  

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Votes to Reschedule CBD, But Not Marijuana. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to move cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule I to Schedule II, but not marijuana. The board was acting on a petition from long-time activist Carl Olsen, who sought to have the whole plant rescheduled. But the board wasn't ready to do that. Olsen says while it isn't what he was asking for, it is a step in the right direction.


Washington State Defelonization Bill to Get Hearing. A bill that would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony will get a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on January 16. The bill is House Bill 1024, introduced by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), and is estimated to save the state millions in incarceration costs each year if passed. Fourteen other states have defelonized drug possession, with California being the most recent. Voters there approved a defelonization initiative in November.

Law Enforcement

Rolling Stone Exposé on Crooked Texas Border Drug Task Force. Rolling Stone has published an in-depth look at a South Texas drug task force, the infamous "Panama Unit" of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and the Mission Police Department. The extent of the thievery and corruption is mind-blowing. Well worth the read.


"Illogical and Punitive Drug Policy" to Blame for British Ecstasy Deaths, Prominent Critic Says. Dr. David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs who was fired for failing to toe the government's hard line of drug policy, has blamed that hard-line policy for the drug overdose deaths of four men in the past few days. The men thought they were taking Ecstasy, but a British government crackdown on the drug has led to it being substituted by a more lethal substance, PMA. That's the "illogical and punitive drug policy," Nutt was referencing. "The emergence of the more toxic PMA following the so-called ‘success’ in reducing MDMA production is just one of many examples of how prohibition of one drug leads to greater harm from an alternative that is developed to overcome the block," he added.

Mexican Army Kills Nine Civilians in Cartel-Plagued Michoacan. Nine civilians have been killed by Mexican soldiers in the town of Apatzigan, Michoacan, after the army tried to take control of city hall, which had been held for days by armed civilians. It's not clear who exactly was involved, but the western Mexican state has been plagued for years by violent drug trafficking organizations, and more recently, by armed vigilantes fighting the cartels.

Iran Greets New Year By Hanging 13 Drug Offenders. New Year's Day saw 13 drug offenders hanged in Iranian prisons, including four women. All had been convicted of drug trafficking. Iran hanged hundreds of drug traffickers last year, and it looks like it's off to a quick start this year, too. 

Check Those Pills! Harm Reduction and Club Drugs [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With the holiday break coming up soon, millions of young Americans will be looking to party. And tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them will be looking to stimulant drugs, especially Ecstasy (MDMA), to help them dance to the throbbing beats far into the night. MDMA is a synthetic stimulant with a chemical structure related to both methamphetamine and mescaline. It's great at providing the energy for partying the night away with a psychedelic tinge. The new scene drug, Molly, is simply Ecstasy in powdered form.

According to the 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 17 million Americans have taken Ecstasy at least once, more than a half million reported taking it within the past month, and about three-quarters of a million reported taking it for the first time that year. Those monthly-use and first-use figures have been roughly stable for the past few years.

Some of those fun-seekers are going to take too much. And some of them are going to end up ingesting something they thought was Ecstasy, but wasn't. And one or two or three of them might die. Despite breathless media reports, people dying from Ecstasy or from what they thought was Ecstasy or what they thought was a drug like Ecstasy, is not that big a problem, especially compared with the 16,000 or so people who died last year from opiate overdoses. The number of Ecstasy-related deaths each year ranges from the single digits to the low dozens.

Still it is a problem. Any avoidable death is a problem, and those deaths are largely avoidable. They occur because of varying combinations of ignorance, greed and bad public policy. Some people are working to prevent those deaths, and the work extends from the club or rave or festival door to the halls of power in Washington.

The harm reduction group Dance Safe is among those doing that work. The small non-profit offers educational services, encourages people to submit their pills for testing ("drug checking"), and has informational booths at venues that will let them.

Where 20 years ago, the Ecstasy and party drug scene was largely limited to word-of-mouth raves, things have changed, said Dance Safe executive director Missi Wooldridge.

"We've seen a real explosion in the scene that has been transformed from an underground rave culture to a real mainstream electronic dance music culture," she said. "People are likely to experiment with drugs at raves and dances, as well as with friends at parties or night clubs."

They are also likely to be ingesting either adulterated Ecstasy or other new synthetic drugs misleadingly marketed as Ecstasy. That is reflected in reports on drug checking websites such as Pill Reports and Ecstasy Data, as well as drug discussion forums like Bluelight.

Pill Reports warns that Yellow Pacman tablets found earlier this month in Kansas and Texas contain not MDMA but the synthetic methylone, a methcathinone stimulant that is a chemical analog to MDMA, but is not MDMA. And at least two different pills currently being peddled in Canada as Ecstasy are actually methamphetamine.

"A lot of what we're seeing is the new psychoactive substances infiltrating the market and the scene," said Wooldridge. "People can purchase these substances online. I see a lot of positive results for methcathinone, MDPV, methylone, and the like. Similarly, people think they're taking LSD, but it's actual N-Bomb, or maybe ketamine. People operate under misconceptions about what they're taking, and that can be serious because there are lots of differences in things like onset, duration and potency."

Educated, sophisticated drug consumers may take advantage of drug checking services, as well as have advanced understandings of drug potency, duration and the like, but they are a minority. Most people just want to party, and they want to do it with Ecstasy.

"In contrast with some places in Europe, the market for people seeking out new synthetics is very small in the US," said Stefanie Jones, nightlife community engagement manager at the Drug Policy Alliance "But that doesn't mean they're not here. Many of the people buying them are after MDMA, but here in the US, the market is young people, and many are not that well-informed or familiar with notions like drug checking to see what's in that powder. It's largely an uninformed market, so there's a lot of adulteration."

Dance Safe's Wooldridge concurred.

Web sites like will tell you whether your pills are bunk. Don't eat the Yellow Pacman! It's methylone.
"People are taking these substances unknowingly for the most part, rather than checking them out," the Denver-based activist said. "There is a relatively small segment that is into the experimentation and the understanding, but most users are not that sophisticated and are taking these drugs without really knowing what they are."

When people die, as two people did at New York's massive Electric Zoo festival last year, the pressure is on promoters and club owners to crack down on drugs, to increase security, even to decrease or do away with harm reduction measures out of fear of appearing to encourage drug use. In large part, that's because of the RAVE Act, a 2003 law sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) that threatens owners and promoters with possible criminal sanctions for encouraging drug use.

"The RAVE Act is the elephant in the room," said Wooldridge. "Its intent wasn't to harm or prosecute legitimate event producers, but to expand the crack house laws and go after people solely having events for drug use or sales. But there has been an unintended consequence. People in the industry fear that if they attempt to address drug use they'll be help legally liable for overdoses or other emergencies. Their legal teams and insurance companies say to stay clear, turn a blind eye, but that increases the risks. We need to educate the lawyers and insurers on this. Show me a case where an event producer has been prosecuted for doing harm reduction."

"If the law is making owners scared, we should change the law so they are explicitly protected," said Jones. "Put the focus on the health and safety of the patrons. Including harm reduction shouldn't be seen as encouraging drug activity, but as prioritizing health and safety. Changing the law at the federal level would send a message to the industry that harm reduction is valuable and you won't get in trouble, and that could change the landscape of festivals."

One woman is working to do just that. Dede Goldsmith didn't mean to become a reformer, but when her daughter, Shelley, a University of Virginia student, died after taking Ecstasy at Washington, DC electronic music show the same weekend at the Electonic Zoo last year, that's what happened.

She told Vox in an October interview that when one of Shelley's friends told her Shelley had taken Molly, her first response was, "Who is Molly?" In her search for answers, she came to the realization that Molly didn't kill her daughter; federal drug prohibition and policies that discourage education about safe drug use did.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death in August, Goldsmith launched the Amend the RAVE Act campaign. Its goal, Goldsmith says, is "to make EDM festivals and concerts safer for our young people. Specifically, I am asking for language to be added to the law to make it clear that event organizers and venue owners can implement safety measures to reduce the risk of medical emergencies, including those associated with drug use, without fear of prosecution by federal authorities. As the law currently stands, many owners believe that they will be accused of 'maintaining a drug involved premises' under the act if they institute such measures, opening themselves to criminal or civil prosecution."

Irony alert: Shelley Goldsmith meets RAVE Act author Joe Biden a year before she died on Ecstasy. (
"It's not that producers don't care, it's that they're terrified," said Wooldridge. "Amending the RAVE Act can be a way to organize the community so people don't fear law enforcement if they're addressing drug use. What's more detrimental -- a fatal overdose or having harm reduction teams and medical teams on site?"

"The campaign is just getting underway," said Jones. "They're collecting signatures, and Dede is just having first meetings with legislators to try to get them on board, to try to get some bipartisan support."

In the meantime, other steps can be taken.

"One of the biggest things we can do is to educate with a true public health approach," Wooldridge said. "We need to have honest conversations and we need to implement drug testing; we have to have that opportunity to create an early warning system when these substances begin to appear."

"Education is really, really critical," said Jones. "We need to be able to get real drug education out to young people and meet them where they are. We need to be explicit about what the drugs are, what they look like, what the common dose it. Integrating harm reduction practices into the culture is also really important, and Dance Safe is great at that."

An effective means of tracking new and available drugs, such as a publicly funded, more comprehensive version of the drug checking websites would also be useful. But that requires someone willing to spend the money.

"We don't really have a surveillance system set up to track these new psychoactive substances," Wooldridge complained. "We don't have the public health monitoring. As a nonprofit, we do some of that on a small scale, but we don't have the capacity or the resources to really do the job. What are the priorities and where is the funding to collect the data?"

"Changing policy to allow for drug checking is also an important avenue to pursue," said Jones. "If we're going to be in a world where drugs remain illegal, we will continue to have problems with imitations and new synthetics, with people not knowing what they're getting. That would be the least we can do."

There is one other obvious response.

"It's unrealistic to think we can keep drugs out of clubs and bars and festivals. Trying to do that causes more harm than good," Wooldridge said. "We need to be realistic and recognize drug use first and foremost as a health concern, not a criminal justice issue. These drugs are often being sold as something they're not, and that's because of prohibition and the black market," said Wooldridge. "One obvious option is legalization and regulation. Then you'd have quality control and you wouldn't need all this drug-checking."

But we're not there yet. Until we are, people are going to have to watch out for themselves and for each other. Check those drugs, kids!

Chronicle AM -- December 4, 2013

Some Denver city council members don't know when to give it a rest, some California US reps want stiffer penalties for pot grows on public lands, the Big Dog speaks on drug policy, Ecstasy may be on the rise, Morocco holds a historic hearing on cannabis, and more. Let's get to it:

Ecstasy seems to be making a comeback.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Now Considering Cultivation Restrictions. Just when you thought it was safe again, after an effort to stop people from smoking marijuana on their own property in public view died Monday night, the Denver city council is now considering an effort to cap the number of plants that can be grown in a single household. The measure is sponsored by Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, the same person behind the failed private property smoking ban. The measure would be in conflict with Amendment 64, which is now part of the state constitution and clearly says anyone 21 or older can grow six plants "notwithstanding any other provision of law."

California US Senator, Representatives Seek Tougher Penalties for Federal Lands Marijuana Grows. Several California congressmen, including some who have been strong supporters of medical marijuana, have written a letter to the US Sentencing Commission seeking longer prison sentences for people growing on federal and some private lands. "We are concerned that existing guidelines do not address the long term detrimental threats these operations pose to the environment and nearby communities," the letter said. "The production and cultivation of controlled substances in particular marijuana, on public lands or while trespassing on private property is a direct threat to our environment and public safety." The signatories include Sen. Dianne Feinstein and US Reps. Doug Amalfa, Sam Farr, Jared Huffman, and Mike Thompson.

Drug Policy

Bill Clinton Says Attitudes Toward Drug Legalization Are Changing. Attitudes toward drug legalization are changing, former President Bill Clinton said in an interview with Fusion TV Tuesday. "The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right," the ex-president opined. "We have a process in America for doing it that's being revisited state-by-state. And Latin America is free to do the same thing. It's obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up," he said. But he added that he didn't think hard drugs should be treated like marijuana. "It's also too complicated to say that if you legalize it, you wouldn't have any of these armed gangs trying to exercise a stranglehold over whole communities and lives, or that we could actually get away with legalizing cocaine and then the criminals would go away," he said.

Vermont Chief Justice Criticizes Drug War, "Tough on Crime" Approach. Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber has lashed out at the war on drugs and "tough on crime" approaches in general in a pair of recent speeches and a television interview. "Even with our best efforts, we are losing ground," Reiber told a crowd at Vermont Law School last month. "The classic approach of 'tough on crime' is not working in this area of drug policy. The public responds very well to this 'tough on crime' message, but that does not mean it's effective in changing individual behavior. If the idea is law enforcement alone will slow and eventually eliminate drug use altogether, that isn't going to happen… The criminal justice system can't solve the drug problem."

Club Drugs

Teen Ecstasy-Related Hospital ER Visits Doubled in Recent Years, Feds Say. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported Tuesday that hospital emergency room visits linked to teen Ecstasy use had more than doubled between 2005 and 2011. The number jumped from about 4,500 to more than 10,000 during that period. One third of those cases also involved alcohol. Authorities worry the club drug is making a comeback, although the number of ER visits reported for ecstasy is a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million drug-related ER visits reported each year.


Morocco Parliament Holds Hearing on Legalizing Cannabis for Hemp, Medical Marijuana. Morocco's Party for Authenticity and Modernity held a historic hearing Wednesday about legalizing marijuana cultivation for hemp and medical marijuana. The party hopes to introduce legislation next year. Somewhere between 750,000 and a million Moroccans depend on the cannabis crop for a living, although lawmakers said small farmers currently reap very little profit, with most profits going to drug traffickers sending Moroccan hash to Europe.

Former Mexican Border State Governor Charged in US with Money Laundering for Cartels. Tomas Yarrington, the former PRI governor of Tamaulipas state, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville and McAllen, Texas, has been indicted by US authorities on charges he took millions in bribes from the Gulf Cartel. Prosecutors allege Yarrington started receiving bribes while running for governor of the state in 1999 and continued to do so throughout his term. He is being sought by US authorities, but has not been taken into custody in Mexico.

Drug Prohibitions Hurt Science, Researchers Charge

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, a group of leading scientists argue that global drug prohibition has not only compounded the harms of drug use, but also produced the worst censorship of research in centuries. They likened the banning of psychoactive drugs and the subsequent hampering of research on them to the Catholic Church banning the works of Copernicus and Galileo.

Prof. David Nutt (
The paper, Effects of Schedule I Drug Laws on Neuroscience Research and Treatment Innovation (abstract only), was written by Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London and Leslie King, both former government advisors, and Professor David Nichols of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The possession of marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy) and psychedelics are stringently regulated under national laws and international conventions dating back to the 1960s, but those laws are not based on science, and the global prohibition regime is rigid and resistant to change, they argued.

"The decision to outlaw these drugs was based on their perceived dangers, but in many cases the harms have been overstated and are actually less than many legal drugs such as alcohol," said Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. "The laws have never been updated despite scientific advances and growing evidence that many of these drugs are relatively safe. And there appears to be no way for the international community to make such changes."

In the paper, Nutt and his colleagues argue that the scheduling of psychoactive drugs impedes research into their methods of action and therapeutic potentials and sometimes makes it impossible.

"This hindering of research and therapy is motivated by politics, not science," said Nutt. "It's one of the most scandalous examples of scientific censorship in modern times. The ban on embryonic stem cell research by the Bush administration is the only possible contender, but that only affected the USA, not the whole world."

Research in psychoactive drugs should be free of severe restrictions, the scientists argued.

"If we adopted a more rational approach to drug regulation, it would empower researchers to make advances in the study of consciousness and brain mechanisms of psychosis, and could lead to major treatment innovations in areas such as depression and PTSD," Nutt said.

Nutt headed Britain's Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs until 2009, when he was forced out by the Labor government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Nutt was sacked after publicly criticizing the government for ignoring the committee's scientific advice on marijuana on ecstasy. He then became chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, which aims to review and investigate the harms and benefits of drugs free from political interference.

United Kingdom

Psychedelic Science Conference Examines MDMA Treatment for PTSD [FEATURE]

At the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Psychedelic Science 2013 conference in Oakland this weekend there were mind-boggling displays of psychedelic art; tables full of books on LSD, MDMA, peyote, ayahuasca, and other, stranger hallucinogens; weird musical interludes; holotropic breathwork workshops, and indigenous shamans.

Psychedelic art, MAPS 2013
There was also some heavy duty science. Stretching over five days of workshops and conference presentations, the MAPS conference is perhaps the premier confab of psychedelic researchers worldwide. A look at just some of the topics covered in the remarkably broad-ranging affair makes that case.

Researchers from around the country and the world presented findings on three "tracks": clinical ("LSD-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Anxiety Secondary to Life Threatening Illness," "The Neurobiology of Psychedelics: Implications for Mood Disorders"), interdisciplinary ("Psilocybin in the Treatment of Smoking Addiction: Psychological Mechanisms and Participant Account," "Ethical Considerations in the Medicinal Use of Psychedelics"), and a special track on the South American hallucinogenic tea, ayahuasca ("Ayahuasca Admixture Plants: An Uninvestigated Folk Pharmacopeia," "Ayahuasca, the Scientific Paradigm, and Shamanic Healing").

One series of research reports of urgent and immediate relevance centered on the use of MDMA ("ecstasy") in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD can be caused by any number of traumas, veterans mustering out after more than a decade of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with PTSD in record numbers. A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 18% of returning Iraq combat veterans had PTSD. And a 2008 RAND Corporation report estimated that up to 225,000 veterans will return from the wars with PTSD.

Dr. Michael Mithoefer describes his MDMA PTSD research protocol
The trauma of war is reflected not only in the number of vets suffering from PTSD, but even more ominously, in sky-high suicide rates. US military veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day, up 20% from just five years ago.

The military and public health workers are keenly aware of the problem, and are attempting to address it through means both conventional and unconventional. The military and the Veterans Administration have been opened to therapeutic interventions including yoga, meditation, and the use of companion dogs; they have also armed themselves with the arsenal of psychotherapeutic drugs -- anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, tranquilizers -- available in the standard pharmacopeia. But those drugs can have some nasty side effects, and their utility in treating PTSD is questionable, and, noting reports of negative consequences, the Army has warned against over reliance on them.

In a Saturday clinical track devoted to MDMA and PTSD, researchers reported on success in Phase II clinical trials (after Phase I studies had proven safety), as well as efforts to get more studies up and running, and the hoops they have to jump through to do so. Canadian researcher Andrew Feldmar perhaps best summed up professional exasperation with the complexities of doing research on drugs governments view with skepticism and suspicion.

"Give me a break!" snorted Feldmar after relating how it took 2 ½ years and three visits from bureaucrats in Ottawa to inspect his pharmacy safe before it was approved before the safe and the study were approved. "This is not science, its politics. Those people from Ottawa were doing what power does -- cover its ass and make people doing what it doesn't want squirm. We are not discovering anything with these studies; we are just proving something we already know. This is all politics."

Indigenous Huichol shaman from Mexico
While Feldmar was at least able to report that his study had been approved, researchers in Australia and England could report no such luck.

 Australian researcher Martin Williams reported that a randomized, double-blind Phase II study there had been stopped in its tracks by a Human Research Ethics Committee.

"The proposal was rejected by the committee with no correspondence," Williams sighed. "We submitted a comprehensive letter of appeal, and it was quickly rejected. Like MAPS in 2000, we're a bit ahead of our time for Australia, where we face war on drugs rhetoric, the psychotherapy community has more a psychopharmacology focus, and we're facing funding and regulatory hurdles."

"For the past eight years, I've been slowly trying to persuade the medical establishment this is worth doing," said British researcher Ben Sessa, who is trying to get a Phase II study off the ground there. "We have lots of war casualties because like the USA, we have a peculiar obsession with imposing democracy around the world."

Peyote-infuenced Huichol art
But his government grant was denied, with regulators saying there was insufficient proof of concept, the trial would be underpowered (because it was small), and the inclusion of patients with recreational drug histories was problematic.

"Those reasons are all rubbish," snorted Sessa, who said he was revising his protocol in hopes of it being accepted. "We went for the Rolls Royce and didn't get it; maybe we'll get the Skoda," he said.

Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder have gotten approval for a Phase II study of MDMA with people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD, but it wasn't easy. Sometimes the regulatory niggling borders on the absurd, they said.

"We started two years and were waiting on approval from the DEA," said researcher Marcela Ot'alora, who is doing the study with Jim Grigsby. "We thought they read the protocol and would let us know if we were doing something inappropriate, but that wasn't the case. We had to get a 500-pound safe and we put it in the therapists' office, but no, it had to be in the treatment room. Then, we get a second inspection by the DEA, and they said we had to install alarms. We did so, and thought we were good to go. The next day, the DEA and the city zoning department came together. The zoning department said we had to have a half bath instead of a full bath, and no kitchen."

Psychedelic Homer Simpson, MAPS 2013
Ot'alora showed slides of workers obediently demolishing the bath tub, but their travails weren't finished just yet.

"The zoning department said we had to find a place zoned for addiction and recovery, and my office met that criteria, so we moved the safe and alarms for a third time, then had a third DEA inspection," she related. "The local DEA said yes, but it also needed approval from headquarters. We had a congressman write a letter to the DEA to speed up the process, and now we have final approval and are screening our first participants. We hope to enroll the first one by the beginning of May."

That would appear to be a good thing, because other researchers reported that when they actually got studies up and completed, they were seeing good results. Israeli researcher Keren Tzarfatyl and Swiss researcher Peter Oohen both reported promising preliminary results from their studies.

But it was US researchers Michael and Annie Mithoefer who reported the most impressive results. They reported on a 2004 Phase II clinical trial with veterans, firefighters, and police officers. The research subjects were given MDMA (or a placebo) and psychotherapy sessions. MDMA-assisted therapy resulted in "statistically significant" declines in PTSD as measured by standard scales, the Mithoefers reported.

"We're doing Phase II studies, giving the substance to people who are diagnosed with PTSD and measuring the treatment effects. The results continue to be extremely impressive," said Michael Mithoefer. "These tools have so much promise for healing and growth. There are lots of reasons to think these will be useful and promising tools."

Existing treatments for PTSD -- cognitive-behavioral therapies, psychodynamic psychotherapies, pharmacological interventions -- too often just don't work for large numbers of sufferers, Mithoefer said. He cited estimates of 25% to 50% who don't respond favorably to existing treatments.

"We have looming problems with veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and most of them are not getting the treatment they need," said Mihoefer. "The Veterans Administration is overwhelmed, but also many vets just don't show up for treatment or stay in it. People with PTSD have a lot of trouble with trust, making it hard to form a therapeutic alliance. They can also either be overwhelmed by emotion and then drop out, or they are in avoidance, emotionally numb, and then the therapy doesn't work. If MDMA can increase trust and decrease fear and defensiveness, maybe it can help overcome these obstacles to successful treatment."

But even so, the research effort is starved for funds.

"This would not be happening if not for these remarkable non-profits supporting research," said Mithoefer, referring to groups like MAPS and the Beckley Foundation, which co-hosted the conference. "The government is not funding this, Big Pharma isn't funding this; the community is funding it. We are trying to build bridges, not be a counterculture, and we hope the government will get involved."

What they've found so far is definitely worth pursuing, Mithoefer said.

"We've established that for this kind of controlled use with well-screened people, there is a favorable risk-benefit ratio and no indication of neurotoxicity," he explained, although a small numbers of participants reported unhappy side effects, such as anxiety (21%), fatigue (16%), nausea (8%), and low mood (2%).

With a follow-up three years later, the Mithoefers found that the benefits of MDMA-assisted therapy remained largely intact.

"For most people, the benefits in terms of PTSD symptoms were maintained," Mithoefer reported. "With people who completed the assessment, 88% showed a sustained benefit, and assuming that those who didn't relapsed, that's still a 74% sustained benefit."

The Midhoefers are now in the midst of another Phase II study and are finding similar results.  They are finding reductions in PTSD symptoms as measured by standard measures. They are also finding lots of interest among PTSD sufferers.

"More than 400 vets have called us from around the country," said Mithoefer. "The need is so great. It's heartbreaking that we can't accommodate them all."

Anna Mithoefer read to the audience some of the responses from their research subjects.

"It's like PTSD changed my brain, and MDMA turned it back," reported a 26-year-old Iraq veteran.

"Being in Iraq was bad, but what was worse was having my body back here and part of my mind still in Iraq," said a 27-year-old who had served as a turret gunner in Iraq. "This helped me come home."

"MDMA helped me in so many ways, it feels like it is gradually rewiring my brain," said a female military sex trauma survivor. "The MDMA sessions were the crack in the ice because the trauma was so solid before that. It was incredibly intense around the MDMA sessions -- a lot like popping a big bubble from the unconscious."

The Phase II studies underway or completed strongly suggest that MDMA is useful in the treatment of PTSD. The Phase II studies trying to win approval around the world could strengthen that case -- if they can overcome the political and regulatory obstacles before them. In the meantime, another 22 veterans are killing themselves each day.

Oakland, CA
United States

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