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Chronicle AM: Psychedelics Could Treat Anxiety, PTSD; British MPs to Debate Marijuana Legalization, More (9/9/15)

Another Indian tribe will grow marijuana, Arkansas voters want medical marijuana, British MPs will debate marijuana legalization, psychedelic drugs may have value in treating some mental conditions, and more.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) moves forward on welfare drug testing. (wi.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Indian Tribe to Grow Marijuana. The Passamaquoddy tribe has signed a letter of intent with Denver-based Monarch America, Inc. to design, construct, and manage a marijuana cultivation facility on tribal land, Monarch said Tuesday. The company has also contracted with the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe in South Dakota to run a similar operation there. The Justice Department has taken a hands-off approach to marijuana cultivation by Indian tribes.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 84%. A new Talk Business & Politics poll shows very strong support for medical marijuana in the state. More than half (56%) strongly agreed that adults should be able to use marijuana with a doctor's prescription, with another 28% somewhat agreeing. Only 14% disagreed. A medical marijuana initiative barely failed there in 2012, winning 48.5% of the vote. That initiative included a provision for home grows, but this poll found a slight majority opposing home grows. Support for outright legalization was much lower, at 42%.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Wisconsin Lawmaker Prepares Anti-Heroin Legislative Package. Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who introduced seven bills last year to address opiate addiction, said at a Tuesday news conference he's preparing four more. He said the new bills would be designed to go after addiction to opioid pain medications, which he said was at the root of rising levels of heroin use. Nygren offered up few details, though.


Study Says Psychedelics Could Be Useful in Treating Some Mental Disorders. A meta-study reviewing small-scale and preliminary studies finds that psychedelic drugs may be beneficial for people suffering from anxiety, addiction, or PTSD. "In the right context, these drugs can help people a lot, especially people who have disorders that we generally treat poorly, such as end-of-life distress, PTSD, and addiction issues involving tobacco or alcohol," said study coauthor Matthew Johnson, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The study is available behind a pay wall here.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Takes First Steps Toward Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Scott Walker, a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Tuesday approved "scope statements," the first step in implementing drug testing of some welfare recipients. The state will test "certain applicants for unemployment benefits as well as for able-bodied adults seeking benefits and/or training through FoodShare, Transform Milwaukee, Transitional Jobs, noncustodial parents on the W-2 program, and Children First." Those "certain applicants" are ones the state deems likely to have been using controlled substances without a prescription.


British MPs Will Debate Marijuana Legalization. After a citizens' petition drew more than 200,000 signatures from Britons, Parliament has agreed to hear debate on the issue. The debate will be October 12 and will be led by long-time drug reformer MP Paul Flynn (Labor-Newport West). The Conservative government has already insisted it will not legalize marijuana, but the debate will go on nonetheless.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org'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: MI Rejects MedMJ for Autistic Kids, US Rejects Afghanistan Opium Eradication...For Now, More (8/28/2015)

California could still see a medical marijuana regulation bill this year, a Michigan official ignores his own advisory panel and bars medical marijuana for autistic kids, California counties strike out in an effort to make Big Pharma pay for damages related to prescription opiates, and more.

In Afghan fields the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Gutted, But Still Alive. A measure aimed at bringing the state's medical marijuana industry into an era of statewide regulation passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, but there was nothing in the version of the bill approved by the committee. Assembly Bill 266 was gutted and now simply reads: "It is the intention of the state legislature to regulate medical marijuana." It appears the move is designed to make room for input from the office of Gov. Jerry Brown (D), which has now submitted its language. The governor's language largely mirrors earlier language and would set up a tightly regulated system. The legislature has until next month to get the bill passed.

Michigan Rejects Medical Marijuana for Autism. Although an advisory panel recommended allowing medical marijuana for autism, Mike Zimmer, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said Thursday he was rejecting that recommendation. Zimmer said there was not sufficient research and he questioned whether cannabis oil is even allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. Advocates said he was mistaken in his reading of the law, and said they were frustrated with the decision.

Drug Policy

Feeling Political Pressure, Los Angeles County Promoter Cancels Rave After Deaths at Earlier Event. Organizers of HARD Presents… A Night at Fairplex have canceled the September 10 rave in the face of threats from county commissioners to ban raves on county properties after two teens died at the HARD Summer festival at the same venue in early August. The promoter is also scaling back its annual Day of the Dead party set for October 31 and November 1. But some county commissioners say they are still moving forward with plans for a ban.

California Judge Throws Out Counties' Lawsuit Against Prescription Opiate Manufacturers. An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed against five of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies by Southern California counties seeking to make them pay for damages related to prescription drug abuse. The suit accused the companies of fraudulently marketing the pain relievers to undercut the warning labels required by the FDA. The pharmaceutical companies, including PurduePharma, the makers of Oxycontin, argued that the FDA had exclusive jurisdiction. The judge agreed, dismissing the case, but leaving an opening for it to be re-filed after an FDA evaluation.


US Rules Out Opium Eradication in Afghanistan, At Least For Now. The US will not support eradication programs in the world's largest opium producer until and unless there is a comprehensive alternative development program that will provide a stable source of income for poppy farmers, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. "This is a tough problem to get at, but to simply, you know, work towards some eradication program -- to burn them to the ground, while that may have an immediate effect, it doesn't necessarily do anything for long-term stability and security for Afghan farmers," he said. "You have to be able to work on supplementing it for something else, and we have worked with Afghan authorities for many years about trying to find other crops that farmers can grow to make a good living, and there's been some success in that," he said.

Chronicle AM: FL Legalization Init to Roll Out, Dark Web's Largest Drug Market Shuts Down, More (8/27/2015)

The controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative continues to make news, a Florida legalization initiative kicks-off tomorrow, the Dark Web's biggest drug marketplace is shutting down -- at least temporarily -- and more.

"Buddie," the Ohio legalization initiative mascot (responsibleohio.com)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Rolls Out Tomorrow. An initiative campaign to legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State will begin with a news conference in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow morning. The Sensible Florida PAC will announce a signature-gathering drive for a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Some 683,000 valid voter signatures will be needed, and since this is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% of the vote to pass.

Ohio Legalizers Roll Out "Buddie" Mascot, Get Flak From Child Advocates. The folks behind the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative have introduced their mascot, "Buddie," a cape-wearing superhero with a green marijuana bud for a head and a "B" logo over a picture of a pot leaf. Some child advocates grumbled that the mascot would lead kids to believe that pot is OK.  ResponsibleOhio said Buddie will only visit college campuses filled with voting age college students.

Ohio Legalizers Go to State Supreme Court Over Ballot Language. ResponsibleOhio asked the Supreme Court today to reject the state Ballot Board's wording of its initiative. In a 40-page complaint, the group claimed the board used prejudicial language, deliberate omissions, and outright falsehoods by Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) and his staff, and that the resulting language is "fatal to the validity of the ballot."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor to Call Out National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday the state would ramp up police efforts to fight drugs in the state, including deploying the National Guard to support the struggle against drug trafficking. He also renewed his pleas for more funding for more cops and prosecutors, a stance that leaves him at odds with the state legislature. LePage's remarks come a day after drug czar Michael Botticelli told a Maine roundtable the state needs more drug treatment facilities.


Dark Web's Largest Drug Marketplace Closing Its Doors -- For Now. Agora, the reigning champion among Dark Web drug sellers, is shutting down at least temporarily to heighten its defenses against intruders who may be seeking to identify and bust the site's operators and servers. The site's anonymous administrators said they had detected "suspicious activity" they thought was aimed at breaking the anonymity software Tor browser, which could reveal not only administrators, but customers. "At this point, while we don't have a solution ready it would be unsafe to keep our users using the service, since they would be in jeopardy," Agora said. "Thus, and to our great sadness we have to take the market offline for a while, until we can develop a better solution. This is the best course of action for everyone involved."

Medical Marijuana Update

California still has some problems with the feds, dispensaries open in Nevada and get licensed in Illinois, an Oklahoma initiative campaign is gearing up, and more.


Last Thursday, a federal appeals court rejected Oakland's lawsuit backing the Harborside dispensary. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing Oakland's lawsuit against the Justice Department and the Northern California US Attorney's office. The city had argued that closing the dispensary would deprive it of tax revenues and increase crime by creating a black market for marijuana. Then US Attorney Melinda Haag moved in 2012 to seize Harborside, claiming it violated federal law by selling medical marijuana. The case continues even though the Justice Department has since said it generally wouldn't interfere with state marijuana laws.

Last Friday, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana sought relief in federal court from a permanent civil injunction barring it from operating. Dispensary founder Lynnette Shaw cited last December's passage of the Rorhabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, in filing the motion for relief.


Last Thursday, Colorado patients sued over the state's refusal to include PTSD as a qualifying condition. Five PTSD patients filed suit against the state Board of Health over its decision not to include PTSD on the state's medical marijuana eligibility list. The board and the Department of Public Health and Environment, which is also named in the complaint, now have 21 days to respond.


On Tuesday, the state issued its first dispensary license. The state Department of Financial and Professional Regulations has granted a dispensary license to the Harbory in Marion. Another dispensary is under construction in Milan, but has yet to be licensed. There will be more to come. "Illinois medical cannabis dispensaries will continue to be registered on a rolling basis," said the DFPR in a statement. "Illinois medical cannabis dispensaries will receive medical cannabis exclusively from Illinois' licensed growing facilities once it becomes available."


On Monday, one group planning a legalization initiative said it would instead focus on medical marijuana. The Michigan Responsibility Council, which had been considering running a third legalization initiative campaign in the state, has decided to instead focus on an initiative aimed at improving the state's medical marijuana law. Two other groups are continuing with their marijuana legalization efforts.


On Monday, the first Las Vegas dispensary opened for business. A spokesman for Euphoria Wellness said Thursday the dispensary had won final state and county approvals this week and would open for business Monday. It will be the first dispensary in Clark County. The first dispensary in the state opened last month in the Reno suburb of Sparks.

On Wednesday, Reno's first dispensary opened for business. Sierra Wellness Connections opened near downtown Reno. It is the first one in the city and the third one in the state. One in nearby Sparks opened earlier this month, and one in Las Vegas opened Monday.


Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Coming. Medical marijuana advocates filed papers with the state last Friday indicating they are preparing another initiative petition drive to put the issue before the voters. Once the initiative is approved for circulation, proponents will have 90 days to gather 123,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A similar effort fell short in 2014. This one is being run by a group called Green the Vote.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: First Las Vegas MedMJ Shop, Peru Restarting Drug Plane Shootdowns, More (8/21/2015)

A Wisconsin tribe moves toward legal marijuana, Oakland's effort to back the Harborside dispensary gets shot down in federal court, Peru wants to shoot down drug planes again, both major Kentucky governor candidates want to drug test welfare recipients, and more.

Peru claims a ton a day of cocaine is being flown out of the country. (gob.es)
Marijuana Policy

California NAACP Files Legalization Initiative. The civil rights group has filed the Community Act to Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis, the latest addition to the growing list of legalization initiatives filed in the state. Reports are that the initiative is not designed to compete with the still long-awaited proposal from ReformCA, of which the California NAACP is a member, but to submit model language in support of the broader effort. The initiative would legalize up to an ounce and allow personal grows of up to 25 square feet, as well as allow marijuana commerce.

Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe Votes to Legalize Marijuana on Reservation. Tribal members overwhelmingly approved two advisory questions on whether the tribe should legalize marijuana on its reservation. Recreational marijuana was approved 677 to 499, while medical marijuana was approved 899 to 275. The matter now goes to the tribal legislature, which, given the vote, will likely approve ordinances allowing for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Rejects City of Oakland Lawsuit Backing Harborside Dispensary. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing Oakland's lawsuit against the Justice Department and the Northern California US Attorney's office. The city had argued that closing the dispensary would deprive it of tax revenues and increase crime by creating a black market for marijuana. Then-US Attorney Melinda Haag moved in 2012 to seize Harborside, claiming it violated federal law by selling medical marijuana. The case continues even though the Justice Department has since said it generally wouldn't interfere with state marijuana laws.

First Las Vegas Dispensary Set to Open Monday. A spokesman for Euphoria Wellness said Thursday the dispensary had won final state and county approvals this week and would open for business Monday. It will be the first dispensary in Clark County. The first dispensary in the state opened last month in the Reno suburb of Sparks.

Drug Testing

Both Major Kentucky Gubernatorial Candidates Want to Do Welfare Drug Testing. Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway has joined Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin in calling for drug testing of some welfare recipients. "I don't want to see our tax dollars going to support drug addiction," Conway, the Democratic front-runner, said Thursday. But Conway called for suspicion-based drug testing, while Bevins called for random testing, and Conway rejects drug testing Medicare recipients, while Bevins is for it.


Peruvian Congress Approves Shooting Down Suspected Drug Planes. The Congress voted unanimously Thursday to allow military planes to shoot down suspected drug flights. Drug-fighting President Ollanta Humala is expected to sign the bill. Peru claims a ton of cocaine a day is flown to Bolivia. Peru used to shoot down drug planes, but stopped after one of its pilots in a CIA-run program shot down a small plane carrying US missionaries, killing US citizen Roni Bowers and her infant daughter, Charity.

Russia Threatens to Ban Wikipedia Over Drug "How To" Entry. Russia's online censor, Roskomnadzor, says it will ban the entire website from Russia unless it removes or blocks access to an article about how to make a marijuana preparation. The censor has also recently gone after Reddit and YouTube over similar postings. Click on the link for more.

Canada's NDP Would Decriminalize Marijuana "Right Away." New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair said Thursday that "the NDP's position is decriminalization the moment we form a government" and that "it's something we can do right away." The NDP is leading most polls in the elections set for October. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau have called for outright legalization, but they're polling third, behind the Conservatives, who have taken a hard line opposing any moves at drug liberalization.

Dusseldorf Moves Forward on Legal Marijuana Sales Plan. Councilors in the German city Wednesday approved a pilot project to sell marijuana to adults. The move was a joint effort by the three parties that form the city's governing coalition, the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats, and the Greens. A similar move is afoot in Berlin, Germany's largest city, where councilors in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district applied for a marijuana license in June.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org'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.)

Obama's Heroin Initiative: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

The White House Monday announced a new initiative to combat heroin that will pair law enforcement and public health in what it called a bid to shift the focus of the fight from punishing drug addicts to treating them. Under the plan, drug intelligence officers will work with public health officials to track heroin supplies, how it gets to street-level dealers, and how and where it's getting cut with sometimes deadly adulterants.

The initiative has won support from some elected officials in states hard-hit by rising levels of heroin use and heroin overdose deaths. But drug reform advocates called it "one step forward, two steps back."

Under the plan, announced today as part of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) funding program by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, $5 million will go to "a broad range of efforts that will reduce the trafficking, distribution, and use of heroin," with half of that funding a Heroin Response Strategy involving an "unprecedented partnership" of five HIDTA programs -- Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore -- to fight smack.

Another $4 million in HIDTA funds will go toward prevention in 18 HIDTAs, including programs that feature "key partnerships between law enforcement agencies and their counterparts in public health and education," the announcement says. Another $1.3 million will go to five Southwest border HIDTAs "to enhance investigational efforts" against the Mexican trafficking organizations supplying most of the nation's heroin.

"The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program helps Federal, state, and local authorities to coordinate drug enforcement operations, support prevention efforts and improve public health and safety," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. "The new Heroin Response Strategy demonstrates a strong commitment to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue. This Administration will continue to expand community-based efforts to prevent drug use, pursue 'smart on crime' approaches to drug enforcement, increase access to treatment, work to reduce overdose deaths, and support the millions of Americans in recovery."

Branded heroin packet from New Jersey (NJ State Police)
The funding will pay for 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts to work within the HIDTA programs. The narcs will gather information on trafficking patterns and trends and feed it to street-level law enforcement. The health policy analysts will increase overdose monitoring, look for dope cut with dangerous adulterants, and train first responders on how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

The announcement comes amidst rising clamor over heroin's comeback and increasingly lethality in recent years. While the causes of the increase in heroin use are multifaceted and debatable, the reality of it doesn't seem to be. According to the Centers for Disease Control in a report released last month, more than half a million people were using heroin in 2013, up 150% from 2007.

The number of heroin overdose deaths is climbing even faster. The CDC reported that fatal overdoses hovered around 2,000 a year in the early 2000s before doubling to around 4,000 in 2011, and then doubling again to 8,257 two years later in 2013.

The sound of more federal funding is music to the ears of politicians in states like New Hampshire, which saw more than 300 heroin overdose deaths last year and where Republicans and Democrats are squabbling over how much money to spend on drug treatment. Elected officials across the political spectrum had kind words for the initiative Monday.

People lining up to score in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
"While the announcement of additional federal support for New England is an important first step, we must see these resources move as quickly as possible and we will need continued engagement from our federal partners to help combat this pressing public health and safety challenge," said Gov. Maggie Hassan (D).

"Stemming the tide requires investments in prevention, treatment and recovery, and broad cooperation at the federal, state and local levels," said US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D).

"Today's announcement is welcome news for New Hampshire and other New England states that are confronting this crisis," added US Senator Kelly Ayotte (R). "We must take a multi-pronged approach in this fight, and prevention is a key part of that."

But the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) took a more skeptical view.

"Half of what they're doing is right -- the focus on health and overdose prevention -- but the other half, the side that focuses on the failed arrest and incarceration policies of the past is destined to ruin lives and fail," said Bill Piper, director of the group's office of national affairs.

DPA took particular exception to the use of the HIDTA program as a vehicle for addressing heroin use, noting that even though its mandate was originally to focus on high-level drug traffickers, its programs "lack congressional oversight and generally waste resources pursuing individuals engaged in low-level drug crimes."

HIDTAs came into being in 1988, with five being created to focus on "top priority" areas. But since then, the HIDTA program has swollen to 28 different regional HIDTAs covering more than 60% of the US population, including such major drug trafficking hotbeds as South Dakota and Wyoming.

And, thanks to Congress, since 1998, no HIDTA money can be spent on drug treatment. DPA and other advocates have pointed out that this statutory ban reduces program flexibility and access to treatment, and have called on Congress to repeal the ban, eliminate the HIDTA program altogether, or move it out of the White House and into the Justice Department and merge it with the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force as the Bush administration once proposed.

If the Obama administration wants to really address drug use as a public health issue and not throw away more money on failed drug war policies, DPA had some suggestions:

  • "Shifting federal resources from enforcement and incarceration to treatment and public health program funding to save more lives and realize substantial savings for taxpayers. The federal government's drug control budget has increased exponentially throughout the years. Despite a recent change in rhetoric, the federal government still focuses the vast majority of its drug-related spending on interdiction, enforcement and incarceration.
  • "Committing more federal investments into naloxone access, overdose prevention, and greater access to methadone and buprenorphine and other forms of evidence-based treatment.
  • "Funding community-based initiatives such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion that reduce barriers to drug treatment and other health services.
  • "Removing barriers to methadone and other forms of medication assisted treatment in military treatment facilities that care for active duty and veterans.
  • "Investing more funding into making overdose prevention and medication assisted treatment available to incarcerated individuals who are at elevated risk of substance use and overdose.
  • "Eliminating federal legal barriers to research trials for supervised injection facilities and heroin assisted treatment."

How to Deal With New Psychoactive Substances? [FEATURE]

This story was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In recent years, we've been inundated with wave after wave of media panics over strange new drugs. First came "fake weed" (or as NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton called it last week, "weaponized marijuana"); then came "bath salts," with the infamous face-eating episode that wasn't; and most recently, "flakka," labeled as "$5 insanity" by one media outlet.

mephedrone (wikimedia.org)
These new (to the recreational drug market) substances mimic the effects of currently illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines, or ecstasy. The states and Congress have rushed to address the drugs by prohibiting them, but that has proven to be a game of cat and mouse, with innovative chemists and manufacturers replacing banned drugs with new variants faster than politicians can act.

"In recent years, lawmakers have moved to ban wave after wave of NPSs, only to see more emerge," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "All 50 states have passed laws against synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, and federally, there are 26 unique compounds under Schedule I. And the DEA, which has legal authority to criminalize drugs administratively, has banned more than two dozen. These laws take time, which allows manufacturers to create new compounds."

Not only is the prohibitionist reflex ineffective, it arguably increases the harms associated with the use of these drugs. But to ignore them or ban them aren't the only policy choices, and some advocates are calling for these novel substances to instead be controlled and regulated. One model they point to is New Zealand, which instead of banning "legal highs," moved to regulate them in 2013.

New Psychoactive Substances

Before turning to policy options, though, it's worth a moment to figure out just exactly what we're talking about when we talk about "new synthetic drugs," and why maybe that isn't the best term to use to describe these substances.

In a conference call organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for regulation over prohibition, Earth and Fire Erowid, the administrators of the Erowid drug information web site -- "Documenting the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives" -- tried to bring some rigor to a domain where science too often gets lost in the distortions of moral panic.

"Synthetic drugs is a term used to imply scary new street drugs," said Earth Erowid. "But nearly all pharmaceutical drugs are synthetic, whether they're cannabinoids, opioids, stimulants, or sedatives. You don't want to use the phrase 'synthetic drugs' unless you're talking about every pharmaceutical developed over the past 50 years."

"A more accurate and appropriate term is "new psychoactive substances," he said. "That's the standard term in Europe."

NPSs can be grouped into some general categories, based on the effects they seek to replicate, the Erowids said:

synthetic cannabinoids (wikimedia.org)
Replacement Cannabinoids. Sometimes sold as powders, sometimes sprinkled on herbal blends. These are not cannabis, but new synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists. The specific compounds include JWH 018 and AB-PINACA, among many others. Several of these have been associated with death and serious medical complications.

Replacement Euphoric Stimulants. These include cathinones like methedrone, MDPV ("bath salts"), and Alpha PDP ("flakka"), as well as compounds related to Ritalin.

Replacement Psychedelics. The best known are the NBOMe series ("N-Bomb"). They are often distributed on blotters, and many people who think they're buying LSD are getting this. The NBOMe class has been linked to about 20 deaths.

Replacement Dissociatives. These are PCP-like chemicals, including various ketamine variants and methoxetamine.

Replacement Opioids. These include chemicals such as AH 7921 and U4770.

The Drug Policy Alliance has a similar, if not quite identical, taxonomy here.

The deaths and other adverse reactions that have been linked to NPSs have occurred under regimes of either prohibition or its opposite -- no regulation. "Legal highs" were just that, NPSs yet to be banned but lacking any sort of reliable labeling or quality control. Many formerly "legal highs" are now illegal, but the harm continues, and new NPSs continue to come on the market, legal until the politicians get to work.

"There's a reason for that, said Earth Erowid. "People are looking for legal replacements for illegal drug effects," he explained. "Most people simply want a stimulant or a psychedelic, and they're willing to try anything if it's legal."

"That may hold true for "fake marijuana" users than other NPS users," said Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

"Synthetic marijuana users have different profiles from other NPS users," he said "They are resorting to using it as a legal replacement for marijuana as a means of avoiding arrest, especially minorities. Other NPS users, especially clubbers and ravers, may be taking them unwittingly, Palamar added, pointing a finger especially at "Molly," which is supposed to be pure MDMA in powder form, but often isn't.

"Molly is the biggest system of unintentional NPS use that ever came around," said Palamar. "A lot of the drug users, especially Molly users, are unknowingly taking NPSs.

(The Erowids helpfully pointed out that there are a number of web sites where users can submit their Molly for testing, including one they run at EcstasyData.org.)

What's in your ecstasy tablet? (pillreporter.org)
There are other options for dealing with NPSs beyond the extremes of prohibition on the one hand and laissez-faire on the other. In some cases, it may be politically feasible to simply legalize the currently prohibited drug they are imitating.

Roger Goodman, chairman of the Washington state House Public Safety Committee and senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said that legalizing weed is a start.

"By legalizing marijuana, we have no problem with synthetic marijuana," said Goodman. "No one wants to use that. We have a rational regulatory approach. Prohibition is in the past for us. Marijuana is a good first step for us. We know better than to impose prohibition and outlaw any particular substance."

Legalizing marijuana more widely could put a real dent in the synthetic cannabinoids market, but there is no immediate prospect for legalizing drugs such as meth, cocaine, and the psychedelics and putting a dent in the market for other NPSs that way. That means if we're not going to prohibit them and we're not going to ignore them, we're going to have to regulate them.

That's what New Zealand did with its 2013 law, which transformed unregulated "legal highs" into regulated "legal highs" sold with labels at established stores. Drug makers were required to submit their products for testing and labeling before they could be approved for legal sale.

"I really look to the New Zealand law," said Goodman. "It provided for licensing and testing, and it got rid of the criminal actors. It seemed like a very rational way to go."

"That model would encourage manufacturers to make safer products," DPA's Smith concurred.

But, alas, the New Zealand law is no more. It was overturned and replaced with a more prohibitionist retrenchment a year later amidst complaints that drug users were getting high and hanging around the dope shops like winos in front of liquor stores. That is a lesson for legalizers (or regulators) here. Not only are progressive drug reforms difficult to enact, they also sometimes require a strong defense.

Chronicle AM: White House Focuses on Heroin, Peru Coca Tensions Rise, CO Pot Sales Hit Record, More (8/17/2015)

It's big bucks for the Colorado marijuana industry (and the state's tax revenues), there's more initiative news, the White House takes on heroin, Peruvian coca farmers are feeling the pinch of eradication, and more.

Heroin is on the White House agenda today. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Sold a Record $50 Million Worth of Recreational Marijuana in June. Recreational pot sales totaled $50.1 million in June, a record high, and up 7.6% over the previous month, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Medical marijuana sales also hit a record, with $35.2 million taken in. The state took in $10.9 million in combined marijuana taxes in June, putting the year's total tax haul to date at nearly $42 million. For all of last year, the total was $44 million.

Idaho Initiative Would Decriminalize, Allow Medical Marijuana and Hemp. Activists with New Approach Idaho have crafted a three-pronged initiative that would decriminalize up to three ounces, allow for medical marijuana, and allow for hemp. The group needs more than 47,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Illinois Governor Wants Changes in Marijuana Bills. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday used his veto authority to alter two marijuana bills on his desk. A decriminalization bill would make possession of up to 15 grams punishable by a fine of between $55 and $125; Rauner wants to decrease the amount to 10 grams and increase the fines to between $100 and $200. A medical marijuana bill would extend the state's medical marijuana program; Rauner wants an extension of only four months. The bills now go back to the legislature.

With ResponsibleOhio on the Ballot, Organized Opposition Emerges. A coalition of business groups are organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The Greater Cleveland Partnership is one member, so are the Ohio Manufacturers Association and the Ohio Farm Bureau. The Cuyahoga County drug and alcohol abuse board is also opposing, as are all Republican state higher officeholders.

Wyoming Moves to Criminalize Marijuana Edibles. After rulings by state court judges that state felony marijuana laws only criminalize its possession in plant form, the legislature's Joint Justice Committee is pondering how to deal with edibles. One proposal is to make possession of more than three ounces of an edible a felony. The committee will hold further discussions on the issue in November.

Medical Marijuana

New Version of Michigan Dispensary Bill Could Throttle Medical Marijuana. The House Judiciary Committee will be presented with new versions of the Provisioning Centers Act and the Smoking Alternative Bills that failed to get through the legislature in the 2013-14 session. But advocates say the new versions are less patient-friendly than business-friendly. Click on the link to get the lowdown on the legislature's medical marijuana shenanigans.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Could Be Coming. Families who don't trust the legislature to act are preparing to push for action through the initiative process. Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis says it won't make a final decision until next month, but is exploring its options. Another, NORML-affiliated state group is already working on a medical marijuana initiative signature-gathering campaign, but said it could merge efforts.


White House Focuses On Heroin. The White House announced today an initiative aimed at reducing heroin use by pairing public health and law enforcement in an effort to shift the focus from punishing addicts to treating them. The plan will pair drug intelligence officers with public health officials to increase epidemiological knowledge about heroin use. The plan is being criticized by some reform advocates. Look for a Chronicle feature story later this week about the initiative and the critique.


Peruvian Coca Farmers Take Financial Beating from Eradication, Start to Fight Back. Peru has eradicated more than 210 square miles of coca crops this year, winning kudos from the US, but impoverishing thousands of coca farmers and their families who have lost their livelihoods. Government eradicators are manually destroying the crops in the field. "This is what we live off," said one farmer, surveying what's left of her family plot after eradication. The Peruvian government says some 42,000 families received financial help or support with alternative crops last year, but another 53,000 affected families did not. Grower anger is rising, with a July protest by 5,000 people in Ciudad Constitution ending with one farmer killed by police and 23 wounded. It was the first violent cocalero protest since 2012.

South Australia Bans Synthetic Cannabinoids. State Attorney-General John Rau has added two new psychoactive substances, a pair of synthetic cannabinoids, sold as Full Moon and Sinsence, to the state's list of banned substances. The move comes after reports of deaths and other adverse effects.

Chronicle AM: OH Init Looks Set, Israel Anti-Drug Unit Shuttered, NY "Fake Pot" Ban, More (8/10/15)

The New York Times has a strong editorial on marijuana reform, the ResponsibleOhio initiative should qualify for the ballot on a second try, Philly pot busts plummet after decrim, Israel zeroes out its anti-drug agency, and more.

Jeff Mirzanskey -- Twenty years in, Missouri's only marijuana lifer gets parole.
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Calls Obama, Congress "Too Timid" on Marijuana Reform. In a Sunday Times editorial, the newspaper of record criticized federal elected officials for just "standing by" as the movement to legalize marijuana gains ground. Instead, the Times editorial board said, they "should be more actively debating and changing the nation's absurd marijuana policies, policies that have ruined millions of lives and wasted billions of dollars." The editorial also called for marijuana to be descheduled. There's more to the editorial; click on the link to read the whole thing.

Marco Rubio Joins Chris Christie in Vowing to Roll Back Marijuana Legalization. A second GOP presidential contender has now joined New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in vowing to undo state-level legalization if he wins the presidency. Florida US Sen. Marco Rubio was asked on Meet the Press Sunday whether he would enforce federal pot laws against states that have legalized it. "Absolutely," he replied. "I believe the federal government needs to enforce federal law." While he said he is open to medical marijuana with some important caveats: "I'm not in favor of legalizing marijuana. I'm not. I never have been."

Florida Legalization Initiative Launches. A group of activists organized as Regulate Florida has an initiative drafted that would create legal marijuana commerce in the Sunshine State. No more details yet, but they could come as early as this week.

Missouri Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mirzansky To Be Freed. Mirzanskey has been behind bars since 1994 for a marijuana offense and was set to die in prison before a campaign spearheaded by Show Me Cannabis led Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to adjust his sentence, making him eligible for parole. His son, Chris, told local media Monday that he has now been granted parole and should be home within two or three weeks.

ResponsibleOhio Legalization Initiative Looks Close to Qualifying for November Ballot. After the state's two most populous counties, Cuyahoga and Franklin, completed verification of petition signatures last Friday, it appears that ResponsibleOhio will actually make the ballot. The group had originally handed in nearly 700,000 signatures and only needed 305,000 valid ones to qualify, but came up nearly 30,000 short. It then had a 10-day period to make up the shortfall and handed in 95,000 more raw signatures. They had a validity rate of 51% in Franklin County and 40% in Cuyahoga. If that combined 45% validity rate holds, ResponsibleOhio make the ballot.

Denver Social Use Initiative Hands In Signatures. Backers of a Denver municipal initiative to allow for marijuana use -- but not sale -- in commercial venues limited to people 21 and over handed in more than 10,000 raw signatures today. The Campaign for Limited Social Use needs 4,726 valid voter to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. The city clerk has 25 days to certify the petition.

Philadelphia Pot Arrests Plummet 73% After Decriminalization. In the first six months of 2015, 465 people were arrested for marijuana possession. That's down from 1,681 during the same period in 2014. This after a policy shift toward decriminalization in most cases.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York Emergency Regulations to Ban "Fake Marijuana" Now in Effect. Previously announced regulations to ban several synthetic cannabinoids went into effect last Thursday. Under the emergency rules, possessing or selling the stuff is now subject to criminal penalties of up to 15 days in jail.

Law Enforcement

Customs and Border Patrol to Quit Harassing General Aviation Pilots. In the face of loud complaints from general aviation pilots, CBP has greatly reduced the number of unwarranted stops and searches of small planes. The pilots' organization also said there it "has received no new reports of unwarranted stops and searches of GA aircraft or harsh treatment meted out to innocent GA pilots." Click on the link for more.


Thousands March for Marijuana Legalization in Berlin. The city's annual Hanfparade (hemp parade) drew an estimated 8,000 people to the streets last Saturday. They demanded the legalization of marijuana for recreational, medical, and industrial use.

Israel Anti-Drug Agency To Be Shuttered. The Israeli Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority will be shut down in what the government calls a cost-cutting move. The agency had attracted criticism for a last-century stance toward marijuana, with a recent campaign warning "It's not that innocent." Despite that campaign, however, the agency green-lighted what is now a thriving nationwide medical marijuana program, as well as research into MDMA therapy for PTSD. The Finance Ministry says the agency is being zeroed-out in an effort to merge programs in the Public Safety Ministry.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org'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: Judge Throws Out More Philly Cases, India Shiva Pilgrims Toke Up, More (8/7/15)

An Oregon congressman calls for down-scheduling marijuana, an Oklahoma US senator wants to punish tribes that allow marijuana, Boston's first dispensary is likely coming soon, drug hair-testing for truck drivers edges closer, and more.

Shiva devotees on the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage to the Ganges are taking full advantage of wild cannabis on the way. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rep. Earl Blumenauer Calls for Rescheduling or Descheduling Marijuana. The Oregon Democratic congressman sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Thursday urging her to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act to reflect science and the government's position on this issue." Blumenauer added that "It is clear to the American people, scientists and researchers that marijuana should not be categorized as a Schedule I drug."

Oklahoma Senator Files Bill to Punish Tribes That Allow Pot. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) has filed a bill that would cut all federal funds for any Indian tribes or tribal organizations that allow the cultivation, manufacture, or distribution of marijuana on their reservations. The Justice Department earlier this year gave tribes the go ahead to get into the marijuana business if they wanted. Lankford's bill, the KIDS (Keeping Out Illegal Drugs) ACT, is not yet available on the congressional website, but can be viewed here.

Medical Marijuana

First Boston Dispensary Could Open Soon. Patriot Care Corporation has received tentative approval from zoning board officials to open the first dispensary in the city, despite some opposition from locals. After twice delaying a decision, the Zoning Board of Appeals decided Tuesday to grant Patriot Care conditional approval. The state's first dispensary opened in June in Salem.

Drug Testing

Federal Advisory Board Recommends Hair Testing for Truck Drivers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMSHA) Drug Testing Advisory Board has recommended that hair testing be approved as an alternative drug screening technique for truck drivers and other "safety-sensitive" federal workers. The recommendation now goes to the head of SAMSHA, and if she approves it, it would then go to the Department of Health and Human Services. Hair drug testing detects drug use for much longer periods of time than urine or blood testing.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Judge Throws Out 158 More Convictions Linked to Corrupt Narcs. Philly's dirty narcs may have managed to avoid criminal convictions for their misdeeds, but their actions continue to reverberate through the city's criminal justice system. A city judge today threw out 158 more criminal convictions linked to the narcs, bringing the total of vacated convictions involving the seven officers to 560, and more are on the way. More than 135 civil rights lawsuits have been filed against the city as a result of cases involving the seven narcotics officers.


Indian Shiva Devotees on Pilgrimage Enjoying Roadside Cannabis. Shiva devotees on the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage route toward the Ganges are staying high on overgrowths of cannabis along the roads. The devotees are big smokers: "Without weed, the yatra remains incomplete," said one. "It brings me closer to Bhole Baba," said another. "Its usage also helps one cover long distances from Haridwar to Meerut on foot, as it keeps the body's energy intact," he added. State officials are supposed to eradicate wild cannabis growth, but are having a hard time: "It has grown almost everywhere. How do we destroy it?" asked one official who declined to be named. Another said that eradication is so ineffective it ought to be decriminalized.

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