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Chronicle Book Review: Reefer Movie Madness

Reefer Movie Madness: The Ultimate Stoner Film Guide, by Steven Bloom and Shirley Halperin (2010, Abrams Image Press, 336 pp., $18.95 PB)

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Even the wonkiest of drug policy reformers can't spend all their time reading policy proposals, research results, and desert-dry academic treatises, but Reefer Movie Madness is much more than a mere guilty pleasure. Penned by former High Times editor and Celebstoner.com proprietor Steve Bloom and former High Times intern turned entertainment writer Shirley Halperin, Reefer Movie Madness is not only a most excellent guide to stoner filmdom, it also maps the cultural acceptance of marijuana in America through film history.

A follow-up to the pair's well-done, comprehensive compendium of all things cannabinical, Pot Culture, Reefer Movie Madness profiles more than 700 films that are about marijuana, feature marijuana in key scenes, feature other drugs, or just plain a gas to watch stoned. The films are ranked via a five-star rating system, and the authors demonstrate exquisite taste and filmic knowledge in their rankings (meaning that their tastes agreed with mine).

They begin at the beginning, going back even before 1936's anti-pot propaganda classic Reefer Madness to note such obscure films as 1924's High on the Range, in which Cowboy Dave smokes a reefer, and 1933's International House, in which jazz legend Cab Calloway performs "Reefer Man."

But in the late 1930s, as Harry Anslinger crusaded against the demon weed, so did Hollywood. In addition to Reefer Madness, the movie industry cranked out propaganda like Marijuana: The Weed with Roots in Hell (1936), Assassin of Youth (1937), and just a handful of years later, Devil's Harvest (1942). While such films helped shape American attitudes at the time, and for decades to come, they are now the stuff of nonstop laugh fests.

While marijuana and other drug use was portrayed intermittently, and occasionally, even with some sympathy for drug users, it wasn't until the cultural revolution of the 1960s, bringing us classic stoner films like Wild in the Streets (1968) and Easy Rider (1969), that pot-smoking began to be widely portrayed as anything but deviant. And it wasn't until the late 1970s that Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke gave birth to the now ubiquitous stoner comedy genre (although Bloom and Halperin give the classic Animal House, with its single hilarious pot-smoking scene partial credit for establishing the genre, too).

By now, stoner movies and depictions of pot-smoking are everywhere, most notably, but not only, in the stoner comedy genre. Films like Half-Baked, How High, Friday, and Strange Wilderness are now being produced by mainstream production companies, and the Judd Apatow franchise alone has been responsible for numerous box office hit stoner flicks, including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the underrated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, and Pineapple Express. This year's Get Him to Greek, featuring the inimitable and charismatic Russell Brand and Apatow regular Jonah Hill, was released too late for inclusion, but will certainly make the next edition.

The book is divided into sections by genre: comedy, drama, sci-fi/fantasy/horror, action, sports, music, documentaries and offers spot-on capsule reviews of more than 700 films, complete with plot summaries, star rankings, and choice quotes. Reefer Movie Madness also includes themed lists (Best Buds: Ten stony duos that take friendship to a higher level; Stoner Inventions and Innovations), celebrity Q&As, and lists of favorite stoner movies from well-known actors, directors, and musicians, including Cheech & Chong, the Trailer Park Boys, Snoop Dog, and Melissa Etheridge, among many more.

Reefer Movie Madness is a bookshelf must for pot movie fans, whether they be culture mavens or fully-baked couch potatoes. Even for veteran stoner film watchers, it contains some delicious movies you've never seen before and helps you remember long-forgotten gems. It has already vastly increased the length of my Netflix queue, and once you pick it up, the same thing is going to happen to you.

But beyond that, Reefer Movie Madness is a valuable and important contribution to charting and understanding the pop cultural role of marijuana in the past few decades. And it's a gas to read, stoned or not.

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.

International

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."

Chronicle AM: CA Waits for Big Legalization Init, NYC "Fake Weed" Ban Proposed, More (8/26/2015)

We're still waiting for the big one to drop in California, Ohio officials don't play nice with initiative ballot title language, Illinois gets its first dispensary approved, NYC wants to ban "fake weed,' and more.

The long-awaited ReformCA initiative is late out of the gate, but should be coming soon. (reformca.com)
Marijuana Policy

Big California Legalization Initiative Nearly Ready. It's getting late in the season, and the ReformCA legalization initiative has yet to be rolled out. ReformCA chair Dale Sky Jones says it is coming next month, but the delay is cutting into signature-gathering time and is keeping funding on the sidelines for now. Click on the link for more details.

Ohio Secretary of State Uses "Monopoly" to Describe Legalization Initiative in Ballot Title. Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has inserted the word "monopoly" into the title of the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, now known as Issue 3. The title voters will see when they cast their votes will be "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes." The initiative would give exclusive rights to grow marijuana commercially to 10 growing facilities whose owners are the funders of the initiative. But ResponsibleOhio counters that state regulators could later expand the number of sites.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Issues 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."

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill Would Ban "Synthetic Marijuana" in New York City. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Tuesday she will file a bill to ban the sale of synthetic cannabinoids in the city. "This is a concern that's growing. We're trying to get a handle on it," she said at a news conference. Under the bill, people found guilty of selling the substance could face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, with the fine increasing to $25,000 for subsequent violations. City officials have reported violent incidents and hospital ER visits linked to the drug.

International

British Tories Forego Debate to Reject Marijuana Legalization Petition. The British government is rejecting out of hand a petition calling for legalization that garnered more than 200,000 signatures on a new government website. The petition is supposed to require the parliament to consider the question, but the Tories control the backbenches, and the government isn't waiting to dash cold water on the idea. Its official reply says: "Substantial scientific evidence shows cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health. There are no plans to legalize cannabis as it would not address the harm to individuals and communities. Cannabis can unquestionably cause harm to individuals and society. Legalization of cannabis would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families."

Salvia Divinorum To Be Banned in Canada as of February. On February 8, 2016, the fast-acting psychedelic will officially be added to Schedule IV of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. "The (CDSA) will prohibit activities such as the trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importation, exportation, possession for the purpose of exportation, and production, of Salvia Divinorum, its preparations, and derivatives, unless authorized by regulation or via an exemption," Health Canada said. Simple possession will not be prohibited by law.

Chronicle AM: DC AG Talks Decrim, IL Gov Vetoes Medicare Heroin Treatment Funding, More (8/25/2015)

Another South Florida community moves toward marijuana decrim, GOP primary state voters want the feds to stay out of state marijuana policies, DC's top prosecutor hints at drug decrim, Illinois's governor vetoes Medicaid heroin treatment funding, and more.

Heroin users lining up to score in Chicago. The governor has vetoed heroin treatment funding. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: GOP Voters in Early Primary States Want Feds to Butt Out on Marijuana. Roughly two-thirds of Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire says states should be able to design their own marijuana laws without federal interference. The figure was 64% in Iowa and 67% in New Hampshire. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling and was commissioned by Marijuana Majority. "We put these polls into the field because we want presidential candidates to understand that the voters in these key states -- who they need support from to win -- overwhelmingly want the next occupant of the Oval Office to scale back federal marijuana prohibition," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

Key West Latest South Florida City to Move Toward Decriminalization. Officials in Key West have given preliminary approval to municipal marijuana decriminalization; a final vote will come next month. The change comes on the heels of similar moves this summer in Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, and Hallandale Beach. Lawmakers in Palm Beach County are now considering a similar proposal, as are lawmakers up the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Group Drops Legalization Initiative Plans; Will Instead Focus on Medical Marijuana Reforms. 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 legalization efforts.

Reno's First Dispensary Opens Wednesday. Sierra Wellness Connections opens near downtown Reno tomorrow. 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.

Drug Policy

DC's Attorney General Hints He Could Support Drug Decriminalization. DC Attorney General Karl Racine responded to a caller who argued that drug prohibition created the recent wave of new psychoactive substance use during a C-Span interview last Friday by largely agreeing with him. "Law enforcement and over-criminalization of drug laws can cause more harm to society than benefit… With respect to the legalization of other substances, including marijuana, I think the caller makes an excellent point… I think that the 21st Century policing is such that smart prosecution means less of an emphasis on criminalizing conduct, more of an emphasis on mental health and substance abuse. With respect to marijuana, you know, my position is very clear. I think it should be legal and I think that the District of Columbia, like the State of Colorado should be able to regulate it."

Heroin and Opiates

Illinois Governor Cuts Drug Treatment Funding From Heroin Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has partially vetoed a bill aimed at fighting heroin addiction and overdoses, cutting out a section that requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment programs, as well as anti-overdose and heroin-treatment medications (methadone). Rauner said that he supports the efforts, but the state can't afford to pay for them. Bill supporters say the move is short-sighted, pennywise but pound-foolish, and that there is a real human cost to it. They also said they would fight to see the funding restored. The bill is House Bill 1.

International

Russian Censor Lifts Ban On Wikipedia for Marijuana Page. Russia's Internet censor, Roskomnadzor, said Tuesday it had lifted a ban on Russian-language Wikipedia after Wikipedia complied with a court order and edited an entry dealing with charas, a substance made from marijuana resins. Under Russian law, if a web site is banned via court order, as was the case here, the entire website is banned even if the offending material is only on one page. Russian Wikipedia was shut down for about 24 hours.

Chronicle AM: Christie Blames Obama for "Heroin Epidemic," CO Patients Sue Over PTSD, More (8/24/2015)

Pot isn't stinky enough for its odor to automatically qualify as disorderly conduct in Oregon, Colorado patients sue over the state's decision not to include PTSD in the medical marijuana program, Oklahomans will try again to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, and more.

Chris Christie tries to make political hay off of opiate addiction. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Court Rules Pot Smell Not Inherently Offensive. The state Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of a man arrested on graffiti charges after police entered his home using the premise that he was committing disorderly conduct with the "physically offensive" odor of smoked marijuana. The court held that marijuana odors are not necessarily "physically offensive," writing that, "We are not prepared to declare that the odor of marijuana smoke is equivalent to the odor of garbage. Indeed, some people undoubtedly find the scent pleasing." The case is State v. Lang.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Patients Sue Over State's Refusal to Include PTSD as Qualifying Condition. Five PTSD patients filed suit against the state Board of Health last Thursday 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.

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.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Campaign Ad Blames Heroin "Epidemic" on Obama. In a new campaign ad, the New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender goes after "lawlessness in America and around the world under Barack Obama" and declares that "drugs are running rampant and destroying lives" as images of an apparent drug overdose and a hoodie-wearing addict shooting up show on the screen. Christie doubled down on the ad on MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning: "This president has set a standard in Washington of lawlessness," he said. "What I mean by that is this: If you don't like the law, don't enforce it. So if you don't like the immigration laws, don't enforce those and let there be sanctuary cities throughout the country and do nothing about it. If you don't like the marijuana laws, don't enforce the marijuana laws in certain states if they don't feel like enforcing them."

Ohio Bill Would End Automatic Drivers' License Suspension for Drug Offenses. Following an edict developed by the federal government in the 1990s, people convicted of drug offenses in Ohio face an automatic six-month suspension of their drivers' licenses, even if no vehicle was involved in their offense. The state told the federal government in December it wanted out of the program, and now a bill to do just that, Senate Bill 204, has been introduced. The bill would make the suspension discretionary instead of mandatory, and it has the support of state prosecutors. "It never made much sense to have a license suspension in connection with a drug offense unless there is a vehicle involved," said John Murphy of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

International

May Shootout in Mexico Now Looks Like a Massacre By Police. The Mexican National Security Commission told the public that an incident that left 42 alleged cartel gunmen and one police officer dead was an hours-long shootout, but evidence developed since then suggest that it was instead a massacre or summary execution of suspects. Now, the Mexican Attorney General's Office and local prosecutors in Michoacan say crime scene evidence doesn't match what the commission and the police reported. That evidence suggests that only 12 of the 42 dead narcos were killed in action. Twenty-three others had wounds consistent not with a gunfight, but with an execution. Federal police said they seized 43 firearms, but only 12 had been fired, and photographs of the scene showed bodies with muddy hands lying next to clean weapons. One victim was shot nine times in the back; another was beaten to death. The Attorney General's Office says it will take over the investigation once local investigators are done.

(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: 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.

International

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.)

Chronicle AM: Truckers Oppose Hair Drug Tests, TX Drug Felon Food Stamp Ban Ending, More (8/20/2015)

Asset forfeiture reform is moving in Michigan, Texas is about to end its ban on food stamps for drug felons, Brazil's high court takes up a case that could lead to drug decriminalization, the Teamsters and other labor groups pan hair drug testing, and more.

Truckers and other labor groups are urging the House to reject hair drug testing. (wikimedia/Veronica538)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Chamber of Commerce Joins Opposition to Legalization Initiative. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it would "strongly oppose" the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative and will donate $100,000 to defeat it at the polls. The chamber cited worries over workplace safety. The initiative campaign said it was not surprised, given that chambers of commerce in other states where legalization has been an issue have always opposed it.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Asset Forfeiture Reform Package Wins Senate Panel Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a package of bills reforming civil asset forfeiture. House Bills 4499 and 4503-4506 all passed unanimously. Five of the bills increase reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies, while two bills would raise standards in drug and public nuisance forfeiture cases from "a preponderance of evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The committee did not vote on House Bill 4508, which would have barred the seizure of vehicles used to purchase less than an ounce of marijuana, after committee lawyers said it would legalize marijuana.

Drug Policy

Texas to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. Beginning September 1, Texas becomes the latest state to opt out of a federal ban on food stamps for drug felons that was enacted as part of the 1996 federal welfare reform bill. Many states opted out immediately, and now only a handful maintain the ban. They are Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Drug Testing

Teamsters, Other Unions Urge House to Reject Hair Testing. A coalition of labor groups has sent a letter to House lawmakers dealing with transportation issues asking them to reject a recent Senate proposal to let trucking companies use hair testing for drugs instead of urine testing. The Senate proposal is part of a six-year highway bill. "We urge the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to reject efforts to allow hair to be used for federal drug tests before the validity and reliability of this testing method can be determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, the groups, including the Teamsters and a branch of the AFL-CIO, wrote. Urine testing, which detects recent drug use, has "proven effective," the groups said. Hair drug testing detects drug use going back months.

Harm Reduction

Third Indiana County Gets Emergency Needle Exchanges. The state health commissioner has declared a public health emergency in Fayette County because of high levels of Hepatitis C infections. That will allow the county to institute needle exchange programs. Similar emergencies were declared earlier this year in Scott and Madison counties.

International

Brazil Supreme Court Considering Case That Could Lead to Drug Decriminalization. On Wednesday, the country's high court began arguing the case of a prison inmate caught with three grams of marijuana and charged with drug possession. Sao Paulo state public defenders are pushing for the conviction to be overturned on the grounds that the charge is unconstitutional because it violated citizens' privacy rights. The judges are continuing to consider the case today, with a ruling expected shortly.

New Canada Poll Has Two-Thirds for Marijuana Decriminalization. A new Ipsos poll has 65% of Canadians favoring decriminalization, with 35% opposed. "Doesn't matter where you live in the country, a majority of every demographic group supports decriminalization," said pollster Sean Simpson. Support was at 39% in 1987 and increased steadily since then.

Chronicle AM: OH Ballot Language Fight, Brit MPs Say Drug Use a Human Right, More (8/19/2015)

Another controversy over the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, medical marijuana could be coming to the northern prairie, a British parliamentary panel calls drug use a human right, and more.

Could this be coming to North Dakota? Stay tuned. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Ballot Language Approved, ResponsibleOhio Will Challenge as "Misleading." The state Ballot Board Tuesday approved the language voters will see when they vote on the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, but the group is unhappy with some of it and says it will challenge it in court. Don McTigue, an attorney for the group, said "It's not balanced language, and we believe that language does not fairly inform the voters on what they're being asked to vote upon." Click the story link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Trying to Get Going. A Fargo man has formed a committee to advance a medical marijuana initiative and is getting ready to submit initiative language to the Secretary of State's Office. Rilie Ray Morgan said the legislature's refusal to pass a medical marijuana bill showed it is out of touch with popular feeling and that the GOP-dominated House and Senate are "awfully conservative."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor's Drug Summit Features Mostly Cops. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has set a drug summit for next week, but is being criticized for inviting mainly law enforcement and criminal justice officials. Of the 23 invited attendees, only three represent the treatment and recovery community, and none represent actual drug users. LePage says the drug problem is a public safety issue, but critics disagree. "Drug addiction and the drug crisis we are facing is fundamentally a public health issue, not a public safety issue," said Oamshri Amarasingham, policy counsel at the ACLU of Maine. "What we have seen over the last four years is a concerted effort to try and address the drug crisis with law enforcement and that clearly has not worked."

International

British MPs Say Drug Taking Is a Human Right. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform has issued a report saying the European Convention on Human Rights overrides national laws that criminalize drugs. The panel had earlier called for marijuana legalization and for drugs such as cocaine and heroin to be decriminalized. "For European countries the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular Article 8, could be invoked in support of the argument that possession or purchase or cultivation of drugs for personal use, particularly in small quantities, do not injure other people's rights either directly or indirectly and therefore should not be criminalized," the report said. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: Utah SWAT Raids Almost All Drugs, Bolivia Reduces Coca Growing (Again), More (8/18/2015)

A Wisconsin tribe may legalize marijuana, Ohio foes line up against the legalization initiative there, more Washington state dispensaries will be forced to close, a Utah SWAT reporting law shows what those squads are up to -- and it isn't hostage situations or "active shooters" -- Bolivia coca growing down, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales had a few choice words for US drug policy. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Foes Get Organized. Business, children's advocacy, parents, religious groups, and other groups organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization initiative have formed an opposition organization, No on 3. Some are opposing it because of its limitations on who could grow commercial marijuana; others, like the Ohio Children's Hospital Association, have more traditional plaints: "The legalization of marijuana in Ohio at this time and the way issue three proposes would set too dangerous of a precedent and put at risk the other three million kids in the state," said Nick Lashutka, president of the association.

Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe to Vote on Legalizing Marijuana. The Menominee, one of the poorest tribes in the country, are set to vote this week on whether to legalize and sell marijuana. The move comes after the state rejected the tribe's plan to build a casino in Kenosha. The Menominee say they are interested in marijuana to "Explore all opportunities to diversify the tribe's economy, create jobs, and provide revenue to the tribe necessary to fund health, education, social, law enforcement and and other important services."

Medical Marijuana

Most Tacoma Dispensaries to Be Shut Down. The city council this week decided to shut down most of the city's 60 unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. The dispensaries have 45 days to close. After passage of Senate Bill 5052, which essentially folds the medical marijuana system into the recreational marijuana system, dispensaries and collective gardens will have to get licenses from the state beginning next July 1 or shut their doors.

Heroin and Opioids

Massachusetts Officials Want to Jack Up Penalties for Fentanyl. State Attorney General Martha Healey joined legislators and law enforcement officials at a press conference Tuesday to press for legislation that would double prison sentences for people caught in possession of more than 10 grams of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. People caught with large amounts of heroin face up to 30 years, but under a lacuna in state law, people caught with large amounts of synthetic opioids can only be charged with possession with intent to distribute, with a maximum sentence of 10 years. "By criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl, we will give police and law enforcement the tools they need to get this deadly drug off the streets and out of the hands of those struggling with addiction," Healey said. Some 1,200 people died of drug overdoses in the state last year, and another 312 in the first quarter of this year. [Ed: Why 10 years isn't more than enough for almost any law enforcement purpose, especially in a time of mass incarceration when that type of sentencing is coming under increasing criticism from across the political aisle, is not clear. How sad that a Democrat and former civil rights official in a liberal state is campaigning for longer sentences.]

Law Enforcement

Utah SWAT Reporting Law Shows Overwhelming Majority of Deployments Were for Drug Raids. Utah passed a SWAT reporting law last year, and now the first numbers are in. They show that SWAT teams were deployed nearly twice a day (559 reported incidents, with 25% of agencies failing to report) and, most startlingly, 83% of all SWAT deployments were to serve search warrants for drug offenses. Two-thirds (65%) of the drug raid SWAT deployments either "no-knock" or "knock and announce" raids where police force entry into homes without giving residents a chance to just let them in. Much more at the link.

International

Bolivia Coca Production Falls for Fourth Straight Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced Monday that the amount of land devoted to coca production dropped by 11% last year, continuing a trend that has seen land devoted to coca drop by more than a third since 2010. President Evo Morales touted his government's approach as more effective than the US-led war on drugs. "Eradication and fighting a war on drugs with military bases is not the solution, as we've seen in some Andean countries, where there are US officials waging the war on drugs," he said. He was referring to the world's two largest coca and cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, where eradication efforts have provoked sometimes bloody strife.

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.

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