Synthetic Cannabinoids

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Chronicle AM: CA Legalization Ads Roll Out, NFL Bans "Synthetic Marijuana," More... (10/6/16)

Tennessee's two largest cities have semi-decriminalized small-time marijuana possession, California pro-legalization ads roll out, the NFL bans "fake weed," and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Marijuana Legalization Ads Hit the Airwaves Statewide. TV ads in support of marijuana legalization hit the airwaves Monday up and down the state of California. The campaign's ads in support of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, are running on both broadcast and cable channels. The first ad highlights in a straightforward way how the tough restrictions will keep marijuana out of the hands of young people. It explains how only adults 21 and older will be allowed to purchase at licensed businesses. The initiative bans ads directed at kids, there are strict labeling and child proof packaging and would ban edibles that appeal to children. The second ad also reinforces that marijuana will only be legal for adults over 21 and bans marijuana use in public. The ad also explains that the money in new revenue will fund after school job training and placement initiatives.

Maine ACLU Endorses Legalization Initiative."Legalizing, regulating and taxing the use of marijuana by adults 21 and older will bring a new approach to our marijuana laws, making them more fair, more compassionate and better at improving public health and increasing public safety. For those reasons, the ACLU endorses a 'yes' vote on Question 1 in November, wrote ACLU of Maine executive director Alison Beyea.

Memphis Decriminalizes (Sort of). The Memphis city council Tuesday night voted 7-6 to approve an ordinance that gives police the discretion to issue a fine instead of arresting people possessing less than a half ounce of marijuana. Nashville approved a similar ordinance last month. Full decriminalization would make the penalty for small-time possession only a fine and would not give police officers the ability to choose which offenders get ticketed and which get arrested.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Regulators Propose Expansions in Medical Marijuana Program. The Department of Public Health has submitted a collection of proposed changes to the Public Health Council. The proposals include allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients and allowing dispensaries to post prices online. Allowing nurse practitioners to certify would boost patient numbers and allowing online price posting should encourage competition and drive prices down, the department said.

New Psychoactive Substances

NFL Bans "Synthetic Marijuana". The National Football League has added synthetic cannabinoids ("fake weed") to its list of banned substances in an agreement with the NFL Players Association announced Wednesday. Players whose drug tests reveal more than 2.5 nanograms per milliliter of synthetic cannabinoids will be considered in violation of the league's drug policies and subject to intervention and discipline.

Chronicle AM: AK Marijuana Social Club Battle, Oregonians Like Legalization, More... (9/16/15)

Oregonians have no regrets about legalizing weed, a new Cato report studies the impact of state-level legalization so far, the Alaska battle over marijuana social clubs gets heated, and more.

A newly filed federal bill would study and recommend outreach for dealing with new psychoactive substances. (LA Dept. of Health)
Cato Report on Impact of State-Level Marijuana Legalization. The libertarian-leaning Cato Institute has released a report on the impact of legalization in the four states that have gone that route so far. Here's the bottom line: "Our conclusion is that state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes. We cannot rule out small effects of legalization, and insufficient time has elapsed since the four initial legalizations to allow strong inference. On the basis of available data, however, we find little support for the stronger claims made by either opponents or advocates of legalization. The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents."

Alaska AG Faces Heat Over Ruling That Pot Social Clubs Are Illegal. Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth authored an opinion two weeks ago that marijuana social clubs were illegal, but legislators Wednesday took her to task, saying she was making an unnecessarily broad interpretation of initiative language that banned marijuana use "in public." Several businesses have opened as clubs, saying that because they require membership, they are not public. But Linesmuth was undeterred: "The initiative bars public consumption, and if you're joining others that you don't know in a club, that's a public place," Lindemuth said. But House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) demurred: "There are lots of definitions of what a public place may be for different purposes," she said. "I think when most people voted on the initiative, to the extent that they were looking at public places, they figured that just meant you can't have people smoking joints while walking down the street. I think that's what the definition of public meant to most people." Given Lindemuth's stance, a legislative fix may be the only solution.

Poll: Oregonians Happy With Marijuana Legalization. A new DHM Research poll finds that 61% of Oregon voters think legalization has had a positive impact on the state. That's five points higher than the 56% who voted for it in 2014. "Big picture, I think Oregonians are relatively satisfied," pollster John Horvick said. "I don't think a lot of minds have changed, but the general acceptance of marijuana continues apace. There hasn't been a backlash."

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana Use at School. Gov. Jack Markell (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 181, which allows registered medical marijuana patients to use their medicine while on school grounds. The law allows for cannabis-based medicines such as tinctures and oils to be used. Delaware is now the third state to enact such a law, following Colorado and New Jersey. The new law takes effect immediately.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York US House Member Files Bill to Study and Educate About New Synthetic Drugs. Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) Thursday filed the "Synthetic Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Act," which would authorize the Centers for Disease Control to complete a study or studies on how to combat the use of new synthetic drugs and help treat users, as well as require other government agencies including the National Institutes of Health and Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Agency to come up with a national outreach campaign to reach out to community leaders about the drug's risk. The bill has not yet been assigned a number.

Chronicle AM: MT MedMJ Patients Out of Luck, Christie Signs Needle Exchange Funding, More... (9/1/16)

It the end of easy access for Montana medical marijuana patients, the Arizona Supreme Court rejects the last challenge to that state's legalization initiative, the second Arkansas medical marijuana initiative is now officially on the ballot, Chris Christie signs a needle exchange funding bill, and more.

Chris Christie does the right thing on needle exchange. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

More Smoke Pot, Fewer Find it Risky, Survey Reports. Survey data shows more adults are using marijuana, they are using it more often, and they're less inclined to think it's risky than in the past, research results reported in The Lancet found. The number of adults using marijuana in the past year has jumped to 32 million -- going from one in ten in 2002 to one in eight in 2014. Only one-third of adults thought weekly marijuana use was risky, down from half in 2002.

Alaska Attorney General Says Pot Social Clubs Are Illegal. State Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a legal opinion Wednesday that marijuana social clubs are illegal. "Under Alaska law, a business cannot sell or provide marijuana or allow marijuana to be consumed on the premises unless it is licensed as a retail marijuana store by the Marijuana Control Board," Lindemuth wrote. The ruling does not apply to retail pot shops, for which state regulators are considering rules that would allow on-site cannabis consumption.

Arizona Supreme Court Rejects Challenges to Pot Legalization Initiative. Arizonans will be voting on Proposition 205 on November 8. The state Supreme Court has thrown out the last challenges to the measure, which accused it of misleading voters with its language, but the high court upheld a lower court ruling that Prop 205 substantially complies with legal requirements for initiatives.

Medical Marijuana

It's Official: Second Arkansas Initiatives Qualifies for the Ballot. Secretary of State Mark Martin's office said Wednesday that the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment had submitted sufficient valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. That means Arkansas voters will have two medical marijuana initiatives to vote on. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act was approved for the ballot in July. If both pass, the one with the most votes goes into effect.

Delaware Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana for Terminally Ill. Gov. Jack Markell (D) Wednesday signed into law "Bob's Bill," named for lung cancer patient Robert Jester, who died in 2014 without being able to legally use marijuana to ease his suffering. The bill allows for medical marijuana for terminally ill patients, including those under 18 who are suffering pain, anxiety, or depression.

Montana Medical Marijuana Patients Now Out of Luck. In the biggest medical marijuana rollback ever, as of September 1, medical marijuana dispensaries are now illegal, and up to 12,000 patients have lost legal access to marijuana. Medical marijuana providers are now limited to three patients, and thousands of patients have no provider. This is the end result of the GOP-led legislature's 2011 move to gut the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. An initiative that would restore the state's medical marijuana system, I-182, has been approved for the November ballot.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Governor Signs Needle Exchange Funding Bill. Gov. Christ Christie (R) Wednesday signed into law Assembly Bill 415, which creates permanent funding for five locally run needle exchange programs. Three of them, in Atlantic City, Camden, and Paterson, had already run out of funds and were close to closing their doors. "These programs not only distribute clean syringes to intravenous drug users, but also deliver lifesaving education, treatment, and testing to their participants," according to Christie's bill-signing statement.

New Psychoactive Substances

California Bill Would Make Possession of Synthetic Cannabinoids, Stimulants a Crime. The legislature has approved a bill requested by the California Narcotics Officers Association that would make first-time possession of specified synthetic cannabinoids or stimulants an infraction, with subsequent offenses treated as misdemeanors. Under current state law, selling the drugs is a crime, but possessing them isn't. The measure, Senate Bill 139, now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). It is opposed by the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance.


EU Wants to Ban New, Powerful Synthetic Cannabinoid. The European Commission announced Wednesday that it wants to ban MDMB-CHMICA, also known as "Black Mamba," a synthetic cannabinoid reportedly 10 times stronger than already banned synthetic cannabinoids. The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse reported that it has been linked to at least 42 "acute intoxications" and 29 deaths.

Philippines President Snubs UN Effort to Meet Over Drug Killings. President Rodrigo Duterte has turned down a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after threatening last month to quit the UN over its criticism of the mass killings of drug users and dealers since he came to office three months ago. Officials from Duterte's office said he was too busy to meet with the head of the global body. One UN official said it was "basically unheard of" for a national leader to be "too busy" to meet the secretary-general.

Chronicle AM: Federal CBD Research Bill, MO Gov Signs MJ Expungement Bill, More... (7/18/16)

Officials in California's Humboldt County have approved a massive, seven-acre medical marijuana grow operation, Missouri's governor signs a bill allowing pot offenders to get their records expunged, New York's governor announces a crackdown on "synthetic marijuana," and more.

New York is pursuing a prohibitionist approach to synthetic cannabinoids. (
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Governor Signs Bill to Allow for Expungement of Marijuana Convictions. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 558, which will allow the expungement of records for almost all marijuana convictions in the state. People convicted of marijuana misdemeanors must wait three years, while those with felony convictions must wait for seven years.

Medical Marijuana

CBD Research Bill Filed in Senate. Four members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Tom Tillis (R-NC), filed the Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act (S. 3269) last Friday. The bill would require the attorney general to determine whether CBD should be considered a separate substance from marijuana and whether it should be rescheduled or removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

California's Humboldt County Approves Massive Medical Marijuana Farm. The Emerald Triangle pot-growing county has approved its first medical marijuana grows under new regulations adopted this year. One is a quarter-acre mixed-light farm in Carlotta and the other is a seven-acre outdoor grow and processing center in Honeydew.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York Governor Announces Crackdown on "Synthetic Marijuana." In the wake of last week's outbreak of synthetic cannabinoid overdoses in Brooklyn, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Monday announced aggressive enforcement actions aimed at suppressing illegal sales of the drugs. "The evolution of synthetic drugs is an alarming public health risk -- but we are on the front lines of the battle," Cuomo said in a news release. "The state will continue to identify emerging compounds that put users in danger and aggressively chase down sellers of these toxic substances." The state will vigorously pursue all civil, criminal, and administrative remedies against businesses found to be making or selling the drugs, Cuomo added.

Chronicle AM: NYC K2 Panic, Sen. Feinstein Rejects Marijuana Initiative, More... (7/13/2016)

Feinstein comes out against California's Prop 64, the Arkansas Health Department comes out against medical marijuana initiatives, an outbreak of synthetic cannabinoid overdoses in New York City raises alarms and more reasoned responses, and more.

K2 strikes in New York City! (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senator Dianne Feinstein Opposes California Legalization Initiative. US Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has formally opposed the Prop 64 legalization initiative. In remarks Tuesday, she said the measure lacked protections for children and motorists and would clash with the state's medical marijuana system. "I am not really for recreational use of marijuana," she said. "Medical use, yes."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Health Department Opposes Medical Marijuana Initiatives. The state Department of Health said in a statement Tuesday that it opposed such initiatives because marijuana is not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and its legalization by popular vote is not grounded in "rigorous" science. A medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Compassionate Care has already qualified for the ballot, and the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment has handed in some 106,000 signatures. It needs 85,000 valid ones to qualify.

North Dakota Activists Actually Handed in 17,000 Signatures. The North Dakotans for Compassionate Care campaign actually handed in some 17,000 raw signatures for its medical marijuana initiative Monday. Earlier reports had the number at 15,500. It's still going to a nail biter to see if it qualifies for the ballot; it needs 13,452 valid voter signatures.

New Psychoactive Substances

Outbreak of "Synthetic Marijuana" Overdoses in New York City. On Tuesday, emergency workers had to transport 33 people suspected of overdosing on synthetic cannabinoids commonly referred to as K2 to local hospitals. Locals and press reports refer to the victims as "zombies." The outbreak occurred at the border of the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Drug Policy Alliance Responds to K2 Outbreak, Media Coverage. The piece by DPA Director of Academic Engagement Dr. Julie Netherland notes that the synthetic cannabinoid market is completely unregulated and people who use those substances do not know what they are getting. She also points out that one of the primary factors driving the use of such substances is marijuana prohibition. And more.

Chronicle AM: Midwest Marijuana, Clinton Looks Abroad to Fight Heroin, Dan Rush Indicted, More (9/21/15)

Michigan has two legalization initiative campaigns and now it has a legalization bill, Ohio's legalization initiative ballot language is set, a key UFCW organizer gets indicted, Chuck Schumer calls on the DEA to do something about Chinese drug sales websites, and more.

Hilary Clinton hints at eradication and interdiction to fight heroin. (
Marijuana Policy

Florida Rep Files Five Nanogram Drugged Driving Bill. Rep. David Kerner (D-Lake Worth) has filed House Bill 161, which would make driving with more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood a drugged driving offense. The bill is named after teenager Naomi Pomerance, who died in a traffic accident last year in which the driver of the scooter on which she was riding was high on marijuana and ran a red light.

Michigan Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and six cosponsors have filed House Bill 4877 to bring full-fledged marijuana legalization to the state. The move comes as two groups are working to put legalization initiatives on the 2016 ballot.

Ohio Ballot Board Revises Legalization Initiative Ballot Language to Remove "Misleading" Characterizations. On orders from the state Supreme Court to fix "misleading" ballot language after ResponsibleOhio challenged the original version, the state Ballot Board has revised its ballot wording to describe the initiative. The ballot title, which ResponsibleOhio had also challenged, will, however, stand. It reads: "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes." The campaign had challenged the use of "monopoly" and would have preferred "personal" instead of "recreational" use.

Ohio ACLU Endorses ResponsibleOhio Initiative. The ACLU of Ohio is getting behind the controversial legalization initiative because it would "begin to move our state away from senseless, wasteful drug prohibition toward a system that is supervised, safe, efficient, legal, and operating under regulatory oversight," the group said.

Washington State Teens Do Not Face Felonies for Marijuana Possession. After reports last week that an eastern Washington prosecutor had charged three teens with felonies for marijuana possession, saying that a new law designed to regulate medical marijuana demanded the charges, the air has cleared. The new law, Senate Bill 5052, does not require that teens be charged with felonies for possessing less than 40 grams, and the prosecutor has now dropped the felony charges. Interesting take on all this at the title link.

Medical Marijuana

Feds Indict Union Organizer on Corruption Charges. Dan Rush, marijuana industry organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), was indicted on federal corruption, attempted extortion, and money laundering charges in Oakland last Thursday. Rush is accused of using his position "to obtain money and other things" over a five-year period. He is accused of taking kickbacks from an attorney for referring medical marijuana business clients to him and of accepting $550,000 in debt forgiveness from a dispensary operator (who was also acting as an FBI informant at the time). Rush and his attorneys have denied the charges.

Connecticut Dispensaries Move a Step Nearer. The state Department of Consumer Protection announced last Friday that it has received 19 new applications for dispensaries in response to its June request. Three dispensaries will be selected to operate in New Haven or Fairfield counties.

Florida Initiative Organizers Say They Have Half a Million Signatures. The United for Care campaign to put medical marijuana on the ballot last year reports that it has already gathered 500,000 signatures. They need 683,149 valid voter signatures by February 1 to qualify. This is the same group that was behind the 2014 medical marijuana initiative, which garnered 58% of the vote, but came up short because constitutional amendments require 60% to pass.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Hillary Clinton Would Take War on Heroin Beyond US Borders. In an interview with WMUR radio in New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential contender said she would take the fight against heroin beyond the US border if necessary. "I think you have to," responded Clinton. "This has to be a comprehensive strategy. And we know that this cheap heroin that is killing so many people is coming across our border." Interdiction and eradication have long been favorite drug war strategies, but have not proven very effective.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Tribal Chairman Gets Job Back After Drug Testing Brouhaha. Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Chairman Bruce Renville was reinstated last Friday after being suspended for imposing drug testing on all tribal employees. In his zeal to get a grip on alcohol and drug abuse on the reservation, Renville went beyond the letter of the law. Employees who tested positive will not be punished.

Law Enforcement

Chuck Schumer Calls on DEA to Crack Down on China Drug Websites. Responding to concerns over synthetic cannabinoids, the New York Democrat is calling on the DEA to form a special unit to identify Chinese websites doing bulk sales of new psychoactive substances and ban credit card companies from doing business with them. "By simply telling the credit card companies not to deal with these sites, we can shut them down," Schumer said. "When you buy a synthetic drug, you give a credit card number. You can go on your iPhone right now and pull up some of these websites. They say 'We take Visa.' Visa would no longer take them. None of the credit card companies would take them. We could strangle them."

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

Chronicle AM: 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. (
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.


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.

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 (
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 (
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

What's in your ecstasy tablet? (
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: OH Will Vote on Legalization, ME Welfare Drug Test Program Finds One User, More (8/13/2015)

Ohio could be the next state to legalize marijuana, a union boss gets busted for taking bribes from dispensaries, "fake weed" is the subject of repression in Boston and New York state, Maine's welfare drug test program finds a single drug user, and more.

New psychoactive substance like these synthetic cannabinoids face bans, not regulation.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization This November. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday afternoon that the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization has qualified for the November ballot. Husted reported that the initiative campaign had collected 320,267 valid voter signatures; it needed 305,000 to qualify for the ballot. The initiative is controversial among marijuana legalization supporters because it creates a "monopoly" of ten allowed locations for commercial marijuana grows, which are owned by the people who funded the campaign. The initiative would also create a system of licensed marijuana processing facilities and retail outlets. And it would allow individual Ohioans to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Oakland Again Considers Licensing Medical Marijuana Farms. The city is in the process of crafting regulations and issuing licenses for medical marijuana grows, as well as other marijuana-related businesses. The city had proposed something similar in 2011, but retreated after federal prosecutors criticized the plan. But now the federal position has changed, and Oakland is ready to try again.

UFCW Official Accused of Taking Bribes from Dispensaries. Dan Rush, the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) cannabis division, has been charged in federal court with taking bribes or kickbacks to endorse potential dispensary operators. The feds accuse Rush of taking a $600,000 loan from one dispensary operator, and when he was unable to repay it, working with an attorney on "steps to provide various labor benefits to the (dispensary operator), including union support for opening dispensaries and reducing or eliminating pressure to unionize dispensary workers," the complaint says.

Oregon Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Task Force Bill. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 844, which establishes a task force to research the medical and public health properties of marijuana. The task force will make a report with recommendations to the legislature on developing a medical marijuana industry that supplies patients with products that will meet their needs.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York Lawmakers Want Tougher Laws Against "Fake Marijuana." Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) imposed an emergency ban on the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, but legislators want more. "Unfortunately, it is not doing the trick," said state Sen. Jeff Stein (D-Bronx). "We need a law on the books in Albany and we need a law right now. Synthetic marijuana is dangerous and poses a very real public health threat to New Yorkers, their families and children." He's supporting a bill that would make selling more than 25 grams of the stuff a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Boston City Council Bans "Fake Weed." The city council voted Wednesday to ban the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, commonly referred as "fake marijuana" or "synthetic marijuana." People caught selling the stuff will face a fine of $300, and police can now seize the drug.

Drug Testing

Maine Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Found Only One Drug User. The state began screening welfare applicants in April, but so far only one person has tested positive for drugs. The program screens all applicants for "reasonable suspicion" of drug use or if they have drug felonies, then subjects those it deems likely to be drug users to drug testing. But only 15 people have been referred to drug testing. Thirteen were blocked from receiving benefits because they didn't show up for either the initial screening or the drug test, and one tested positive. The results are in line with results from other states, whether drug screening and testing has also found very small numbers of drug users.


British Pot Farm Raids Decline. The number of police raids on commercial marijuana grows dropped by more than 17% last year. Observers cited law enforcement budget cuts and other factors. "Recent budget cuts appear to be reducing the amount of proactive policing that's going on," said Matthew Atha of the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit. "One of the main methods of detecting cannabis growers is police helicopters with infrared cameras and they cost a lot of money to keep in the air." This year, some British police forces have said they were going to deprioritize marijuana enforcement, but that wouldn't explain the decline last year.

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'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.)

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