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Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init in Danger, CO Legalization Report, Russia Synthetics Ban, More (10/28/14)

The Florida medical marijuana initiative appears to be in trouble, thanks in part to a deep-pocketed GOP opposition donor, a federal court is hearing evidence on marijuana's scheduling, a new report on Colorado's legalization finds less than meets the eye, Russia bans some new synthetics, and more. Let's get to it:

Florida's medical marijuana initiative faces an uphill battle in the campaign's final days.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Hears Arguments on Proper Scheduling of Marijuana. In a federal court hearing in Sacramento that continues today, three medical experts testified that the scientific evidence does not support classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This is the first time in living memory that a federal court in a criminal case has allowed discussion of marijuana's proper placement in the drug schedules. Testifying for the defense in US v. Schweder, Gregory Carter, MD, and Carl Hart, PhD, told the court that marijuana is neither "very dangerous" nor "lacking medical use," both of which are required to support a Schedule I placement.

Cincinnati City Council Moves to Fix Its Pot Policy Misstep. Ohio is a state where the possession of marijuana is decriminalized, but in 2006, the Cincinnati city council tried to crack down on it, making possession of even small amounts a misdemeanor offense under city ordinance. The council later repealed that law, admitting it was a mistake. Now, it has moved to undo one of the nastier consequences of its actions, voting Monday to allow people arrested under that ordinance to have their criminal records expunged. More than 10,000 people were arrested under the ordinance, which was in effect until its repeal in 2010.

Cato Report on Colorado Legalization: No Big Deal. For all the sturm und drang surrounding the consequences of marijuana legalization in Colorado, a new report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron for the Cato Institute finds it just wasn't that big a deal. Miron found little impact on crime, traffic accidents, or teen drug use -- the banes of the anti-legalization folks -- but neither did he find a big impact on the state's economy. And he found that tax revenues were lower than estimated. Miron's bottom line? "The evidence here indicates that strong claims about Colorado's legalization, whether by advocates or opponents, are so far devoid of empirical support."

Medical Marijuana

Florida's Measure 2 In Danger. A Gravis Marketing poll released Monday has support for the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative at 50%, with 42% opposed and 8% undecided. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needs 60% to win. Gravis had the initiative with 62% in August and 55% early this month. On the other hand, the United for Care campaign sent an email to supporters last night claiming its internal polling had the initiative at 61%. Click on the poll link for methodological details.

Republican Money Man Sheldon Adelson Contributes Another $1 Million to Defeat Florida's Measure 2. Las Vegas casino magnate and Republican sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson has thrown another million dollars into the battle to defeat the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative. Opponents of the initiative have raised $5.8 million to defeat it; Adelson is responsible for $5 million of it. Overall, opponents have spent $5.5 million, pretty much matching supporters, who have so far spent $6.5 million.

International

Russia Bans Ingredients for New Synthetic Drugs. Russia has expanded its list of banned drugs to include methoxetamine, NM-018, and methylphenidate -- all used to create new synthetic drugs. The move comes after Russian senators proposed earlier this month to ban new synthetics from the moment they are discovered instead of going through the lengthy process of listing them on the Federal Drug Control Services' list of banned drugs.

Chronicle AM: ME Marijuana Moves, Global Commission Report, CO MJ Growing Conflict, More (9/3/2014)

Maine local legalization initiative efforts move forward, Massachusetts moves to ban N-Bomb, conflict over Colorado marijuana growing rules, and more. Let's get to it:

"N-Bomb," a synthetic psychedelic similar to LSD, is already illegal under federal law, but Massachusetts wants to ban it, too.
Marijuana Policy

York, Maine, Legalization Initiative Hands In Signatures. Advocates for a local initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot by adult handed in signatures today. The Marijuana Policy Project needs 641 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot; they handed in 900 raw signatures.

Lewiston, Maine, Will Vote on Local Legalization Initiative. The city council voted unanimously last night to put on the November ballot a measure that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults. The council was responding to a successful initiative petition signature drive.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Hearing on Medical Marijuana Today. A legislative study committee is hearing testimony today about the possibility of approving medical marijuana in the state. They were expected to discuss a 1993 marijuana stamp tax law as part of an effort to determine what potential tax revenues are. But that law was mainly designed as a tool to punish marijuana seller, not for revenue purposes.

Colorado Public Hearing Yesterday Saw Contention Over Greenhouse Grows. A public hearing over proposed changes to retail and medical marijuana rules saw sparks fly over the issue of greenhouse grows. A new production cap rule would allow warehouses to grow up to 3,600 plants, while greenhouses could only grow half that amount. Greenhouse grows are more economically and environmentally sustainable.

Drug Policy

Global Commission on Drug Policy to Release New Report Next Week. Next Tuesday, September 9, the Global Commission on Drug Policy will release Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work, a new, groundbreaking report, at a press conference in New York City.The event will be live-streamed, and speakers include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Richard Branson and others. The Commissioners will then meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson in the afternoon following the press conference. Click on the title link for more details.

New Synthetic Drugs

Massachusetts Emergency Bill Would Ban N-Bomb. Bay State prosecutors and law enforcement held a press conference today to announce an emergency bill to classify the synthetic psychedelic drug NBOMe, also known as N-Bomb, as a Class B controlled substance in the state. NBOMe is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, but without a state ban, "state and local police, when they discover these drugs, are powerless to seize them and powerless to prosecute those who might be possessing or distributing them," Middlesex DA Marian Ryan said at the press conference.

International

Spanish Police Dismantle Malaga Cannabis Club. Police in Malaga have shut down a cannabis club there after its members were caught soliciting and selling pot to non-members during the Feria de Malaga celebration. Spanish law allows cannabis club members to collectively grow and share their own, but not to sell it to or solicit non-members.

Japan Cracks Down on Stores Selling Synthetic Drugs. Japanese authorities raided at least 129 stores in Tokyo and Aichi, Osaka, and Fukuoka prefectures for selling synthetic drugs banned under the country's pharmaceutical law At least 50 of those stores have been shut down or will close soon, officials said.

Chronicle AM -- April 7, 2014

Talk about unintended consequences! Faced with a declining US market share, Mexican marijuana farmers are switching to opium poppies. Plus, AG Holder has some words about rescheduling, the Maryland decrim bill is back from the dead, it looks like 2016 for California legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

With declining US market share, Mexican marijuana farmers are switching to poppies. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Holder Says Obama Administration "Willing to Work" With Congress to Reschedule Marijuana. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the Obama administration would be willing to work with Congress if lawmakers want to reschedule marijuana. Holder did not mention that the administration, and he personally, already have the statutory authority to reschedule marijuana, without needing further permission from Congress. Either way, recategorizing marijuana would not legalize the drug under federal law, but it could ease restrictions on research into marijuana's medical benefits and allow marijuana businesses to take the usual tax deductions, e.g. not pay taxes on money that has been paid out for things like rent or payroll. "We'd be more than glad to work with Congress if there is a desire to look at and reexamine how the drug is scheduled, as I said there is a great degree of expertise that exists in Congress," Holder said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing. "It is something that ultimately Congress would have to change, and I think that our administration would be glad to work with Congress if such a proposal were made." 

Okay, There Will Be No California Legalization Initiative This Year. Proponents of the last two California marijuana legalization initiatives still alive this year have thrown in the towel. Dave Hodges, proponent of the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act (MCLR) announced today that it will not meet an April 18 signature-gathering deadline, while Berton Duzy, proponent for the revived California Cannabis Hemp Initiative (CCHI), which has received a signature-gathering extension, conceded that "We're not going to make 2014." In California, it's now all eyes on 2016.

Maryland Decriminalization Returns from the Dead, Passes House. Defying a powerful committee chairman who tried to derail a decriminalization bill by turning it into a study bill, House delegates Saturday passed House Bill 879 by a vote of 78-55. Final procedural votes on both measures are expected today, the last day of the session.

Delaware Governor "Willing to Discuss" Softer Marijuana Penalties. Gov. Jack Markell (D) is "willing to discuss" changes that would reduce penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to a spokesman for the governor. "The governor has supported making marijuana available for medical purposes and DHSS expects to license a dispensary that can open in Delaware this year," Markell spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said in a statement. "The governor is willing to discuss changing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana from jail sentences to just fines, but he would not support full legalization at this time without further studies and evidence of its consequences."

Thousands Rally at Annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash. An estimated 8,000 people gathered at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for the 42nd annual Hash Bash over the weekend. Police warned that people who toked up could get arrested, but that didn't seem to stop anybody. As The Detroit Free Press noted, "the event's usual plume of smoke hung over the crowd."

University of Colorado Will Close the Campus Again for 4/20. University of Colorado officials will close the Boulder campus on April 20 for the third straight year to prevent thousands of celebrants from marking the stoner holiday on campus. From noon to 6:00pm on April 20, CU faculty, students and staff will be required to show identification to enter campus. Officials brushed aside student complaints.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Appeals Court Upholds Local Ban on Collective Gardens. The Washington Court of Appeals last week upheld the city of Kent's ban on medical marijuana collective gardens, ruling that the ordinance is not preempted by state law. The case is Cannabis Action Coalition et al. v. City of Kent et al.

Hemp

Nebraska Governor Signs Hemp Research Bill. Gov. Dave Heineman (R) last week signed into law Legislative Bill 100, which allows University of Nebraska campuses to grow hemp for research purposes. This is the first such bill to pass since Congress authorized search research when it accepted a hemp amendment to the omnibus agriculture bill this fiscal year.

Drug Testing

Michigan Suspicion-Based Welfare Drug Testing Bill Polls Well. Suspicion-based drug testing for welfare recipients has broad support across Michigan, a new poll shows. The poll, conducted by Marketing Resource Group, finds that 77% of respondents support legislation that would require the Department of Human Services to test welfare recipients suspected of using drugs, then send recipients with positive tests to rehab. House Bill 4118 has already passed the House and Senate, but was amended in the latter chamber, so it still needs another House floor vote.

Law Enforcement

California Bill Would Create Zero-Tolerance DUID Law. A bill that would make the presence of any detectable amount of any controlled substance, including prescription drugs, evidence of drugged driving has been filed in the Assembly. Assembly Bill 2500, sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Solano) is before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Colorado Bill Would Make Mere Drug Possession Evidence of Child Endangerment. Under a bill introduced by state Sens. Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood) and Linda Newell (D-Littleton), the mere possession or use of illicit substances would be grounds for a claim of child endangerment. Senate Bill 178 was filed April Fools' Day, but it's no joke.

International

With Declining US Market Share, Mexican Farmers Switch from Marijuana to Opium. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling -- driven in part by decriminalization or legalization in sections of the United States -- Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies, according to this lengthy article from The Washington Post. That means more, cheaper heroin for the US market. Pot farming "isn't worth it anymore," one farmer complained. "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization." David Shirk, a Mexico researcher at the University of California at San Diego, told The Post, "When you have a product losing value, you diversify, and that's true of any farmer… The wave of opium poppies we're seeing is at least partially driven by changes we're making in marijuana drug policy."

Filipino Drug Warrior Mayor Issues Shoot-to-Kill Order for Cocaine Sellers. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a man never known for letting human rights get in the way of his war on drugs, has issued a shoot-to-kill order against anyone selling cocaine from eight bricks of the drug still missing after police seized 64 of the one-pound packages. "Once they go out and use or sell them, they will become drug lords. I have a shoot-to-kill order, especially if they resist arrest -- if they do that, we can enforce the shoot-to-kill," Duterte said.

Jamaican Marijuana Growers Association Is Launched. A group of influential Jamaicans gathered Saturday to formally launch an association of supposed future marijuana cultivators as momentum builds toward loosening laws prohibiting pot on the Caribbean island. Some 300 people assembled at a conference center in downtown Kingston to officially launch the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association. Among other things, the group will lobby for creation of a regulated cannabis industry on the tropical island famed for its marijuana cultivation. The government has been making some promising noises about medical marijuana and decriminalization, but there is nothing definite so far.

Florida Attorney General Bans "Crazy Clown" Drug

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Wednesday filed an emergency rule criminalizing four related synthetic cannabinoid drugs, including one being marketed under the name "Crazy Clown," her office announced in a press release. The emergency move makes the new synthetics Schedule I controlled substances under Florida law.

The four substances are B-PINACA, AB-FUBINACA, ADB-PINACA, and Fluoro ABDICA. They have been tentatively identified as cannabinoid receptor agonists, similar to an earlier round of synthetic cannabinoids that have been marketed under names such as "Spice" and "K2." Those drugs are banned under federal law and are illegal in a number of states as well.

Georgia banned the drugs last month under a synthetic drugs analog law, and now neighboring Florida has moved to do so, too.

The move came after a spate of media reports and law enforcement warnings in August and September about users suffering ill effects from "Crazy Clown," including nausea, vomiting, and violent behavior. But there has been no reported follow-up on those initial accounts.

"I will remain vigilant in my efforts to keep these drugs off store shelves and will continue to outlaw emergent synthetic drug compounds. These drugs pose a serious threat to Floridians, particularly our youth," said Attorney General Bondi.

"While synthetic drugs are marketed as safe alternatives to illegal drugs, make no mistake; these synthetics are dangerous," said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. "Adding these four new concoctions to Florida's schedule 1 drug list strengthens our fight. We will continue our efforts with Attorney General Bondi to identify illegal chemicals and react swiftly."

Bondi said she will work with the state legislature to permanently ban them next year.

While Bondi's action is of a piece with the reflexive prohibitionist response to the earlier new synthetics apparent both in Washington and in state houses around the country, banning new synthetic drugs is not the only possible response to them. New Zealand made headlines worldwide when instead of banning them, it moved to regulate new synthetics.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Obama Signs Synthetic Drug Ban Bill

President Barack Obama Monday signed into law a bill banning the synthetic drugs known popularly as "bath salts" and "fake weed." The language barring the substances was inserted into the Food and Drug Administration safety bill passed last month by the Congress.

Bye-bye Spice, hello...? (wikimedia.org)
The bill targets 31 specific synthetic stimulant, cannabinoid, and hallucinogenic compounds. Marketed under brand names like K2 and Spice for synthetic cannabinoids and under names like Ivory Wave, among others, for synthetic stimulants, the drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years.

With their rising popularity came rising reports of emergency room visits and poison control center calls attributed to the drugs. Synthetic cannabinoids have been linked to symptoms similar to those suffered by people who sought medical help after smoking marijuana, while the adverse reactions reported by "bath salts" users have been more serious.

More than half the states and numerous localities have moved to ban some of these new synthetics, and the DEA placed both groups of substances under an emergency ban until Congress acted.

Congressional advocates of the prohibitionist approach to new synthetics were pleased.

"President Obama's swift approval of this federal ban is the final nail in the coffin for the legal sale of bath salts in smoke shops and convenient stores in New York State and throughout the rest of the country," said Schumer in a press release (which also includes a complete list of the 31 banned substances). "This law will close loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensure that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly bath salts, and I'm pleased that after a great deal of effort, it has become law. We have seen bath salts catalyze some of the most heinous crimes in recent months across Upstate New York, and the President's signature ensures that the federal government can fight this scourge with a united front, across state lines and at our borders."

Schumer used the occasion to take a jab at Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who had placed a senatorial hold on the bill, blocking it for months over his concerns about mandatory minimum sentences before removing the hold after the bill's sentencing structure was modified. Schumer gloated that Congress passed the bill "over the strenuous objections" of Paul.

While Schumer and his colleagues claimed the bill will suppress the new synthetics, others were not so certain.

New York state anti-synthetic activist Deirdre Canaday, whose 26-year-old son Aaron Stinson died last year after smoking a form of fake weed called Mr. Nice Guy, told a local TV news station the ban addressed only a handful of potential new synthetic drugs.

"I think if the American public isn't careful, they'll think this issue has been addressed when this is really just the tip of the iceberg," she said. "By specifically labeling chemical compounds, they are creating an open door for these basement and garage chemists to create analogs, which is branching out from the original compound, and differing just slightly, and it still has the same effect," said Canaday.

Washington, DC
United States

US Senate Passes Synthetic Drug Ban, Without Mandatory Minimums [FEATURE]

The Senate has passed House Resolution 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, which would federally criminalize the possession, distribution, and manufacture of synthetic cannabinoids ("fake marijuana") and synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"). The measure has already passed the House, and President Obama is expected to quickly sign it into law.

The synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as "herbal incense" and sold under brand names such as K2 and Spice, while the synthetic stimulants are marketed as "bath salts" and sold under a variety of names, including Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky. Poison control centers and emergency rooms around the country have reported a sharp increase in synthetic drug incidents in the past two years, with Spice users reporting adverse effects similar to those sometimes reported with marijuana, while bath salts users have suffered more serious adverse effects, including hallucinations, psychotic breaks, and death.

Fake pot or bath salts or both are already banned in a number of states, and more states are considering criminalizing them. Both types of drugs have already been subject to emergency bans by the DEA while its legislatively mandated process for evaluating new drugs proceeds.

A widely publicized incident over the weekend in which a man chewed off parts of another man's face before being shot and killed by police has heightened concerns about the new synthetics, generating headlines like "Miami cannibal zombie-like attack linked to powerful 'bath salts' drug," but at this point, such claims are pure speculation. Police in the case have also posited "a new form of LSD" and "cocaine psychosis" to explain the attack, but any real information will have to await a toxicologist's report.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had single-handedly blocked passage of the bill for months by placing a senatorial hold on it. Paul objected to harsh mandatory minimum sentences in the bill, as well as to further broadening of the federal war on drugs.

But bill supporters, led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), resorted to a parliamentary maneuver to get it passed. They quietly attached it to an FDA regulatory bill, which the Senate passed last Wednesday.

Sen. Rand Paul got mandatory minimums removed
Still, Sen. Paul was able to insert language into the bill specifying that the Controlled Substance Act's mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for anyone supplying a drug that causes severe bodily harm or death to a user does not apply to the newly banned synthetics. That's because in order to get the FDA bill approved by Memorial Day, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who actually sponsored the amendment adding the synthetics to the FDA bill, had to win unanimous consent for his amendment. Paul agreed not to object after Portman inserted the language about the mandatory minimums.

The bill still contains draconian sentencing provisions, including sentences of up to 20 years for a first sale or manufacturing offense and up to 30 years for a subsequent offense.

The bill's sponsors said after the vote that its passage would strike a strong blow against the new synthetics, but industry advocates and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) disagree.

"Let this be a warning to those who make a profit manufacturing and selling killer chemical components to our teens and children: the jig is up," Schumer said in a statement. "This bill closes loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensures that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly synthetic drugs."

"These new designer drugs can kill, and if we don't take action, they are going to become more and more prevalent and put more and more people at risk," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), another sponsor of the bill said in a statement. "Today's action is good news for this critical legislation to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on synthetic drugs before they put more lives in danger, and I will continue to work to ensure these provisions are signed into law."

But the Retail Compliance Association (RCA), which represents smoke shop and convenience store operators and which opposed the bill, pointed out that the bill only bans five chemical families and only names 15 synthetic cannabinoids. Many of those compounds are already off the market, the RCA said, adding that the bill does not include hundreds of additional compounds unrelated to the chemical families banned under it.

"This bill will be touted as banning what law enforcement has deemed 'fake pot,' but it does no such thing; it actually only bans a few of the potential ingredients of these products, by no means the products themselves," said RCA spokesman Dan Francis. "The bill's range of enforcement may well be limited to the specifically named compounds because labs cannot test for chemical families, nor can the police or retailers. The products are tested by many different levels of this industry, and no lab I have spoken with has a test to determine the chemical family," Francis added.

The CBO, for its part, published a cost analysis of the bill in November that found its impact would be minimal.

"Based on information from industry and law enforcement experts, CBO expects that, by the date of the legislation's enactment, most vendors will have largely replaced the banned substances with new products because many states have already passed legislation banning some or all of the compounds listed in the bill and because the DEA has already issued emergency rules temporarily banning five cannabimimetic agents and three synthetic stimulants," the analysis found.

Still, Congress can pat itself on the back for "doing something" about the new synthetic drugs -- whether or not it actually does anything good.

Washington, DC
United States

Australia Bans Synthetic Marijuana

As of Tuesday, synthetic cannabis ("fake weed") products are illegal in Australia. The ban came when the Therapeutic Goods Administration placed eight groups of synthetic cannabinoids and all synthetic cannabinomimetics on the National Medical and Poisons Schedule.

"spice" or K2 packet (wikimedia.org)
Fake weed is already banned in at least 16 countries and an ever-growing number of US states. The DEA issued an emergency ban on the substances last year, but a bill to make that ban permanent has been stalled in Congress by a hold placed on it by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

Fake weed consists of powdered synthetic cannabinoids, which are then sprayed on herbal matter and marketed under brand names including Kronic, K-2, and Spice. They produce a high similar to marijuana and sometimes create undesired side effects in users similar to those sometimes experienced with marijuana. No deaths in the US have been directly linked to their use.

Possession, manufacture, or sale of fake weed is now a criminal offense in Australia with violators facing fines or jail, including up to 10 years in prison for manufacturing and distribution offenses.

The ban came after police last month called for urgent meetings with public health and drug authorities. The state of Western Australia last year requested consideration of a national ban and had banned fake weed in its territory last year after a spate of highly-publicized hospitalizations of users, but no other Australian state had enacted a ban.

"These products do not appear to have any legitimate therapeutic use and there is a developing international body of evidence and clinical experience that is showing harm related to use of these substances," said Western Australia Mental Health Minister Helen Morton, who had championed the ban there last year. "Removing synthetic cannabinoids from legal supply, sale and possession is expected to result in a significant decrease in consumption and the associated harm related to their use," she told Perth Now.

Ironically, the surge in fake weed use in Western Australia came as the state government there toughened its marijuana laws last year. Prior to the enactment of that law last August, possession of up to 30 grams of pot had been decriminalized, but under the new law, those possessing more than 10 grams face up to two years in prison. The cultivation of up to two plants had also been decriminalized, but is now punishable by up to two years in prison as well.

Canberra
Australia

Billboard Goes Up for Colorado Marijuana Initiative

In the opening move of its election season effort to pass Amendment 64, a marijuana legalization and regulation initiative, the Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has put up a billboard in the heart of Denver featuring a nice, middle aged woman who says, "For many reasons, I prefer marijuana over alcohol" and asks "Does that make me a bad person?"

the first billboard in the Colorado campaign (CRMLA)
The billboard near Mile High Stadium sits above a liquor store. It went up last Thursday.

The initiative, which takes the form of a constitutional amendment, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over. Adults would also be able to possess up to six plants -- three mature -- and the fruits of their harvest.

It also calls for the licensing of marijuana cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores. It would require the legislature to pass an excise tax on the wholesale sale of marijuana and that the first $40 million in tax revenues each year be dedicated to the state's public school capital construction assistance fund. It would give local governments the ability to regulate such facilities or prohibit them.

In the most recent polling on the issue, a December Public Policy Polling survey found that 49% supported the general notion of legalizing marijuana -- the poll did not ask specifically about Amendment 64 -- while 40% opposed it and 10% were undecided.

That shows that victory is within reach, but by no means assured. One of the key demographic groups needed to win is mothers and middle-aged women, like that nice lady on the billboard.

Colorado isn't the only state where marijuana legalization will be on the ballot. A similar effort in Washington has qualified for the ballot, while signature-gathering for initiatives continues in a number of states. Of those, efforts in Oregon and Montana now appear to have the best shot of actually qualifying for the ballot.

DEA Extends Ban on Fake Marijuana Chemicals

The DEA has extended for another six months its emergency ban on five synthetic cannabinoids used to manufacture "fake weed" products. The chemicals are sprayed on herbal mixtures and the resulting product is sold under names including Spice and K2.

The agency first enacted the ban a year ago, but that emergency ban was set to expire last Thursday. The DEA published the extension in the federal register that same day.

The extension continues the ban on five synthetic cannabinoids: JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497 (that's all one chemical CP-47,497) and cannabicyclohexanol. The ban means those substances are treated as Schedule I drugs under federal law.

"Schedule 1 substances are reserved for those substances with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision," the DEA reminded in a press release last Wednesday.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported last month that after synthetic marijuana products first appeared on their radar in 2009, generating several hundred calls, the number jumped to 2,906 calls in 2010 and 6,956 last year. Their data also showed that the number of calls peaked in July 2011 at 705 and have declined since then, with 551 calls reported in December.

The poison centers and emergency room doctors have reported such symptoms as disorientation, elevated heart rates, and vomiting, similar to those reported from adverse reactions to marijuana. There are no confirmed reports of overdose deaths, and only a handful of deaths potentially linked to synthetic marijuana, including a trio of suicides after use, a young man killed in a traffic accident while driving after use, and a 13-year-old Pennsylvania boy who smoked synthetic weed out of a plastic Pez dispenser and later died of complications from a lung transplant.

"We continue to address the problems of synthetic drug manufacturing, trafficking, and abuse. Our efforts have clearly shown that these chemicals present an imminent threat to public safety," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "This six month extension is critical and gives us the time necessary to conduct the administrative scheduling process for permanent control.

A number of states have and localities have already banned synthetic marijuana, and more are moving to do so this year. Federal legislation that would ban both synthetic marijuana and new synthetic stimulants ("bath salts") has passed the House, but is being blocked in the Senate by a hold placed on it by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

This week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) joined the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and nearly 40 other organizations on a letter to members of the Senate urging them to oppose the legislation. In a separate press release, DPA urged Congress to not just reject the synthetic drug legislation but also overhaul US drug policy, pointing out that last year marked the 40th Anniversary of President Nixon declaring a war on drugs, and despite the government arresting tens of millions of nonviolent Americans and spending more than a trillion dollars, drugs are cheap, potent, and readily available in every community.

"Senator Rand Paul is standing up to both political parties and doing what it takes to protect Kentucky taxpayers from the career politicians in Washington who want to waste more money on failed drug policies," said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "He should be applauded for opposing government waste and supporting public safety. The failed war on drugs costs too much and achieves too little; it is time for a new approach."

Washington, DC
United States

New Drugs Get Same Old Response on Capitol Hill [FEATURE]

Confronted with the rising popularity of new synthetic drugs, Congress is responding in a reflexive prohibitionist manner. Last month, bills aimed at banning the substances moved forward in Congress, despite the protests of advocates and businessmen that lawmakers are simply repeating the mistakes of drug prohibition.

Congress never met a new drug it didn't want to ban. (image via Wikimedia)
The bills are aimed at two distinct classes of designer drugs -- synthetic cannabinoids or fake marijuana sold under names such as Spice and K2, and the synthetic methcathinone derivatives mephedrone and MDVP commonly sold as "bath salts" under names such as Ivory Wave that produce a high likened to those of cocaine, methamphetamine, or ecstasy.

A number of states have moved against fake weed or bath salts or both. In action earlier this year, the DEA imposed a temporary emergency ban on fake weed, but it has not moved yet against bath salts. Now, Congress is poised to get in on the action.

H.R. 1254
, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011 and its Senate companion bill, S. 605 would make both fake marijuana and bath salts Schedule I controlled substances, like LSD, heroin, and marijuana. They also attempt to block new designer drugs by banning whole classes of similar chemical compounds. And they seek to expand the period for which the DEA can impose an emergency ban on a new drug, which the agency did earlier this year with synthetic cannabinoids. That bill was moving in House committees last week. 

Two other bills that would do essentially the same thing have also been filed in the Senate. They are S. 409, introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and S. 839, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). These bills, though, are aimed only at bath salts. (An additional House bill, H.R. 1571, identified by the Library of Congress legislative tracking system as related to S. 409, has not moved out of committee.)

The bath salts drugs have been associated with spectacular bad reactions, including increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia and delusions, and some reports of violent behavior. Fake weed has been associated with less dangerous bad reactions, including confusion, nausea and panic attacks.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers warned in May that it had seen a nine-fold increase in bath salts-related calls over the previous year, and that was with less than half the year gone. Last year, centers reported 302 calls; as of May of this year, they had received more than 2,200 calls.

That would clearly seem to suggest that use of bath salts is on the rise, but what it means beyond that is not so clear. Without a handle on actual use levels, it is difficult to determine how frequent such adverse reactions are, or how they compare to reported adverse events with other drugs.

Still, Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, said the substances are the worst he has seen in 20 years at the poison center. "These products create a very severe paranoia that we believe could cause users to harm themselves or others," he said.

Oddly enough, for drugs that are touted as being so horrible, evidence from Britain suggests that somebody likes them quite a bit. According to a report last month in the Guardian, which cited recently released scientific research, "Mephedrone is more popular among UK clubbers than ecstasy despite being banned."

"The legal status wasn't considered important," said Fiona Measham, a criminology lecturer who led the research. "Among the people we spoke to, I was surprised how much they liked it, how much they enjoyed it. They wanted to take more and were prepared to seek it out and buy it on the illegal market."

"Ivory Wave" is one popular brand of mephedrone. (image via Wikimedia)
But Congress isn't paying attention to foreign researchers. In a statement typical of congressional discourse on the issue, in a hearing last week, Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), the sponsor of HB 1254, first listed a number of anecdotal scare stories, then proceeded to warn his colleagues that the drugs were not innocent. "These substances are marketed with innocent sounding names," he said, "but these labels are total misnomers designed to facilitate their legal sale. These drugs have no legitimate medicinal or industrial purposes."

"We are in a new era of drugs," said Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), as she prepared to deal with them with the same tired approach Congress has taken with other drugs -- by banning them.

There is a better way, said reform advocates and representative of trade groups.

"Lawmakers are poised to repeat mistakes from the past by creating ineffective laws that will criminalize more people and drive these substances into the illicit market," said Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance. "History has clearly shown that prohibiting a drug makes it more dangerous, not less. Instead of more failed drug prohibition, Congress would be much more successful with an approach that restricts how these drugs are marketed, provides comprehensive drug education, and has strict age controls. To best reduce the harms of these drugs, Congress should instead support rigorous scientific study to better understand what is in these products, and establish a robust system of regulation and control of the synthetic drug market."

"This application of the law is irresponsible," said Daniel Francis, executive director of the Retail Compliance Association, which represents retail outlets that sell (or sold) K2 as he addressed HB 1264. "It is the most irresponsible thing a lawmaker can do, an act of prohibition. I hope they wear the responsibility of the consequences of these acts on their minds forever. This law will force even less understood compounds into the market."

"This legislation comes at a time when Washington is seeking to reduce federal spending. Yet, enforcing a federal ban on synthetic drugs isn't going to be cheap and we already know from marijuana prohibition that this approach won't work," said Smith. "The irony is that the only reason that people use synthetic marijuana is because the real thing is illegal. But passage of this legislation will only further escalate the war on drugs, send more people to jail, exacerbate health harms, and ignore four decades of comprehensive research and review that confirms the war on drugs approach has failed," he added.

"The bill covers some potential ingredients in herbal incense products, by no means all, and these ingredients are invisible, no one, no police officer, or retailer can tell what is in the product, if it is legal or not, and this law provides no direction whatsoever in how one is to determine this," pointed out Francis.

The Retail Compliance Association, which sent a letter of concern to Congress about the issue in April, expects that its efforts to block passage of HB 1264 this year will be in vain. But that doesn't mean it is rolling over and playing dead. Instead, the group said it is forming a coalition to file a legal challenge to the bill "immediately after it passes."

It has taken decades to get past the hysteria and fear-mongering surrounding traditional drugs, and that is a task that is by no means completed. It would be nice if we didn't have to go through the same sort of rigmarole with these new designer drugs, but we do. At least this time around, there are people around from the beginning who and willing to stand and fight.

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