Popularization of Worse Drugs

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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. (Wikimedia.org)
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: Top Cops Call for Sentencing Reform, GOP Senators Split On Reform, More... (1/20/16)

GOP legislators are busy filing retrograde drug bills across the land, from chipping away at medical marijuana in Arizona to public benefits drug testing bills in several states. Meanwhile, a battle looms over federal sentencing reform.

The fight is heating up over a federal sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legislators Face Plethora of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session has barely started, but lawmakers in Jefferson City have already filed nearly 20 bills aiming at reforming marijuana policy. The bills range from legalization and medical marijuana to barring asset forfeiture in pot cases and expunging the record of nonviolent offenses, including marijuana offenses. Click on the link to see the whole list.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Legislators Try to Chip Away at Medical Marijuana Access. Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) has filed House Bill 2061, which would bar pregnant women from qualifying for the medical marijuana program, and Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale) has filed House Concurrent Resolution 2019, which removes homeopaths and naturopaths from the list of doctors who can issue medical marijuana recommendations.

Fix in the Works for California's Medical Marijuana Local Regulation Deadline. Legislators are working to fix a provision of the medical marijuana regulation law that requires localities to pass their own rules by March 1 or face loss of regulatory control to the state. The provision has caused a stampede of cities and counties seeking to get measures in place by that date, with most of them resorting to simple bans. The Senate Finance Committee last week passed a bill to remove the date.

Drug Testing

Indiana Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute) has filed Senate Bill 245, which would require people applying for unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing if they were fired for drug use or if they work in an occupation the federal Bureau of Labor has determined is one where drug testing is common. The bill had a hearing set for today.

West Virginia Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require drug testing of food stamp recipients passed the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources Tuesday and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill would only require testing of those for whom state officials had a "reasonable suspicion" were drug users. The measure is Senate Bill 6.

Sentencing

Police Chiefs, Prosecutors Urge Congress to Pass Criminal Justice Reform. More than 70 top police chiefs and prosecutors organized as Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration today called on Congress to pass sentencing reform. They are urging support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (Senate Bill 2123). The letter comes on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a major hearing on criminal justice reform. "Today, law enforcement leaders from across the nation join together to let our lawmakers know that reforming federal mandatory minimum sentences will help keep down crime and unnecessary incarceration. As police chiefs and prosecutors, our first priority is public safety. But we know first-hand from our experience that our country's high levels of incarceration are not making us safer," said the letter they sent out today.

GOP Split on Mandatory Minimums Threatens Sentencing Reform Bill. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is keeping mum about how he plans to proceed on the bill, which is cosponsored by several Republicans. GOP hardliners are balking, threatening passage of the measure. "I don't think it’s a healthy thing to do," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a fervent opponent of the justice bill. "If we lay off drug prosecutions, we're going to see even more murders and crimes, deaths and destruction. I think we need to slow down, be careful about this." The bill had appeared to be one of the few areas where bipartisan support could ensure passage, but now GOP support looks to be eroding.

International

Indian Has a Booming Industry Manufacturing New Psychoactive Substances. Recent raids by drug police have uncovered a domestic party drug manufacturing industry cranking out drugs by the ton. Police busted more than 1,200 pounds of mephedrone in one bust, 750 pounds in another, and more than 2500 pounds of ketamine in yet another. The drug makers are behaving like legitimate drug manufacturers, finding factories, chemists, and workers, then obtaining licenses to manufacture legitimate drugs, then cranking out party drugs.

Costa Rica Court Clears Activist of Marijuana Cultivation Charges. In a case that could be a step down the path to decriminalization, a court refused to convict Cerdas Salazar on drug trafficking charges for growing his own marijuana. Police contended he grew for sale, but provided no evidence of that. "Yes, marijuana cultivation is illegal; nonetheless, it is not a crime if it is not utilized for sale," the judge hearing the case, Carolina Leitón, said.

Chronicle AM: DC Council See-Saws on Pot Clubs, Fed Judge Throws Out Pot Credit Union Lawsuit, More (1/6/16)

Marijuana business access to banking services takes a hit from a federal judge, DC marijuana social clubs take a hit from the city council, Vermont legalization prospects get downplayed, pain patients are in the cross-hairs, and more.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera says legalize it. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Throws Out Marijuana Credit Union Lawsuit. US District Court Judge R. Brooke Johnson today dismissed a lawsuit seeking approval from the Federal Reserve branch in Kansas City for the first credit union for pot businesses in the state. Jackson said he was compelled to dismiss the suit because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

DC City Council Approves, Then Bans Marijuana Social Clubs. In a topsy-turvy day, the council first voted 7-6 to let an emergency ban on pot social clubs expire, but moments later, two council members switched positions, and the ban was extended a a 9-4 vote. The ban remains in effect for 90 days, and activists will continue to agitate for it to be allowed to expire.

Vermont Legislative Leaders Pour Cold Water on Legalization Prospects This Year. As the legislative session opens, House Speaker Shap Smith (D) said that there are still too many unanswered questions about how legalization would work and that he doesn't think it is ready for a full debate at this time. Minority Leader Sen. Joe Benning (R) said he, too, had similar questions and that the effort was "not quite ready for prime time." Both Smith and Benning said they generally support legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Cultivation Bill Filed. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has filed House Bill 722 (not yet available on the legislative website), which would allow the state to issue up to six licenses for medical marijuana growers. The legislature last year passed a bill allowing for the use of high-CBD marijuana, but included no provisions for growing it in the state.

New Psychoactive Substances

Florida Grand Jury Calls for Statewide Bans on Broad Classes of NPSs. Empaneled to confront the use of "flakka," a synthetic cathinone called alpha-PDP, a Broward County grand jury has issued a report calling for a state law that would ban entire classes of new psychoactive substances, such as synthetic cathinones, rather than limited bans on specified chemical compounds. The report calls for passage of the 2016 Florida Designer Drugs Enforcement Act proposed Monday by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). Flakka has been linked to some 60 deaths in the state over the past four years.

Pain Treatment

CDC Proposed Opiate Prescribing Guidelines for Chronic Pain Include Provisions for Drug Testing All Pain Patients -- Still Time to Comment. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain includes provisions for requiring drug testing of all pain patients -- including those with cancer or terminal illnesses. Comment on the proposed guidelines here. Comments are open until January 13.

International

Mexico City Mayor Supports Marijuana Legalization, Says Would Hurt Cartels. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said last week that marijuana legalization is an issue of personal freedom and that it would hurt illegal drug trafficking organizations. "My position is always in defense of freedom," he told El Universal. "I do support legalization." Legalizing marijuana would not be attractive for drug cartels, he added, saying "it would be a blow to them." Mancera's comments come as the country prepares for a national debate on legalization later this month.

Chronicle AM: MA Legalization Campaign Rolls Out, Federal "Synthetic Drugs" Bill Filed, More (9/22/15)

Signature gathering is getting underway in Massachusetts; the Albuquerque city council votes narrowly for decriminalization, but faces a possible veto; New York's junior senator addressed the National Cannabis Industry Association, and more.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) addressed the NCIA in New York City yesterday. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Campaign Rolls Out Today. One of two groups seeking to put legalization initiatives on the November 2016 ballot officially kicked off its signature gathering campaign today. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts held a Boston news conference with several state lawmakers to get the ball rolling. The campaign must collect 64,750 valid voter signatures to place the matter before the legislature. If the legislature doesn't act, the campaign would have to collect an additional 10,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot. The other legalization campaign in the state is by Bay State Repeal.

ResponsibleOhio Will File Initiative to Expunge Old Marijuana Convictions. The group behind this year's controversial marijuana legalization initiative is preparing a second initiative that would create a process to expunge old marijuana-related convictions. The Fresh Start Act would allow for reviews to expunge convictions if their actions would no longer be considered illegal. The group needs to gather 92,000 signatures before year's end to place the issue before the legislature next year. If the legislator then refuses to act on the initiative, it could go before voters on the 2016 ballot.

Albuquerque City Council Votes (Again) to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The council voted 5-4 along party lines late last night to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and paraphernalia. A similar resolution last year was vetoed by Mayor Richard Berry, but since then, voters in the region have had the opportunity to express their support for decriminalization and have done so. Bernalillo County, where Albuquerque is located, voted 60% for decrim, and every precinct in the city itself was above 50% for decrim. Is the mayor paying attention? Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

US Senator Addresses Industry Meeting, Calls for Feds to Butt Out. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) spoke at the National Cannabis Industry Association meeting in New York Monday and told industry professionals she is pushing a bill she cosponsored last March with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that would bar the federal government from interfering with marijuana in states where medical marijuana is legal. "There's a conflict between state and federal statute that confuses doctors, patients and providers alike," she said. "People aren't sure what's legal, what's not, and the gray area that resulted is hindering health care and the industry's development."

California State Monopoly Medical Marijuana Initiative Filed. Foes of marijuana reform in the Golden State have filed an initiative that would eliminate private marijuana cultivation and privately-owned dispensaries "in the interest of public safety." They would be replaced by one "state-owned cultivation site," which would supply "state-owned dispensaries." The initiative would also raise the minimum age for patients from 18 to 21. The initiative's proponents include anti-marijuana campaigner the Rev. Ron Allen, Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, and the Take Back America campaign.

New Psychoactive Substances

House Bill Would Criminalize Hundreds of New "Synthetic Drugs." Bipartisan legislation filed last week is aimed at reducing the traffic in new psychoactive substances, such as ones marketed under names like "flakka," "bath salts," and "K2." The bill is HR 3537, sponsored by Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Charlie Dent (R-PA), and David Jolly (R-FL), and it would amend the Federal Analogues Act to make it stronger, as well as adding a list of known new psychoactive substances to the Controlled Substances Act. In a bid to target distributors -- not users -- the bill narrows the act so that it does not apply to simple possession.

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. (state.gov)
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 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: 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.

How to Deal With New Psychoactive Substances? [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

New Psychoactive Substances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM: Reuters on West African Meth, Brit Pot Petition Goes Viral, Mexico Ibogaine Conference, More (7/27/15)

Lot's of international news today, plus Minnesota gets a second dispensary, Vermont seeks to prohibit more new synthetics, New Hampshire is worried about heroin, and more.

Iboga, the African herb from which ibogaine is derived (ibogaineconference.org)
Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Member Gets 16 Months in Federal Prison. They grew medical marijuana in a state where it is legal -- heck, even recreational is legal in Washington -- but were prosecuted by zealous federal prosecutors operating out of Spokane. Now, after pleading guilty and testifying for the federal government against fellow members of the five, Jason Lee Zucker has been rewarded with 16 months in federal prison. Assistant US Attorney Caitlin Baunsgard said last Friday Zucker's testimony was "integral" to obtaining convictions against his co-defendants and urged the lighter sentence. He could have been sent to federal prison for five years. Three of the other Kettle Falls Five face sentencing in October after being found guilty and are looking at up to 20 years. The fifth member, family patriarch Larry Harvey, saw charges against him dropped after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Second Minnesota Dispensary Opens for Business. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary outside of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Medical Solutions in Rochester, opened last Thursday. A Minneapolis-area dispensary opened earlier this year.

Ibogaine

Global Ibogaine Conference to Be Held in Mexico in March 2016. The conference will take place in the charming hipster town of Tepoztlan, about an hour south of Mexico City, and will feature speakers including Claudio Naranjo, Stanton Peele, and Andrew Tatarsky. Click on the link for all the conference and registration information.

New Synthetic Drugs

Vermont to Add 75 New Synthetic Drugs to Controlled Substances List. State officials are set to outlaw 75 new synthetic drugs after earlier moves against synthetics resulted in new ones being produced. "The people who design and create what people think of designer drugs are very creative chemists," said State Toxicologist Sarah Vose. "And they can change molecules very easily to avoid being regulated," Vose said. "So the updates to this list are an attempt to keep ahead of that trend in designer-drug creation." The new list of regulated compounds includes stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens. Among the soon-to-be-illegal compounds is acetyl-fentanyl, a derivative of a powerful opiate. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules will convene a hearing on the regulated drug rule proposal next week.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds Drug Abuse Second Most Pressing Problem in New Hampshire. Concerns about drug abuse were second only to concerns about the economy for New Hampshire residents surveyed in a WMUR Granite State Poll released last Thursday. Some 25% of respondents said the economy was the main concern, while 14% said drug abuse. Pollster Andy Smith said it was the most concern he's heard about drugs in the 15 years he's conducted the survey. But respondents were divided on what to do about it, with 42% saying the government should spend more to address heroin use, 20% saying the government is spending enough, and 38% saying they didn't know enough to respond.

International

Reuters Does In-Depth Report on Meth in West Africa. The press agency has produced a fairly comprehensive look at the rise of meth, meth trafficking, and meth production in the region. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Israel to Make Medical Marijuana Available By Prescription, Will Be Sold in Pharmacies. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said Monday that medical marijuana will be available in pharmacies and more doctors will be allowed to prescribe it. "There are already pharmacies that dispense all sorts of other drugs, such as morphine. There is order with that, and there will be order with this," Litzman said. "There will be registration, and we'll supervise it, but it will be according to a standard, like a drug. Right now, we're in a case at the High Court of Justice because of the growers, and we'll issue a tender for the growers. I hope we get approval from the High Court of Justice. We'll fight aggressively to allow this to get out," Litzman emphasized. "The growers will also be stronger. As soon as there is a tender, it shifts to selling a drug by prescription, and I'm sure it will be accepted. We have a lot more work and much more to do, but this is my headline."

More Than One Quarter of Italian Parliamentarians Support Marijuana Legalization Proposal. Some 250 of Italy's 945 members of parliament have endorsed a bill that would legalize marijuana. The proposal would allow anyone 18 or older to grow up to five plants at home or to join a "cannabis social club" with a joint garden of up to 50 people and 250 plants. Marijuana produced by home gardeners or social clubs could not be sold, but marijuana stores would make pot available at retail, with people allowed to possess up to 15 grams at home and to carry up to five grams with them. The proposal has support across Italy's political spectrum, but it remains to be seen if it can pass.

Online Petition Calling for Marijuana Legalization Will Force UK Parliament to Respond. More than 150,000 Britons have signed a government-authorized online petition calling for the total legalization of marijuana. Like the change.gov petition process in the US, policymakers must respond if a certain signature level -- in this case, 100,000 -- is reached. The signatures have come in just five days. The petition now goes to the House of Commons petition committee, which has the power to press for action from the government or the parliament -- or not. But at least the petition committee will have to formally address it.

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