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HI Senate Approves Legal Pot Bill, INCB Releases Annual Report, More... (3/6/24)

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Consequences of Prohibition

San Francisco voters approved a measure to require drug testing of cash welfare beneficiaries, Connecticut lawmakers heard about a bill to require hospitals to drug test non-fatal overdose patients, and more. 

A Connecticut bill would require hospitals to conduct drug tests on patients suffering non-fatal drug overdoses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3335, sending it to the House for consideration.

The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over and up to five grams of cannabis concentrates, as well as setting up a framework for legal marijuana commerce. 

The bill was formally introduced in both chambers in January and is rooted in the legalization framework created by state Attorney General Anne Lopez (D), which has been criticized for treating legalization from a law enforcement perspective instead of a public health one. But amendments made in the Senate have assuaged some of those concerns. 

One amendment would legalize marijuana paraphernalia, while another adds non-discrimination language around state benefits and child custody. A third bans people with felonies from participating in the legal industry for 10 years; the original bill had a lifetime ban. 

 "Although this is an imperfect bill that still contains far too many elements of criminalization, it’s welcome news to have a viable adult-use legalization bill that can be improved upon when it reaches the House," said Nikos Leverenz, of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i and the Hawai’i Health and Harm Reduction Center.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Bill Would Require Hospitals to Test Urine of Patients Who Survive Drug Overdoses. A bill that would require hospitals in the state to conduct testing to determine which drugs caused patient overdoses, House Bill 5291, was filed and got a hearing in the Public Health Committee last week. No vote was taken.

Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani explained that grant money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would allow his department to conduct toxicology reports on urine samples taken from drug overdose victims, but that only two hospitals in the state are currently gathering those samples. 

Juthani said the bill requiring hospitals to conduct the tests on non-fatal overdoses was needed to collect good data on which drugs people are using when they overdose. State law currently requires such testing only in the event of a fatal overdose. 

"The purpose of this legislation really is to compile a comprehensive report on toxicology information for non-fatal overdoses, to really give us a better indication as to where things stand," Juthani said.

The Connecticut Hospital Association submitted a written testimony in opposition to the bill. It said hospital staff is already overworked and stretched thin. 

"Connecticut’s healthcare safety net has been on the verge of breaking as EDs often become gridlocked with patients waiting to be seen by an emergency medicine clinician or specialist, waiting for admission to an inpatient bed in a hospital, or waiting to be transferred to a psychiatric, skilled nursing, or other facility," the testimony read.

San Francisco Voters Approve Measure to Require Drug Testing of Cash Welfare Recipients. The famously progressive city swung decidedly to the right in Tuesday's elections, approving one initiative that would require the drug testing of residents who receive cash welfare benefits, Measure F, and another that would loosen restrictions on police, Measure E.

The vote came as the city struggles with ongoing crime, homelessness, and drug crises that have tested the patience of city voters. The initiatives were backed by Mayor London Breed (D), who campaigned for them, and who faces challenges from wealthy interests in the city. 

"We want San Francisco to be exactly what the people who live here want to see," Breed told supporters. "And that is a safe, affordable place to call home."

But former supervisor and longtime progressive organizer John Avalos decried the moves, saying they were part of an effort to move the city rightward. 

"Everyone is operating on the terrain that’s set by the mayor and the billionaire class," Avalos said. "It’s a politics of fear, and we need a politics of hope. We’re losing our standing on the hope side."

Both the welfare drug testing measure and the loosening of restrictions on police passed with more than 60 percent of the vote. 

The voter pamphlet for Measure F says it will "require anyone who receives [cash welfare] benefits to be screened for substance use disorder if the City reasonably suspects the person to be dependent on illegal drugs. When screening indicates a recipient may be dependent on illegal drugs, the City will provide a professional evaluation and may refer the recipient to an appropriate treatment program. If that program is available at no cost, the recipient will be required to participate to continue receiving [cash] benefits. The measure does not require recipients to maintain sobriety to be eligible for benefits. Under Proposition F [cash welfare] recipients who stop receiving benefits because they refuse to participate in a required screening, evaluation or treatment would continue to receive housing assistance for at least 30 days. The City may extend their housing benefits beyond 30 days if necessary to avoid eviction."


INCB Reaffirms That Marijuana Legalization Violates Drug Control Treaties. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) issued its 2023 annual report Wednesday, and it unsurprisingly reiterated that it still considers marijuana legalization for non-medical or scientific purposes to be a violation of international drug control treaties. The INCB has been consistently grumpy about countries that have embraced legalization, having criticized Canada, Uruguay, and the United States for such moves in the past. 

The report notes that member nations are required to "take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary" to criminalize "the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs" such as marijuana under treaties dating back to 1961.

"The Board continues to reiterate its concern regarding the legalization of the use of cannabis for non-medical and non-scientific purposes in several jurisdictions, with other jurisdictions considering similar action," it said.

The INCB also reiterated an analysis made in the 2022 annual report suggesting that the US is not in compliance with the treaties because the federal government is allowing states in the country to legalize marijuana.

 "The apparent tension between these provisions and the trend towards legalization must be addressed by the signatories to the three drug control conventions," it said.


Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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