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Three GOP Senators Oppose Rescheduling Pot, WI Governor Signs Xylazine Test Strip Bill, More... (3/28/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on
Consequences of Prohibition

New Hampshire's path to marijuana legalization just got twistier, Kansas lawmakers vote down even a pilot program for medical marijuana, and more. 

Xylazine AKA "tranq." Wisconsin has just legalized test strips to detect the drug.
Marijuana Policy

Three GOP Senators Oppose Marijuana Rescheduling, Citing Global Drug Treaties. Three Republican US senators—Mitt Romney of Utah, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, and Jim Risch of Idaho—sent a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram Wednesday saying that moving marijuana to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act would violate international drug control treaties. 

The move comes as the DEA ponders a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reschedule weed to Schedule III. That recommendation came after President Biden in October 2022 directed the agency to reexamine marijuana's federal scheduling. 

But moving marijuana to Schedule III would contradict an earlier DEA determination that "requires it to classify marijuana as a schedule I or II schedule drug in order to comply with our treaty obligations," including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

But that treaty has not stopped other countries, including Canada, Germany, and Uruguay from going much further than mere rescheduling and legalizing marijuana outright. 

New Hampshire House Panel Rejects Franchise Model Legalization Favored By Governor. The House Finance subcommittee voted Wednesday to reject an amendment to a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 1633, that would have seen the state adopt a franchise system for retail sales overseen by the state. That state-model approach is supported by Gov. Chris Sununu (R), leading to warnings that its embrace of a model that more closely resembles a typical commercial marketplace would be doomed in the Senate. 

The rejected amendment from Vice Chair Rep. Dan McGuire (R) would have aligned the bill with the governor's wishes and was one of the last chances to shape the bill to make it more passable before a final House floor vote. 

The House had earlier given initial approval to the bill, but various lawmakers warned that it would not fly in the Senate. 

 "We are told from the governor and from our contacts in the Senate that this is what they want: the franchise model," McGuire said. "We are also told they will not vote for the version the House passed, and we are told that they are either unwilling or incapable of making significant changes in the Senate. If we want to see a bill passed—and I’m not sure that everybody does, but for those of us who do—I think we should pass this amendment," he urged colleagues.

 But at the meeting, the subcommittee voted 6–3 to reject the franchise amendment, setting up a possible showdown with Senate lawmakers and the governor’s office.

 "I’m supporting the [House] Commerce Committee’s position on this," said Rep. Chuck Grassie (D), referring to the separate panel that spent significant time in recent sessions crafting legalization legislation. "I mean, if the Senate has problems with passing a bill, I don’t see why we have to do their hard work here for them. I think they need to debate this. They need to make up their mind on a bill, and they need to send something back to us if we want to see cannabis legalization in the state of New Hampshire."

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Lawmakers Kill Medical Marijuana Pilot Program. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee moved on a voice vote to table until next January a bill that would have set up a pilot program for medical marijuana, Senate Bill 555. The vote effectively kills the bill for this session.

After several years of failed attempts to pass a standard medical marijuana bill, backers hoped they could at least get the pilot program passed, but even that was too much for the rock-ribbed Republicans of the Sunflower State.

"Our goal is to provide relief for patients, while also balancing the concerns of legislators and conservative Kansans," Sam Jones, COO of Kansas Natural Remedies, which helped draft the legislation, said during a January hearing."By being one of the last states to implement this, I think we’ve learned from other states," he said. "We’ve tailored this bill to address the things that other states have gotten wrong and to address the things that they may have gotten right. This is a limited bill. This is supposed to be a pilot program. This is a proof of concept for medical cannabis to give proof that medical cannabis isn’t going to cause the end of society."

But the usual suspects opposed any move toward medical marijuana: "I’m very concerned by some of the trends and the data that we’ve seen as we look around the country at other states that have legalized," said Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) Director Tony Mattivi, arguing that state-level reform is associated with increased rates of opioid overdoses. He also claimed that allowing the pilot program would open the door to organized crime. 

Harm Reduction

Wisconsin Governor Signs Xylazine Test Strip Bill

Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Wednesday  signed Senate Bill 875, which decriminalizes the use of xylazine testing strips. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), xylazine is a non-opioid sedative or tranquilizer that is not approved for use in people, can be life-threatening, and is especially dangerous when combined with opioids like fentanyl.

"About two years ago now, I was proud to be in La Crosse to sign important legislation to decriminalize fentanyl testing strips, helping make sure folks can keep themselves and others safe by using the strips to identify if a substance is laced with fentanyl before ever taking it. Now, today, I am proud to be back to sign this bill and do the same for testing strips for the dangerous drug, xylazine," said Gov. Evers. "There is currently no xylazine reversal agent safe for human use, which means prevention is key—by making these strips available, in addition to providing certain civil and criminal liability exemptions for people distributing or administering these products, we can help save more lives and help get folks on a successful path to recovery."

Wisconsin has seen record-high rates of opioid use disorder and overdose deaths in recent years. According to the CDC, more than 109,000 individuals died of an overdose in the U.S. in 2022, including approximately 1,800 Wisconsinites. Many, though not all, drug overdoses in the U.S. and Wisconsin are related to the use of opioids, including those involving xylazine. 

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), in 2022, 1,464 Wisconsinites died by an opioid overdose, and between 2020 and 2022, the number of opioid-related deaths in Wisconsin increased by nearly 19 percent. Currently, there is no known xylazine reversal agents, and this bill will provide potentially life-saving tools by allowing people to test for its presence.

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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