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House Passes Defense Bill with Psychedelic Research Amendments, FL Bans Tianetpine, More... (9/28/23)

A broad range of advocacy groups is calling on Congress to support a bill to allow temporary scheduling and testing of fentanyl analogs, Maine's largest city moves toward natural psychedelic decriminalization, and more.

Zaza, a product containing the opiate-like drug tianeptine, is now banned in Florida. (Creative Commons)
Opiates and Opioids

Rights Groups Call on Congress to Support Fentanyl Analog TEST Act. A long list of health policy, drug policy, criminal justice reform, civil and human rights, and advocacy organizations have sent an open letter to the Senate calling on members of that body to cosponsor and support the Temporary Emergency Scheduling and Testing of Fentanyl Analogues Act of 2023 (TEST Act). This bill would allow the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to place new fentanyl-related substances (FRS) in Schedule I for up to four years, during which time the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) would have to conduct a scientific and medical evaluation of each substance and publicly report the findings.

"Congress has preemptively placed all FRS on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as a class – even those that do not exist," the signatories wrote. "Congress has considered circumventing the scientific research requirements under current law by passing bills such as the HALT Fentanyl Act (H.R. 467), which would automatically designate any FRS as dangerous without studying a substance at all. Temporary scheduling authority is intended to allow the DOJ the time to conduct the scientific and medical evaluations it is required to by law. By allowing DOJ to designate the entire class of FRS as Schedule I without conducting scientific and medical research, Congress may inadvertently leave undiscovered therapeutic medications similar to naloxone and other life-saving medications at a time when the U.S. is facing record numbers of overdose deaths.

"We believe Congress should pass the TEST Act, which would create a statutory period of up to four years for the DOJ to conduct the scientific and medical evaluation of a substance, facilitate the research of FRS, and ensure that substances are placed on the drug schedule according to their scientific profile and potential for abuse."

Signatories include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), the Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Council of Churches, the National Harm Reduction Coalition, the Prison Policy Initiative, StoptheDrugWar.org, the Sentencing Project, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

Psychedelics

House Approves Psychedelic Research Amendments as Part of Defense Spending Bill. The House voted Wednesday to approve the annual defense appropriation bill, which included two amendments opening the door to research on psychedelics.

The first, sponsored by Reps. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), would provide $15 million in funding for DOD to carry out "Psychedelic Medical Clinical Trials."

The second amendment, from Crenshaw alone, lays the parameters for the trials, which would involve active duty service members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The Defense Health Agency would need to send a report to Congress with its findings.

Portland, Maine, Advances Proposal to Decriminalize Psychedelic Plants and Fungi. The city council's Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously last week to advance a resolution that would decriminalize natural psychedelic plants and fungi. The full council is expected to vote on the resolution by mid-October.

In approving the resolution, the committee also amended it to allow for home cultivation for personal use and sharing without compensation. Selling or dispensing the substances would remain a criminal offense.

The plants and fungi covered by the measure, backed by organizers at Decriminalize Maine, include those containing psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline (except peyote), and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Peyote is excluded "in light of its vulnerable ecological status, combined with its religious and cultural significance to Indigenous peoples."

The resolution says "that City of Portland departments, agencies, boards, commissions, officers or employees of the city should avoid using city funds or resources to assist in the investigation, criminal prosecution or the imposition of criminal penalties" for the use, possession, cultivation, or sharing of small amounts of the substances "shall be among the lowest law enforcement priority of the City of Portland."

Drug Policy

Florida Bans Tianeptine. Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) has announced an emergency ban on tianeptine, which is regulated and used as a tricyclic antidepressant in over 60 countries but is unregulated in the US. Sold at gas stations and convenience stores under product names such as Zaza, the drug is known colloquially as "gas station heroin" because it causes opioid-like withdrawal symptoms in some users.

"We filed an emergency rule to outlaw tianeptine, an extremely dangerous chemical being sold at gas stations, convenience stores and smoke shops in our state. Tianeptine is linked to five deaths nationwide. And so far this year, Florida’s Poison Control Center has fielded 15 calls about exposure to this drug," Moody said. 

Her action places tianeptine in Schedule I, meaning it becomes a felony to use, possess, manufacture, or distribute the drug.

Alabama, Tennessee, Minnesota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Mississippi have already banned tianeptine. 

The ban is temporary, but Moody said she would work with the legislature to make the ban permanent in the next legislative session.

Pushing for Social Equity as Pennsylvania Heads Toward Marijuana Legalization [FEATURE]

Pot prohibition in Pennsylvania is getting squeezed. Of its neighboring states, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York have already legalized marijuana, Ohio voters will have their chance to approve it in November, and only West Virginia shares the state's status as a medical marijuana-only state.

State Sen. Sharif Street (D-North Philadelphia) is a key cosponsor of a marijuana legalization bill. (pa.gov)
Efforts to advance adult use legalization in Harrisburg have been stymied for years by Republican control of the statehouse, but after last year's elections, the state now has a Democratic governor in Josh Shapiro, the House now has a Democratic majority, and cracks are now appearing in the Republican-led Senate, where at least two GOP senators are ready to get on board.

Gov. Shapiro in March proposed marijuana legalization as part of his 2023–2024 budget, and this year, there are once again are marijuana legalization bills before the legislature. Rep. David Delloso has once again filed a state liquor store model legalization bill, House Bill 1080, and one of those Republican Senate converts, Sen. Dan Laughlin, is the cosponsor of another legalization bill, Senate Bill 846.

"Legalized adult use of marijuana is supported by an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians and this legislation accomplishes that while also ensuring safety and social equity," said Laughlin upon filing the bill in July. "With neighboring states New Jersey and New York implementing adult use, we have a duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to legalize adult-use marijuana to avoid losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue and thousands of new jobs."

The bill would legalize the possession of marijuana by people 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It would also address social equity by granting licenses to sell marijuana to social and economic equity applicants while providing room for new and existing licensees to ensure demand in Pennsylvania is met. It would also all non-violent marijuana convictions. Ensuring that minority communities disproportionately impacted by drug prohibition is critical, Black legislators say.

"We have a unique and singular opportunity to correct decades of mass incarceration, disproportionate enforcement against marginalized communities, the criminalization of personal choice and the perpetuation of violence, which all materialized from the failed war on drugs," said Sen. Sharif Street, a Democratic cosponsor of the bill. "Legalizing the adult use of cannabis will help us fully and equitably fund education, lower property taxes, and address a variety of community needs throughout Pennsylvania."

Social equity was definitely on the mind of attendees at last week's Cannabis Opportunities Conference—partof the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunity’s (DACO) Black Cannabis Week. The event was hosted by Sen. Street and covered by Marijuana Moment.

"This is going to be a multibillion-dollar industry," Street. "We need to make sure that we’re inclusive … We need to make sure that folks can participate at every level of this industry."

Bill cosponsor Rep. Donna Bullock (D), who has previously spoken out against the dominance of large, multistate marijuana companies, was adamant that legalization come with strong social equity provisions.

"No bill will move with my name on it until I’m comfortable that we actually answer those questions," she said. "No bill will move with my name on it until I know for sure we’re not repeating the mistakes of equity in name only. If you think you’re going to get me with just some expungements, you got it wrong," she added.

"I think sometimes some people get scared to say ‘Black,’" Rep. Darisha Parker (D) said. "If we’re going to really do this for a legislative perspective, then all of us in the state need to make sure that we’re actually doing it, making sure that we’re actually supporting the individuals for this social equity bill that we’re going to be putting forward. This is our reparations," she added. "Let’s get busy."

These Black lawmakers agreed that they were willing to take the time to get it right; to ensure that some of the harms done by the drug war be redressed and that the communities that suffered them get recompense.

Lawmakers are "still taking inventory" to see what’s worked in other states and what hasn’t, Parker said.

"We’ve had … a hundred years of getting this wrong. I’m not in a rush to get it wrong again," said Bullock.

Street concurred, saying that in Pennsylvania "we’re usually not the first to get anything done, but we’d like to be the first to get it right."

It looks like there is some work to be done to make sure marijuana legalization aids those communities harmed by the drug war, and it looks like there is a committed legislative contingent in Harrisburg ready to make sure that happens. Stay tuned.

SAFER Banking Act Heads for Senate Floor Vote, Scottish Safe Injection Site Approved, More... (9/27/23)

The US and Colombian governments lay out areas of agreement in drug policy, new research shows that drug decriminalization did not increase overdoses in Oregon and Washington--but did cause arrests to drop--and more. 

The Senate is set to vote on a long-awaited marijuana banking bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

SAFER Banking Act Passes Senate Banking Committee, Heads for Floor Vote. The long-desired bill aimed at opening the banking and financial sector to state-legal marijuana businesses is moving. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to approve the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act (S.2860), clearing the way for a Senate floor vote.

"Forcing legal businesses to operate in all-cash is dangerous for our communities ... passing the SAFER Banking Act through committee is a historic moment in this body," said bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

"At this juncture, we believe this piece of legislation is ready for prime time after having had seven votes out of the House in the past," said Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve Cannabis. "Realizing this first vote out of the Senate signals strong bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress."

Drug Policy

Decriminalizing Drug Possession Not Linked to Higher Overdose Death Rates in Oregon or Washington. In recent months, several media outlets have investigated an Oregon law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of controlled substances, including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, for some persons. The articles have included information suggesting that the law may be responsible for continued increases in overdose deaths.

Wednesday, new research led by NYU Grossman School of Medicine published online in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that in Oregon and Washington, two states that implemented drug decriminalization policies in early 2021, there is no evidence of an association between decriminalization and fatal drug overdose rates.

The findings are the result of a collaboration between the Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policyy at NYU Langone, the Network for Public Health Law, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The research team’s goal was to investigate whether fully or partially decriminalizing drug possession changed rates of overdose deaths in either state in the first year after the policy change.

"Our analysis suggests that state decriminalization policies do not lead to increases in overdose deaths," said Corey Davis, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, a member of the Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policy, and the study’s senior investigator.

Another study published by Davis and colleagues last month found that the Oregon and Washington decriminalization policies dramatically reduced arrests for drug possession and did not lead to increased arrests for violent crimes.

"These two studies show that drug decriminalization measures in Oregon and Washington reduced arrests and did not increase overdose deaths. Taken together, these findings signal reduced harm to people who use drugs and possibly their communities as well," said Davis.

Foreign Policy

US, Colombia Counternarcotics Working Group Issues Joint Statement. After the third meeting of the US-Colombia Counternarcotics Working Group Monday and Tuesday, the two governments issued a joint statement touting their "common efforts to address the development of this group’s work, taking into account the strengthening of democracy, the fight against corruption, the protection of human rights, peace efforts, climate action, public health, and a comprehensive approach to address the global drug problem."

The two governments called for "an approach based on public health and human security, with a long-term vision focused on saving lives and building a better future."

In particular, both parties agreed to the following:

  • Increase interdiction efforts in both countries, significantly increase joint training, capacity building activities, and intelligence sharing to strengthen Colombia’s ability to combat transnational organized crime and multi-crime groups and enhance human security.
  • Expand efforts to combat money laundering and crimes against natural resources and the environment.
  • Reaffirm the will of both governments to continue cooperation to confront the global drug problem, including issues related to criminal activities associated with cocaine and synthetic drugs.
  • With regard to rural security, strengthen and increase judicial and police presence in rural areas.
  • Strengthen the implementation of strategies aimed at promoting the transition to licit economies in rural areas and Areas of Special Environmental Importance, such as the 3T model (Titling, Transition, Transformation) in municipalities to be prioritized for the implementation of a holistic approach to territorial transformation.
  • Provide licit economic development opportunities as alternatives to illicit crops, in conjunction with continued strategic eradication efforts.
  • Implement strategies to reduce the consumption of psychoactive substances and their associated impacts.
  • Strengthen metrics measuring the underlying causes of drug production and the dismantling of transnational narco-trafficking criminal networks.
  • Continue to work with the Colombian Ministry of Justice and Law and Ministry of Foreign Affairs towards identifying a coordination mechanism for the bilateral holistic strategy within the Colombian government.

International

Scottish Authorities Approve UK's First Safe Injection Site. Authorities in Glasgow have approved the first safe injection site in the United Kingdom. Glasgow's Integration Joint Board, which consists of National Health Service representatives and council officials, approved the planned facility Wednesday.

There is an opening target date of next summer for what will be a three-year pilot program.

The facility will "reduce drug-related harms" for individuals as well as providing them with "opportunities for treatment, care and recovery," said Dr Saket Priyadarshi, associate medical director of Glasgow alcohol and drug recovery services.

A safe injection site has been discussed for years to address the estimated 400-500 people injecting drugs in the city center and was able to move forward now after Scotland's senior law officer said users would not be prosecuted for possessing drugs while at the facility and the Home Office in London said it would not interfere.

House Dems Reintroduce Weed Legalization Bill, San Francisco Mayor Wants Forced Treatment for Benefits, More... (9/22/23)

Wisconsin Democrats roll out a marijuana legalization bill, a Pennsylvania medical marijuana expansion bill passes the Senate, and more.

Members of the Sinaloa Cartel parading through San Gregorio Chemic in Chiapas state, near the Guatemalan border. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

House Democrats Reintroduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation. House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) have reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 5601), one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

Following efforts led by states across the nation, the MORE Act decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level. The bill also aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions. This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life. The MORE Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

The bill:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.  
    • Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant ProgramProvides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

The MORE Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, Better Organizing to Win Legalization, and Minorities for Medical Marijuana, the Center for American Progress, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Wisconsin Democrats File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Melissa Agard and state Rep. Darrin B. Madison have introduced a marijuana legalization bill. This bill would allow Wisconsin to join thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia that have passed laws broadly legalizing cannabis in some form. Republican majorities in the legislature have blocked any progress on such bills in the past.

"I’ve said this time and time again – we know that the most dangerous thing about cannabis in Wisconsin is that it remains illegal," said Sen. Agard. "For the past decade, I have worked to undo Wisconsin’s antiquated and deeply unjust marijuana policies and put our state on a prosperous path forward.  

"Legalizing cannabis is a matter of public safety and racial justice here in Wisconsin," said Rep. Madison. "People in Wisconsin indulge in cannabis use and deserve the ability to buy safe cannabis and use it responsibly without being criminalized. According to the ACLU, Black people were 4.24 times more likely to be arrested than white people in Wisconsin during 2018. Similar disparities exist in convictions, leading to immeasurable harm to black communities in Wisconsin. The bill we’ve introduced today lays a solid foundation for those that have been harshly convicted for non-violent possession charges and the ramifications of those convictions." 

Under the proposal, adults in Wisconsin aged 21 and older could legally have marijuana in their possession. The measure would also lay the groundwork for a regulated cannabis market to launch in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Senate Passes Bill to Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The Senate has approved a bill that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program by allowing growers to sell directly to patients despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition. The bill was approved last Wednesday on a 44-3 vote.

Sen. Chris Gebhard and a bipartisan coalition of senators introduced Senate Bill 773  earlier this year. The current state medical law authorizes licenses for 25 businesses growing and processing medical marijuana, but only five of those licensees can sell directly to patients through vertically integrated dispensaries. SB773 would allow all medical marijuana growers and processes to sell directly to patients.

The bill now goes to the House, where it may become a vehicle for broader reforms, from allowing for patient home cultivation to converting the bill into a full-on legalization bill. But changes too profound could endanger an amended bill's prospects back in the Senate, which would have to address any changes.

"There will certainly be vigorous discussions there on what shape this bill will come back to the Senate in said Sen. Dan Laughlin (R). "If this becomes a vehicle for adult use, I doubt that it would pass this chamber. However, I think if they do add home-grown to this bill, it would strengthen the bill and I believe that we would be able to get it through this chamber as well."

Drug Policy

San Francisco Mayor Proposes Mandatory Drug Treatment for Cash Assistance Programs. Trying a new tack in the city's ongoing effort to get a grip on open air drug use and an overdose crisis, Mayor London Breed is now proposing that city residents with addiction issues who receive cash assistance be required to undergo drug treatment in order to keep receiving payments. The proposal would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Under the proposal, people who apply for County Adult Assistance Programs would have to undergo screening for substance use disorder and participate in a treatment program if they're found to have an addiction. People who refuse or who "do not successfully engage in treatment" would not be eligible for cash assistance.

"We fund a wide range of services, and we want to help people get the care they need but under current state law, local government lack tools to compel people into treatment," Breed said. "This initiative aims to create more accountability and help get people to accept the treatment and services they need."   

Some, but not all, supervisors are on board. Board President Aaron Peskin demurred, saying that Breed should focus on stopping dealers and open-air drug markets rather than "drug testing people on welfare."

"If she can't find the way to prevent several hundred brazen criminals from selling deadly drugs -- how does she think she will find the resources to drug test thousands of welfare recipients?" Peskin said

Drug Testing

Washington Department of Corrections Sued Over Faulty Drug Tests, Harsh Punishments. Columbia Legal Services (CLS) filed a class action complaint against the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC), challenging the widespread practice of imposing harsh discipline on people in DOC facilities based on unreliable drug testing. People have faced months in solitary confinement, delays in release from prison, loss of visitation, and other cruel punishments after colorimetric tests have returned "presumptive" positive results on incoming mail and other possessions.

Clifton Bell, et al. v. Washington State Department of Corrections, filed in Thurston County Superior Court last Friday, alleges that DOC’s actions violate plaintiffs' rights under Washington State law and the Washington State Constitution.Plaintiff Gregory Hyde was placed in administrative segregation (another term for solitary confinement) for almost five months after a presumptive positive test result. The item that tested positive for drugs was a packet of crossword, word search, and Sudoku puzzle books sent by Mr. Hyde’s father and stepmother.

After facing months of irreversible disciplinary actions, DOC returned the books in question to Mr. Hyde with no explanation or expungement of the infraction. His father’s name remains on DOC’s records as having mailed drugs to the prison.

"I think DOC is using its power to punish people who can’t fight back," said Mr. Hyde."My elderly father just wanted to send me some puzzle books. Now they’re saying he’s a drug dealer. Now my father is too far away to see because I got transferred to a different facility. My father is impoverished and on a fixed income. I think it’s an abuse of power. I don’t think DOC should be doing this."

Manufactured by companies like DetectaChem and MMC International, the colorimetric tests (also called roadside tests or field tests) are designed to be initial screening testsand the manufacturers are clear that they require confirmatory testing to be valid. Similar test technologies have been found unlawful in many settings, including in other state prison systems. In 2021, a Massachusetts court forced that state’s DOC to stop using similar colorimetric tests from another manufacturer, with the court describing them as "only marginally better than a coin flip"at identifying drugs. The tests in that case were found to deliver false positives nearly 40 percent of the time.

International

Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel Lauded by Chiapas Townspeople for Rescuing Them from Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Townspeople in San Gregorio Chemic, Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border, cheered a 20-vehicle convoy of Sinaloa Cartel fighters as they paraded through the city after having driven out the rival Jalisco New Generation Cartel (JNGC).

JNGC fighters had seized the town and blocked the only highway access to it for nearly two weeks, killing and extorting local residents along the way. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced over the weekend that he was sending 800 National Guard troops to the area. He also implored local youth not to be seduced by the Sinaloa Cartel.

'It turns out that on the border with Guatemala, in Comalapa, towards Motozintla, there are organized crime groups that are fighting for the territory (Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel) to have spaces, to store drugs that enter from Central America, to have control of that territory and they will confront each other, fortunately there have not been many murders,' López Obrador said during his daily presser with the media.

A local Catholic priest said that local residents may have been intimidated into cheering on the Sinaloa Cartel. "Others will say that they have already allied themselves with drug traffickers. They line them up," he said. "It's not that they want to. There will be people who do it on their own, but people are being forced and that is not worth it. People are being forced to defend one cartel, to fight for another and they are being used as cannon fodder."

NCAA Moves to End Marijuana Ban, Study Finds Mexican Cartels a Major Employer, More... (9/25/23)

A pair of Republican senators file a bill to require congressional approval to down-schedule marijuana, the House Rules Committee advances a pair of psychedelic research amendments to the defense spending bill, and more.

College basketball under the aegis of the NCAA. An end to the weed ban could be coming soon. (Creative Commons/Phil Roeder)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Senators File Bill to Block Marijuana Legalization Without Congressional Approval. Last Friday, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), joined by her colleague Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), introduced the Deferring Executive Authority (DEA) Act to give Congress final approval over the legalization of marijuana. 

According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has signaled it will follow a recommendation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to transfer marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act. This would, in essence, legalize marijuana federally. 

This recommendation was issued after President Biden requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and HHS evaluate marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance.  The Deferring Executive Authority (DEA) Act will require congressional review of rules rescheduling marijuana. 

"Congress makes the laws in this country, not DC bureaucrats," said Lummis. "The American people through their elected representatives in the Senate and House should have the final say on such a momentous change as the legalization of marijuana. The Biden administration’s rush to reschedule marijuana without compelling scientific evidence appears to be political, not about what’s best for the American people."  

NCAA Committee Recommends Legislation to Remove Marijuana from Banned Substances List in All Three Divisions. The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports recommended legislation that would remove marijuana from the NCAA's list of banned drug classes at all three divisions, the organization announced last Friday. The recommendation calls for a "robust educational strategy" for college athletes when it comes to marijuana.

"Cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug and that a harm-reduction approach to cannabis is best implemented at the school level," the NCAA said in a statement following midweek meetings in Indianapolis. 

The committee reasoned that removing marijuana from the list of banned substances achieves several aims: acknowledging the ineffectiveness of the current policy of banning, testing, and penalizing; affirming that NCAA drug testing is aimed only at performance-enhancing substances; and emphasizes the importance of moving toward a harm reduction strategy.

The recommendation now goes to the governing structures of the NCAA's three divisions.

"When making a decision on an important topic like this, we agree that the membership should have an opportunity to vote on the final outcome," committee chair James Houle, lead sport psychologist at Ohio State, said in a statement. "We are recommending a big shift in the paradigm when it comes to cannabinoids. We want to modernize the strategy with the most up-to-date research to give schools the best opportunity to support the health of student-athletes."

Psychedelics

House Rules Committee Clears Pair of Psychedelic Research Amendments to Defense Spending Bill. The House Rules Committee last Saturday approved two psychedelic research amendments for inclusion in the must-pass defense spending bill. It also cleared the larger defense bill for a House floor vote this as a government spending deadline looms.

One amendment, sponsored by Reps. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), would provide $15 million in funding for DOD to carry out "Psychedelic Medical Clinical Trials."

The other amendment, also from Crenshaw, would require the Defense Health Agency to "submit a report to Congress on options to ensure that active-duty service members who are suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are able to participate in clinical trials under the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purposes of studying the effectiveness of psychedelic substances."

International

Mexican Drug Cartels Employ 175,000 People, Study Finds. Mexican drug trafficking organizations—the so-called cartels—employ roughly 175,000 people, according to new research findings published in the journal Science. That makes organized crime the fifth-largest employment sector in the country. 

The study examined a decade of data on murders, missing persons, and imprisoned people and used a mathematical model to determine overall cartel membership and which policy responses would best reduce violence. Homicides in the country have tripled since 2007, when then-President Felipe Calderon escalated the domestic drug war by sending in the army.

The study authors argue that the best way to reduce violence is not to lock up more gang members, which they argue would actually increase the murder rate, but to cut cartel recruitment.

"More than 1.7 million people in Latin America are incarcerated, and adding more people to saturated jails will not solve the insecurity problem," wrote the authors.

The analysts identified 198 armed criminal groups in the country, although two of them, the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel, battle for national domination.

Effort to Recriminalize Drug Possession in Oregon Gets Underway [FEATURE]

In November 2020, voters in Oregon made history by becoming the first in the country to break with a century of drug war by approving the decriminalization of drug possession. Measure 110 not only put an end to thousands of low-level drug arrests, it also provided hundreds of millions of dollars for drug treatment, prevention, and related services by tapping into marijuana tax revenues--$300 million so far.

On the street in Portland. (Creative Commons)
And now, an effort is underway to roll back the clock. This week, a group of political operatives and deep-pocketed donors calling themselves the Coalition to Fix and Improve Measure 110 filed a pair of proposed ballot initiatives, Fix and Improve Measure 110-Measure A and Fix and Improve Measure 110-Measure B, would once again make drug possession a crime, as well as making changes on the treatment side of the ledger.

The possession of drugs such as cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine would be a misdemeanor, and there would be a new misdemeanor of public drug consumption of illicit drugs. Version "B" of the initiative would also increase penalties for some drug offenses, such as where drug use causes death or when the offender is a repeat offender. That version would also make possession of pill-making machines a felony offense.

The latter version would also shift control of Measure 110 funds from the Oregon Health Authority, which has been criticized for the slow implementation of the treatment and recovery programs, to the Alcohol and Drugs Policy Commission.

Backers of the effort include former Republican lawmaker Max Williams, political consultant Dan Lavey, progressive strategist Paige Richardson and Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton. Financial backers include Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who spent nearly $5 million last year to put anyone but the Democrat in the governor's chair, and kicked in $200,000 for this coalition. Also anteing up are Columbia Sportswear President and CEO Tim Boyle ($300,000), real estate mogul Jordan Schnitzer ($50,000), former Columbia Distributing Company chair Ed Maletis ($50,000) and the Goodman family, a major property owner in Downtown Portland ($100,000).

Portland, the state's largest city, suffers from a high rate of homelessness, public drug use, and an on-going crisis of mental health treatment, and proponents of the initiatives draw on a culturally conservative critique of the city as a hellhole blighted by liberal leadership and wacky ideas like decriminalizing drugs to make their case.

"We know that Ballot Measure 110 didn’t create the homeless crisis or the behavioral-health crisis or is the sole reason we are seeing spikes in crime," said Williams. "But we are convinced that Measure 110 is making things a whole lot worse."

"Even casual observers of Portland can recognize we are well off track here," said Boyle, adding that recriminalizing possession may be just what users need because  "the incentive of being incarcerated is powerful. It means people take it seriously. They have an incentive for getting clean."

But treatment providers, affected families, and reform advocates say that while Measure 110 has its issues, reverting to a prohibitionist position is not the answer.

"Drug use has been a problem in many neighborhoods for decades and overdose rates were skyrocketing before passage of Measure 110," said Larry Turner, co-founder and a community navigator of Fresh Out in Portland. "Before passing new laws that will take us back to the days when Black and brown people were disproportionately harmed by criminalization, we need to make Measure 110 more effective without overturning the law and going backwards. We need unified support from leaders committed to providing services to people who need them quickly, demanding accountability from local officials; and strongly supporting first responders and service providers. Let’s enforce the laws we have."

"My son died of a heroin overdose when personal possession was a crime. Criminalization and threat of arrest did not save him, and it will not save the thousands of sons and daughters in need of treatment in Oregon today," said Julia Pinsky of Jackson County, who started Max’s Mission in memory of her son. "The disorder, crime and human suffering on Oregon’s streets are unacceptable. We need to demand that politicians and bureaucrats stop dragging their feet, and finally deliver the housing, drug treatment, and mental health care that people need, and voters have overwhelmingly supported. The fentanyl crisis has made the need for these services even more critical. I don’t want any more families to experience the devastation of losing their child."

"It is disappointing that the people behind these petitions didn’t talk to Measure 110 providers. We could have told them what is needed to make the measure more effective. We need more support, and the entire system needs increased funding and people need a roof over their head for recovery to be successful. Arresting and jailing people with addiction means they will end up right back on the street with increased overdose risk and a criminal record that will make the road to recovery that much harder," said Shannon Jones, CEO of the Oregon Change Clinic.

"Oregonians have real concerns about the suffering and challenges they see in their communities. Nothing proposed in this initiative provides real solutions, instead it reverts to failed drug war tactics: more criminalization, coercive interventions, and to disappear people who are struggling without addressing the conditions that lead to homelessness and addiction," said Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Recriminalizing drugs and forced treatment are false promises of change but will increase overdose risk, increase racial disparities in the criminal legal system, disrupt treatment for those who seek it, and saddle people with criminal records that will serve as barriers to housing, employment, education, and other services for the rest of their lives. Policymakers in Oregon must strengthen Measure 110 by expanding and making more accessible the services and supports people need to both address their needs while ensuring safety for our communities, without criminalization and coercion."

But a poll last month commissioned by the coalition had 56 percent supporting repeal of Measure 110 in its entirety and 64 percent in favor of reverting to drug criminalization. The pollsters found that respondents blamed Measure 110 for rising homelessness (54 percent) and decreased public safety (50 percent), although homelessness levels are driven largely by rental prices and although Portland ranks roughly even with other Pacific Northwest cities, such as Boise, Sacramento, and Seattle, when it comes to crime.

Numbers like that have the state's Democratic political leaders taking a very cautious line on the initiative proposals. Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Portland) and House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) met with Williams, the primary architect of the campaign, on Tuesday to discuss possible legislative alternatives to an initiative campaign.

"They discussed the broad strokes of the ballot measure," said Wagner spokesman Connor Radnovich, "and were in agreement that Oregon needs to address its addiction crisis."

"I am going to take some time to review the ballot measures in detail," said Wagner." Oregon’s fentanyl and methamphetamine crisis is unacceptable. The Legislature will comprehensively tackle this crisis in the upcoming legislative session by empowering law enforcement to stop the proliferation of drugs on our streets and ensuring that people get connected with addiction treatment services. Addiction education will also be a key component of our response. Legislative leaders have been meeting with various groups to identify which specific policy proposals will be brought forward in the upcoming session."

"There is no scenario in which this upcoming legislative session doesn’t focus on helping those families and communities in need," said Rayfield. "With respect to the current proposals out there, we will continue to review them and any others that come up in the meantime."

Gov. Tina Kotek's chief of staff and other top policymakers have met with initiative proponents, said spokeswoman Elisabeth Shephard. "She has not reviewed the two ballot initiatives yet," Shepard says. "The governor has previously stated that public consumption of controlled substances is a problem that needs to be addressed. She intends to work with legislators to fix the issue and expects a bill on her desk in next year’s session."

If drug decriminalization supporters want to keep what they have achieved, they will be facing a battle on multiple fronts.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Texas CBP officer goes to prison for 44 pounds of cocaine, a California jail guard gets caught with 40 pounds of drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

In Trenton, New Jersey, a former Burlington County jail guard was arrested last Friday for allegedly smuggling marijuana and tobacco into the jail. Abraham Olmedia, 27, went down after another guard smelled the odor of burning tobacco and a subsequent investigation pointed the finger at him. He is charged with Official Misconduct (Second Degree), Conspiracy to Commit Official Misconduct (Second Degree) and Providing Contraband to an Inmate (Disorderly Persons Offense).

In Riverside, California, a Riverside County sheriff's deputy jail officer was arrested last Saturday for possessing and planning to sell more than 40 pounds of drugs. Officer Jorge Alberto Oceguera-Rocha, 25, went down after a traffic stop on I-10 in Calimesa uncovered the drugs. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute the drugs. It is not clear if the drugs were intended for jail inmates or the outside civilian population.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former Customs and Border Protection officer was sentenced last Friday to 13 ½ years in federal prison for helping to smuggle 44 pounds of cocaine. Juan Posas, Jr. went down after he met a woman in a Home Depot parking lot and accepted a box full of cocaine, transferring it into his vehicle. Jurors hold a recording of him helping to plan the smuggling effort. He was convicted in June 2023 on charges of trafficking cocaine and conspiracy to do so in connection with the smuggling.

Revised Weed Banking Bill Filed, Scottish Safe Injection Site Location Revealed, More... (9/21/23)

A House panel approves the CURE Act to protect past marijuana users from federal employment discrimination, the new Thai minister vows to roll back marijuana decriminalization, and more.

Marijuana is on the agenda on Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Revised, Renamed Version of Marijuana Banking Bill Filed, Committee Vote Set for Next Wednesday. The bill aiming to pave the way for providing financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses known as the Safe and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act has now been revised and renamed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act and is headed for a key Senate committee vote next Wednesday.

Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), the revised bill was filed Wednesday, is set for mark-up in the Senate Banking Committee, and after that, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he intends to "bring it to the floor with all due speed."

But despite apparent clear skies in the Senate, the future is a bit cloudier in the House, where a key committee chairman has not committed to allowing it a vote.

Among the key changes to the bill: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation gets one year instead of 180 days to develop guidance for financial institutions, regulators must have a "valid" reason for requesting or requiring the termination of bank accounts for any business, regulators must work with state and federal counterparts to create rules or guidance for pot businesses to increase deposit accounts within two years, FDIC must conduct a biennial survey and report to identify barriers to accessing deposit accounts for small-and medium-sized businesses, and the words "diversity and inclusion" have been remove from section titles, even though required reports on data concerning small and minority-, veteran- and women-owned businesses are still in the bill.

Federal Bill to Remove Marijuana as Barrier to Federal Employment, Security Clearances Wins Committee Vote. The House Oversight and Accountability Committee voted Wednesday to approve the Cannabis Users' Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act (HR 5040). The bill would prevent the denial of federal employment or security clearances based on a candidate’s past marijuana use.

The bipartisan bill cosponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Nancy Mace (R-NC), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) passed on a 30-14 vote, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in approving it.

The version of the bill approved in committee removed a provision that blocked federal employment and security clearance denials for current marijuana use, leaving the bill addressing only past marijuana use.

International

Scottish Safe Injection Site Pilot Scheme Location Revealed. The proposed safe injection pilot project for the country will be located at the Hunter Street Health Center in the east end of Glasgow. The center already provides a heroin assisted-treatment service.

The safe injection site is becoming a reality after the country's top lawyer officer said users would not be prosecuted for simple possession offenses and the United Kingdom in government in London has said it would not block the scheme.

Glasgow authorities just received a report that found safe injection sites have been shown to "reduce public injecting and discarded needles, and remove barriers to, and improve the uptake into, treatment and care." The report also noted that the Hunter Street Health Center site "offers a discrete base, closely located to the city center, and implementation of the enhanced drug treatment service within the center has not caused significant challenges for the community."

Thailand to Restrict Marijuana Use, New Prime Minister Says, After Decriminalization Last Year. After thousands of pot shops have opened across the country since it decriminalized marijuana a year ago, the new Thai prime minister is vowing to restrict the use of marijuana to medical purposes.

"The law will need to be rewritten," Prime Minister Srettha Thavasin said. "It needs to be rectified. We can have that regulated for medical use only," he said, adding that there can’t be a middle ground for recreational use.

Srettha's Pheu Thai Party ran a hardline anti-drug campaign and vowed to undo decriminalization, but his party is part of an 11-party governing coalition, and some of his partners have different ideas. One partner party, for example, wants tighter control over the industry but not reverting to classifying the plant as a drug.

The industry is not that concerned because it is convinced the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. "More regulation will be good as we don’t want a free-for-all anyway," Poonwarit said Poonwarit Wangpatravanich, president of the Phuket Cannabis Association. "Cannabis is here to stay, but in what status is not yet clear."

DHS Rolls Out Strategy for Combatting Illicit Opioids, UN Report Calls for Decriminalization, More... (9/20/23)

The Seattle city council voted to criminalize public drug use, the Czech drug czar suggests legalizing cocaine, and more. 

Drug Policy

DHS Rolls Out Strategy for Combatting Illicit Opioids. The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday rolled out its plan to combat illicit opioids, releasing its Strategy for Combatting Illicit Opioids.

"Our nation continues to face an unprecedented epidemic of deaths from illicit synthetic opioids -- our citizens are dying every year at an unimaginable rate," said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger. "This is a bold and innovative strategy to stem the flow of dangerous narcotics and directly addresses the public health emergency this opioid crisis has become.

The "bold and innovative strategy" is heavy on law enforcement, which is no surprise for a law enforcement agency. Primary elements of the strategy include reducing the international supply of opioids, reducing the supply of opioids in the US, targeting "enablers" of drug trafficking organization, and working with private sector actors to better block drugs from entering the country.

The agency said it hopes to work with international partners to reduce the illicit importation of drugs into the country and that it will increase the number of HIS task forces targeting drug traffickers.

Seattle City Council Approves Ordinance Criminalizing Drug Posssession and Public Drug Use. The city council on Tuesday approved its own municipal version of the state's law barring public drug use, CB 120645. The measure creates the crimes of knowing possession of a controlled substance and use of a controlled substance in a public place.

A 2021 state Supreme Court decision threw out the state's felony drug possession law, but the legislature this year approved a bill making public drug use and possession a gross misdemeanor, allowing city attorneys to prosecute the drug charges. City Attorney Ann Davison proposed a bill for the city to confirm with state law, but the city council rejected that in June.

Mayor Bruce Harrell then formed a task force to draft a new proposal, which is what the city council approved this week. But the vote was not unanimous, with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda voting no because it did not pay enough attention to diversion efforts.

"I want people to get access to public health services just as much as the people who testified in support of this legislation say they want," Mosqueda said. "But that is not what this legislation does. And without the funding that is purported to come with this bill, we have no assurances that there will be alternative structures and programs and diversion strategies to prevent people from going to jail. We do not have to pass this legislation."

International

UN Human Rights Office Report Calls for Shift from Punitive Drug Policies. A UN human rights report released Tuesday calls for a shift from punitive measures to address the global drugs problem to the use of policies grounded in human rights and public health, arguing that disproportionate use of criminal penalties is causing harm.

The report urges states to develop effective drug policies, including by considering decriminalization of drug possession for personal use. "If effectively designed and implemented, decriminalization can be a powerful instrument to ensure that the rights of people who use drugs are protected," it says.

"Laws, policies and practices deployed to address drug use must not end up exacerbating human suffering. The drugs problem remains very concerning, but treating people who use drugs as criminals is not the solution," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk.

"States should move away from the current dominant focus on prohibition, repression and punishment, and instead embrace laws, policies and practices anchored in human rights and aimed at harm reduction."

There has also been an increase in the use of the death penalty for drug-related convictions worldwide, contrary to international human rights law norms and standards. The recorded number of people executed for drug-related offences more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021, amounting to 37 percent of all executions recorded globally, the report states.

"The current overemphasis on coercion and control to counter drugs is fanning an increase in human rights violations despite mounting evidence that decades of criminalization and the so-called war on drugs have neither protected the welfare of people nor deterred drug-related crime," Türk said.

The report shows that an increasing number of countries across regions are adopting policies and practices that decriminalize drug use and treat drug usage as a public health and human rights issue, and applying evidence-based, gender-sensitive and harm reduction approaches. The High Commissioner called on states to build on this positive trend.

Czech Drug Czar Proposes Cocaine Legalization. National anti-drug coordinator Jindrich Voboril has suggested that cocaine could be the next drug, after marijuana, to be handled in a regulated, legal market. He emphasized the importance of tailoring drug policies to the risks of individual substances and argued that cocaine ranks lower in inherent risks than some other illicit substances.

But government officials were not in accord. Deputy Prime Minister Marian Jurečka, who serves as the chairman of the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), unequivocally rejected the idea of cocaine liberalization, declaring it unacceptable.

San Francisco Drug Crackdown Sparking Violence, SAFE Banking Act Hits "Sweet Spot," More... (9/19/23)

A Kentucky company used court-ordered urine tests to defraud Medicare, Secretary of State Blinken addresses synthetic drugs at a UN side event, and more.

Secretary of State Blinken addresses synthetic drugs as a side meeting of the UN General Assembly. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

SAFE Banking Act Negotiations Find "Sweet Spot," Senator Says. Senate Banking Committee member Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) says senators have "probably found a sweet spot" in negotiations over the SAFE Banking Act (S.1323), which is set to have a committee vote, likely next week. Senators have reached an agreement to leave a key section favored by Republicans "intact, as it is," Cramer said.

That section deals with broad banking regulations, and Republicans have insisted that it remain in the bill.

Committee member Sen. Jack Reed (D-NV) had previously expressed concerns about the section—Section 10—but now says senators have "talked extensively about Section 10, and we’ve made some progress." However, he didn’t specify what that progress looks like. "I think we’ve resolved most of the issues we had—and I hope we have so we can get it out of the committee with a strong vote," he said.

Drug Policy

San Francisco Drug Crackdown Has Sparked Violent Turf Warfare in Center of City, Supervisor Says. Mayor London Breed's crackdown on drugs in the Tenderloin and South of Market (Soma) neighborhoods has resulted in hundreds of arrests and the seizure of hundreds of pounds of fentanyl, but is also generating violence in those neighborhoods, one city supervisor says.

"They’re poking a hornet’s nest," Supervisor Dan Preston said in an interview. "There are increased turf wars that are occurring because you have a raid here, and another group moves in. I mean, we’ve had gunfire and a murder during the middle of the day." 

Preston cited two shootings three days apart on Golden Gate Avenue, with the second shooting leaving one person dead.

Meanwhile, street-level drug activity remains undeterred, with overdose deaths on pace to exceed the number from last year.

Tenderloin resident and Public Defender's Office attorney Alexandra Pray said she would rather see more patrols than more arrests.

"I walk to work every day, and I walked through just groups of young men huddled around, and I know what they’re doing," Pray said. "And I just don’t know where the police are. It feels like the police are allowing this to happen, and then when they feel like it, they swoop in and pick people up, and we’re not really solving the problem."

Drug Testing

Kentucky Lab Owner, Exec Plead Guilty to $2.8M Lab Fraud Scheme That Billed Medicare for Non-Medical, Court Ordered Drug Testing. The owner

 and CEO of a Lexington, Kentucky-based lab and the lab's compliance officer have pleaded guilty to a $2.8 million healthcare fraud scheme in which they billed Medicare for court-ordered urine drug tests even though Medicare only pays for medical testing.

LabTox owner Ronald Coburn and LabTox compliance officer and director of operations Erica Baker copped the guilty pleas. Baker helped solicit urine test drug orders submitted by the company. The pair worked with a company Baker recruited, Blue Waters Assessment and Testing Services to refer court-ordered drug tests to LabTox. Despite being aware this was not medical testing, Coburn billed Medicare and Kentucky Medicaid, gaining payments of $1.9 million between June 2019 and March 2021.

Baker also sought out samples from nonmedical substance abuse treatment programs, putting some facility staff on the lab's payroll and compensating them based on the number of urine drug tests sent to the lab. LabTox billed Medicaid and Kentucky Medicare $937,594 for this testing.

Coburn has agreed to pay $3.6 million to the IRS, representing income tax he owed in 2017 through 2021. The pair will be sentenced in December and are looking at up to 10 years in federal prison.

Foreign Policy

US Secretary of State Addresses Global Synthetic Drug Threats at U.S.-Hosted Side Event at 78th United Nations General AssemblyOn Monday, September 18, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hosted an event on the margins of the 78th United Nations General Assembly addressing the pressing issue of synthetic drug challenges worldwide.  The U.S.-sponsored side event, titled "Addressing the Public Health and Security Threats of Synthetic Drugs Through Global Cooperation," convened international leaders and representatives from international organizations, private sector, and civil society to discuss comprehensive strategies for combatting the public health and security threats posed by synthetic drugs and advance the work of the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats.

As synthetic drugs continue to devastate communities at home and abroad, this discussion underscores the United States’ commitment to engaging with international partners to address this critical issue, including the provision of more than $100 million in assistance from the Department of State to build the capacity of partners across the world to detect, identify, and interdict synthetic drugs.  This assistance also includes providing vital treatment, prevention, and recovery initiatives, as well as supporting alternatives to incarceration systems development with a focus on drug treatment. 

The Global Coalition provides a platform for the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and collaborative efforts aimed at dismantling the criminal networks responsible for the production and distribution of synthetic drugs and sharing universal best practices for substance use harm reduction and will continue expert-level engagement through monthly meetings launching in October.

Narcan Maker Blocked OTC Sales to Boost Profits, AZ Weed Workers Strike, More... (9/18/23)

A proposed California initiative would warn fentanyl dealers they could be charged with murder in the event of an overdose death, clashes kill four Colombian soldiers ahead of scheduled peace talks with leftist rebels, and more.

Did profits matter more than lives for Emergent BioSolutions? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Pot Workers On Strike Against Curaleaf. Workers at Curaleaf's Dispensary Midtown in Phoenix voted more than a year ago to unionize and seek a labor agreement with the company, but that has not happened yet. Instead Curaleaf has refused to begin union negotiations and fired worker Christian Tallabas for his union activity, so on Friday the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 led a day-long Unfair Labor Practices strike.

"It really grinds my gears how we have corporate from Curaleaf standing right behind this window," said Tallabas at a rally in front of the dispensary. "I personally think it is really disgusting and you should see the look on their faces. "We deserve to know what percentage of our tips we make when our customer service is making this company millions of dollars," he said.

"Not only do we not have a contract despite it being over a year, but there's so many different labor violations already on the books that the National Labor Relations Board has found that Curaleaf is responsible for," said Curaleaf employee Nick Fredrickson.

Joining the UFCW and Curaleaf workers at the rally were representatives of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Opiates and Opioids

California Initiative Would Warn Fentanyl Dealers They Could Be Charged with Murder. Organized by parents who have lost children to drug overdoses, an initiative that would warn fentanyl sellers they could be charged with murder in the event of a fatal overdose has been filed with the state attorney general. Judges would be required to tell people convicted of, or who pleads guilty or no contest to, possession of illicit drugs for sale, this:

"You are hereby advised that it is extremely dangerous and deadly to human life to illicitly manufacture, distribute, sell, furnish, administer, or give away any drugs in any form, including real or counterfeit drugs or pills. You can kill someone by engaging in such conduct. All drugs and counterfeit pills are dangerous to human life. These substances alone, or mixed, kill human beings in very small doses. If you illicitly manufacture, distribute, sell, furnish, administer or give away any real counterfeit drugs or pills, and that conduct results in the death of a human being, you could be charged with homicide, up to and including the crime of murder."

The proposed initiative also includes criminal penalties of 10 to 12 years for a subsequent conviction or guilty plea.

The initiative campaign comes after grieving parents were unable to get a bill to the same effect through the legislature. The bipartisan bill had 41 cosponsors but died in the Senate Public Safety Committee.

"This is a disgusting display of a legislative committee holding hostage 40 million people and their safety and security, all in the name of political, ideological gameplay," fumed Matt Capelouto, who lost a daughter to a fentanyl overdose. "What all of us want here is to protect people from the enduring, the never-ending pain of someone being killed by a drug dealer selling poison. And they won’t do it. They won’t even pass a bill that contains a warning — a freaking warning."

The initiative takes the form of a statutory amendment, which means it will need some 874,641 valid voter signatures within 180 days of the beginning of signature-gathering, or by the first week of July 2024 at the latest.

Harm Reduction

Narcan Maker Blocked OTC Sales for Years in Bid to Boost Profits. Emergent BioSolutions, the manufacturer of the opioid overdose reversal product Narcan, has finally allowed it to be sold over-the-counter (OTC), but only after delaying for five years.

"I’m not sure that OTC is the answer," Daniel J. Abdun-Nabi, then Emergent’s top executive, told investors during a November 2018 earnings call. In December 2018, the company’s then president, Robert Kramer, cautioned "against a rush to an over-the-counter solution for this current crisis," citing concerns about Narcan awareness and insurance coverage.

But the head of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said the bottom line was profits. "I think the problem is that the financial model doesn’t appear to be working for the company, so they’re not motivated to do it," FDA head Robert Califf said at a 2022 conference. "We can’t order companies to go over-the-counter."

Emergent only relented late last year after a competitor prepared its own bid for OTC approval of naloxone. That came after Emergent spent years using the courts and regulatory agencies to stop other naloxone products from entering the market. It had also moved to lock up lucrative state contracts, "hindering broader distribution of the antidote while the opioid crisis worsened," the Washington Post reported Monday.

"It’s a strategy that’s cost lives," said Jennifer Plumb, a doctor and Democratic state senator in Salt Lake City who serves as medical director of the Utah naloxone program.

International

Four Colombian Soldiers Killed in Clash with FARC Dissidents Ahead of Peace Talks. Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC dissidents known as Estado Mayor Central were set to begin Monday, but their prospects were clouded by a weekend clash that left four soldiers dead.

The Estado Mayor Central broke with the FARC in 2016, when the main body of the leftist guerrilla group signed a peace agreement with the government and has been involved in coca and cocaine trafficking. They had agreed in April to hold talks with the government about a ceasefire.

The soldiers were killed in a clash in Narino, close to the Ecuadorian border and the region of the country with the most coca production. Colombia is the world's largest producer of coca and cocaine. Control over the lucrative drug traffic has fomented conflict in the area for decades, where left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and apolitical drug cartels spend their time fighting each other and the Colombian state.

SAFE Banking Act Committee Vote Coming Soon, BC Bans Drug Possession Near Parks, Playgrounds, More... (9/15/2023)

Fentanyl in stimulants like meth and cocaine is driving a fourth wave of opioid overdoses, Vancouver's pioneering safe injection site marks 20 years in service, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver, which marks 20 years of operation this week. (PCS Community Services Society)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Banking Committee Set to Vote on SAFE Banking Act by Month's End. The Senate Banking Committee is set to vote on the SAFE Banking Act (S.1323) on September 27, "a Senate source familiar with the discussions" told Marijuana Moment Friday.

That source confirmed earlier media reports that the vote was coming. The date is not yet official, so it could change, but the expectation is that it will take place the week of September 25, the source said.

What amendments—if any—will be offered or adopted remains unclear, although there has been talk about revisions to a key section on broad banking regulations, as well as changes concerning Small Business Administration access and stock uplisting for the marijuana industry.

Drug Policy

Fentanyl-Adulterated Meth and Cocaine Is Driving a Fourth Wave of Drug Overdoses. A study published Thursday in the scientific journal Addiction finds that drug overdoses involving both fentanyl and cocaine or methamphetamine have increased 50-fold since 2010, now account for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all fatal overdoses and are responsible for some 35,000 deaths.

"We're now seeing that the use of fentanyl together with stimulants is rapidly becoming the dominant force in the U.S. overdose crisis," said Joseph Friedman, the lead author of the study and a researcher at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "Fentanyl has ushered in a polysubstance overdose crisis, meaning that people are mixing fentanyl with other drugs, like stimulants, but also countless other synthetic substances."

The authors described the phenomenon as a "fourth wave" of the ongoing opioid crisis that began with the rise in prescription opioids around the turn of the century, followed by the rise of heroin around 2010 as authorities tightened the screws on prescription opioid prescribing and the arrival of fentanyl around 2013.

International

Vancouver's Safe Injection Marks 20 Years in Operation This Week. Vancouver Coastal Health and the PHS Community Services Society, the two groups that run InSite, the city's pioneering safe injection site—the first one in North America—are celebrating 20 years of operation this week. On Friday, they met in front of the East Hastings Street location to commemorate the occasion.

"Insite was a really important step forward in terms of drug policy and harm reduction, and to be here 20 years after we opened, it just feels incredible," said Jeff West, manager of harm reduction for Vancouver Coastal Health. "Not only was Insite important to the community as a safe space, a symbol of a more progressive drug policy, it also is a really important public health intervention," said West.

PHS first set up InSite as an unsanctioned site and only later got permission from Health Canada to operate, but it has been there ever since. And it has done so with the approval of local, provincial, and federal authorities, as well as Vancouver Police and the Coastal Health Authority. It survived a challenge from the Conservative national government of Stephen Harper, which was slapped down by the Supreme Court.

"Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven," wrote Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin in her decision.

British Columbia to Ban Drug Use Near Parks and Playgrounds. The province has decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of illicit drugs in a bid to get a grip on the overdose crisis, but now British Columbia Premier David Eby legislation is being drafted to ban drug use near parks and playgrounds.

The provincial Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said Thursday that the federal government had approved the changes expanding the are where drug possession remains illegal.

Drug possession was already prohibited on school grounds and at child care facilities, but as of next Monday, it will also be prohibited within 15 meters of playgrounds, water parks, and skate parks.

Public intoxication remains a crime.

"I hope and expect that people, even when struggling with addiction, will understand the importance that we've all got to live in the community together, and if there's a place that's funded and safe and appropriate to use, that you should be going to that health-care site rather than to a site that's used by children," Premier Ebe said.

Mark Haden, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health, said in an interview Thursday that the province is "tweaking" its decriminalization policy "in response to some pushback from mayors who are saying 'this isn't working particularly well for us because it's disempowering the police.'"

Haden said the province's move is not "dealing with the real problem of prohibition." "We have a supply-chain problem that decriminalization isn't resolving," he said. "It's the supply-chain problem that's actually killing people."

200 Familes Send Letter to Lawmakers Calling for a Health Response to ODs, Not Punishment [FEATURE]

In the face of the continuing overdose crisis and the regressive resort to punitive drug war tactics such as drug-induced homicide laws to combat it, a group of friends and family members of drug users, including many who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses, is calling on Congress to stand firm against looking to more criminalization and prosecution as a solution.

The people of Broken No More (broken-no-more.org_
In collaboration with the Drug Policy Alliance, the group, Broken No More, last week sent an open letter to lawmakers urging them to oppose more failed drug war policies and instead embrace evidence-based health responses proven to save lives and prevent other families from suffering the loss of loved ones.

"Opportunistic politicians supported by law enforcement are using the overdose crisis and parents’ grief to pass harsh drug laws that will only continue to fill our morgues and prisons," the open letter says. "Punitive laws will not bring our loved ones back, but they will subject other parents’ children to more suffering and deny them the support that can keep them alive.

The group makes concrete demands of Congress about what it does and does not want. It says "no more" to drug-induced homicide laws, new mandatory minimum sentencing laws, or new laws increasing penalties for the possession of personal use amounts of illicit drugs.

Instead, it calls for "health-based solutions focused on overdose prevention, harm reduction, and drug treatment," including drug decriminalization (with the savings invested in addiction services and social supports), the panoply of harm reduction measures from needle exchanges and drug checking to safe injection sites, effective voluntary drug treatment options (including access on demand for opioid disorder medications buprenorphine and methadone_, "reality based drug education," and removing civil punishments for drug use  (in food, housing, and employment).

"As a mother who lost her 16-year-old son to overdose, I strongly oppose imposing harsher penalties for those involved in drug-related deaths," said Tamara Olt, MD, executive director of Broken No More. "It is enough that one family has been devastated by the loss of their loved one. It is cruel and unjust for a second family to lose their child to incarceration and the laws will increase deaths by making people afraid to get help for someone experiencing an overdose. I support a health-based approach, harm reduction, and safer supply to cease the senseless and preventable overdose deaths that are increasing exponentially. No one is disposable."

"I lost my son, my only child, Jeff, to an overdose. But he didn’t have to die. There were two people with Jeff that day, one of whom had sold him the heroin he used. They could have called for help but, instead, they pulled him from the SUV and left him on a lawn. And while people will say that they were monsters, they weren’t. The monster was fear. Fear of the police. Fear of arrest. Fear of spending 20 years to life in prison. It was fear that killed my son," said Denise Cullen, LCSW, co-founder of Broken No More. "Criminalization and punitive drug laws have resulted in nothing but more imprisonment, more deaths, and more devastated families. We must, instead, invest in health-based solutions that will save the lives of the ones we love. Laws that charge people with murder for a drug-related death may sound like a good idea. Until that is, it’s your child that dies on a lawn."

"We stand behind the families who are bravely fighting for the right policy solutions so that no one else has to go through the heartbreak and pain they have experienced. Their voices are abundantly clear that the best way to address the overdose crisis is through continued investment in public health resources and services rather than doubling down on the deeply flawed, unjust, and failed punitive approaches of the past," said Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of state advocacy and criminal legal reform at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Turning to health solutions instead of punishment is the right way forward. People all across the country are looking for answers to the problems of public safety, mass criminalization, racist policing, addiction, overdose, and homelessness.  But we know that punishing people for possessing drugs for personal use is not the answer to these issues."

For a complete list of signatories go here. And it is not too late for other parents and family members who have lost loved ones to sign the letter here.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

There seems to be a problem in the Mobile Metro Jail, a San Diego deputy who was ripping off drug give-back boxes gets probation, and more. Let's get to it:

In Mobile, Alabama, a Mobile County corrections officer was arrested August 31 on charges she smuggled drugs into the jail. Jessica Odom, 32, a three-year veteran guard, is charged with trafficking fentanyl, attempt to distribute drugs and first-degree attempt to promote prison contraband.

In Mobile, Alabama, a Mobile County corrections officer was arrested Tuesday on charges she smuggled drugs into the jail. Kimberly Henderson, 32, has been fired and charged with promoting prison contraband in the first degree. There is no information on which drugs were involved.

In Ironton, Ohio, a former Ironton police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to a year in prison after being caught up in a domestic violence incident and found with 19 grams of methamphetamine—more than what is commonly considered a personal use amount. Bradley Spoljaric, 30, was originally charged with domestic violence, aggravated drug possession, and tampering with evidence but pleaded down to a single count of aggravated drug possession. In addition to the year behind bars, he faces two years of supervised release.

In Baltimore, a former Baltimore police officer pleaded guilty Monday to selling marijuana to a confidential informant and was sentenced to a year of home detention. Former Officer Cejus Watson had already been suspended from the job when he sold weed to a snitch an a tattoo shop in Pikesville. Prosecutors in the case argued for home detention over time behind bars, saying Watson's live could be in danger and his presence in a local jail could cause disruptions.

In San Diego, a San Diego County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Monday to two years' probation after being arrested in January for drug possession and 13 counts of burglary. Deputy Cory Richey stole prescription medications from public drop boxes to feed an addiction to opioid pain relievers. He was looking at up to 13 years in prison before copping a plea. In the meantime, he completed drug rehabilitation.

 

CA Assembly Approves Bill on Workers' Weed Rights, Aussie Decrim Fight, More... (9/14/23)

Philadelphia's city council takes preemptive steps to block dispensaries from transforming into adult-use retailers, New York regulators open the way for multistate operators to get into the retail weed business, and more.

Competition for New York marijuana retailer licenses is going to heat up. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Assembly Approves Bill to Stop Employers Asking About Past Marijuana Use. The Assembly on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 700, which would bar employers from asking job applicants about past marijuana use. The bill has already passed the Senate, but because of technical amendments made in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, it must go back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote.

"It is unlawful for an employer to request information from an applicant for employment relating to the applicant’s prior use of cannabis," the bill says, although it lays out certain exceptions, such as for public safety-sensitive and law enforcement positions.

The measure builds on a law passed last year that bars employers from penalizing most workers for using marijuana in compliance with state law. That law makes it

unlawful for employers "to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalizing a person, if the discrimination is based upon" off-duty marijuana use or drug tests that reveal cannabinoid metabolites.

New York Regulators Open Adult-Use Retail Sales Licenses to Multistate Operators. The Office of Cannabis Management, which regulates legal marijuana in the state, voted Tuesday to allow state medical marijuana operators to apply for adult-use retail marijuana licenses, clearing the way for multistate operators to enter the largest weed market on the East Coast.

Multistate operators snapped up most of the 10 "registered organization" permits to seek the new licenses. The Office will accept applications for retail or microbusiness licenses from October 4 though December 23.

"Today marks a pivotal step toward expanding and sustaining the state’s medical program and creation of an economically viable and equitable adult-use cannabis industry in New York," said Barry Carmody, a spokesperson for the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association (NYMCIA).

Not everybody was as happy with the decision as NYMCIA. "Today’s Cannabis Control Board meeting opened the door for big cannabis to come in and compete with New York-based businesses," the Cannabis Association of New York (CANY), which represents small and state-based businesses, said in a statement.

Philadelphia City Council Overrides Mayor's Veto of Bill to Block Medical Marijuana Dispensaries from Transforming into Adult-Use Retail Outlets. Adult-use marijuana is not yet legal in Pennsylvania, but the city council passed a bill to block existing medical marijuana dispensaries from transforming themselves into adult-use retail outlets once that happens. Mayor Jim Kenney (D) then vetoed that bill, but now the city council has voted unanimously to overturned that veto.

The bill says that medical marijuana dispensaries "shall not include a person authorized to dispense marijuana for recreational or other nonmedical purposes."

Kenney's veto came because he believes the bill "creates unnecessary complexity" by setting special rules that only apply to a small section of the city (where dispensaries are) and because it was premature given that marijuana is not yet legal in the Keystone State. "Furthermore, the mayor wants to avoid creating barriers to local businesses who want to expand their current portfolios in the event that the laws change," said Sarah Peterson, a spokesperson for the administration.

But in overriding the mayor's veto, the council adhered to a tradition of voting in support of members of districts on matters of land use and streets in their district.

International

Australian Federal Opposition Seeks to Overturn Drug Decriminalization Law in Australia Capital Territory. New laws in the Australia Capital Territory (Canberra) that decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs go into effect next month, but some federal politicians want none of it and are now trying to overturn it.

Shadow Attorney-General Michaelia Cash of the national Liberal Party has filed a bill to do that—a private senator's bill called the Australian Capital Territory Dangerous Drugs Bill 2023 – which will be debated next month.

Likewise, federal opposition leader Peter Dutton declared himself dumbfounded by decriminalization. "I am totally shocked and dismayed at what the ACT government is doing," he said. "As a former police officer, I know that our hard-working law enforcement agencies work tirelessly to keep drugs off the streets and to keep our community safe, yet here we see this crazy government legislation that gives a green light to drug use and drug importation to Canberra.  The ACT government is rolling out the red carpet for drug use and more crime. It is effectively welcoming more ice, heroin, cocaine, MDMA and speed on our streets."

Canberra politicians, however, remain unbowed.

In a statement, ACT Labor senator and former chief minister Katy Gallagher said the laws were a "matter for the ACT Assembly".

"The ACT Assembly is a mature parliament, democratically elected by ACT voters," said ACT Labor senator and former chief minister Katy Gallagher. "I have spent my career in public life supporting the rights of Canberrans to determine the laws, policies and programs under which they are governed, and I will continue to do so despite the attempts by the federal opposition to try to undermine them."

Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee is also standing up for her constituency. "The Canberra Liberals will always stand up for territory rights and I am very concerned about any step to diminish that," she said. I do not agree with this action taken by the federal Coalition to seek to overturn legislation that was passed by the ACT Assembly."

 

She said while she disagreed with decriminalization, it was up to local voters—not national politicians—to make the decision by replacing the current government.

MN Supreme Court Rules Weed Odor No Cause for Search, Scottish Safe Injection Site Plans, More... (9/13/23)

Nebraska advocates kicked off their third campaign for a medical marijuana initiative on Wednesday, a pair of psychedelic amendments to the defense spending bill will get a House floor vote, and more.

The odor of marijuana alone is not probable cause for a vehicle search, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled. (Creative Commons
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Weed Odor Alone Does Not Justify a Vehicle Search. The state Supreme Court has ruled that that the mere odor of marijuana does not establish probable cause for police to search a vehicle. The state now becomes the latest marijuana legalization state to see such a ruling.

The ruling came in the case of a Litchfield man was pulled over in 2021 for having "too many auxiliary lights on his grill." Two police officers claimed they smelled marijuana coming from an open car window. The man denied having marijuana and police search of the vehicle turned none up, but it did turn up a small amount of methamphetamine, for which the man was charged.

The trial court noted that the man was not driving erratically, nor was there any evidence of a crime in plain view when police approached the car and ruled the search inadmissible. (Even though the state did not legalize marijuana until this year, at the time of the search, medical marijuana was legal and pot possession was decriminalized.

The state appealed the decision to the appeals court and lost and then to the state Supreme Court, where it has now lost again.

Medical Marijuana

Nebrasksa Medical Marijuana Proponents Hope Third Time Is the Charm. Backers of a proposed 2024 medical marijuana ballot initiative kicks off their campaign in Lincoln Wednesday. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is hoping the third time is the charm after a first effort was sidelined by the state Supreme Court and a second effort ran short on signatures after losing a major donor.

The group’s co-chairs, State Senator Anna Wishart and former State Senator Adam Morfeld, are meeting with patients, families, caregivers, and volunteers in an initial fundraiser.

To qualify for the 2024 ballot, campaigners will need to come up with 87,000 valid voter signatures by the first week of July 2024.

Psychedelics

House Committee Clears Psychedelic Amendments to Defense Bill for Floor Vote. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday declared that two psychedelic amendments to the defense spending bill are in order, meaning they can advance to House floor votes. But the committee also blocked separate marijuana-related amendments from advancing.

One of the psychedelic amendments, from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), would allow active-duty service members suffering from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury to participate in clinical trials of the efficacy of psychedelic substances. The second, from Crenshaw and Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-TX), would appropriate $15 million in funding for the Pentagon's Psychedelic Medical Clinical Trials.

While Republican-led committee advanced the psychedelic amendments sponsored by fellow Republicans, it blocked the marijuana amendments that came from Democrats. One would have ended the disqualification of potential enlistees for THC; the other would have barred federal funds for marijuana testing upon enlistment.

International

Scottish Safe Injection Site Could Be Approved Within Weeks. After Scotland's Lord Advocate, the Scottish government's highest legal official, confirmed that users of a proposed safe injection would not be prosecuted, the proposed pilot scheme is set to be approved by local officials—the next step toward its realization.

Scottish drugs minister Elena Whitman told members of the Scottish Parliament Tuesday that the plan would go before the city’s integrated joint board of council and health officials on 27 September, where it is expected to be approved and put out to public consultation.

While the Conservative government in London sets drug policy for the United Kingdom, it is the Scottish Lord Advocate who decides whether to prosecute.

Lord Advocate Bain said she believed it would "not be in the public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility."

The Scottish government and the Glasgow city council, both of which are led by the Scottish National Party, have been supportive of a pilot project for years, but now Scottish Labor, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish Greens are all on board, and the Scottish Tories have agreed not to try to block the proposal.

Latin American Countries Call for Drug War "Rethink," GOP Reps Tell DEA Not to Reschedule Pot, More... (9/12/23)

A California bill allowing pot shops to sell food and drink goes to the governor, a new report from Harm Reduction International tracks US and EU aid that goes to support the drug war, and more.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro continues to press for a new drugs approach. (Creative Commons)

Marijuana Policy

Fourteen GOP Lawmakers Tell DEA to Ignore HHS Recommendation, Keep Marijuana Schedule I. A dirty dozen plus two Republican House and Senate members have sent a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram calling on her to reject a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services to down-schedule the drug. Instead, the conservative lawmakers wrote, marijuana should remain on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

The lead authors on the letter were Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX). They were joined by Sens. Michael Rounds (R-SD), James Risch (R-ID), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ted Budd (R-NC), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), as well as Reps. Chuck Edwards (R-NC), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Buddy Carter (R-GA) and Andy Biggs (R-AZ).

Any decision to reschedule marijuana "should be based on proven facts and science—not popular opinion, changes in state laws, or the preferred policy of an administration," they wrote, ignoring HHS's science-based review that led to the call for down-scheduling.

"It is irresponsible for HHS to recommend that marijuana be removed from Schedule I. It would also be irresponsible for DEA to act on this recommendation," the letter concludes. "Our country relies on DEA to enforce our nation’s drug laws. We ask you to uphold your mission by rejecting any effort to remove marijuana from Schedule I."

California Marijuana Café Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. After a final concurrence vote in the Assembly to approve amendments made in the Senate, the legislature on Tuesday approved Assembly Bill 374, which would allow marijuana retailers to offer food and drinks in they get local approval. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

The bill would let local governments authorize the preparation and sell of non-marijuana food and drinks. Sale of alcohol would continue to be prohibited, as would the smoking of tobacco.

The bill would also authorize "live musical or other performances on the premises of a retailer or microbusiness licensed under this division in the area where the consumption of cannabis is allowed, and the sale of tickets for those performances."

International

Led By Colombia and Mexica, 19 Latin American and Caribbean Nations Call for Rethink of War on Drugs. After meeting at the Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs over the weekend, 19 Latin American and Caribbean nations have signed onto a joint statement calling for a rethinking of the war on drugs and instead focusing on "life, peace and development" within the region.

Under the current prohibitionist approach to drug policy, "the expected results have not been obtained when combating the world drug problem, leaving in many cases the underlying problems to be solved and exploiting and exacerbating vulnerabilities of our territories and societies."

The governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela all signed on.

Colombia and Mexico "are the biggest victims of this policy," said Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who likened the drug war to "genocide."

"What I propose is to have a different and unified voice that defends our society, our future and our history and stops repeating a failed discourse," Petro said. He argued that it was wrong to look at drug control "as a military problem and not as a health problem in society."

Supply-side solutions have been counterproductive, he argued. "Every dollar that is dedicated to cutting the supply makes the price grow," he said. "If the price increases, drug traffickers have more money to buy rifles, to buy armored vehicles, to buy missiles, to buy politicians, to buy senators, to buy generals, to buy judges, to buy presidents."

"The fundamental thing to face the scourge of drug addiction and violence is to address the causes, with a new criterion, not to think only of coercive measures," López Obrador, the Mexican president, said at the conference. "We have to put first the criterion that peace is the result of justice. We have to fight first against poverty, against inequality."

America and European Union Have Spent a Billion Dollars in Past Decade to Fight Drug War, Fueling Human Rights Abuses, New Report Finds. Between 2012 and 2021, the US and the European Union spent nearly a billion dollars of their budgets on programs supporting drug control policies, fueling human rights abuses as they did so, according to a new report from Harm Reduction International.

EU funding has been used to support surveillance capabilities in Colombia, Mozambique and the Dominican Republic, and undercover policing in Peru, while American funding has been used by the DEA train police and special units in Vietnam and Honduras, which have been accused of arbitrary arrests and killings.

"When you think about development, you don’t really think about it being used for those kinds of activities – you think of poverty reduction, working towards development goals on health or education," said Catherine Cook, sustainable financing lead at HRI, which monitors the impact of drug policies. "This money is actually being used to support punitive measures – so policing, prisons, essentially funding the ‘war on drugs’, even though we know the ‘war on drugs’ and punitive policies have repeatedly failed."

CA Natural Psychedelic Legalization Bill Goes to Governor, Colombia Cocaine Production at All-Time High, More... (9/11/23)

You could soon be able to get some munchies when you buy your weed in California, Afghanistan is the world's fastest-growing meth producer, and more.

Colombia continues to crank out cocaine. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Senate Approves Marijuana Café Bill. The Senate has approved Assembly Bill 374, which would allow marijuana retailers to offer food and drinks in they get local approval. The bill has already passed the Assembly, but because it was slightly amended in the Senate, it must return to the Assemly for a final concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

The bill would let local governments authorize the preparation and sell of non-marijuana food and drinks. Sale of alcohol would continue to be prohibited, as would the smoking of tobacco.

The bill would also authorize "live musical or other performances on the premises of a retailer or microbusiness licensed under this division in the area where the consumption of cannabis is allowed, and the sale of tickets for those performances."

Psychedelics

California Natural Psychedelic Legalization Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that legalize the possession of personal use amounts of natural psychedelics, including ibogaine and psilocybin (magic mushrooms)—but not peyote—has won final passage in the legislature and now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

Senate Bill 58, filed by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco), was first introduced in 2021 but was pulled by Weiner after it was heavily amended in the Assembly during the last session. But it came back this session and has now made its way through the legislative process.

The bill would allow people 21 and over to possess up to four grams of mescaline, one gram of DMT, and one gram each of psilocybin and psilocyn.

Newsom has until Oct. 14 to make a decision on the bill becoming law. If approved, it would go into effect in 2025.

International

UNODC Says Afghanistan is World's Faster-Growing Meth Producer. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOD C) reported Sunday that Afghanistan has became the world's fastest-growing manufacturer of methamphetamine. The report comes as the Taliban are busily prosecuting a crackdown on opium production.

Afghan meth production derives largely from legally available substances or the ephedra plants, which grows in the wild in the region, UNODC said. It said Afghan meth production could disrupt the synthetic drug market and fuel addiction. Afghan meth has been seized in Europe and East Africa.

Afghan meth seizures rose from less than 100 pounds in 2019 to nearly 6,000 pounds in 2021.

Annual meth seizure totals from inside the country rose from less than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) in 2019 to nearly 2,700 kilograms (6,000 pounds) in 2021, suggesting increased production, the report said. But it couldn’t give a value for the country’s meth supply, the quantities being produced, nor its domestic usage, because it doesn’t have the data.

Angela Me, the chief of the UNODC’s Research and Trend Analysis Branch, said  that making meth, especially in Afghanistan, had several advantages over heroin or cocaine production. "You don’t need to wait for something to grow," said Me. "You don’t need land. You just need the cooks and the know-how. Meth labs are mobile, they’re hidden. Afghanistan also has the ephedra plant, which is not found in the biggest meth-producing countries, Myanmar and Mexico. It’s legal in Afghanistan and it grows everywhere. But you need a lot of it."

UNODC Says Colombia Coca Cultivation at All-Time High. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Sunday that coca leaf cultivation in Colombia last year was at the highest level recorded since the agency started monitoring the crop in 2001. Coca cultivation was up 13 percent over 2021, and that generated 1,400 tons of cocaine, up from 1,738 in 2021.

Most Colombian cocaine is destined for markets in the US and Europe.

Key coca growing areas, accounting for two-thirds of national production, are the southern departments of Narino and Puumayo on the Ecuadorian border and North Santander on the Venezuelan border. Nearly half of Colombia's coca production is located on indigenous lands or in parks and nature reserves.

Scottish Lord Advocate Endorses Safe Injection Sites. The senior law enforcement officer in the Scottish government, the Lord Advocate, has issued a position statement on safe injection sites saying it would not recommend the prosecution of people using a safe injection site. The Lord Advocate provides legal advice on the full range of the government's responsibilities, policies, and legislation, including advice on the legal implications of government proposals. : 

"On the basis of the information I have been provided, I would be prepared to publish a prosecution policy that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility," Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said.

"I have not been asked to sign-off or approve any facility and it would not be appropriate for me to do so. However, prosecution policy is for me alone to set and this policy, and the consequences which flow from it, have been considered deeply and thoroughly. 

"The requested statement will not extend to any criminal offences other than possession of controlled substances, contrary to section 5(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It does not amount to an exclusion zone whereby a range of criminality is tolerated. 

"Police Scotland have operational independence and it has been of the utmost importance to me to ensure that Police Scotland retain the ability to effectively police the facility and ensure that the wider community, those operating the site and

The Lord Advocate's decision has been shared with the Scottish Parliament cross-committee on tackling drug deaths and drug harm on September 11. 

Federal Appeals Court Restricts Detroit Vehicle Seizures, NC Tribe Votes Yes on Weed, More... (9/8/23)

New York City settles with a Black woman whose child was seized because of her marijuana use, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals reins in vehicle seizures in Detroit, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site. Pressure is growing for one in Glasgow, Scotland. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

North Carolina Tribe Approves Marijuana Legalization Measure. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve a referendum permitting the use and sale of marijuana on tribal land. According to preliminary results, the measure was passing with 70 percent of the vote.

The tribe had already approved regulations for the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes but has not yet begun engaging in sales of medical marijuana products.

The state does not permit marijuana to be used or sold for either medical or recreational purposes, and US Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC) urged members to reject the referendum: "To allow our citizens to travel only a few miles to buy and use this common gateway drug … would be irresponsible, and I intend to stop it." To that end, he filed a federal bill last week to without certain federal funds from states and tribes that permit adult use marijuana.

New York City Settles with Mother Whose Child Was Seized Over Marijuana Use. The city's child welfare agency agreed to pay $75,000 plus attorney's fees to a Black woman after child welfare workers forcibly removed a woman’s newborn baby based solely on a positive test for marijuana that she did not consent to. The woman, Chanetto Rivers, alleged racial discrimination.

"I didn’t just bring this lawsuit for myself, but for every Black family that ACS [the Administration for Children's Services] has ripped apart," Rivers said in a statement. "They know what they did was wrong." 

An ACS spokesperson said that marijuana use by itself will not be a basis for charging child abuse or neglect. "A case should not be indicated solely because a parent is using marijuana, but instead CPS should assess the impact, if any, on the safety and well-being of the child," the spokesperson said. 

That is in line with stated ACS policy: "Positive marijuana toxicology of an infant or the mother at the time of birth is not sufficient, in and of itself, to support a determination that the child is maltreated, nor is such evidence alone sufficient for ACS to take protective custody of (remove) a child or file a case in Family Court."

But Rivers' lawsuit alleges that child welfare workers continued to interfere in her parenting even after two judges ordered the agency to reunite her and her child. She was subjected to "needless court proceedings" for months, the suit alleged.

"We are glad that Ms. Rivers was able to call attention to ACS’s deplorable history of racial discrimination against marginalized families," her attorney said. "ACS continued to rely on outdated racist stereotypes and tropes about Black parents."

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Court Severely Curtails Detroit Civil Asset Forfeiture Program. Wayne County, which includes Detroit, has long been notorious for seizing cars from people it claims were involved with drugs or prostitution, but now a federal appeals court has severely curtailed that program.

The 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the program's severe restrictions on property owners' ability to appeal seizures violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. The ruling only applies to the Wayne County program, but with a similar case on the US Supreme Court docket, a broader precedent may soon be set.

Under the Wayne County program, police would seize vehicles of people driving or parking in areas where illegal drug use and/or prostitution was suspected and offer them a deal: Pay a $1,000 fine and get their vehicle back right away or appeal the seizure—a process that takes months and could result in the loss of the vehicle anyway.

The appeals court ruled that the months-long delay before people could challenge a seizure was too long and that hearings needed to happen within two weeks.

International

British Royal Pharmaceutical Society Backs House of Commons Call for Safe Injection Sites. At the end of August, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee recommended legalization of safe injection sites for drug users, and now the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has backed that call.

The Home Affairs Committee called for a pilot safe injection site in Glasgow. The Home Office rejected a similar proposal in 2020. But both the committee and the society pointed to successful safe injection sites elsewhere.

 

"We believe we can apply that learning here and provide clean, safe spaces for those injecting drugs," said Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. "This will bring illegal drug users closer to mainstream health and addiction support services, and provide an opportunity for health professionals to engage in treatment and prevention. This in turn will help to save lives, reduce harm and reduce drug deaths," she added.

Chronicle Book Review: Whiteout

Whiteout: How Racial Capitalism Changed the Color of Opioids in Americaby Helena Hansen, David Herzberg, and Jules Netherland (2023, University of California Press, 369 pp., $29.95 HB)

When the face of opioid addiction turned white, an era that can be marked as beginning with the introduction and mass prescribing of OxyContin in the late 1990s, official attitudes toward drug users shifted away from the punishing and toward the nurturing. They were no longer Black deviant criminals, but now white innocent victims.

Republican lawmakers in statehouses around the country who had built careers as fierce drug warriors now sponsored Good Samaritan bills (so that people overdosing and those seeking to help them did not face drug charges), the availability of medicine-assisted treatment (methadone and buprenorphine) spread—and went upscale, with bupe acting as white people's methadone.

While methadone, associated with the Black and Brown heroin addicts of the 1970s, remains heavily stigmatized, its administration heavily authoritarian, and its dispensing locations almost always deep within poor minority neighborhoods, buprenorphine –a drug for treating white opioid users of the 21st Century—is much more easily accessible, available in doctors' offices instead of grim industrial buildings, but also more expensive, limiting its access for people with little money or insurance.

In Whiteout, an addiction psychiatrist (Hansen), a drug historian (Herzberg), and a policy advocate (Netherland) tease apart the structures of Whiteness (the unspoken ideology of white virtue, purity, and superiority) and demonstrate how racial disparities have been cooked into American drug policies from the beginning—and how not only Black populations but white ones, too, have suffered for it.

In the first great wave of opioid addiction in the late 19th Century, it was middle class white women who suffered the grip of the poppy, and they were largely treated in the doctor's office. As relatively well-off people, they had the ability to access the health care system of the time, to be prescribed the pills they wanted, and to be helped off them if necessary.

Meanwhile, Black Americans more often lacked the money to gain access to the health care system, and once drug prohibition fell into place in the 1910s, they were shunted into the black market, criminalized, and stigmatized. Their neighborhoods became epicenters of the illicit drug trade. Black market drugs in the ghetto, white market drugs at the doctor's office and the drugstore.

But white privilege had its price—a price that hundreds of thousands of white opioid users have paid since the turn of the century as overdose deaths quintupled in 20 years. Affluent white drug consumers would be provided their drugs by a lightly regulated pharmaceutical industry that the authors demonstrate portrayed the users of its products as white people and marketed their products directly at white people. The poster child for this behavior is Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, which zeroed in on mostly white Appalachia as its force of zealous sales reps went to work. This is the racial capitalism of the title.

Anyone who is uncomfortable with terms like "racial capitalism" is really going to be squirming when Critical Race Theory makes its entrance. Unlike the case with the moral panic around Critical Race Theory in children's schoolbooks (which it isn't), the academic tool is actually applied here and, indeed, is central to the argument the authors make.

It also colors their recommendations for what is to be done. In line with the critique of capitalism, a little more harm reduction here or a little more criminal justice reform there are not going to solve the social problems that give rise to the current opioid crisis. It is going to require real social change, things like universal health care and a real social safety net. And an ongoing interrogation of Whiteness.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's been a slow summer for corrupt cops, but thank goodness for crooked screws. Let's get to it:

In Topeka, Kansas, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday on drug trafficking charges. Corrections officer Jessie Smith, 51, went down after an August 13 search of his person turned up 60 grams of meth and a bag of tobacco. Smith was searched after somebody tipped off prison staff. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute and trafficking contraband in a correctional facility by an employee. He's looking at up to 12 years behind bars.

In Cullman, Alabama, a Cullman County sheriff's detention deputy was arrested August 25 for peddling  weed—not to prisoners but in the community at large. Deputy Terrance Darnell Kirkland, 28, went down after he solicited another member of law enforcement to sell marijuana with him.

CA Assembly Passes Natural Psychedelic Bill, Youth Weed Treatment Admissions Drop, More... (9/7/23)

A pair of Massachusetts psychedelic initiatives are cleared for signature-gathering, new research finds marijuana legalization is driving down youth pot treatment admissions, and more.

Illinois pot shop workers organized by the Teamsters win a labor victory. (Teamsters.org)
Marijuana Policy

Court-Mandated Marijuana Treatment Admissions for Young People Declined Significantly Following Legalization.Far fewer young people are referred by the criminal courts to attend marijuana-specific treatment programs following the adoption of statewide adult-use legalization laws, acording to data published in the journal Addiction Medicine

Researchers with Temple University in Philadelphia analyzed ten years (2008 to 2019) of admissions data from the US government’s Treatment Episode Data Sets (TEDS). They reported that the total number of marijuana-related drug treatment admissions declined significantly among adolescents (ages 12 to 17) and young adults (ages 18 to 24) during this time period. Much of this decline was the result of fewer court-mandated admissions. 

"Our results indicate that the proportion of referrals to CUD [cannabis use disorder] treatment from the criminal justice system fell following recreational legalization in the United States among young adults, likely due to post-legalization declines in cannabis-related arrests," the study’s authors concluded. 

In 2010, courts ordered nearly 60,000 teens and another 70,000 young adults to attend marijuana treatment. Those totals fell to fewer than 20,000 adolescents and approximately 30,000 young adults in 2019.

"In addition to ending tens of thousands of needless low-level marijuana arrests, cannabis legalization is also freeing up space in drug treatment centers for those people who truly need it," said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. "Most people arrested for violating marijuana possession laws do not require mandatory drug treatment, and historically, these referrals were provided primarily to divert people away from the criminal justice system."

Illinois Teamsters Ratify Contracts with Rise Dispensaries. Teamsters Local 777 members at three dispensaries operated by Rise – a subsidiary of Green Thumb Industries (GTI) – have ratified their first collective bargaining agreements with the multi-state cannabis operator. The contract will cover workers at two locations in Joliet and another in Niles. This victory marks the end of a protracted fight with GTI that included a 13-day work stoppage that ended back in May – the longest Unfair Labor Practice strike at a cannabis retailer in U.S. history.

"This fight should be a lesson to cannabis companies all across the country and not just Illinois – Teamsters don’t back down," said Jim Glimco, Local 777 President. "A lot of people who went through what these men and women went through would’ve thrown in the towel. Not this group. They’re young, energetic, tough, smart; they look out for one another, and they embody what being a part of this union is all about."

The strong contracts not only codify a number of benefits, but also include significant improvements. Improvements include wage increases of 18 percent over the lifetime of the agreement, attendance bonuses, a scheduling policy based on seniority, guaranteed tips and discounts, improved safety standards, and protection against unjust termination or discipline.

Psychedelics

California Assembly Approves Amended Psychedelic Legalization Bill, Sending it Back to Senate for Final Passage. The Assembly on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 58, which would legalize the possession of small amounts of certain plant- and fungi-based psychedelic substances, but not without first amending it so it has to go back to the Senate for a final vote.

"California’s veterans, first responders, and others struggling with PTSD, depression, and addiction deserve access to these promising plant medicines," said bill sponsor Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). "SB 58 has prudent safeguards in place after we incorporated feedback from three years of deep engagement with a broad array of stakeholders. We know these substances are not addictive, and they show tremendous promise in treating many of the most intractable conditions driving our nation’s mental health crisis," he said. It’s time to stop criminalizing people who use psychedelics for healing or personal well-being."

But whether Weiner and the rest of the Senate can live with the Assembly's amendments remains to be seen. The Assembly stripped ibogaine from the list of legalized substances, lowered possession limits, eliminated sharing provisions, and pushed back the effective date to 2025.

Massachusetts Attorney General Certifies Two Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiatives for Signature-Gathering. Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell (D) has certified two nearly identical ballot proposals to decriminalize psychedelic substances. The proposals are coming from Massachusetts for Mental Health Options, which aims "to expand mental health treatment options in Massachusetts by providing new pathways to access natural psychedelic medicine therapy."

The two proposals are the Natural Psychedelic Substances Act (Version A) and the Natural Psychedelic Substances Act (Version B).

The certification clears the way for signature-gathering to place the measures on the November 2024 ballot. Organizers will need to file 74,574 valid voter signatures by December 6 to qualify for nest year's ballot.

The proposals would create the Natural Psychedelic Substances Commission, a five-member body appointed by the governor, attorney general and treasurer, that would administer the law around the use and distribution of psychedelics.

Adults at least 21 years old would be able to purchase psychedelics like psilocybin, ibogaine and mescaline at an "approved location," according to the ballot petition.

OTC Narcan Now Available at Major Pharmacies, VA Marijuana "Sharing" and "Gifting" Shops Pop Up, More... (9/6/23)

A majority of Floridians are ready to legalize weed, the British government moves to criminalize laughing gas, and more.

The British government is making laughing gas an illegal Class C substance. No more whippets for you Brits! (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Has Three Out of Five for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University has support for marijuana legalization at 60 percent. That includes 71 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents, and 50 percent of Republicans.

The poll comes as Floridians await a decision from the state Supreme Court on whether it will allow a marijuana legalization initiative from Smart & Safe Florida to appear on the ballot next year. The group has already met signature-gathering requirements.

The poll had even stronger support for medical marijuana, with 83 percent overall supporting it, including 87 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of independents, and 78 percent of Republicans.

Sixty percent support is precisely the amount needed for the initiative—a constitutional amendment—to pass at the polls. Given that initiative campaigners commonly seek a 10 percent cushion to be comfortable about their measure's prospects, Smart & Safe Florida is not yet in that comfort zone and needs another 10 percent increase in support to get there.

Virginia Shops Are "Sharing" and "Gifting" Marijuana Amid State's Lack of Legal Sales Mechanism. State Attorney General Jason Miyares has opined that shops "gifting" or "sharing" marijuana with customers are illegal, but they are proliferating anyway as the state grapples with marijuana legalization without a means of legal sales. Some of the stores "gift" marijuana to customers when they buy some other item from the shop, while others act like co-ops or clubs where members "share" marijuana with new members who either buy something or pay for membership.

Teresa Green and a partner own Good Vibes, which has nine shops in the region. She concedes that "gifting" marijuana is illegal but said her stores don't do that. Instead, she calls them "adult share stores," but when asked exactly how that work, she responded: "That’s as clear as I can get with it." She also said she was aware of the attorney general's opinion, but "anyone can have an opinion."

Police and prosecutors in the area are doing little about it and feeling frustrated. "There are so many gray areas that it’s just become impossible to enforce," said Greg Habeeb, a former Republican state delegate from Salem, president of Roanoke-based Gentry Locke Consulting, and representative of the Virginia Cannabis Association Habeeb. "So, a lot of law enforcement just aren’t enforcing it. They feel like their hands are tied."

"I don’t keep up with the popup marijuana stores and so I really don’t have an opinion, except to say that … it’s the Wild West out there," said longtime Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell. "To simply legalize marijuana and not have any restraints on it. And so, I think God knows what’s going on there. I certainly don’t."

Harm Reduction

Over-the-Counter Narcan Goes on Sale This Month at Major Retailers. The opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone is about to become much more widely available. Emergent BioSolutions, the manufacturer of Narcan, the naloxone nasal spray formulation, announced last week that it had shipped hundreds of thousands of the two-spray kits to major retailers.

The life-saving sprays will be available at CVS, RiteAid, Walgreens, and Walmart, but they won't be especially cheap. The suggested retail price is $44.99.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Narcan for over-the-counter use in March as the nation confronts an overdose crisis that killed an estimated 110,000 last year, with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl implicated in two-thirds of those deaths.

Prescription Narcan is already in wide use—carried by police officers and paramedics; stocked in libraries, schools, and vending machines; and distributed on the streets by harm reduction groups.

International

Britain to Make Laughing Gas an Illegal Class C Controlled Substance. The Conservative government has moved against nitrous oxide, popularly known as laughing gas, by announcing that it will become an illegal Class C substance by year's end. Under British drug laws, possession of a Class C substance is punishable by up to two years in jail, while distribution could garner up to 14 years behind bars.

Currently, supplying laughing gas for recreational use is banned, but possession is not.

The government move is counter to the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which said that the ban would be disproportionate to the amount of harm linked to the drug.

"The British people are fed up with yobs abusing drugs in public spaces and leaving behind a disgraceful mess for others to clean up," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman. "Earlier this year the prime minister and I promised a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behavior and that is what we are delivering. If you are caught using ‘laughing gas’ as a drug, you could be hit with a hefty fine or face jail time," she added.

CO Lawmakers Call for Safe Injection Sites, CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Heads for Final Vote, More... (9/5/23)

A North Carolina Republican congressman files a bill to punish localities that legalize marijuana, Peruvian Shining Path remnants tied to the cocaine trade clash with Peruvian army troops, and more 

Magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics would be decriminalized under a California bill that heads for a final vote. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

North Carolina Congressman Files Bill to Punish Legal Weed States. Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC) has filed a bill that would punish states or reservations where marijuana is legal by withholding 10 percent of highway funding to them. Edward's Stop Pot Act, filed last Friday, targets jurisdictions "in which the purchase or public possession of marijuana for recreational purposes is lawful."

It was spurred by his ire at the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which will vote on whether to legalize marijuana this week. He argues that such laws are an affront to federal law.

"The laws of any government should not infringe on the overall laws of our nation, and federal funds should not be awarded to jurisdictions that willfully ignore federal law," he said in a press release. "During a time when our communities are seeing unprecedented crime, drug addiction, and mental illness, the Stop Pot Act will help prevent even greater access to drugs and ease the strain placed on our local law enforcement and mental health professionals who are already stretched thin."

The tribe does not think much of Edwards' move. Principal Chief Richard Sneed noted that Edwards is "a non-Indian, elected official telling a sovereign tribal nation how they ought to handle their business" and that he "overstepped his authority."

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Heads for Assembly Floor Vote. A bill to decriminalize certain plant- and fungi-based psychedelics is heading for a final Assembly floor vote after clearing a final committee vote last Friday. Senate Bill 58 , from Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has already passed the Senate and cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Friday.

The bill would decriminalize plant-based and other natural hallucinogens such as psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, and mescaline, but in deference to the Native American Church, not peyote. Police would be unable to charge those in possession of personal use amounts of those substances, which range from two grams for psilocybin to 15 grams for ibogaine. The substances would remain illegal for minors.

The bill is a scaled back version of a bill first filed by Weiner in January 21 that would also have decriminalized synthetic psychedelics, such as ketamine, LSD, and MDMA. And as doubts lingered over whether the bill could pass this year, Weiner amended it to add a provision requiring the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHSA) to create a workgroup tasked with studying and making recommendations on the establishment of a framework for the therapeutic use of psychedelics.

"I’m particularly excited to see that a vote will be held for decriminalizing psychedelics, an idea whose time has come I," said Weiner."I look forward to working with my colleagues and a wide array of stakeholders to deliver these bills to the governor."

But whether Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will sign the bill remains an open question.

"The bill does have a good shot of passing the Assembly," said former police officer and current drug counselor Marty Ribera. "But Newsom is the big one. He’s looking to run for president either next year or in 2028, and being the Governor who legalized a bunch of drugs would not be a good look."

Harm Reduction

Colorado Legislative Opioid Study Committee Calls for Safe Injection Sites. Lawmakers last year tried and failed to clear the way for safe injection sites last year, and this year they will be back again. The legislature's opioid study committee has called for a bill to be drafted to allow cities to create "overdose prevention centers" or safe injection sites.

The committee vote followed party lines, with Republicans opposed.

The need is evident. Opioid overdose deaths, most implicating fentanyl, rose 50 percent from 2019 to 2020 and another 27 percent from 2020 to 2021.

Safe injection sites are arguably illegal under federal law, specifically the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which forbids the use of premises for illicit drug use—the crack house act. The Trump administration Justice Department sued to block a Philadelphia safe injection site, but the Biden Justice Department is now in negotiations that could clear the way for it to open.

Rhode Island has authorized safe injection sites, but the only locally-authorized sites opened in New York City in late 2021. And now, the US attorney there is making noises calling into question whether they can remain.

International

Peru Clashes Between Military and Shining Path Leave Six Dead. Remnants of the Shining Path, a Maoist insurgency from the 1980s that left tens of thousands dead and has since devolved into players in the coca and cocaine trade, clashed with an army patrol Monday, leaving four soldiers and two Shining Path members dead.

The early morning attack by the rebel traffickers came in the province of Huanta in the Ayacucho region—the historic Shining Path stronghold.

"During the confrontation, the security forces managed to kill two terrorist criminals, who fell with their long-range weapons," the army said in a press release. "Unfortunately, during this action, four brave members of the armed forces died, whose remains will be transferred shortly to the city of Huamanga." The army said three wounded soldiers were also transferred to a nearby hospital.

Peruvian President Dina Boluarte paid tribute to the soldiers shortly afterwards on social media, referring to the Shining Path as "narcoterrorists."

The violence occurred in the Valley of Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), a center of coca cultivation and cocaine production. In 2021, the government estimated that 70 percent of the country's total coca leaf production came from the VRAEM. The VRAEM is also the last outpost of the Shining Path. 

San Francisco Drug Crackdown Generating Arrests, Belize Coca Plantation Found, More... (9/1/23)

The DA in Houston takes a step back from a softer touch on drug charges, Colombia sets goals for voluntary coca crop substitution, and more. 

The Tenderloin in San Francisco. The city is three months into a crackdown on drug use and sales there. (SFPD)
Drug Policy

Harris County, Texas, Reverses Policy on Low Level Drug Charges. Citing an "increasing public safety threat due to fentanyl," Harris County (Houston) District Attorney Kim Ogg has announced that she is reversing an April policy change that required police to have drugs tested before charges could be filed if the amount of drugs in question was less than four grams. That effectively meant that many miniscule drug possession cases were never charged.

Under the new policy, which went into effect this week, the DA's Office will again evaluate every drug possession case regardless of the amount of drug seized as long as probable cause is established "through the expert testimony of two officers with drug enforcement experience."

But the cops will still be responsible for submitting "seized substances to the appropriate lab and to request testing and analysis, for presentation of the case to a grand jury," according to a memo setting out the changes. In the memo, DA Ogg acknowledged that the change could cause some delays in case filings and that district courts have "regularly" dismissed pending drug cases that did not move because of slow evidence processing.

"We need labs that work," Ogg said. "The courts are ready. The State of Texas, my office representing the people, are ready. The police are ready. And we need a crime lab that gives us evidence."

San Francisco Provides Update on Crackdown on Open Air Drug Markets. A crackdown on the drug trade and public drug use in the Tenderloin and SOMA (South of Market Street) neighborhoods of the city that began June 1 has resulted in "significant increase in drug seizures and arrests in the first three months of the City’s efforts to shut down open-air drug markets," the city said Friday.

During the last three months, both local and state law enforcement agencies combined have made hundreds of arrests under drug laws and for outstanding warrants, and seized 103 kilos of narcotic, including 56 kilos of fentanyl. These numbers don’t include additional federal efforts being conducted by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The SF District Attorney’s Office has seen a record number of felony narcotics cases.    

Some 300 of the arrests were for drug sales and another 123 were arrests of wanted fugitives. Another 450 arrests were made using public intoxication laws against public drug users. Additionally, playing a support role in the city, the California Highway Patrol and National Guard have made another hundred drug arrests.

As a result of this operation the District Attorney’s Office has seen a record number of felony narcotics cases presented and filed year to date since 2018. Through August 23, of this year 656 felony narcotics cases were presented of which 566 were filed (86% filing rate) compared to the previous record of 574 cases presented in 2018 and 476 cases filed.   

"Shutting down open air drug markets is critical to the safety of our neighborhoods and the overall health of our City," said Mayor London Breed. "The work that our city agencies and state and federal partners are doing to confront this crisis has to be sustained and expanded and we can’t continue to accept the existence of these drug markets on our streets. I want to thank Governor Newsom for his support in delivering resources, as well as our federal leaders, including Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi. We will continue to offer help to people in crisis, but we must hold people accountable who are hurting our communities."    

While it is clear that more people are being funneled into the criminal justice system, whether more arrests and prosecutions will result in fewer overdoses and better quality of life remains to be seen.

International

Belize Police Discover Coca Plantation with Half Million Plants. Police on Tuesday announced that they had discovered a coca plantation in the Toledo region that held an estimated 500,000 coca plants. The raid comes weeks after police destroyed a cocaine manufacturing lab in the south of the country.

Cocaine has traditionally been grown in three Andean nations—Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru—but in recent years plantings have been discovered in Belize, Guatemala, and southern Mexico. A small number of labs have also been uncovered.

The plantings and labs are believed to be the work of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, which largely control the flow of cocaine to the north.

Colombia Sets Coca Crop Substitution Goal of a Thousand Square Kilometers Over Next Four Years. Government officials said Thursday that the country is aiming for the voluntary substitution—not forced eradication—of a thousand square miles of coca crops over the next four years. The announcement marks a policy shift that emphasizes seizing cocaine over destroying coca plants.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca cultivation in 2021 (the last year for which data is available) covered some 787 square miles, so if the government removes 250 square miles per year from the crop, it should reduce the crop each year by about one-third.

Felipe Tascon, the director of the government's illicit crops substitution program, said Colombia and the U.S. had committed to replacing 50% of 2021 crop levels. "Everyone says this goal is crazy," Tascon said. "If you look at it as a policing issue, coercing people, it's impossible. If you look at it as an economic issue, about giving economic opportunities to those families to produce something else, it's achievable."

The new crop substitution goals come amid a crash in coca prices in the country caused by oversupply and contested drug trafficking routes, providing farmers with an economic incentive to try something new. 

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