Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Houston Narc, Suspect Killed in Drug Raid; FL Marijuana Legalization Init Can Gather Signatures, More... (9/21/21)

A Houston drug raid proved deadly Monday, mass killings are on the rise in one of Colombia's cocaine conflict zones, and more.

Will Floridians ever get a chance to vote on marijuana legalization? Maybe next year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Activists Mount Third Effort to Get Legalization Initiative on 2022 Ballot. After the state Supreme Court quashed two previous marijuana legalization initiative attempts earlier this year, the group behind one of them, Regulate Florida, is trying again. The group has filed a new petition with the state and it has been approved for signature gathering. The measure would allow people 21 and over to use and possess marijuana and allow them to grow up to nine plants, but not allow retail sales. Now, campaign organizers must gather 222,898 valid voter signatures to prompt a judicial and fiscal impact review, and if they pass that hurdle, must then come up 891,850 total valid signatures by February 1 to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Law Enforcement

Houston Narcotics Officer, Suspect Killed in Drug Raid, A Houston Police narcotics officer was shot and killed and a second officer shot and wounded while serving a drug search warrant early Monday. A suspect was also shot and killed. William "Bill" Jeffrey, a nearly 31-year veteran of the force, was shot several times and succumbed to his injuries. Sgt. Michael Vance, who's been on the force for 20 years, was also wounded and was in surgery Monday. Police said the unnamed suspect came out firing when they knocked on the door. The only information police released about the suspect was his race, Black.

International

Colombia Sees Rising Number of Mass Killings in Drug Conflict Zone. The Colombian Defense Ministry has reported a 91 percent increase in mass killings—defined as the killing of four or more people—across the country between January and July compared to the same period last year. Hardest hit has been the southwestern province of Valle del Cauca, where at least nine mass killings have occurred this year. Using a slightly different metric, the think tank Indepaz reported 260 people killed in 71 mass killings of three or more people. Valle del Cauca is contested terrain for a number of armed actors involved in the drug trade, ranging from FARC dissidents to rightist paramilitary to international drug trafficking organizations such as La Oficina de Envigado and local drug trafficking groups. According the Medical Examiner’s Office, at least 8,566 were murdered nationwide between January and August, which is 26% more than in the same period last year and the highest number since 2013. The rightist government of President Ivan Duque has announced various strategies to deal with violence and drug trafficking since taking office in 2018, but none have had much impact.

Italian Referendum to Decriminalize Marijuana, Psilocybin, Other Drug Plants Meets Signature Requirement. It took Italian activists only a week to come up with some 500,000 online signatures to qualify a ballot measure decriminalizing the use and possession of marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms, and other psychoactive plants for the spring 2022 ballot. But they are calling on Italians to continue to sign the petition through the end of the month so they can build a buffer of surplus signatures in case some are invalidated. Once the signatures are formally submitted at the end of the month, the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court will then review the measure. If those two courts sign off, a vote would take place next spring.

Vancouver Clinic Offers Take-Home Prescription Heroin, Nepal Marijuana Protest, More... (9/20/21)

Violence linked to cartel in-fighting continues to rock Mexico's state of Michoacan, a Vancouver clinic is now offering take-home prescription heroin to a small number of patients, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Now available as a take-home prescription drug in Vancouver. (Creative Commons)
nternational

Vancouver Clinic Doing Take-Home Prescription Heroin. In a North American first, the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver has begun providing take-home medical grade heroin to a small number of addicted patients. The program began as an emergency response to the COVID epidemic, when the provincial health authority allowed clinic staff to deliver syringes filled with heroin to patients so they could stay isolated for 10 to 14 days. "Having done that and done that successfully without any problems, we were able to show and demonstrate the strict requirement of the medication to only be [administered] at the clinic was not necessary," said Dr. Scott MacDonald, head physician at the clinic. The program is currently serving only 11 patients, but MacDonald said expanding the program is a crucial step toward addressing the provinces opioid crisis, which has seen more than a thousand overdose deaths so far this year. "Their lives can change dramatically. People can go from accessing street opioids, perhaps having unstable housing and unable to work to stabilized and being able to work, and some people working full-time," he said.

Mexico's Michoacan Sees More Cartel Violence. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) besieged the Michoacan municipality of Tepalcatepec last week, killing and beheading five local men who were manning a checkpoint aimed at keeping cartel gunmen out of town. The cartel had tried to seize control of the city but was met with resistance from local residents and the National Guard. Cartel gunmen then switched their focus to the community of La Estanzuela, located near the border between Tepalcatepec and the Jalisco municipality of Jilotlán. The CJNG has been trying to take control of the region for the past two years and is locked in battle with the Carteles Unidos over control of the region and the state.

Nepal Protest for Marijuana Legalization. Sparked by the September 6 arrest of prominent marijuana legalization advocate Rajiv Kafle for consumption, possession, and distribution of marijuana, a youth group from Kathmandu Valley staged a protest calling for legalization at Maitighar on Monday. Protesters changed slogans and held up signs citing the medicinal and economic benefits of legalization. Nepal has a history of cannabis use dating back centuries and its charas was enjoyed by Western travelers on the Hippie Trail in the 1060s, but, under US pressure, first canceled the licenses for all cannabis businesses in 1973 and then criminalized cannabis in 1976.

CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering, DE Supreme Court on Pot Odor, More... (9/17/21)

Supporters of a proposed Philadelphia safe injection site have asked the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision blocking it, the Delaware Supreme Cout rules the mere odor of marijuana is not sufficient cause for a warrantless arrest, and more.

A psilocybin legalization initiative could be on the ballot in California next year .(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Supreme Court Rules Marijuana Odor Not Sufficient Grounds for Warrantless Arrest. The state Supreme Court ruled 4-1 that the mere odor of marijuana does not give police "reasonable grounds to believe" that either a felony has been committed or that a person has committed a misdemeanor in the presence of an officer—the only two grounds for which warrantless arrest is allowed. Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is decriminalized, and the court held that the mere odor of marijuana cannot lead police to presume that a felony amount of marijuana would be present.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. A proposed initiative that would legalize the possession, cultivation, and sale of psilocybin mushrooms has been cleared for signature gathering by the state attorney general's office. The office has issued an official title and summary for the California Psilocybin Initiative, which is being sponsored by Decriminalize California. It would allow the "personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual, and dietary use of Psilocybin Mushrooms" for people 21 and over, as well as allowing legal psilocybin sales and cultivation. The campaign will now have 180 days to come up with 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Supporters Ask Supreme Court to Review Appeals Court Ban.Supporters of a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia that was blocked by a Trump-era appeals court ruling asked the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn that ruling. The appeals court held that allowing a safe injection site would violate a 1980s "crack house" law by allowing the use of drugs on site. The case will be closely watched because public officials and harm reductionists in a number of cities and states want to move forward with the harm reduction measure. The move is risky, though, given the current makeup of the court.

White House Releases Annual List of Drug Producing, Transit Countrie; WA Drug Decrim Initiative Coming, More... (9/16/21)

Granite State lawmakers are looking at a voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, Washington activists are laying the groundwork for a 2022 drug decriminalization initiative, and more.

President Biden wags a finger at Bolivia and Venezuela over their failure to meet US drug war goals. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Lawmakers Move Toward Marijuana Legalization Constitutional Amendment. Stymied at the state house, three state representatives have separately filed requests with the Office of Legislative Services for help drafting a bill that would let the voters decide directly whether or not to legalize marijuana. The bill would take the form of a constitutional amendment, but for it to pass, it would require a supermajority of 60 percent in both the House and Senate. It would also require the support of 67 percent of voters once it made the ballot. Meanwhile, lawmakers will take up a legalization bill early next year. A legalization bill managed to pass the House last year but died in Senate committee.

Drug Policy

Washington State Drug Reformers Announce Plan to Put Drug Decriminalization Initiative on 2022 Ballot. A group of drug reformers organized as Commit to Change WA has announced plans to try to qualify a drug decriminalization initiative for the 2022 ballot. The group has yet to release a draft of the proposed initiative but said they will file it in January. Still, the group identified three broad principles for the measure: Ending treating drug use as a crime, a robust commitment to incorporating the experiences of actual drug users, and an emphasis on public health approaches. Neighboring Oregon decriminalized drug possession at the ballot box last year, becoming the first state to do so.

Foreign Policy

White House Releases Annual List of Major Drug Producing and Transit Countries. President Biden on Wednesday released the annual list of drug producing and transit countries, as required by the 2003 Foreign Relations Act. "I hereby identify the following countries as major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries:  Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela," Biden wrote. Of the 22 countries, the president designated only two—Bolivia and Venezuela—as "having failed demonstrably to make substantial efforts during the previous 12 months to both adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements and to take the measures required by section 489(a)(1) of the FAA." It may be worth noting that the only two countries to be so designated have socialist governments. Biden did, however, waive the requirement that aid to the two countries be cut off, writing that "the United States programs that support Bolivia and Venezuela are vital to the national interets of the United States."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's all Sunshine State rogue cops this week, with a DEA supervisory agent nailed for helping a major drug dealer and more. Let's get to it:

In Fort Myers, Florida, a state prison guard pleaded guilty last Wednesday to participating in a plot to smuggle drugs into the prison. Guard Leslie Samuel Spencer, 49, went down in a sting where he agreed to smuggle three ounces of methamphetamine, one ounce of MDMA, a small amount of synthetic marijuana and two cellphones into the prison and give it to an inmate in exchange for a payment of $400. Spencer met with an undercover FBI agent posing as prisoner's family member and accepted the fake drugs, the cellphones, and the cash. He was then arrested. He pleaded guilty to attempted distribution of methamphetamine and MDMA and is looking at up to 20 years in prison.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a former DEA supervisory agent pleaded guilty Tuesday to taking bribes from a major drug dealer to provide information about investigations into a drug ring that stretched from Florida to California. Former DEA Special Agent and Group Supervisor Nation Koen was arrested in 2018 after a drug dealer reached out to him to help get reduced sentences for family members charged in his drug conspiracy case, Koen turned him into a confidential informant, then asked him if he wanted to get "back to work" selling drugs. The dealer did want to go back to work and was soon paying Koen thousands of dollars to help keep his operation free from law enforcement interference. Koen ran the names of the dealer's associates through a DEA database to see if they were informants, warned the dealer when shipments were under surveillance, and helped at least one dealer avoid arrest by telling him the DEA was looking for him. He was originally charged with bribery and drug distribution, which would have had him facing up to life in prison but agreed to a plea deal where he pleaded guilty to one count of bribery, reducing his exposure to just 15 years.

In Fort Myers, Florida, a state prison guard pleaded guilty last Wednesday to participating in a plot to smuggle drugs into the prison. Guard Leslie Samuel Spencer, 49, went down in a sting where he agreed to smuggle three ounces of methamphetamine, one ounce of MDMA, a small amount of synthetic marijuana and two cellphones into the prison and give it to an inmate in exchange for a payment of $400. Spencer met with an undercover FBI agent posing as prisoner's family member and accepted the fake drugs, the cellphones, and the cash. He was then arrested. He pleaded guilty to attempted distribution of methamphetamine and MDMA and is looking at up to 20 years in prison. In Fort Myers, Florida, a state prison guard pleaded guilty last Wednesday to participating in a plot to smuggle drugs into the prison. Guard Leslie Samuel Spencer, 49, went down in a sting where he agreed to smuggle three ounces of methamphetamine, one ounce of MDMA, a small amount of synthetic marijuana and two cellphones into the prison and give it to an inmate in exchange for a payment of $400. Spencer met with an undercover FBI agent posing as prisoner's family member and accepted the fake drugs, the cellphones, and the cash. He was then arrested. He pleaded guilty to attempted distribution of methamphetamine and MDMA and is looking at up to 20 years in prison.

The Taliban Says It Will Stop the Opium Trade--Is That Likely? [FEATURE]

One of the first announcements the Taliban made as it seized power in Afghanistan last month was that that they were going to end illicit drug production. But, as with other promises of change from the Taliban, such as around women's rights or press freedoms, there is a whole lot of skepticism about that claim.

Harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan. Nearly $9 billion in US anti-drug aid couldn't stop it. Will the Taliban?(UNODC)
At its first press conference in Kabul after entering the city and solidifying their control over the country, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid vowed that their new government would not let Afghanistan become a full-fledged narco-state: "We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community that we will not have any narcotics produced," Mujahid said. "From now on, nobody's going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling."

But in addition to the general skepticism about the Taliban's plans for the country, the notion of them imposing a ban on opium production runs afoul of economic and political realities on the ground. The challenge is that the opium crop is a key component of the Afghan economy, accounting for somewhere between seven and 11 percent the country's Gross Domestic Product, and bringing in as much as $2 billion in 2019, more than Afghanistan's entire licit agricultural sector.

It is also a job creator in a country where opportunities are scarce. The opium harvest employs he equivalent of 119,000 full-time jobs, not counting the farmers themselves and their family members. The broader opium economy also supports untold thousands in the domestic trade (opium traders, heroin producers, domestic dealers) and as service providers for that trade (packers, transporters), as well as internationally connected individuals working in the international trade. The opium economy is especially strong in areas of key Taliban support, such as Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south.

Afghanistan has accounted for between 80 percent and 90 percent of global opium production throughout this century, a pattern that began, ironically enough, in the 1980s, when the CIA waged a secret war against the Soviet occupation of the country and enlisted both Islamic radicals and the opium trade in the battle. Opium "is an ideal crop in a war-torn country since it requires little capital investment, is fast growing and is easily transported and traded," the State Department reported in 1986.

As noted by global drug historian Alfred W. McCoy, author of the groundbreaking "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade," in a 2018 article:

"As relentless warfare between CIA and Soviet surrogates took its toll, Afghan farmers began to turn to opium "in desperation", since it produced "high profits" that could cover rising food prices. At the same time, the state department reported that resistance elements took up opium production and trafficking "to provide staples for [the] population under their control and to fund weapons purchases."

As the mujahideen guerrillas gained ground against the Soviet occupation and began to create liberated zones inside Afghanistan in the early 1980s, the resistance helped fund its operations by collecting taxes from peasants who grew the lucrative opium poppies, particularly in the fertile Helmand valley. Caravans carrying CIA arms into that region for the resistance often returned to Pakistan loaded down with opium – sometimes, reported the New York Times, "with the assent of Pakistani or American intelligence officers who supported the resistance."

And nearly four decades later, Afghanistan remains the world's number one supplier of opium and its derivative, heroin, with the latter going into the veins of habitues from Lahore to London. And now, with the withdrawal of the West and all its billions of dollars of economic assistance and with the key role opium plays in the economy, the Taliban is going to ban it?

It would be a risky move for the Taliban, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

"The Taliban can risk a ban, but it would be politically costly in ways that are more complex than in 2000 [when they also banned it] and it could lead to tremendous destabilization," she told the Chronicle in a phone interview. "This is a country where 90 percent of the population lives in poverty. It's also a situation where many mid-level Taliban commanders are dependent on opium for their income and livelihoods for their fighters. To impose a ban would require the Taliban to maintain a high level of aggression, which would create political fissures and fractures and would play into the hands of other actors. One reason local warlords didn't fight the Taliban this summer was that the Taliban was promising them access to the local economy, and in many places, that means opium."

Even in the best of circumstances, replacing a lucrative illicit economy with legal alternatives is a long-term project, and these are not the best of circumstances, to say the least.

"The Afghan economy is more or less tanking," Felbab-Brown said. "A massive influx of foreign aid has been an inescapable component of the economic life of the country, and now, the Taliban does not have any way of dealing with stopping opium by delivering alternative livelihoods. Even if they had a well-designed program, you are looking at decades to suppress it," she said.

Still, the Taliban has done it before.

"When it comes to banning opium, we are looking at a possible replay of the 1990s," said Felbab-Brown. "Want the Taliban want is international recognition. In the 1990s, they kept promising they would ban poppies in return for international recognition, but then said they could not do it because they could not starve their people, until in 2000, they did it. Will they risk that again? My expectation is that we are going to see the same bargaining with the international community, but as I said, if the Taliban does try to do a ban, they will struggle to enforce it."

The Taliban also face a possible loss of the opioid market share if they enact a ban and then change their mind because of adverse circumstances, Felbab-Brown said.

"The difference now is the synthetic opioids," she said, alluding to the production of fentanyl and its derivatives coming from Chinese and Indian chemical factories. "If the Taliban move to ban and then decide it is too difficult to sustain politically or financially, it might not find it easy to just return to the same markets; the European markets, for instance, could be snatched away by synthetic opioids."

As for how the much vaunted "international community" should approach Afghan opium production, that's a complicated question.

"There is no unity in the international community on how to deal with Afghanistan," Felbab-Brown said. "The Chinese and Iranians are warming up to the Taliban, and the Russians will be urging the Taliban to go for a ban. I suspect the ban talk is mainly to satisfy the Russians. But we should not be pushing the ban; that would be catastrophic in terms of humanitarian consequences."

Afghan government and Western efforts to suppress the opium trade proved futile throughout the Western occupation, and now the likelihood of any sort of robust international campaign to suppress Afghan poppies appears next to nil. Outside of legalization of the trade, which does not appear even remotely likely, the only alternative for suppressing opium production is to cajole farmers to grow other crops in a bid to wean them off the poppy, but even those sorts of programs are now in question.

"Should the internationally community be working with the Taliban to try to implement alternatives livelihoods?" asked Felbab-Brown. "It's a difficult question and can’t be considered in isolation. It will be part of the bargaining over a whole set of policies, including women's rights and human rights."

Uncertainty abounds over what the Taliban's opium policy will actually look like. In the meantime, the farmers are planting the seeds for next year's crop right now. 

NJ Sees a Summer of Marijuana Expungements, Finnish Green League Endorses Pot Legalization, More... (9/14/21)

The Flint, Michigan, city council punts on a chance to do some drug war virtual signaling, South Dakota legislators balk on some of the governor's proposed restrictions on medical marijuana, and more.

New Jersey just got more welcoming for people with past marijuana convictions. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Marijuana Expungements Now Surpass 360,000. In the course of two months this summer, courts in the state have expunged 362,000 low-level marijuana convictions. The move comes after voters approved marijuana legalization at the polls last year. The courts began vacating and dismissing cases in July, then expunging them, a step that clear's the person's criminal record. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) tweeted about this success, saying, "362,000 marijuana cases already expunged. Thousands more to come. With our new cannabis laws, we are turning the page on the failed War on Drugs and ensuring social justice here in New Jersey." Another 125,000 to 150,000 more cases could be expunged shortly. The expungements will have the biggest impact of people of color, who were disproportionately targeted in the Garden State's war on weed.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Lawmakers Reject Some Noem Administration Medical Marijuana Rules. Legislators on Monday largely approved proposed Department of Health rules for the state's nascent medical marijuana program, but rejected a handful of proposed rules, in effect telling the Department of Health to try again. Lawmakers rejected rules that would have limited the amount of high-potency marijuana patients could possess, required a doctor's recommendation for patients who wanted to grow more than three plans, and defined a list of qualifying conditions. Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon tried to tell lawmakers "concentrated cannabis in a smokeable form is shown to be more addictive," but lawmakers weren't buying. The clock is ticking: The medical marijuana law requires the state to enact rules by October 29 and be ready to issue ID cards by November 18, so the Health Department must act quickly if it wants to try to rework and resubmit the rejected rules.

Drug Testing

Flint, Michigan, City Council Delays Voted on Drug Testing Elected Officials. The city council on Monday punted on an opportunity to display some drug war virtue signaling by delaying a vote on whether to subject themselves and the mayor to random drug testing. The council voted 5-4 to send the matter back to the Legislative Affairs Committee for reconsideration. 8th Ward Councilman Allan Griggs sponsored the proposed ordinance, saying it was "just a good policy," but others vehemently disagreed. "This ain’t nothing but a messy mess," said 2nd Ward Councilman Maurice Davis. "Ain’t no way in this world I would ever support this garbage." The ordinance came after one council member was removed from a virtual meeting in May after colleagues said they thought he was drunk, but the proposal does not include testing for alcohol inebriation.

International

Finnish Green League Endorses Marijuana Legalization. The Green League, a member of the governing coalition, voted at a party conference on Sunday to legalize and regulate marijuana. That move makes it the first party in Finland to support marijuana legalization. But the move is drawing opposition from some of the Greens' coalition partners, some of whom cited traditional objections while others chided the Greens about marijuana's carbon footprint. The move comes as attitudes toward marijuana in the country are becoming more tolerant, but support for legalization remains a minority position at this point. 

BOP Tells Certain Drug Prisoners to Apply for Clemency, Italy Marijuana Decrim Referendum, More... (9/13/21)

Italian activists and political parties are pushing a referendum on decriminalizing marijuana cultivation and possession, the Biden administration asks prisoners with certain drug offenses to apply for clemency, and more.

Some federal drug prisoners released to home confinement during the pandemic are urged to seek clemency. (Creative Commons)
Sentencing Policy

Biden Administration Asks Prisoners with Certain Drug Convictions to Apply for Clemency. As part of an effort to grant presidential relief to hundreds of federal drug prisoners now on home confinement because of the pandemic, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is now telling eligible individuals to start filling out applications for clemency. More than 8,000 federal inmates were let out on home confinement last year amid the pandemic, and the Trump Justice Department's position was that they would have to return to prison once the crisis was over. The Biden Justice Department appeared to agree with that position, but this move from the BOP is a strong signal that the administration is looking for ways to keep at least some people from going back to prison to finish their sentences.

International

Italian Push for Marijuana Decriminalization Underway. A number of pro-reform activist groups and political parties have launched a ballot campaign for a referendum to decriminalize domestic marijuana production and remove penalties for personal use. They have until September 30 to come up with 500,000 valid voter signatures and have gathered 100,000 since the campaign began last week. If the signature goals are met and verified by the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Constitutional Court will then rule on whether the question is in line with the Italian constitution. If yes, President Sergio Mattarella would set the date for the referendum, which would ask whether that portion of the country's drug law criminalizing marijuana possession or cultivation should be stricken.

Uruguay Increases THC Limit in Legal Marijuana, Ponders Allowing Tourist Sales. Four years after the country became the first in the world to allow legal recreational marijuana sales, the government of President Luis Lacalle Pou is moving to increase the THC limit in legal marijuana and is studying whether to modify regulations to allow sales to foreign visitors. "It seems to me that if we come up with a good proposal," Uruguay could open its regulated marijuana market to tourists, said National Drugs Board head Daniel Radio. "For the upcoming tourism season, it's highly unlikely, but I wouldn't rule it out." Under current law, adult citizens and foreign residents who sign up for a government registry can grow their own marijuana or buy 40 grams a month at registered pharmacies.

CT Legal Pot Sales Could Be Delayed, CA Hemp Bill Goes to Governor's Desk, More... (9/10/21)

There are signs South Dakota is moving away from harsh drug sentencing, GOP conservatives stick up for mandatory minimum fentanyl analog sentences, and more.

Marijuana Policy

hemp field (Creative Commons)
Connecticut Official Hints Launch of Legal Marijuana Sales Could Be Delayed. Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull said Wednesday that regulators working to implement legal marijuana sales still have details to work out before accepting applications and hinted that the roll-out of legal sales could be delayed. The state enacted marijuana legalization on July 1, and legal sales were originally set to begin in the summer of 2022. But Seagull said that likely will not happen: "We've been suggesting that there will likely be sales by the end of 2022, and we're still aspiring for that," Seagull said. "Obviously, we have to see how things play out in the next few months."

Hemp

California Hemp Regulation Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. Both the state Assembly and the state Senate this week approved a hemp regulation bill, Assembly Bill 45, which now awaits the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). The bill would allow hemp extracts, including CBD, to be added to food, beverage, and cosmetic products; establish new rules for hemp farmers and businesses; require out-of-state hemp imports meet new state standards; and limit the sale of intoxicating THC isomers such as delta-8 THC to legal marijuana sales channels, among other provisions.

Drug Policy

South Dakota Attorney General Weighs In on Ballot Measures to Reduce Penalties for Drug Ingestion, Possession. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) is weighing in on potential ballot measures that would reduce the penalty for unlawful drug ingestion from a felony to a petty offense and the penalty for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. He sent separate statements to the secretary of state's office last week laying out language for altering the state's current harsh drug laws. The first proposed measure would reclassify the illegal possession of all controlled drugs or substances as class one misdemeanors, regardless of how their scheduled drug status in state law. That means instead of facing up to five years in prison, people caught with drugs would face a maximum of one year. The second ballot measure, focusing on the state's unique ingestion law, would drop the potential penalty from prison time to a $25 fine. No campaign has yet emerged to begin the process of qualifying such initiatives for the 2022 ballot.

Opioids

Congressional Republicans Attack Biden on Fentanyl Analog Scheduling, Claiming Plan is Soft on Drug Dealers. Ranking Republican members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees sent a letter to the White House Thursday criticizing the Biden administration's proposal to permanently schedule fentanyl analogs because, they said, it was too easy on drug dealers. "While we support permanent scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, other aspects of the administration's proposal would shield drug traffickers from pushing poisonous drugs into our communities rather than hold them accountable by imposing existing penalties," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). "We are particularly concerned that the provisions removing mandatory minimum penalties for fentanyl-related substance offenses would hinder prosecutorial efforts against serious drug traffickers and could even incentivize sophisticated criminal organizations to import and traffic fentanyl-related substances." Jordan and Grassley also asked for a list of stakeholders that influenced the administration's proposal, as well as "a list of examples in which federal law enforcement authorities have found that mandatory minimum penalties associated with fentanyl-related substances have supported criminal investigations to pursue high-level drug traffickers."

Chronicle Book Review: "Undoing Drugs" by Maia Szalavitz

Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction by Maia Szalavitz (2021, Hatchette Books, 372 pp., $30 HB)

Last Sunday, I drove to the community center of a small town in southwestern Oregon to find a trio of young women seated at a picnic table in the grass outside the building. The women, two volunteers and a paid staffer from the local HIV alliance, come the first Sunday of every month to provide fentanyl test strips, clean syringes, and packages containing the injectable version of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone to local drug users and their friends and family members.

They also have informational pamphlets about the dangers of various substances and how to reduce those dangers. The young women are part of Rogue Valley Harm Reduction, a group devoted to reducing those dangers, and if you would like a clue about how we got to young women in rural Oregon handing out needles and overdose prevention drugs to local drug users, there is no better place to start than Maia Szalavitz's Undoing Drugs.

Szalavitz has been doing excellent journalism around drug policy and addiction issues for years now, and her acumen, expertise, and passion are all on display in Undoing Drugs, her brand new book that tells the story of the rise of harm reduction and uses that narrative to unpack (to "undo") all kinds of harmful paradigms in the realm of drugs and drug policy.

Harm reduction is not a difficult idea. As Szalavitz writes, "The concept itself is surprisingly simple. Harm reduction applies the core of the Hippocratic oath -- first, do no harm -- to addiction treatment and drug policy."

But the concept is even broader than that. We can see harm reduction principles applied in everything from wearing motorcycle helmets or seatbelts to providing condoms for high school students. Or wearing masks and social distancing during a pandemic. Or even more broadly yet, in not criminalizing people over the substances they choose to use.

While Szalavitz neatly documents that the benefits of harm reduction measures such as needle exchanges, opioid maintenance programs, and pill checking programs are amply proven -- such practices save lives, reduce crime and disorder, and allow drug users to achieve less chaotic lives -- she also wisely notes how harm reduction subverts the paradigm of "fighting drugs" and prohibiting them.

Harm reduction flips the morality of drugs on its head. Instead of measuring reductions in drug use as the highest value, harm reduction demands reductions in human misery -- and recognizes quite clearly the human misery generated by drug prohibition: "Once the negative consequences of policy actions count in evaluating their usefulness -- and success isn't just tallied by the amount of drugs seized or the number of people arrested -- it is quite hard to avoid concluding that the damage done by prohibition outweighs any benefit the war on (some) drugs could conceivably have," Szalavitz writes.

Undoing Drugs proceeds both chronologically and thematically, with Szalavitz digging into harm reduction's origins in British heroin prescribing and pioneering Dutch efforts on needle exchanges, propelled by the user activists of the Junkiebund, as well as its American roots in the HIV crisis of the 1980s, when it wasn't only gay men but also injection drug users who were dying of the disease.

Szalavitz, an injection drug user herself at the time, was terrified of getting AIDS from needle sharing and infuriated when she learned that there were simple steps she could have taken to reduce her risk -- but that no one was telling drug users about them. That experience led her on the personal and professional journey that resulted in this book.

As she proceeds, Szalavitz introduces us to a larger than life cast of characters -- drug users, former drug users, public health geeks, academics, major donors, social and racial justice workers -- who propelled harm reduction from the back alleyways to increasingly accepted public policy. A lot of these names will be familiar to longtime readers of the Chronicle: Pioneering harm reductionist Dave Purchase of the North American Syringe Exchange Network, overdose prevention pioneer Dan Bigg at the Chicago Recovery Alliance, and Canadian drug user organizer and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) cofounder Ann Livingston, all get their stories told, along with dozens of others.

Szalavitz has done us all a great service with Undoing Drugs. She applies the lessons of harm reduction to the fields of public health, psychology, addiction treatment, and racial justice, subverting the narrative of drug prohibition on every page, and opening our eyes to the revolutionary potential of harm reduction. But what is really striking and inspiring is the clear message that individual agency can make a real difference, whether it's a single medical practitioner, an impassioned social worker or street drug users organizing themselves to make sure that "if policies are about us, they're not without us." Harm reductionists are changing the world for the better.

MD House Marijuana Legalization Working Group Meets, Italy Moves To Allow Home Pot Grows, More... (9/9/21)

A fire at an overcrowded Indonesian prison kills at least 41, mostly drug offenders; a Maryland House of Delegates working group is moving forward with plans for marijuana legalization, and more.

Coming soon to an Italian balcony? Italy is moving to allow home marijuana cultivation. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland House Marijuana Policy Working Group Meets, Lays Out Plans. A 10-member working group of House members that is studying how to legalize marijuana met for the first time Wednesday and laid out plans for the future. "The House of Delegates will pass a measure to put the question of legalizing on the ballot for the 2022 general election," said work group chair Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore). "This work group will continue meeting throughout the interim. This work group will establish the legal framework necessary to fully implement the legalization of marijuana and learn from the mistakes that other states have made before us," Clippinger said. The working group will meet next on October 9. Maryland's neighbors Virginia and Washington, DC, have already legalized marijuana.

International

Indonesia Prison Fire Kills 41, Mostly Drug Prisoners. A fire that erupted in the overcrowded Tangerang prison outside Jakarta on Wednesday killed at least 41 inmates, the majority of them serving time for drug offenses. At least two foreigners serving drug sentences were among the dead. The fire broke out in the middle of the night in the prison's C2 Block, where 19 cells built to hold 40 inmates were packed with more than triple that number. Under President Joko Widodo, Indonesia has intensified its war on drugs, with extrajudicial executions, drug prosecutions, and death sentences all on the rise.

Italy Moves to Allow Personal Marijuana Grows. A measure to decriminalize the personal cultivation of up to four marijuana plants is advancing in the parliament after it was approved by the Lower House's Justice Committee on Wednesday. While the bill removes penalties for growing, it increases penalties for dealing and trafficking marijuana, increasing the possible maximum sentence from six to 10 years. The move comes almost two years after the Supreme Court ruled that small-time domestic marijuana cultivation is legal. In Europe, the only countries that currently allow for personal grows are Spain and the Czech Republic, which both allow up to five plants.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An ICE agent takes a bribe to pay off a drug debt, a Utah prison guard goes down for drug smuggling into the prison, and more. Let's get to it:

In Bismarck, North Dakota, a former state prison guard was arrested last Tuesday for smuggling drugs and electronic contraband into the prison in exchange for money. Matthew Taylor went down after the state Highway Patrol got ahold of the cellphone of a woman with whom he was arranging the deals, in which he delivered a cellphone, two SIM cards, and a cigarette package containing methamphetamine. In return, he got payments ranging from $240 to $600. The exact charges he faces were not specified.

In Point of the Mountain, Utah, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday along with two others people on charges they were smuggling drugs in to prisoners. Guard Bryon Curt Stoddard, 45, has been charged with drug distribution or arranging to distribute drugs, a second-degree felony; and drug possession with intent to distribute, a third-degree felony. Stoddard went down after investigators learned that he had supplied methamphetamine, Suboxone, and fentanyl to three inmates and that future drops were planned each week. Investigators recorded a call between Stoddard and another person to arrange meetings. He is accused of receiving $1,000 per drop and using meth himself.

In El Paso, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer was indicted last Wednesday for revealing law enforcement information in exchange for a $500 payment to satisfy a drug debt he owed. Agent Robert Padilla, 50, is looking at up to 15 years in federal prison on charge that were not specified in the Justice Department press release.

Marijuana Use at All-Time High Among Young Adults, Cartel Violence Sparks Protests in Mexico's Michoacan, More... (9/8/21)

The latest Monitoring the Future survey finds marijuana use is at an all-time high among young adults; Georgia's Tybee Island, home of the state's largest public beach, decriminalizes pot possession, and more.

Tybee Island, Georgia, where the city council just decriminalized pot possession. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Use at All-Time High Among College-Aged Adults in 2020. Marijuana use continued to rise among college students over the past five years and remained at historically high levels among same-aged peers who are not in college in 2020, according to survey results from the 2020 Monitoring the Future (MTF) panel study. This represents the highest levels of marijuana use recorded since the 1980s. The survey also found that marijuana vaping and nicotine vaping leveled off in 2020 after sharp increases reported every year since 2017 for both college students and same-aged respondents who are not in college. Among college students specifically, there was also a significant increase in the annual use of hallucinogens, and a substantial and significant drop in current alcohol use between 2019 and 2020. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study has been annually tracking substance use among college students and noncollege adults ages 19-22 since 1980. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, the survey is conducted annually by scientists at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor. Results are based on data from college students one to four years beyond high school graduation who are enrolled full-time in a two- or four-year college in March of the given year, compared with same-age high school graduates not enrolled full-time in college.

Georgia City, Home of State's Largest Public Beach, Decriminalizes Pot Possession. The city council in Tybee Island, home to the state's largest public beach, has approved an ordinance that imposes a maximum $150 fine for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, making pot possession no longer a criminal offense under the municipal code. Under state law, however, possession of up to an ounce remains a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. It is not clear how local police and prosecutors will handle such cases. Tybee Island is only the latest of more than a dozen other state cities and counties that have reduced penalties for marijuana possession.

International

Mexico's Michoacan Sees Protests Over Cartel Violence. Residents of the Tierra Caliente region of the central-western state of Michoacan, which has been the scene of ongoing clashes, blockades, and disruptions caused by competing criminal organizations, took to the streets over the weekend to demand military intervention to confront the cartels. "Hugs, not bullets doesn't work in Tepalcatepec, Aguililla and Coalcomán. The federal government is abandoning its people, massacred by the CJNG [Jalisco New Generation Cartel]," read one banner held up by protesters outside a military base in Apatzingán. "Hugs, not bullets" is a slogan of the policy of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of addressing the root causes of violence rather than confronting the cartels with force. The municipalities of Aguililla, Apatzingan, Buenavista, Coalcoman, and Tepalcatepec have been particularly hard-hit, where more than 3,000 fled the violence in August. In recent days, about 1,000 people have fled and taken shelter at a sports center in Tepalcatepec. "We're being displaced from our homes, we're afraid, they're throwing bombs and grenades at us," one woman told the newspaper Reforma at Sunday's protest." … [President] López Obrador must listen to us. We're hungry and cold, we're calling on the relevant authorities to support us, not just authorities of the state but also the United Nations and UNICEF… Children have no homes because [organized] crime has destroyed their homes with flamethrowers. We need help from… all the forces of Mexico…," she said.

NYC Marijuana Arrests Hit Single Digits, MI Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed, More... (9/7/21)

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds marijuana legalization has little impact on youth use rates, the number of marijuana arrests in New York City in the second quarter of 2021 totaled a whopping eight -- that's right, eight -- and more.

New York City pot smokers have good reason to smile these days. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

AMA Study Finds Marijuana Legalization Does Not Lead to Increased Youth Use. A study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that the impact of marijuana legalization on adolescent marijuana consumption is "statistically indistinguishable from zero." The study analyzed federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 1993 through 2019 in 10 states that had legalized either medical marijuana or adult use. Marijuana legalization "was not associated with current marijuana use or frequent marijuana use," the researchers found. In fact, the researchers found youth use actually went down in medical marijuana states: "[M]edical marijuana law (MML) adoption was associated with a 6% decrease in the odds of current marijuana use and a 7% decrease in the odds of frequent marijuana use."

New York City Marijuana Arrests Hit Single Digits After Legalization. Marijuana arrests in New York City -- once the marijuana arrest capital of the world -- have dropped to single digits since marijuana legalization went into effect in the state on March 31. The city recorded only eight marijuana arrests in the second quarter of this year, down from 163 during the first quarter. That's a 95% decrease from what were already quite low arrest levels. All of the arrests were for possession of more than three ounces, and they reflected continuing racial disparities, but with such a small sample size, it is difficult to say anything definitive about that. Criminal court summonses for people who were given marijuana possession tickets but didn't pay them also decreased dramatically, from 3,700 in the first quarter to eight in the second quarter.

Psychedelics

Michigan Bill Filed to Legalize Possession, Cultivation of Psychedelics. Two Democratic state senators, Jeff Irwin and Adam Hollier, last Thursday filed a bill to legalize the possession, cultivation, and delivery of a variety of plant- and fungus-based psychedelics, such as mescaline and psilocybin, Senate Bill 631. The bill would amend state law so that people are exempted from prosecution for such activities as long as they are not "receiving money or other valuable consideration for the entheogenic plant or fungus." That means no commercial production and sales. But people can charge a "reasonable fee for counseling, spiritual guidance, or a related service that is provided in conjunction with the use of an entheogenic plant or fungus under the guidance and supervision of an individual providing the service." Michigan has become a locus of the psychedelic decriminalization movement, with Decriminalize Nature chapters pushing local city councils to adopt reforms. In Ann Arbor, the city council approved psychedelic decriminalization last year and have designated this month as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month. Similar moves are afoot in Grand Rapids, too.

Biden Asks Congress to Permanently Schedule Fentanyl Analogues, Seattle Task Force Calls for Drug Decrim, More... (9/3/21)

A Seattle task force calls for drug decriminalization, Vancouver activists seek permission to operate drug buyers' clubs, and more.

Congress must decide whether to permanently schedule fentanyl analogues as Schedule I substances. (Creative Commons)
Drug Policy

Biden's Acting Drug Czar Asks Congress for Opioid Crackdown Help. The Biden administration has asked Congress to permanently schedule illicit fentanyl analogues as Schedule I substances, alongside heroin and MDMA. Acting Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Director Regina LaBelle made the request in a letter to Congress, saying the move would help law enforcement go after illicit opioid manufactures and dealers. Drug reformers had lobbied the administration not to take this step, and reacted unhappily (see below).

Civil Rights Leaders, Drug Policy Experts Denounce as Counterproductive Biden Recommendations on Fentanyl-Related Substances and Continued War on Drugs. In response to the recommendations presented to Congress by the ONDCP, HHS, and the Justice Department to permanently schedule fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs, civil rights leaders drug policy reform leaders including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Drug Policy Alliance issued the following statement:

"We cannot continue doing the same things and expect to get different results. Despite the Biden administration's stated commitment to criminal justice reform, and ending disparities in the system, the recommendation to permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances echoes the failed drug policies of our past. Today's proposal is reminiscent of these policies, which led to over-policing and law enforcement, disproportionately impacted people of color, overcrowded prisons, and cost lives. The proposal is a major step backward in the fight to dismantle the harms of the past and save lives."

Seattle Task Force Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The city's Overdose Emergency Innovative Recovery (OEIR) task force is recommending the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs. The group, which was responding to the city council's request for policy advice on how to reduce overdose deaths, announced its recommendations at a Tuesday night event. It said that removing the penalties around drug possession -- or even legalizing and regulating them -- would "create opportunities for research and access to a regulated safe supply in a manner that is safest for everyone in the community." The task force also recommended expanding housing, treatment and harm reduction services, and working to reduce social stigma around substance abuse disorders. "Unlearning drug war propaganda of the last century will take time and patience," the group said in a summary document. "It will take an all hands on deck effort to end the stigmatization and harm that more than a century of prohibition has caused."

International

Vancouver Activists Formally Ask Canadian Government to Allow Buyers' Clubs for Hard Drugs. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) have formally asked the Canadian government to allow them to operate buyers' clubs for heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine in order to produce users with a reliable "safe supply" of those drugs. The two groups submitted an open letter to Health Canada requesting a formal exemption from federal criminal drug laws so that no one is prosecuted for operating a "compassion club" to distribute those drugs. "The DULF Fulfillment Center and Compassion Club model is saving lives right now," the letter states, "and will save more if we are permitted to continue our work with federal authorization. We are prepared to undertake such action, and hope that you will support our efforts. Lives depend on it." The letter requests a decision from Health Canada by October 15. If DULF and VANDU's request is granted, it will represent a historic milestone in international efforts to roll back the drug war. More importantly, it will have an immediate impact on the safety of compassion club members.

Medical Marijuana Update

Another effort to force the federal government to reevaluate its stance on medical marijuana gets shot down, an expansion of Texas's medical marijuana program goes into effect today, and more.

National

US 9th Circuit Rejects Bid to Make Feds Rethink Stance on Medical Marijuana. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday refused to make the federal government reconsider its decades-old position that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use. The ruling came in a case brought by medical marijuana researcher Dr. Suzanne Sisley and three veterans who claimed harm from marijuana being classified as a Schedule I drug. The plaintiffs asked the court to force the DEA to revisit its stance, with plaintiff's attorney calling the DEA's stance "a relic of a bygone era." In their 16-page opinion Monday, a three-judge panel rejected the petition, finding Sisley and her co-petitioners failed to exhaust other avenues of relief they could have pursued before going to court.

South Dakota

South Dakota Legislative Panel Recommends Overruling Voters and Banning Medical Marijuana Home Grows.The legislature's Medical Marijuana Subcommittee voted 6-4 Monday to recommend banning home grown medical marijuana cultivation, even though it is expressly allowed under the language of IM 26, the medical marijuana initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters last November. The issue now goes to the legislature's full Marijuana Study Committee, which consists of eight senators and 16 representatives. Lawmakers on the adult use committee also discussed banning home grown marijuana on Wednesday as the state awaits a Supreme Court ruling on whether the voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative is unconstitutional.

Texas

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Goes into Effect This Week. A law approved by the legislature earlier this year that expands the use of medical marijuana in the state goes into effect on Wednesday. The expansion will now allow veterans who suffer from PTSD, cancer patients, and people suffering other specified medical conditions to join the list of qualifying conditions. The new law also raises the dosage limit of THC from .5% to 1%.

DEA to Increase Research Production Quotas for Marijuana & Psilocybin, SD MedMJ Home Grows Endangered, More... (9/1/21)

Panama legalizes medical marijuana, the DEA boosts quotas for production of marijuana and psilocbyin for research purposes, and more.

South Dakota lawmakers want to ban medical marijuana home grows even though the voters approved them. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

The DEA Seeks to Increase Federal Production Limits for Psilocybin and Marijuana Research. The DEA has published a new document in the Federal Register proposing a significant increase in federal quotas for the production of psilocybin, psilocin (the metabolized version of psilocybin), and marijuana for research purposes. Both psilocybin and psilocin had a ceiling of 50 grams, which has been increased to 1500 grams and 1000 grams, respectively. The DEA also wants to raise the production quota for marijuana from 1.5 million grams this year to 2 million grams next year, as well as doubling upscale marijuana extract production to 500,000 grams. "DEA firmly believes in supporting regulated research of schedule I controlled substances," wrote the agency. "Therefore, the [Aggregate Production Quota] increases reflect the need to fulfill research and development requirements in the production of new drug products, and the study of marijuana effects in particular, as necessary steps toward potential Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of new drug products."

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Legislative Panel Recommends Overruling Voters and Banning Medical Marijuana Home Grows.The legislature's Medical Marijuana Subcommittee voted 6-4 Monday to recommend banning home grown medical marijuana cultivation, even though it is expressly allowed under the language of IM 26, the medical marijuana initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters last November. The issue now goes to the legislature's full Marijuana Study Committee, which consists of eight senators and 16 representatives. Lawmakers on the adult use committee also discussed banning home grown marijuana on Wednesday as the state awaits a Supreme Court ruling on whether the voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative is unconstitutional.

Psychedelics

Denver Activists Push to Expand Psilocybin Decriminalization to Allow Gifting and Communal Use. The activists who successful managed a campaign to make Denver the first city in the US to decriminalize the possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms are now aimed to legalize the noncommercial gifting and communal use of the substance. Kevin Matthews, founder of Vote Nature and head of the city's Psilocybin Mushroom Review Panel, said the proposal would ensure that people "have the liberty to gather in private group settings to celebrate and commune with psilocybin mushrooms without worrying about law enforcement intervention." The proposal is included in the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel's 2021 Comprehensive Report, which has already been approved by the district attorney and is pending further sign-off by other officials.

International

Panama Legalizes Medical Marijuana. After five years of consideration, the national assembly on Monday unanimously approved Bill 153, which legalizes medical marijuana in the Central American nation. The bill allows for home grown medical marijuana but bars its sale. It also requires the government to import marijuana in pill and liquid drop form. That medicine will be distributed through pharmacies that have applied for a permit and pass a site inspection.

OH Marijuana Legalization Campaign Can Gather Signatures, Biden Considers Drug Sentence Commutations, More... (8/31/21)

An effort to force the DEA to reconsider the Schedule I status of marijuana has been shot down by the 9th Circuit, an Ohio marijuana legalization campaign gets the go-ahead to start signature gathering, and more.

Will the president commute some drug sentences to avoid sending people out on home confinement back to prison? (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Okay to Start Signature Gathering. A marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was approved for signature gathering Monday by the Ohio Ballot Board. The board determined that the initiative indeed addresses a single issue -- marijuana legalization -- and can proceed. Backers must now come up with 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the proposal before the legislature. If the legislature refuses to act, rejects the proposal, or amend it within four months, backers could then collect another 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the issue directly before the voters in 2022.

Medical Marijuana

US 9th Circuit Rejects Bid to Make Feds Rethink Stance on Medical Marijuana. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday refused to make the federal government reconsider its decades-old position that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use. The ruling came in a case brought by medical marijuana researcher Dr. Suzanne Sisley and three veterans who claim harm from marijuana being classified as a Schedule I drug. The plaintiffs asked the court to force the DEA to revisit its stance, with plaintiff's attorney calling the DEA's stance "a relic of a bygone era." In their 16-page opinion Monday, a three-judge panel rejected the petition, finding Sisley and her co-petitioners failed to exhaust other avenues of relief that they could have pursued before coming to court.

Criminal Justice

President Biden Considering Commuting Sentences of Some Drug Offenders. In a bid to avoid forcing drug offenders released to home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic back to prison after the emergency ends, President Biden is considering commuting their sentences by using his clemency powers. The proposal is aimed at nonviolent drug offenders with fewer than four years left on their sentences. Those with longer sentences or who committed other types of crimes would be out of luck. Normally, federal prisoners are only eligible for home confinement in the final six months of their sentences, and as many as 2,000 who were sent home are outside that limit and subject to being returned to prison when the COVID emergency ends (although thanks to recalcitrant Americans, that end date seems to be constantly receding). A Trump-era Justice Department memo concluded that once the emergency ends, legal authority to keep inmates in home confinement would "evaporate," but inmates advocates and some Democratic lawmakers are urging the administration to reject that memo and come up with a rationale to extend home confinements.

CA Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Held Over, TX MedMJ Expansion Goes into Effect Wednesday, More... (8/30/31)

A Philadelphia site injection site that was blocked by a federal appeals court is asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, a third marijuana legalization initiative campaign emerges in Missouri, and more.

California psychedelic decriminalization will have to wait until next year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Sees Third Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerge. And then there were three. A group calling itself Legal Missouri 2022 filed a marijuana legalization initiative proposal last week that would allow people 21 and over to purchase at least three ounces of marijuana, tax sales at 6% with an additional local option of up to 3%, and allow people to grow up to six mature and six immature plants, but only after registering with the state. Another group, Fair Access Missouri, is pushing a number of initiatives, including several that would set up a system of legalized marijuana sales, but none of those proposals have yet passed muster for the secretary of state's office. Yet another group, New Approach Missouri, is also working on a 2022 initiative after their 2020 effort was thwarted by coronavirus restrictions during signature gathering. To qualify for the 2022 ballot, initiatives will have to get 171,592 valid voter signatures by early July 2022.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Goes into Effect This Week. A law approved by the legislature earlier this year that expands the use of medical marijuana in the state goes into effect on Wednesday. The expansion will now allow veterans who suffer from PTSD, cancer patients, and people suffering other specified medical conditions to join the list of qualifying conditions. The new law also raises the dosage limit of THC from .5% to 1%.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Held Over for Next Year. The bill to decriminalize the possession of a number of psychedelics in the state, Senate Bill 519, is being held over to next year after stalling in the Assembly. In a statement last Thursday, bill sponsor state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced the bill will be shelved even though the "groundbreaking legislation moved significantly farther than anticipated." More time is needed to "lay educational groundwork with members and the public to ensure the bill’s success" and that the delay will allow supporters to "capitalize on the momentum from this year while building support in the Assembly for next year."

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Proponents Appeal to Supreme Court After Lower Court Ruling Halted Their Project. Safehouse, the group that was set to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia before being blocked last year by a federal court ruling, has filed a petition with the US Supreme Court asking it to take up the case. In the earlier case, the Trump administration sided strongly with federal prosecutors to block the site from opening; now the question is what stance the Biden administration will take. The administration has broadly embraced harm reduction, but President Biden has yet to weigh in on safe injection sites.  In what could be a precedent-setting case that could steer policy for years, Safehouse is taking a significant risk by going before a very conservative Supreme court. Having the administration on its side could only help its prospects.

DEA to Review Foreign Operations, Vancouver Activists Plan Another "Safe Supply" Drug Giveaway, More... (8/26/21)

California wants to try a form of drug treatment where users are paid not to use, Vancouver activists plan to mark International Overdose Awareness Day with a "safe supply" drug giveaway, and more.

The DEA will review its international operations, although there is no sign it is looking at a paradigm shift.
Drug Policy

DEA Announces Review of International Operations. The Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday announced a comprehensive review of DEA’s international operations and foreign footprint, including administrative and financial support for those operations from DEA headquarters. Administrator Anne Milgram has recommended a top to bottom review of foreign operations that will be overseen by an independent team.  As part of the review, the team will talk to DEA personnel posted in DEA’s foreign offices and headquarters. DEA listed "international cartels, narco-terrorist violence, and precursor chemicals flowing from other countries" as global threats it faces. "This review will provide recommendations for my consideration upon completion.  Specifically, I expect the team to provide an assessment of DEA’s current international operational capacity, and to identify areas for improvement to ensure DEA’s international operations are impactful and effective, with the appropriate structures, procedures, and controls to ensure integrity and accountability," said Administrator Milgram. There is in indication the agency is undergoing a paradigm shift, though.

Drug Treatment

California Seeks Federal Permission to Do "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment. The state is seeking permission from the federal government to do "contingency management" drug treatment, in which users are paid money to stay sober, receiving increasing payments for each drug test passed. Such a program has been underway with military veterans for years, with research showing it is an effective way to get people off stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, for which there are no pharmaceutical treatments available. Now, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is asking the federal government to allow the state to use federal tax dollars to pay for it through Medicaid. Meanwhile, state Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 110, to do something similar. That bill has already passed the Senate with no  opposition and has a Republican co-sponsor in the Assembly, where it has already been approved by the Health Committee and is now before the Appropriations Committee. Wiener’s bill would require California’s Medicaid program to pay for the treatment while Newsom’s plan would let counties choose whether to participate.

International

Vancouver Activists to Mark August 31 International Overdose Awareness Day by Handing Out Free "Safe Supply" of Drugs. A Vancouver-based safe supply advocacy group, the Drug Users Liberation Front (DULF), handed out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine during a July event to dramatize the need for a "safe supply" of drugs" as the city faces a drug overdose crisis, and now, they are getting ready to do it again. DULF says the July event showed the "life-saving potential of a community-led response to the crisis of prohibition in Canada" as an alternative to Vancouver's proposed model of decriminalization. DULF will be joined at the Overdose Awareness Day Event by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), which has raised $13,000 to buy and test drugs to be distributed for free among registered VANDU members. "We recognize this a day to honor those we lost to the War on Drugs," said VANDU. "A senseless war fueled by colonial dispossession, racist violence, capitalist exploitation and police criminalization that has taken far too many lives.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Oregon cop ODs on dope he stole from the evidence locker and causes a multiple car crash, and more. Let's get to it:

In Medford, Oregon, a former Klamath Falls police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing methamphetamine and fentanyl from the departmental evidence room. Former Officer Dwayne Reif, 28, went down after he overdosed in his police vehicle on fentanyl that he removed from the evidence room using an unauthorized key. When he overdosed, his police car jumped the median and travelled into oncoming traffic, causing a multi-vehicle accident. After his overdose, police searched his work locker and found a hidden evidence bag containing meth. He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a DEA agent pleaded guilty last Wednesday to accepting bribes from a drug traffickers to help him continue to distribute cocaine, heroin, and other drugs. Agent Nathan Koen, 45, had previously busted the trafficker, but then turned him into an informant, and the trafficker quickly resumed his business, only now with Koen's help. He went down after FBI agents watched him accept a $9,000 cash bribe in a Las Vegas casino bathroom. He copped to one count of bribery of a public official and is looking at up to 15 years in prison.

In New Orleans,  a former DEA agent was sentenced August 12 to more than 13 years in federal prison for stealing money from suspects, falsifying government records and committing perjury during a federal trial. Former Agent Chad Scott "broke every rule in the book," prosecutors charged. Scott, 53, was found guilty at successive trials of a long list of corruption counts. The charges stemmed from an expansive federal investigation into misconduct claims that had surrounded Scott for much of his 17-year career, even as he racked up headline-grabbing drug busts between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Medical Marijuana Update

Prospects for medical marijuana this year remain alive in Mississippi and North Carolina, and more.

Mississippi

Mississippi Special Session to Pass Medical Marijuana Still Possible. Lawmakers are still working on reaching a consensus on a medical marijuana bill with the hope that Gov. Tate Reeves (R) will hew to his vow to call a special session to get medical marijuana approved in the state. The push for the special session comes after voters approved medical marijuana at the polls last year, only to see the state Supreme Court invalidate the initiative. The state constitution requires that initiative petitions contain signatures from each of the state's five congressional districts, but the state has only had four districts since redistricting in 2000, and the legislature has not acted in the two decades since to rectify the constitutional conundrum. “I think the parties are close enough at this point or will be in the foreseeable future, that if the governor so chose to call a special session," said Representative Trey Lamar. "I don’t believe that it would take too long to get the parties to put a measure together and get it passed," he said. "The ball is in the governor’s hands. If he wants to do it then we’ll respond and we’ll come to Jackson and we’ll get it done. If not, then I guess we’ll wait until January."

North Carolina

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Ready to Advance in Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday accepted revisions to the Compassionate Care Act, Senate Bill 711, laying the groundwork for formal approval at a later meeting. The bill had already passed Judiciary and one more committee last month but was referred back to Judiciary this month to deal with revisions. The proposal would allow patients with specified "debilitating medical conditions" to use medical marijuana, but with revisions now includes patients with terminal conditions who have less than six months to live, as well as those who qualify for hospice care. Under the legislation, patients could possess up to one and a half ounces of cannabis, but home cultivation would not be permitted. The measure would provide for up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers, each of which could operate up to four dispensaries. Once the bill passes out of Judiciary, it must still be re-referred to the Health and Rules and Operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve a revised bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, Senate Bill 711. The committee had already approved the bill but had to take it up again after it was revised in a separate committee. Now, it goes before one final committee, the Senate Health Care and Rules Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote. The bill would allow patients with one of a list of "debilitating medical conditions" to use medical marijuana. The bill will now also allow patients with terminal illnesses with less than six months to live and those in hospice care to use medical marijuana. Patients could possess up to an ounce and a half but would not be able to grow their own. Medical marijuana would be provided by up to 10 growers, each of which could operate up to four dispensaries.

Wyoming

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives Signature Gathering to Begin Next Month. After the state attorney general's office last week approved the wording of proposed marijuana legalization and medical marijuana initiatives, supporters are gearing up to begin signature gathering next month. "We’ll be hitting events, going door to door. We intend to get it all wrapped up by February," Wyoming NORML Executive Director Bennett Sondeno said. Wyoming's signature requirements are tough: Proponents must gather valid signatures from 15% of voters in the previous general election from each of at least 16 of the state’s 23 counties. There have been nine different initiative efforts in the past 25 years; none qualified for the ballot. The last initiative to actually make the ballot and pass was a railroad safety initiative in 1992.

Thai Parliament Approves Drug Reform Bill, US Reform Groups Urge DOJ to End Fentanyl Analog Scheduling

Drug reform, civil rights, and other groups urge the Justice Department to end the punitive emergency scheduling of fentanyl and its analogs, a North Carolina medical marijuana bill advances, and more.

Fentanyl and its analogs are the subject of a battle over draconian emergency scheduling. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve a revised bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, Senate Bill 711. The committee had already approved the bill but had to take it up again after it was revised in a separate committee. Now, it goes before one final committee, the Senate Health Care and Rules Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote. The bill would allow patients with one of a list of "debilitating medical conditions" to use medical marijuana. The bill will now also allow patients with terminal illnesses with less than six months to live and those in hospice care to use medical marijuana. Patients could possess up to an ounce and a half but would not be able to grow their own. Medical marijuana would be provided by up to 10 growers, each of which could operate up to four dispensaries.

Opioids

More Than 140 Groups Urge DOJ to End Over-Criminalization of Fentanyl-Related Substances. Some 142 drug reform, criminal justice, religious, civil liberties, and other groups have written to Attorney General Merrick Garland to urge the Biden administration to let the Trump administration's temporary "classwide" emergency scheduling of fentanyl-related substances expire on October 22. The groups also asked the administration to engage in more interactions with stakeholders before it finalizes its recommendations to Congress, complaining that the coalition had only been granted one half-hour "listening session" with the working group studying the topic. "The class wide scheduling policy must expire," the groups wrote. "Class wide scheduling would exacerbate pretrial detention, mass incarceration, and racial disparities in the prison system, doubling down on a fear-based, enforcement-first response to a public health challenge. The policy could also lead to over-criminalization and prosecutorial misconduct. Under the class wide control, any offense involving a 'fentanyl-related substance' is subject to federal criminal prosecution, even if the substance in question is helpful or has no potential for abuse. Failure to define with specificity through our laws what is or is not illegal will lead to miscarriages of justice."The groups also argued that class wide scheduling will not help curb overdose rates or curb the supply of fentanyl or its analogs.

International

Thai Parliament Approves New Drug Law Emphasizing Prevention and Treatment. The parliament on Tuesday gave final approval to a new drug law that emphasizes prevention and treatment rather than punishment for small-scale drug users while also introducing tougher measures against organized crime. The omnibus bill first approved by the cabinet in 2019, consolidates more than 20 existing laws relating to drugs, ranging from sentencing for drug possession and distribution to asset forfeiture. "The new law shifts away from the old concept that emphasises only suppression because more suppression has not resulted in drug eradication," said Chatchawan Suksumjit, a senator who chaired a joint parliamentary committee overseeing changes to the new narcotic laws. "Punishment will now be divided between low level, which means drug users, who will systematically receive treatment rather than prison, while high level offenders will face more severe punishment," he said. Drug offenders make up more than 80% of Thailand's 300,000 prisoners. The new law could result in reduced sentences for up to 50,000 of them once it becomes law after winning royal endorsement later this year.

NJ Regulators Approve Rules for Recreational Pot Market, Mexico President Could Free Aged Killer Drug Lord, More....(8/24/21)

A Mississippi legislative special session to pass a medical marijuana bill is still possible, New Jersey moves one step closer to legal recreational marijuana sales, and more.

Mexican President Lopez Obrador is considering releasing Felix Gallardo, jailed in the killing of a DEA agent in 1985. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Regulators Approves Rules for Recreational Marijuana Market. The state's marijuana regulators last week approved rules for setting up the recreational marijuana market, paving the way for legal sales to begin, although the date that might happen remains uncertain. The rules give priority in applications to women-, minority-, and disabled veteran-owned businesses. The director of the five-person commission, Jeff Brown, said the next step will be a notification that applications are being accepted. Commission Chairperson Dianna Houenou said the commission wants to see that the application process is proceeding smoothly before setting a start date for sales. “We know that there is a lot of interest in getting this market up and running and we were duty-bound to do it right."

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Special Session to Pass Medical Marijuana Still Possible. Lawmakers are still working on reaching a consensus on a medical marijuana bill with the hope that Gov. Tate Reeves (R) will hew to his vow to call a special session to get medical marijuana approved in the state. The push for the special session comes after voters approved medical marijuana at the polls last year, only to see the state Supreme Court invalidate the initiative. The state constitution requires that initiative petitions contain signatures from each of the state's five congressional districts, but the state has only had four districts since redistricting in 2000, and the legislature has not acted in the two decades since to rectify the constitutional conundrum. “I think the parties are close enough at this point or will be in the foreseeable future, that if the governor so chose to call a special session," said Representative Trey Lamar. "I don’t believe that it would take too long to get the parties to put a measure together and get it passed," he said. "The ball is in the governor’s hands. If he wants to do it then we’ll respond and we’ll come to Jackson and we’ll get it done. If not, then I guess we’ll wait until January."

International

Mexican President Open to Freeing Drug Lord Jailed for 1985 Murder of DEA Agent. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last Friday he was open to freeing imprisoned drug lord Angel Felix Gallardo, who has been behind bars for decades in Mexico for his role in the 1985 killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena outside Guadalajara. Lopez Obrador cited Gallardo's old age and poor health. Gallardo, 75, is blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, and cannot walk. He called Lopez Obrador "a man of good will" in a televised interview last week. Responding to a question about that interview, Lopez Obrador said: "If it is justified ... of course, yes. "I also want him to understand my situation, that I do not want anyone to suffer. I do not want anyone to be in jail. I am a humanist," said Lopez Obrador, adding that prosecutors would review the case. Last month, Lopez Obrador proposed releasing thousands of inmates who were elderly, had been tortured, or suffered from health problems, as well as non-serious offenders.

OH Marijuana Legalization Measure Takes Small Step Forward, Portland Psychedelic Push, More... (8/23/21)

An Ohio effort to legalize marijuana cleared an initiial hurdle last Friday, Wyoming marijuana legalization and medical marijuana advocates will begin signature gathering next month, and more.

Wyoming marijuana initiatives face real hurdles in getting to the ballot, but activists are trying. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Attorney General Okays Marijuana Legalization Measure's Summary Language. State Attorney General Dave Yost (R) last Friday certified summary language for a proposed marijuana legalization initiative that would direct the state legislature to take up the issue and ultimately present the issue directly to voters if the legislature rejects or refuses to act on legalization. Now, the measure goes before the Ohio Ballot Board, which will determine whether it contains a single law, a requirement for state ballot initiatives. If it gets past the Ballot Board, signature gathering could then begin. Supporters would need 132,887 valid voter signatures from voters in at least half of the state's 88 counties. If signature gathering goals are met, the legislature would have four months to approve legalization. If it fails to do so, supporters could then collect another 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before Ohio voters during the next election.

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives Signature Gathering to Begin Next Month. After the state attorney general's office last week approved the wording of proposed marijuana legalization and medical marijuana initiatives, supporters are gearing up to begin signature gathering next month. "We’ll be hitting events, going door to door. We intend to get it all wrapped up by February," Wyoming NORML Executive Director Bennett Sondeno said. Wyoming's signature requirements are tough: Proponents must gather valid signatures from 15% of voters in the previous general election from each of at least 16 of the state’s 23 counties. There have been nine different initiative efforts in the past 25 years; none qualified for the ballot. The last initiative to actually make the ballot and pass was a railroad safety initiative in 1992.

Psychedelics

Portland, Oregon, Activists Push to Decriminalize Psychedelic Cultivation, Gifting, and Community Ceremonies. Portland activists who say they want to fill a gap left when state voters approved both psilocybin therapy and drug decriminalization are making a push to have the city commission pass a resolution to decriminalize the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics. The Plant Medicine Healing Alliance (PMHA) says the policies leave some important activity at risk of criminalization. The new local resolution they are asking the the City Commission to pass would make it so that activities such as gifting and community-based ceremonies involving entheogenic substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine would be made among Portland’s lowest law enforcement priorities. The proposal would affirm peoples’ "right to cultivate, prepare, possess, or administer entheogenic substances, especially for community healing or a good faith religious or spiritual practice." In a nod to indigenous groups, the PHMA is excluding peyote from its list because of concerns about the sustainability of the limited peyote crop.

Drug War Issues

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