Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

ME Pioneers Texts Alert to Warn of Overdose Spikes, AR Pot Legalization Initiative Underway, More... (7/26/21)

Yet another study takes aim at the discredited "gateway theory," the Filipino president remains unrepentant and defiant over his record of drug war killings, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte. Unrepentant to the bitter end. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

(Another) Study Finds Marijuana Not a Gateway Drug. Once again, a peer-reviewed academic study has found that marijuana is not a gateway to harder drug use. The study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh was published in the journal Health Economics and found that hospital admissions due to opioid use declined after marijuana was legalized at the state level, at least in the short term. "This isn’t trivial – a decline in opioid-related emergency department visits, even if only for six months, is a welcome public health development," said study lead author Coleman Drake, an assistant professor in the university’s department of health policy and management. The "gateway theory" that exposure to marijuana leads to the use of harder drugs has repeatedly been debunked, but still occasionally makes an appearance in the rhetoric of prohibitionists.

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. A group of activists calling itself Arkansas True Grass is now gathering signatures aimed at putting a marijuana legalization initiative on the 2022 ballot. The initiative would legalize recreational marijuana and place its regulation under the authority of the state Agriculture Department. It would also expunge all prior marijuana convictions and allow for the cultivation of up to 12 plants at home. The initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, which raises its signature-gathering requirement from 71,321 for statutory initiatives to 89,151 for constitutional amendments. The group has until July 2022 to come up with signatures.

Harm Reduction

Maine Becomes First State to Roll Out Text Alerts When Overdoses Spike. The state has begun a pilot program that lets anyone with a cellphone receive free text messages alerting them to spikes in overdoses in their area and the possibility that a lethal batch of drugs is on the market. The Spike text program was rolled out last month and was first activated last week in Portland, when three people suffered overdoses in a 24-hour period. The program is a joint project of the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Partnership to End Addiction, a national nonprofit. Maine is the first state in the nation to roll out such a program. The move comes after the state saw 502 people die of drug-related causes last year, the most ever in the state.

International

Colombia Removes Ban on Exports of Marijuana Buds. In a bid to boost its nascent legal marijuana industry, Colombia last Friday lifted a ban on exporting dried marijuana flowers, opened the way to expand medical marijuana sales, and streamlined regulatory procedures. "This means Colombia can enter to play a big role in the international market," President Ivan Duque said after signing the decree loosening the rules, adding the new rules would allow Colombia's cannabis industry to expand into food and drinks, cosmetics and other sectors.

Philippines President Taunts International Criminal Court During Last State of the Nation Address. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who proudly and publicly launched a murderous war on drug users and sellers when he took office in 2016, used the occasion of his last State of the Nation address to lash out at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has completed a preliminary investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines drug war and has now requested an authorization to do a formal investigation, with Duterte clearly in the headlights. In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to record his threats against those who would "destroy" the country, saying: "I never denied – and the ICC can record it – those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country." Duterte said. He added that pursuing anti-drug strategies through the criminal justice system "would take you months and years" and again told police to kill drug users and dealers. The Un High Commissioner for Human Rights has tallied at least 8,663 drug killings since the start of the anti-drug campaign, but human rights groups say the number could be as high as 30,000 if killings by shadowy vigilante groups are included.

Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids, Chiapas Militia Emerges to Fight Cartels, More... (7/23/21)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez files an amendment to encourage psychedelic research, President Biden says he will stay tough on Chinese opioid exports, and more.

President Biden vows to keep pressuring China on opioids, but a better approach may be to ramp up harm reduction here.
Psychedelics

AOC Files Amendment to Promote Psychedelic Research in Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has for the second time filed an amendment to a multi-agency appropriations bill that aims to promote research into psychedelics such by removing a rider than has been in effect since 1996 that bars the use of federal dollars "any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I." A description of the amendment says it is designed to allow "United States researchers to study and examine the potential impacts of several schedule I drugs, such as MDMA, psilocybin, and or ibogaine, that have been shown to be effective in treating critical diseases. She introduced an earlier version of the amendment in 2019 only to see it voted down in a bipartisan and overwhelming fashion, but has a lot has changed in the realm of psychedelics since then.

Foreign Policy

Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids. At a town hall meeting in Cincinnati Wednesday, President Joe Biden vowed to continue "this encounter with China" over opioids, saying that his administration is "addressing the opioid issue" by increasing the number of people in the Justice Department. Biden has repeatedly criticized China, which is a major source of fentanyls and precursor chemicals that go into Mexico and from there into the US, accusing it of failing to crack down on drug trafficking. China banned two fentanyl precursors in 2018, but has not taken additional steps since then.

"I don't think we can do much to delay the export of these drugs in these countries, said Ben Westhoff, author of Fentanyl, Inc., arguing instead for enhanced harm reduction measures at home. In that book, Westhoff put the number of Chinese chemical companies at more than 400,000.

International

Mexico's Chiapas State Sees Formation of Militia to Counter Drug Cartels. A newly formed and heavily armed indigenous militia announced its presence by marching masked and armed through the streets of Pantelho in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas last weekend. The militia, calling itself "El Machete," said in an online manifesto that it is a "David" fighting against the "Goliath" of drug cartels and their assassins, and that it seeks peace, democracy, and justice. While self-defense militias to fend off organized crime have been sporadically active in states such as Michoacan and Guerrero for years, "El Machete" is the first such group to emerge in Chiapas, which attracts competing drug trafficking groups because of its location on the Guatemalan border, and which was the birthplace of the Zapatista uprising back in 1994.

US Prison, Parole, Probation Population Continues Slow Decline; $26 Billion Opioid Settlement, More... (7/22/21)

Florida's Republican establishment may not be ready for marijuana legalization but the public is, the Justice Department drops an effort to send some First Step Act releasees back to prison, and more.

Drug distributors agree to pay out big-time for their role in the opioid crisis. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Public Policy Polling has support for marijuana legalization at 59%. Two different efforts to get an initiative before the voters last year were quashed by the state Supreme Court, and the Republican-led state legislature this year passed a bill making it more difficult to finance initiatives, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law. Translating public support into marijuana reform is going to be more difficult than ever now.

Opioids

Major Drug Distributors Reach Agreement on $26 Billion Opioid Settlement. The three largest US pharmaceutical drug distributors -- McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen -- and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson have reached an agreement with a group of state attorneys general to pay out $26 billion to settle lawsuits related to their roles in the widespread prescribing of prescription opioids and the subsequent wave of addiction and overdose deaths. "The numerous companies that manufactured and distributed opioids across the nation did so without regard to life or even the national crisis they were helping to fuel," said New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the attorneys general from 15 states involved in the deal. "Today, we are holding these companies accountable and infusing tens of billions of dollars into communities across the nation." Responding to that wave of addiction and overdoses, the states and the federal government have moved to restrict opioid prescribing, even though chronic pain patients have found their access to their medications more difficult.

Sentencing

US Correctional Population Drops for 12th Straight Year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that in 2019, the number of people in the US in jail or prison or on probation or parole was 6,344,000, down 65,200, or 1%, over the previous year and marking the 12th year in a row that that figure has declined. At the end of 2019, 4,357,700 people were under community supervision (probation or parole), while there were 2,086,000 people behind bars in jails or prisons. The BJS report did not discuss the types of offenses for which people were under correctional supervision, but a 2020 Prison Policy Initiative report found 190,000 doing time for drug offenses in state prisons, 157,000 in local jails, and 78,000 in the federal prison system, meaning drug prisoners account for about one-fifth of the US incarcerated population.

Justice Department Drops Appeal of First Step Act Releases. The Justice Department has dropped an effort to re-imprison four New Jersey men who were released from prison under the First Step Act's retroactive crack cocaine sentencing provision. The men had been released in November 2019 after serving more than 20 years on crack charges, but the Trump Justice Department then sought to send them back to prison. The Biden Justice Department had been under pressure from groups such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which applauded the decision, saying: "We raised this case among others with the Biden transition team as an appeal that should be dropped right away. It would have been cruel and unjust it would be to send these guys back."

DEA Agent Arrested for Role in US Capitol Riot, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (7/21/21)

A new Republican bill would bar food stamp recipients from using their cards for any marijuana purchases -- even medical, a Mississippi city reaches a settlement in the death of a man hog-tied by police while under the influence of LSD, and more.

Then DEA-Agent Mark Sami Ibrahim was packing heat as he unlawfully entered the Capitol during the January 6 uprising. (DOJ)
Marijuana Policy

DC Delegate Files Amendment to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing, Protect Legal Medical Marijuana States. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on Tuesday filed an amendment to the House appropriations bill dealing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would prohibit the department from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal. A second amendment would prohibit HUD from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) are cosponsors of both amendments.

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development should not be allowed to remove people from their homes or otherwise punish them for following the marijuana laws of their jurisdictions," Norton said. "More and more states are moving toward legalization of marijuana, especially of medical marijuana. It is time for HUD to follow the rest of the country and allow marijuana use in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where it is legal. This should especially be the case for individuals living in jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana. Nobody should be evicted for following the law and the advice of their doctors."

Medical Marijuana

GOP Lawmakers File Bill to Block Even Medical Marijuana Marijuana Purchases by People Getting Federal Assistance. In the latest iteration of a continuing Republican push in recent legislative sessions to block people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF -- the food stamp program) funds from using them to buy marijuana, Reps. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) filed a bill Monday that would bar TANF recipients from using their benefit cards for medical marijuana purchases. Similar measures already bar the use of such cards casinos, strip clubs, and liquor stores. But activists say the bill unfairly targets the most vulnerable people and perpetuates marijuana stigmas.

"Millions of Americans living with chronic, debilitating conditions rely on cannabis to manage their symptoms and significantly increase their quality of life. For millions of patients, cannabis IS a need,"said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Instead of introducing a bill to ensure that under-resourced individuals, including veterans, have access to cannabis' medical benefits, Representative Tom Rice chooses to exemplify how far reaching the drug war apparatus goes in surveilling and policing under-resourced people." It is woth noting that other Republican congressmembers have supported marijuana reform bills.

North Carolina Compassionate Care Act Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Finance Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Care Act, on a voice vote. Under the bill, patients with specified medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, would be allowed to use medical marijuana. The bill also sets up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana production and distribution. The bill now heads to the Senate Health Care Committee before moving toward a floor vote if successful there.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent Arrested for Participating in Capitol Riot. A man who on January 6 was a probationary DEA agent (on the job for less than a year) has been arrested for allegedly participating in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. Then-Agent Mark Sami Ibrahim faces federal charges of unlawfully entering the capitol building, and the Department of Justice provided photos that show him flashing his DEA badge and DEA-issued handgun during the riot. Ibrahim had submitted his resignation notice from the DEA weeks before the riot but was still an employee. The DEA clarified that he was off-duty at the time. One of Ibrahim's friends told FBI agents he went to the protest "to promote himself" as he considered launching a podcast and a cigar brand. [Editor's Note: No comment.]

Mississippi City Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Case of Man Who Died After Being Restrained by Police While Under Influence of LSD. The city of Southaven announced Tuesday it had reached a settlement with the family of Troy Goode, 30, who died in police custody six years ago after flipping out on LSD after attending a Widespread Panic concert. Goode died after police hog-tied him and placed him face down on a stretcher while being transported to a hospital. A preliminary autopsy report attempted to argue that he died from a heart related issue, possibly related to LSD, but LSD has no known links to heart failure. The details of the settlement were not released.

International

Belize Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. Kareem Musa, the Minister of New Growth Industries, has filed a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana production and sales. The bill also has the support of the leader of the opposition party, the Honorable Shyne Barrow. Belize decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams in 2017, but there is no place to legally purchase it. This bill would change that. Belize borders Mexico, which is poised to enact marijuana legalization itself, and that could be propelling advances in the much smaller neighbor.

CO Releases Annual Report on Marijuana Legalization, SC Governor Candidate Says Legalize It, More... (7/20/21)

A bill to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of state-legal marijuana users languishes in the House Judiciary Committee, South Carolina Democratic guberatorial candidate Joe Cunningham unveils a plan to legalize marijuana, and more.

The sky still hasn't fallen since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, the latest state report finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Congressman's Bill Would Protect State-Legal Marijuana Users' 2nd Amendment Rights. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has this session filed a bill, HR 2830, aimed at protecting the gun rights of marijuana users in states where it is legal. The bill, also known as the Gun Rights and Marijuana (GRAM) Act, takes on the question on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) firearms transaction record that asks: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" The question also includes a warning which states "the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes in the state where you reside." The bill would amend US code by adding "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" is not to include a person who uses state-legal marijuana. The bill was filed in late April and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has not moved.

Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Publishes Report on Impacts of Marijuana Legalization. The state Division of Criminal Justice's Office of Research and Statistics has published its latest legislatively-mandated "Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado" report, which presents data on marijuana-related topics including crime, impaired driving, hospitalizations, ER visits, usage rates, effects on youth, and more. Among other findings: Marijuana arrests have dropped by 68% since legalization, but Blacks remain twice as likely to be arrested on marijuana charges. Also, there have been increases in the prevalence of marijuana or marijuana in combination with other substances among drivers accused of DUI (but marijuana alone accounted for only 8.7% of all DUIs in 2020). There is a lot more in the report; click the link above to dive in.

South Carolina Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Democratic Party gubernatorial contender Joe Cunningham has unveiled a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his campaign to unseat Gov. Henry McMaster (R). The plan would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana for people 21 and over, raise revenues through taxation and regulation, and expunge records of prior marijuana offenses. "This will be a game changer in South Carolina," Cunningham said. "There are many reasons why you need to do this, but now is the time. This is what people want. If our politicians do not reflect the will of the people, we need to start with Governor McMaster and change politicians." The state has had Republican governors for decades and the legislature is controlled by Republicans. On marijuana policy, it is a laggard, having approved only one marijuana reform bill to allow for the use of low-THC CBD oils.

Surgeon General Say Don't Jail People for Pot, ME Law Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (7/19/21)

The AMA Advocacy Update chronicles one doctor's problems trying to prescribe for chronic pain and addicted patients, Maine becomes the fourth state to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says it is time to stop locking people up for marijuana. (hhs.gov)
Marijuana Policy

US Surgeon General Says Time to Stop Locking People Up for Marijuana. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that it is time to stop locking up people for using marijuana. "When it comes to decriminalization, I don't think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a CNN appearance. "I don't think that serves anybody well." His comments came in response to a question about a new draft marijuana legalization bill, and are in line with President Biden, who supports marijuana decriminalization, but not commercial legalization. "When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let science guide us," Murthy said in the CNN interview. "And we know that the science tells us that there are some benefits to marijuana from a medical perspective but there are also some harms that we have to consider -- and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA on a Doctor's Trials Trying to Treat Pain Patients in the Context of Arbitrary Policies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Advocacy Update has published a piece on the travails of southern Illinois family medicine and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Aaron Newcomb, whose patients found themselves unable to refill prescriptions after he was "blacklisted" by a pharmacy chain citing 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opioid prescribing in the face of a rising opioid overdose death toll.

"When the CDC guidelines came down in 2016 basically saying we needed to take as many people as we could off opioids, I knew that my patients were in for a world of trouble," said Dr. Newcomb. "I was particularly concerned about my patients who were stable on low-dose opioid therapy for years. And my concerns have translated into an even worse reality for both me and my patients. Getting blacklisted by a national chain who had no clue about my practice was professionally wrong, but it also hurt my patients and my community."

Newcomb had to explain the nuances of pain prescribing to the pharmacy chain: "When they got back to us, they basically questioned a specific formulation of buprenorphine I was prescribing for stable patients with cost or tolerability problems that isn't a preferred type unless there is a clinical reason," Dr. Newcomb explained. "They were also concerned about opioid therapy in general as well as the dose of buprenorphine used to effectively treat patients, and their algorithm out of context painted a misrepresentative picture of my controlled-substance prescribing habits."

Newcomb was eventually able to get back in the chain's good graces and his patients are now receiving their medication, but his case illustrates the challenges faced by pain physicians and their patients in a time where the opioid-prescribing pendulum has swung so dramatically back to the conservative side.

Asset Forfeiture

Maine Becomes 4th State to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A new law barring asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction went into effect without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), making Maine the fourth state to abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture. The legislature earlier this year passed LD 1521, which fully repeals the state's civil forfeiture laws, while also strengthening the criminal forfeiture process. While touted as a tool against drug dealers, one report found that half of all forfeitures in the state were under $1,670 dollars. The other three states that have ended civil asset forfeiture are North Carolina (1985), New Mexico (2915) and Nebraska (2016).

International

Mexico President Makes Rare Call for Dismissal of a State Attorney General. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called last Friday for the resignation of Guanajuato state Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa after the state registered 1,562 murders in the first five months of this year. That figure is higher than any other state, even though Guanajuato is only the country's sixth most populous states. He also suggested there was corruption or collusion with some of the drug cartels battling to control the state. "If he [Zamarripa] were the manager of a company, with this kind of performance they would have fired him," López Obrador said Friday. "When officials do not act with honesty, with rectitude, when there is no division between criminals and the authorities, no progress can be made." López Obrador said.

Zammaripe, who has been attorney general for 12 years, has been accused by businessmen and local experts of being close to the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, which had such control over an oil refinery that it could brazenly steal fuel in and around the plant, leading to a federal troop deployment. "Carlos Zamarripa for many years protected El Marro," the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who was arrested in 2020," said security expert David Saucedo. But now, said Saucedo, Zamarripa seems to have changed sides, expecting the Santa Rosa gang to fall apart as the Jalisco New Generation cartel moved in. Instead, the Sinaloa cartel sent reinforcements to assist the Santa Rosa gang, and the death toll has skyrocketed. "Definitely, Zamarripa is part of the problem," Saucedo said.

CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway, House Spending Bill Includes Needle Exchange Funding, More...7/16/21)

Maryland legislative leaders are lining up to support a voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year, the House Appropriations Committee is passing spending bills that include marijuana and other drug provisions, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms could be legalized under a California initiative now getting underway. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Appropriations Committee Approves Spending Bills with Marijuana, Other Drug Provisions. The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday passed spending bills and related reports that include several marijuana and other drug policy provisions. The bill would extend a provision that blocks the Justice Department from intervening in state-legal medical marijuana programs, and advocates hope to broaden that to include state recreational marijuana programs later in the process. The bill also includes language to protect universities conducting marijuana research from being penalized and to encourage research on Schedule I drugs, as well as reports noting the pain-relieving qualities of kratom, the life-saving potential of safe injection sites (see below), and urging further work on developing THC impairment testing.

Key Maryland Politician Supports Marijuana Legalization Voter Referendum Next Year. State House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-District 10) has announced she will support a proposed voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year. In a statement, she said voters should decide on whether to legalize it. And she announced the formation of bipartisan working group to hash out details: "The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to state law now," she said. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) has also expressed interest in legalization and previously chaired a joint House-Senate committee to explore the nitty-gritty of legalization.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway. Activists with the group Decriminalize California submitted a petition to state authorities Monday to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for "personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual, and dietary use" for adults 21 and older. The California Psilocybin Initiative would set no limits on personal possession -- an issue that has bedeviled the psychedelic decriminalization bill currently before the Assembly -- and would allow no sales or excise taxes except for mushrooms sold for dietary purposes. The initiative would also allow for full-fledged commerce in psilocybin mushrooms, including on-site consumption sites and would mandate that magic mushrooms be regulated as much as possible like other mushrooms, except for specialized labeling, and not subject to fees or licensing requirements beyond other mushrooms.

The state Attorney General's Office now has 30 days to review the initial petition. If and when it is accepted and assigned a ballot title and summary, the campaign will have 180 days to gather 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2002 ballot.

Harm Reduction

House Appropriations Committee for First Time Approves Funding for Needle Exchanges. The House Appropriations Committee has voted to allocate $69.5 million for needle exchange programs under the CDC[s Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic Program, marking the first time it has explicitly funded such programs. The funding for the CDC program has also been boosted four-fold over the $13 million it was allocated last year. The move comes as the CDC announced this week that drug overdose deaths in the past year reached a record high of 93,000. Syringe services and harm reduction programs effectively help prevent drug overdoses. They have the knowledge, contacts, and ability to reach people who use drugs and provide naloxone and other overdose prevention resources. They also connect people to medical care and support, including substance use disorder treatment. This funding would assist these programs in preventing and reducing overdose deaths nationwide.

Here is what the committee said in an accompanying report:> "Overdose Prevention Centers. -- The Committee recognizes that overdose prevention centers, or supervised consumption sites, are part of a larger effort of harm reduction interventions intended to reduce the risk of drug overdose death and reduce the spread of infectious disease. The Committee directs NIH, in consultation with CDC, to provide a report to the Committee no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act that provides an updated literature review and evaluation on the potential public health impact of overdose prevention centers in the US."

Free Drugs Handed Out in Vancouver, NJ Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases with More to Come, More... (7/15/21)

Ohio sees its first full-fledged marijuana legalization bill, Mississippi is moving toward a legislative special session to address medical marijuana, legalization in Israel gets stalled, and more.

Welcome to the land of expungement. Nearly 88,000 old pot cases dismissed so far, with more to come. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases. In accordance with the state's marijuana legalization law approved by voters last November, the New Jersey Courts announced Monday that they have vacated or dismissed nearly 88,000 marijuana cases, and that is only the first batch. Superior and municipal courts have identified another 270,000 cases eligible to be vacated, dismissed, and expunged.

Ohio Sees First Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Bill Filed. For the first time, the state legislature has a marijuana legalization bill before it after Reps. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) have filed a bill that would allow for both personal and commercial cultivation, regulate marijuana commerce, and expunge the records of people previously convicted of low-level marijuana offenses. It's been five years since the Republican-dominated legislature passed a medical marijuana law to head off a proposed legalization initiative. Another bill filed this year, House Bill 210, would have allowed personal cultivation of marijuana plants and expungement of certain marijuana offenses, but not taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. That bill has not moved. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) remains opposed to legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Legislature Could Hold Special Session on Medical Marijuana Next Month. Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R-District 48) said Wednesday that the legislature could be ready as early as next month to go into a special session to pass a medical marijuana bill. The legislature is acting after the state Supreme Court threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative because of a technical issue the legislature has failed to address for 20 years, essentially invalidating the state's initiative process. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has said he would call a special session only after lawmakers have reached an agreement on a bill in advance. White said both the House and the Senate have been working on the issue, and he believes they would have an agreement by mid-August.

International

Vancouver City Councilwoman, Activists Hand Out Free Drugs to Highlight Problem of "Safe Supply." Vancouver Councilwoman Jean Swanson and a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), joined forces Wednesday to hand out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to drug users in the city's Downtown Eastside. The drugs had been pre-tested to ensure they did not contain contaminants such as fentanyl. The move was undertaken to highlight the problem of the city's toxic illicit drug supply. Between January and May of this year, 851 people died of drug overdoses in the city, the highest number ever reported in the first five months of a calendar year. The city and the province of British Columbia are moving toward drug decriminalization and providing a "safe supply" of drugs to users, but activists accuse them of not doing enough. In a statement handed out at the event, the groups said the free drug handout was to "raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply."

Israel Marijuana Legalization Bill Vote Postponed as Arab Coalition Party Says It is Not Yet Ready to Support It. Israel's fractious and narrowly divided politics is having an impact on marijuana legalization legislation, as the ruling coalition has had to put off a Wednesday vote on a marijuana legalization bill after the Islamist Ra'am Party, which for the first time is part of a governing coalition, has said it needed more time to study the bill. Ra'am head Mansour Abbas asked bill sponsor New Hope Member of the Knesset Sharren Haskel for a two-week delay while his party studies the bill. It has been approved Sunday by Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but now faces at least the two-week delay and, if Ra'am cannot be convinced to support it, dying in the Knesset.

Senate Democrats Roll Out Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and his colleagues Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) rolled out an initial draft of their legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Similar legislation, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (HR 3617), sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is pending in the House, but prospects for the Senate bill are hazy. It would need 60 votes to pass, no Republicans have spoken in favor of it, and it is not even clear that all Democrats would vote for it.

And even if it were to pass, moments after a Wednesday press conference announcing the bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters had opposed marijuana legalization in the past and "nothing has changed."

Still, the Senate Majority Leader putting his name on a marijuana legalization bill is a big deal, a sign of how far the issue has come.

According to a summary of the 163-page draft bill, the measure would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act and shift regulatory authority over it from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration. Each state would determine its own marijuana policies, and federal criminal penalties would remain for growing, possessing, or distributing more than 10 pounds in violation of state or federal law.

The bill would set the legal age for purchase at 21 and limit purchases to 10 ounces "to prevent illegal actors from purchasing large quantities of cannabis at retail in a cannabis-legal state and illegally trafficking that cannabis into other states with the purpose of circumventing state-level laws relating to the sale, production, or taxation of cannabis."

The measure addresses social equity concerns by creating three grant programs -- one in the Justice Department and two in the Small Business Administration (SBA) -- to channel resources to people and communities adversely impacted by marijuana prohibition. The SBA grants to states and localities will be conditioned on the passage of state laws that expunge previous marijuana convictions.

The bill also calls for the automatic expungement of non-violent federal marijuana convictions and would give people currently serving federal sentences for marijuana convictions a sentencing review hearing that would essentially set them free: "After the sentencing hearing, courts shall expunge each arrest, conviction, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency for a non-violent federal cannabis offense, vacate the existing sentence or disposition of juvenile delinquency, and seal all records relating to a conviction or adjudication that has been expunged."

The act would see marijuana commerce federally taxed and regulated, with federal taxes beginning at 10% in year one and increasing to 25% by year five. In a boost to small producers, the first $20 million in sales would be eligible for a 50% rebate.

"I am proud to introduce our discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a legislative proposal aimed at finally putting an end to the federal prohibition of cannabis and addressing the over-criminalization of cannabis in a comprehensive and meaningful way," said Majority Leader Schumer in a statement announcing the bill. "The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people, and particularly people of color. Not only will this legislation remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, but it will also help fix our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations."

"Cannabis prohibition, a key pillar of the failed War on Drugs, has caused substantial harm to our communities and small businesses, and especially for communities of color," said Senate Finance Committee Chair Wyden. "It's as simple as this: Senators Booker, Schumer and I want to bring common sense to the federal government, end prohibition and restore the lives of those hurt most and set them up for opportunity."

"For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color," said Senator Booker. "While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs."

Marijuana and drug reform activists were generally pleased, although there were some quibbles. And since this is a first draft, now is the time for those quibbles to be heard.

"The days of federal prohibition are numbered," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a statement, adding that "the supermajority of Americans are demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition."

"For justice reform, for equity, for individual liberty, and countless other reasons, it is time to respect the will of the American people and legalize cannabis. I am heartened by the Booker, Schumer, Wyden bill draft, which is a promising first step towards Senate passage, and hopeful that it will lead to negotiations and bipartisan support for an inclusive and equitable legal cannabis industry," said Steven Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement.

But the Drug Policy Alliance, while pronouncing itself "grateful" for the bill emphasizing social equity, reparative justice and reinvestment, said in a statement more work needed to be done.

"[W]ork remains to ensure justice does not fall short, said Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs for DPA. "To our dismay, the Senate draft contains exclusionary language that ended up getting added to the House-passed MORE Act last year that would continue to subject federal employees to drug testing and deny certain individuals -- who have already paid the highest price -- the opportunity to expunge their records. In order for this bill to truly end marijuana prohibition in a comprehensive way and begin to repair the egregious harms of the past, we cannot continue to make room for some to be left out because of laws that were unjust and racist to begin with. We call on the House to remove exclusionary language from the MORE Act and swiftly pass the bill and implore the Senate to also remove this language ahead of bill introduction."

The wall of federal marijuana prohibition may or not fall this year, but its foundations are rapidly decaying, and the issue is squarely before the Congress.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Texas Border Patrol agent waves the cocaine-laden car through, a Florida deputy is headed to prison for planting dope on innocent drivers and arresting them, and more. Let's get to it:

In McAllen, Texas, a Border Patrol agent was arrested last Thursday for allegedly trying to aid and abet cocaine smuggling through a Border Patrol checkpoint. Agent Oberlin Cortez Pena, Jr., 22, is accused of accepting $1,000 cash to let a vehicle with at least five kilos of cocaine through the Falfurrias checkpoint. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

In Portsmouth, Ohio, a Scioto County jail guard was arrested last Friday for smuggling drugs and tobacco into the facility. Guard John Aeh went down after someone informed authorities, and a subsequent sweep of the jail turned up 17 grams of heroin or fentanyl and two grams of methamphetamine. He is charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of trafficking drugs and one count of conveyance into a detention center, all of which are felonies.

In Henderson, Kentucky, a Henderson County jail guard was arrested Monday for smuggling drugs into the facility. Deputy Jailer Jason Evans, 47, went down after an investigation by the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force. He had been approached by an inmate and agreed to smuggle meth and tobacco into the jail in return for $200. He got caught with the package before he could hand it off. The exact charges he faces were not specified.

In Marianna, Florida, a former Jackson County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Tuesday to 12 ½ years in prison for fabricating evidence and arresting innocent people. Zachary Webster was found guilty of 19 charges in cases where he planted drugs on people. He was convicted of racketeering, three counts of official misconduct, three counts of perjury, three counts of fabricating evidence, four counts of possession of a controlled substance, three counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and two counts of false imprisonment.

Medical Marijuana Update

Stay tuned to find out if a South Dakota tribe's medical marijuana cards are valid for non-members, and more.

Missouri

Missouri Governor Vetoes Tax Relief Bill for Medical Marijuana Businesses. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 226, which, among other things, would have lifted a bar on medical marijuana companies claiming business expenses on their taxes. Parsons didn't mention the medical marijuana provision in his veto message, but instead cited a provision that would have provided tax relief to businesses that suffered losses because of public health restrictions, which he said could have "significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities." The bill would not have altered federal tax law, which currently does not allow for such deduction by state-legal marijuana companies, but would have reduced state tax for such companies.

South Dakota

South Dakota Attorney General at Odds with Highway Patrol over Medical Marijuana Cards from Reservation Dispensary. Although the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state Highway Patrol, said last week that it would still arrest non-tribe members with tribal medical marijuana cards, the state's top law enforcement official disagrees: "The tribe's right to self-governance also gives it the authority the set the parameters of its medical marijuana program," said Tim Bormann, chief of staff in the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. "It appears, at this time, that South Dakota law enforcement would have to accept a tribal-issued card." The position of the office is that arresting non-tribal members would violate the state's nascent medical marijuana law, which says that until the state Health Department makes applications available, "a valid written certification issued within the previous year shall be deemed a registry identification card for a qualifying patient."

South Dakota Attorney General Changes Mind About Validity of Tribal Medical Marijuana Cards. Only two days after he said state law enforcement would have to accept tribal-issued medical marijuana cards regardless of the cardholder's tribal status, putting him at odds with the Highway Patrol, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has changed his mind. In a statement last Friday, his office said: "Contrary to current media reports, the Attorney General's Office agrees with the South Dakota Highway Patrol's framework for implementation of Initiated Measure 26," and people with tribal medical cards who are not tribe members are still subject to arrest for marijuana possession. A word to all non-tribal medical marijuana cardholders: Obey all traffic laws.

Fatal Drug ODs Hit Record Last Year, Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (7/14/21)

There is now a marijuana legalization bill from the Senate majority leader, New York prisons face a second lawsuit over their crackdown on pain pill prescribing for inmates, and more.

CDC preliminary data has drug overdose deaths at more than 90,000 last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) held a press conference Wednesday to unveil their first draft of a bill to federally legalize marijuana. The bill would federally legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, let states set their own marijuana policies, expunge prior convictions and allow people to apply for resentencing, and end collateral consequences, such as people being deported for marijuana possession offenses. The bill, known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, faces uncertain prospects in the narrowly divided Senate, and just minutes after the Wednesday press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the President Biden remains opposed to marijuana legalization. If the bill were to pass, it would have to be reconciled with the marijuana legalization bill passed by the House in December, the MORE Act (HR 3884). Look for out feature article on the rollout coming shortly.

Missouri Activists Take Initial Steps for 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A group calling itself Fair Access Missouri filed a petition Tuesday for a marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2022 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment that would legalize the possession of up to eight ounces for people 21 and over and allow residents to cultivate up to 25 square feet of flowering marijuana. It would also set up a system of licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and sales. Previous marijuana legalization initiative campaigns in the state have failed to meet signature-gathering requirements. This one is at the very beginning of the process, with the state now having 65 days to review the initial petition.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Former New York Prison Doctor Sues Over Restrictive Painkiller Policy. A doctor who formerly worked in the state prison system and says he faced harassment and was forced to quit for seeking appropriate pain relief for his inmate patients has filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections, saying its policies leave patients suffering unnecessary agony. Four years ago, the department tightened its opioid prescribing policies amidst the ongoing opioid crisis, requiring prison doctors to get permission from medical administrators for prescribing certain medications, including not just opioids, but all gabapentine, Claritin-D, Robitussin DM, and the diarrhea drug Imodium. Dr. Michael Salvana charges in the lawsuit that the department violated his right to speak out against the policy and said his superiors' "inhumane” interference in his patients' care caused him to leave his role as facility director in central New York at Walsh Regional Medical Unit in Rome, New York, that has 125 beds for prisoners with complicated medical needs." The policy led to the "abrupt" cut off of "effective treatments for hundreds of inmates." Inmates in the state prison system have also failed a lawsuit charging they are being forced to live with untreated chronic pain because medications are now so difficult to obtain.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) psychedelic decriminalization bill, SB 519, has won a second committee vote in the Assembly after successfully passing out of the Senate. The Assembly Public Health Committee voted 8-4 Tuesday to advance the measure, which would remove criminal penalties for possessing psychedelics including psilocybin. But the committee amended the bill to set specific personal possession limits, leading the pro-psychedelic group Decriminalize Nature to call for it to be tabled, arguing that it is 'just a creative way to say when can law enforcement arrest you." The bill now awaits an Assembly floor vote.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Jumped to More Than 90,000 Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary statistics Wednesday showing that drug overdose deaths totaled more than 90,000 last year, the largest single-year increase ever recorded. Drug overdoses increased in every state except New Hampshire and South Dakota, with big jumps in the South and the West. The year also saw the most fatal opioid overdoses in a year, the most fatal methamphetamine overdoses in a year, and the most deaths from fatal fentanyl overdose deaths in a year. "It’s huge, it’s historic, it’s unheard of, unprecedented, and a real shame," said Daniel Ciccarone, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies heroin markets. "It’s a complete shame." Social isolation, disrupted drug markets, and hampered access to drug treatment during the pandemic are getting some of the blame, but the pre-pandemic increase in fentanyl availability is also playing a role, as is the country's refusal to embrace harm reduction measures, such as safe injection sites and safe drug supplies.

British Columbia Set to Begin "Safe Supply" of Drugs for Street Users, Biden Nominates New Drug Czar, More... (7/13/21)

Marijuana protections are advancing in congressional appropriations bills, former Drug Police Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelman starts a provocative new podcast on drugs, and more.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, nominated by President Biden to serve as drug czar. (March of Dimes)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Committees Advance Marijuana Protections for Medical Programs and Universities in New Spending Bills. The House Appropriations Committee will take up a spending bill Thursday that includes riders that provide protections for states with medical marijuana programs and universities that conduct marijuana research after they were approved in subcommittee on Monday. The rider protecting has been approved in each Congress since 2014. The House in 2019 and 2020 also approved a rider protecting state recreational marijuana programs, but it is not clear yet whether that will be the case this year. Meanwhile, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill now includes a longstanding provision barring the DEA from interfering in hemp programs and a new provision that bars certain law enforcement grants to states and localities if they allow no-knock searches in drug cases.

Drug Policy

Biden Nominates Former West Virginia Health Official Rahul Gupta as Drug Czar. Ending months of speculation, President Biden has nominated Dr. Rahul Gupta to lead the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office). Currently the top health official at March of Dimes, Gupta is a primary care physician who previously served as West Virginia health commissioner. Drug reformers applauded his role in implementing and overseeing that state's medical marijuana program as head of the state Bureau for Public Health, but some harm reductionists have criticized him for overseeing the decertification of a needle exchange program that aimed to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as Hepatitis C and AIDS. Others, though, do not hold him responsible for the circumstances that led to the shutdown. He has not taken a public position on marijuana legalization.

Ethan Nadelman's New Podcast on Drugs Set to Begin. Ethan Nadelman, the founder and former longtime executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance before stepping down in 2017, is rolling out a new podcast series on drug policy, Psychoactive. The aim of the podcast is to open a deep national conversation about drugs, drug policy, and the human experience. The podcast, on IHeartRadio, launches on Thursday.

International

British Columbia Will Provide "Safe Supply" of Illicit Drugs to Street Users. A provincial policy directive in British Columbia will require all local health authorities to develop programs to provide pharmaceutical quality opioids and stimulants to street drug users in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. But which drugs are offered and who gets them will be at the discretion of local programs and doctors, which could be a barrier to expanding access. And they can only be provided in clinical or programmatic settings—no takeaway drugs. There are also signs some health care providers are reluctant to participate. 'Some key partners, including some prescribers, have expressed reservations about the approach outlined in this document, and others have noted that an approach that begins with programmatic settings will not provide broad access for people who use substances," the directive says. "We recognize that we have been unable to address all concerns, but we also recognize that we must start somewhere." The drugs will be covered by the province's prescription drug plan and will not be forced to enter into drug treatment. Safe supply is the idea that health care providers can lower or eliminate a person's dependence on illicit black market drugs and thus reduce overdose deaths and other harms.

US Seeks Meeting with WADA on Athletes' Marijuana Bans, Ukraine to Vote on MedMJ, More... (7/12/21)

South Dakota's attorney general flip-flops on the validity of tribal medical marijuana cards, a Tennessee lawmaker files a bill to put marijuana ballot questions before voters next year, and more.

Marijuana Policy

White House to Seek Meeting with WADA on Restrictions on Athletes' Marijuana Use. In the wake of the huge blow-up over US track sensation Sha'Carri Richardson being banned from Olympic competition because of a positive drug test for marijuana, the Biden administration is reportedly seeking a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) about easing the bar against marijuana use for athletes. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), which has a seat on WADA's board, is taking the lead. WADA, for its part, has made it clear that the US has long supported, indeed, even demanded, that marijuana be included on its list of prohibited drugs: "At no time since the first Prohibited List was published in 2004 has WADA received any objection from US stakeholders concerning the inclusion of cannabinoids on the Prohibited List. On the contrary, as has been reported by some media, the US has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List," a letter from Witold Banka, WADA’s president, said. "The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the US over nearly two decades, in particular from [the US Anti-Doping Agency], have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List."

Tennessee Lawmaker Files Bill to Put Marijuana Legalization on 2022 Ballot. State Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-District 75) has filed legislation, House Bill 1634, that would put three non-binding questions regarding marijuana legalization on the 2022 ballot. One question asks about legalizing medical marijuana, a second asks about decriminalizing marijuana, and the third asks about legalizing and regulating marijuana. If the bill were to pass, the results of the ballot questions would be transmitted to the legislature, which could use them as a guide for future legislation but would not be bound by them. The bill comes after the legislature for years has refused to enact marijuana law reforms, with the only exception being a limited low-THC medical marijuana program approved in 2018 and slightly expanded this year..

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Governor Vetoes Tax Relief Bill for Medical Marijuana Businesses. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 226, which, among other things, would have lifted a bar on medical marijuana companies claiming business expenses on their taxes. Parsons didn't mention the medical marijuana provision in his veto message, but instead cited a provision that would have provided tax relief to businesses that suffered losses because of public health restrictions, which he said could have "significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities." The bill would not have altered federal tax law, which currently does not allow for such deduction by state-legal marijuana companies, but would have reduced state tax for such companies.

South Dakota Attorney General Changes Mind About Validity of Tribal Medical Marijuana Cards. Only two days after he said state law enforcement would have to accept tribal-issued medical marijuana cards regardless of the cardholder's tribal status, putting him at odds with the Highway Patrol, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has changed his mind. In a statement last Friday, his office said: "Contrary to current media reports, the Attorney General’s Office agrees with the South Dakota Highway Patrol’s framework for implementation of Initiated Measure 26," and people with tribal medical cards who are not tribe members are still subject to arrest for marijuana possession. A word to all non-tribal medical marijuana cardholders: Obey all traffic laws.

International

Ukraine Ruling Party to Support Medical Marijuana Legalization. The ruling Servant of the People Party, which holds an overwhelming majority in the Ukrainian parliament, is set to debate a bill to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday. "It seems that colleagues from other factions support it. Our faction will support, not unanimously, it is obvious: there are those who are against it," First Deputy Head of the Servant of the People faction Oleksandr Korniyenko said. "But I think we will give 200 votes," said. The parliament has 348 members. The members are meeting in a special session called by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

EVENT: SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights

SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights

parallel event to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Tuesday July 13, 2020 / 8:00-9:00am ET

online via Zoom, registration at https:/stopthedrugwar.org/global/ or https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcldOutqjwoGtWDjicFsLfqM4QJhkTmc6YM

In countries throughout the world, drug war excesses violate rights, and in some cases challenge the rule of law itself. This session will discuss extrajudicial killings, fair trial issues, the death penalty, as well as the use of legal harassment against critics of governments. We will also discuss recent applications of international rule of law mechanisms including the ICC and Global Magnitsky Act.

This is a parallel event coinciding with the 2021 UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, focusing on Goal 16 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Email [email protected] or call +1 202-236-8620 for further information.

"SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights" is organized by DRCNet Foundation, a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs.

speakers:

  • Justine Balane, Secretary General Akbayan Youth, Philippines
  • Iftitahsari, Researcher, Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, Indonesia
  • Scott Johnston, Human Rights First, US
  • others may be announced

co-moderated by:

  • David Borden, Executive Director, DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org
  • Marco Perduca, Associazone Luca Coscioni & former Senator, Italy

– END –

Chicago to Take Drug Diversion Program Citywide, ACLU Sues AZ County over Coercing Drug Defendants, More... (7/9/21)

A group of US senators is seeking some help for state-legal marijuana businesses, Chicago moves to expand a program that diverts drug arrestees into treatment citywide, and more.

Chicago police are expanding a drug diversion program so they can devote resources to fighting violent crime. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Ask That Marijuana Businesses Get Access to Federal SBA Loans. A group of 10 senators led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) have sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that language allowing marijuana businesses to access loans and other aid through the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) be included in an upcoming spending bill report. Allowing such loans to marijuana businesses "would fill gaps left by the private sector and help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic." They are asking that Senate Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) issue a report that specifically includes such language and stop the Small Business Administration (SBA) to stop "denying loan applications for the 7(a) Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program, Microloan Program, and 504/Certified Development Company Loan Program to legally operating cannabis small businesses in states that have legalized cannabis sale and use."

Law Enforcement

Chicago to Expand Drug Diversion Program. The Chicago Police Department and Public Health Department have announced they will expand the city's Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program to include the entire city by the end of the year. Under the program, people arrested on drug possession charges who meet certain qualifying criteria can be diverted from the criminal justice system toward rehabilitation programs instead. The program began in one district in 2018 and has expanded to 11 of the city's 22 districts already. More than 700 people have been diverted from the arrest track so far, and city officials say the move helps police focus on issues such as violent crime instead.

The program appears to be similar to Law Enforcement Diversion Programs (LEAD), which began in Seattle in 2014 and has now expanded to at least 42 cities nationwide. LEAD uses a harm reduction and community-based model; the Chicago program includes social service programs among its alternatives, not just drug treatment, according to reports. The Chicago program offers walk-in access to drug treatment; one doesn't have to face arrest or its prospect first. The LEAD Bureau web site says that they have added purely voluntary access to its programs as well, in response to recent movement in the issue.

While drug reformers generally see diverting drug users out of the criminal justice system as an important step, the devil is in the details -- not every program presented as diversion does a convincing job of it, and how for example treatment programs respond to relapses or continued drug use by some clients determines how many people ultimately will be helped.

Prosecution

ACLU Sues Arizona County over Threats of Harsher Sentences for Drug Defendants to Force Guilty Pleas. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class-action lawsuit Wednesday charging that the Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney's Office routinely threatens people arrested for drug possession with "substantially harsher" punishments in order to coerce them into pleading guilty before prosecutors even have to turn over evidence. The threat is typically issued in writing, the lawsuit alleges, and explicitly warns that defendants who reject initial plea deals will face substantially worse plea offers in the future. The ACLU argues that the policy is unconstitutional because it punishes people for exercising their rights to a preliminary hearing and a jury trial and that it illustrates the '"vast racial and economic discrepancies in plea bargaining techniques used across the county."

RI Becomes First State to Approve Safe Injection Sites, Federal Pot Prosecutions Plummet, More... (7/8/21)

The Congressional Black Caucus wants some justice for marijuana deportees, South Dakota's state governmnt is at war with itself over medical marijuana cards from a reservation dispensary, and more.

You can now become an FBI agent if it has been at least a year since you last toked up. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Black Caucus Members Ask Biden to Reverse Marijuana Deportation Cases. In a Wednesday letter to President Biden authored by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and signed by 30 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the federal representatives urged him to reopen some deportation cases, including those involving marijuana. "We are grateful for President Biden's commitment to redressing racial injustice, particularly after the last four years of the Trump Administration's racist and xenophobic immigration agenda," the lettert says. "One critical step toward honoring that commitment is ensuring that people who were unjustly deported can be fairly and efficiently considered for return to their families and communities in the United States." The letter cited the cases of two military veterans who served honorably but were deported over years-old marijuana convictions. But it's not just veterans: "Untold numbers of others have been similarly wronged, from US veterans who served their country to longstanding neighbors who found themselves deported because of contact with the US criminal legal system -- a system acknowledged to unfairly and disproportionately target and discriminate against Black and Brown people," they wrote.

FBI Loosens Marijuana Employment Policy for Agents. In a sign of changing attitudes toward marijuana, the FBI has quietly loosened its employment restrictions for new agents who have used marijuana in the past. Under previous agency rules, marijuana use within the past three years was disqualifying; under the new rules, only marijuana use within the past one year is disqualifying. Neither will past underage use be automatically disqualifying, but "adjudicative personnel will evaluate the candidate by using the 'whole-person concept.'" For other drugs, the FBI's rule that use within the past 10 years is disqualifying remains unchanged.

Federal Marijuana Trafficking Convictions Have Fallen Dramatically Following Enactment of Statewide Legalization Laws. A new fact-sheet from the US Sentencing Commission shows a dramatic drop in federal marijuana trafficking convictions since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the herb. Just over 1,000 people were sentenced on federal marijuana trafficking, down 67% since 2016 and down more than 80% since 2012. "These trends illustrate the fact that state-legal domestic cannabis production has supplanted the foreign market and that marijuana law enforcement is becoming less of a federal priority in an age where the majority of Americans believe that cannabis ought to be legal," NORML's Deputy Director Paul Armentano said."

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Attorney General at Odds with Highway Patrol over Medical Marijuana Cards from Reservation Dispensary. Although the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state Highway Patrol, said last week that it would still arrest non-tribe members with tribal medical marijuana cards, the state's top law enforcement official disagrees: "The tribe's right to self-governance also gives it the authority the set the parameters of its medical marijuana program," said Tim Bormann, chief of staff in the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. "It appears, at this time, that South Dakota law enforcement would have to accept a tribal-issued card." The position of the office is that arresting non-tribal members would violate the state's nascent medical marijuana law, which says that until the state Health Department makes applications available, "a valid written certification issued within the previous year shall be deemed a registry identification card for a qualifying patient."

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Becomes First State to Approve Safe Injection Sites. Gov. Daniel McKee (D) has signed into law a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

International

Scotland to Provide Heroin Addiction Drug in Prisons Countrywide after Successful Pilot Program. A once-monthly injectable form of buprenorphine marketed a Buvidal will be available for heroin-addicted prisoners across the country after a pilot program using the drug proved overwhelmingly successful. The shot will replace daily doses of methadone. The Scottish Health and Social Care Analysis Hub reported positive results from the pilot program, which began as a response to the pandemic, and now the government is allocating $5.5 million to expand it.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year, Drug Czar's Office Seeks Input on Harms of Drug Policies, More... (7/7/21)

The punishment of Olypmic athlete Sha'carri Richardson for testing positive for marijuana draws intense interest and criticism, New Mexico drug dogs are getting laid off in the wake of legal pot, and more.

New Mexico drug dogs are being forced into retirement by marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Drug Dogs Face Retirement in Wake of Marijuana Legalization. Drug-sniffing police dogs in the state are being forced into retirement because they have been trained to alert on any drug, including marijuana, and cannot be retrained. As the Tucumcari Police Department noted as it announced the retirement of its drug dog, Aries: "With the legalization of recreational marijuana, K9 Aries is unable to continue his function as a narcotics detection dog." Other cities and towns are doing the same thing, and so is the State Police, which will be retiring all nine of its current drug dogs. "Once the new canines are trained, the handlers will have the option of retiring their current assigned canine to their home, or we will look at other options to the likes of donating them to other law enforcement entities outside of the state of New Mexico who have yet to legalize marijuana," the State Police said.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar's Office Seeks Comment on How Drug Policies Create Systemic Barriers for Underserved Communities. In a notice published in the Federal Register Wednesday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said it is seeking comment on whether existing federal drug control policies create "systemic barriers to opportunities for underserved communities" and to better promote equity in future programs. Although the agency has embraced some progressive drug policy positions, such as pushing for broader access to buprenorpine, this level of acknowledgment of harms caused by drug policy marks a change of direction.

The agency didn't take the action independently. Rather, it is part of a broader executive order requiring agencies to seek feedback and "assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups. Such assessments will better equip agencies to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all," ONDCP explained. Comments on how ONDCP can better achieve equity are being accepted at [email protected] through August 6.

Drug Testing

Sha'Carri Richardson Out of Olympics After Positive Marijuana Test. Star athlete Sha'Carri Richardson was disqualified last week from the Tokyo Olympics' women's 100 meter race after testing positive for marijuana after the qualifying run, and now will completely miss the games after being left off the team chose for the women's relay race. Her disqualification has caused howls of outrage, with some commentators calling it racist, and even President Biden, who initially responded with "the rules are the rules," suggesting the rules need to change. Richardson said she smoked marijuana to cope with the death of her biological mother and did so in Oregon, where it is legal, but she took responsibility for her actions: "I know what I did," Richardson said. "I know what I'm supposed to do... and I still made that decision."

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year. The Assembly Health Committee has informed Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) that his bill to allow a safe injection site pilot program, Senate Bill 57, which is billed as an "overdose prevention program," will not get a hearing until January. The state is in the first year of its two-year legislative session, so the bill is not dead, just delayed. "While I'm extremely disappointed that we are experiencing another delay in passing this life-saving legislation -- which has passed both the Senate and Assembly twice in different forms over the past five years -- I continue to be optimistic that we'll pass SB 57 and get it signed into law," said Weiner. "San Francisco and other California cities are experiencing record overdose deaths, and safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives and help people into recovery. I am deeply committed to this legislation -- as is our broad coalition -- and I look forward to moving SB 57 forward in January." The bill has already passed the Senate.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A South Carolina prison guard gets caught smuggling dope in a Rice Krispies treat, a Birmingham cop is facing some problems, and more. Let's get to it:

In Columbia, South Carolina, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday after being caught smuggling pills into the prison hidden in a Rice Krispies treat. Correctional Officer Marcy T. Shaffer faces charges of possession of narcotics with intent to distribute, furnishing prisoners with contraband, and misconduct in office. And she was fired.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a Birmingham police officer was arrested last Saturday on rape and drug possession charges. Officer Matthew Wilcox, 37, went down after police received a complaint about him and executed a search warrant at his home, where they found illegal drugs and guns. Police did not release any details on the alleged sexual assault, other than to say it did not occur on duty. He walked out of jail on a $26,000 bond on Sunday. There was no further information at press time.

In Lawrenceville, Virginia, a Brunswick County prison guard was arrested Monday after being caught carrying around a bag with dope in it at work. Guard Jakela Shanice Armstrong, 32, went down after she was observed carrying the bag around during her shift. A prison investigator stopped her and made her surrender the bag, which contained "a white powder wrapped in clear plastic and black tape." She is charged with drug possession with intent to distribute. And she's been fired.

Medical Marijuana Update

South Dakota gingerly enters the medical marijuana age, governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania sign bills that will ease burdens on patients, and more.

New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

NJ Governor Signs MedMJ Telehealth Bill, SD Activists Prepare 2022 Legalization Initiatives, More... (7/6/21)

A Rhode Island marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing but appears doomed this year, a South Dakota Native American reservation opens the state's first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. The state saw its first medical marijuana dispensary last week, and the fight for legali pot continues.
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets House Committee Hearing. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 6370, sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence). While the Senate has already passed a legalization bill, Senate Bill 568, Slater's bill includes some features the Senate bill does not, including automatic expungement for past marijuana offenses and oversight and impact fees to be paid to municipalities where retail stores open. It would legalize possession of up to an ounce and includes a home cultivation provision allowing for up to 12 plants. No committee vote was taken, and House Speaker Joseph Sjekarchi (D-Warwick) has said the House would not consider the bill until the next legislative session.

South Dakota Activists Move to Put Marijuana Measures on 2022 Ballot. South Dakota voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative with 54% of the vote last November, but now, after the administration of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) challenged the constitutionality of the initiative in court, with a decision pending at the state Supreme Court, backers of the original initiative are back with a new package of legalization initiatives in case the high court rules against them. Last Friday, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws filed paperwork for four ballot measures dealing with marijuana policy and one that would repeal a single-subject amendment that voters approved in 2018. The court challenge to last November's initiative argues that it violates the single-subject requirement. That argument was upheld by a circuit court judge earlier this year.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

RI Legislature Passes Safe Injection Site Bill, CA Coerced Treatment Bill Advances More... (7/2/21)

The Mississippi Supreme Court continues to smack down the will of the people on medical marijuana, a coerced drug treatment bill advances in California to the dismay of reformers, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver has been operating successful for years. Now, Rhode Island wants to emulate it.
Medical Marijuana

Maine Legislature Approves Bill to Give Caregivers, Patients Input in Medical Marijuana Regulations. A bill that would require the state's Office of Marijuana Policy, which regulates both medical and recreational marijuana, to work with patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana enterprises in crafting regulations has passed both houses of the legislature. LD 1242 was passed as an emergency measure and has been enacted as law without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), effective July 1. The bill was a response to proposed rules changes announced earlier this year by the Office of Marijuana Policy, which caregivers and the industry found onerous, including 24/7 surveillance and requiring growers to use the state's inventory tracking system, as is done with adult use marijuana. "This gives the people that are in the industry the real power in making and designing the laws and the rules that we will work around," said Susan Meehan, a medical marijuana caregiver, and chairperson of the Maine Cannabis Coalition.

Mississippi Supreme Court Refuses to Reconsider Ruling Throwing Out Medical Marijuana Initiative Victory. In a two-page decision released Thursday, the state Supreme Court has rejected a call for it to reconsider its May decision throwing out a voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state. In that decision, which essentially invalidated the state's initiative process, the court held that because the state constitution called for signatures to be gathered in all five of the state's congressional districts, the initiative was unconstitutional because the state has had only four congressional districts since redistricting in 2000. In its decision this week, the court said that the parties asking for a reconsideration should have done so last November and that "the present motion for leave to intervene is not well take and should be denied." There is pressure on Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a special session to enact the will of the voters, but he has yet to do so.

Drug Treatment

California Coerced Drug Treatment Bill Advances. A bill that would let Yolo County create a locked drug treatment facility for people convicted of "drug-motivated felonies" has already passed the Assembly and this week was approved nearly unanimously by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 1542 would not be used for people simply convicted of drug possession or other misdemeanors, and those eligible would be "assessed by treatment providers who would decide the level and length of treatment." Those found suitable "would be given a choice of serving time in jail or prison or entering the soft secured facility where they would receive treatment to help them get well." While the bill has strong political support in Sacramento, there is strong opposition in the treatment and reform community. Even Human Rights Watch has weighed in, writing:"It [the bill] runs directly counter to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment, which is a cornerstone of the right to health. Conflating health treatment and jailing, as envisioned by AB 1542, risks substantial human rights abuse, is ineffective as a treatment, and takes resources and policy focus away from initiatives that are much more likely to help people." The bill is now headed to the Senate Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Safe Injection Site Pilot Program. With a final vote Thursday, the state legislature has approved a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill -- if enacted into law -- would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

ME Senate Defeats Drug Decrim Bill, House Approves Marijuana Research Language, More... (7/1/21)

Medical marijuana is now legal in South Dakota, Austin activists roll out a municipal marijuana decriminalization initiative, and more.

You can expect to see these continue in Maine after the Senate defeated drug decriminalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Bill to Let Researchers Access Marijuana from State-Legal Dispensaries. The House on Thursday approved an omnibus transportation bill that also includes language allowing researchers to get marijuana from state-legal dispensaries in order to study impaired driving. The measure would mandate a federal report with recommendations for creating a national clearinghouse with different marijuana samples for researchers from non-legal states. A transportation bill with similar marijuana research language is also moving in the Senate. The passage of the bill would be especially significant given the federal government's long history of stymying medical research through its historic monopoly on marijuana for research purposes, which puts medical marijuana in the Catch-22 of not winning FDA approvals becuase there has not been enough research.

Texas Activists Unveil Austin Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Initiative. A new progressive group, Ground Game Texas, on Wednesday rolled out a campaign to put an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession and ban no-knock warrants on the ballot in the state capital, Austin. The city currently handles small-time pot busts by issuing tickets, but the proposed initiative would end both arrests and citations, as well as barring citations for paraphernalia or residues. "Marijuana reform is a winning issue and local efforts will drive voter engagement. State lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- failed us during the legislative session," said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. "Maybe this level of political pressure will get their attention and bring them on board with meaningful reform statewide." To get on the November ballot, advocates will need 20,000 valid voter signatures by July 20.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

Drug Policy

Maine Senate Votes Down Bill to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The Senate on Wednesday voted to kill a drug decriminalization bill, LD 967. The bill was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills (D) and by both some Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who argued that arresting and prosecuting drug users can help them get into treatment and stay straight. The bill had already passed the House amidst a drug overdose epidemic that saw deaths at a record rate in 2020 and early this year. "The Senate had an opportunity to provide people with desperately needed relief, and it failed," said Courtney Allen, policy director at the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project. "We need to change our drug laws if we want to save lives. LD 967 would have saved the state money and reinvested resources from the criminal system into access to recovery services. People need treatment and support to enter sustained recovery, not arrest and a criminal record."

CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, Marijuana Gets Legalized in Three States This Week, More... (6/30/21)

South Dakota gingerly enters the medical marijuana age, governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania sign bills that will ease burdens on patients, and more.

New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

Clarence Thomas Questions Federal Marijuana Prohibition, ONDCP Reports on Colombia Coca, More... (6/28/21)

A major pharmaceutical company settles with the state of New York over opioid distribution, Minnesota lawmakers are on the verge of passing policing reforms, and more.

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas questions the viability of federal marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Clarence Thomas Says Federal Marijuana Prohibition May No Longer Make Sense. One the Supreme Court's most conservative justices said Monday that because marijuana is already legalized either medically or recreationally in a growing number of states, federal pot prohibition may no longer make sense. "A prohibition on interstate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government's piecemeal approach," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas as the high court declined to hear the appeal of a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary that was denied federal tax breaks. "Federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning," he said. "The federal government's current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Johnson & Johnson Settles With New York for $230 Million, Agrees to Stop Selling Opioids. Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has agreed to a $230 million settlement with the state of New York over its role in the country's opioid crisis, which has led to nearly half a million dead of overdoses in the past two decades. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to not promote opioids and confirmed it has quit distributing them in the US. Pharmaceutical companies and distributors have faced a barrage of lawsuits over opioids, with governments arguing that the companies pushed the drugs and caused people to become addicted and then turn to illegal opioids as states and the federal government cracked down. The companies argued that they were distributing medically necessary opioids for people who need them. The crackdowns on opioid prescribing have left one group of people in particular in the lurch: chronic pain patients, who must seek opioids and doctors willing to prescribe them in large quantities in the midst of the retrenchment.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Lawmakers Reach "General Agreement" on Policing Reforms. Legislative leaders of both the Democratic Farm Labor Party and the Republicans have reached "general agreement" on a broad-ranging police reform bill, leaders of both parties said late Saturday. Among other things, the bill would restrict the use of no-knock warrants, civil asset forfeiture reforms (but not an outright ban), reforms of fines and fee structures, restrict the use of confidential informants to better protect them, and make modifications to state police misconduct database to create an early warning system to keep bad cops off the street. The legislature is working under a deadline: If the broader public safety bill that includes the policing reforms is not passed by Wednesday, key government public safety functions, such as running state prisons and the State Patrol, would theoretically face shutdowns. But Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) said he will keep those operations functioning, even if that is legally questionable.

International

US Drug Czar's Office Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Expanded Last Year. Colombian coca cultivation increased 15% last year and potential cocaine production rose 7.9% to around a thousand metric tons, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), said Friday. The report from ONDCP differed from a report issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released on June 9, which had a lower figure for crop cultivation but a higher figure -- 1,228 metric tons -- for potential cocaine production. In either case, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, ahead of second place Peru and third place Bolivia.

Cuba Reiterates Zero Tolerance Drug Policies. Cuba used the occasion of the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Saturday to make clear that its zero tolerance policy toward drug use, production, and trafficking remains unchanged. In a tweet, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez vowed that the island nations will never be a place to use, store, or traffic illicit drugs.

Drug War Issues

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