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Drug War Chronicle #1198 - November 17, 2023

1. Boston Leads the Way on Bringing Social Equity to the Legal Marijuana Industry [FEATURE]

The city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts have been forging the path toward effective social equity in the marijuana industry.

2. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An NYPD cop gets popped for slinging heroin and fentanyl, and more.

3. IN Supreme Court Rules for Jury Trials in Asset Forfeiture Cases, Sinaloa Cartel Hands Out Food, More... (11/9/23)

Florida Supreme Court justices were skeptical of the state's effort to keep a marijuana legalization initiative off the ballot, a Canadian Senate committee calls for an immediate psychedelic research program for veterans, and more.

4. OR Leaders Visit Portugal for Look at Decriminalization, VA Could See Legal Marijuana Sales, More... (11/10/23)

President Biden remains steadfast in his opposition to federal marijuana legalization, Ohio's Republican governor calls for the legislature to amend the brand new marijuana legalization initiative before it goes into effect next month, and more.

5. WI Psilocybin Research Bill Filed, German Pot Legalization Vote Postponed, More... (11/13/23)

A leading critic of former Philippines President Duterte's drug war has been freed from prison after being jailed for nearly seven years on bogus drug charges, Vietnam sentences 18 people to death for drug offenses, and more.

6. LA Poll Has Majority for Weed Legalization, White House Pushes for Opioid Funding, More... (11/14/23)

The mayor of Washington, DC, declares an opioid public health emergency, red state Louisiana now has a majority for marijuana legalization, and more.

7. OH GOP Eyes Changes to New Legal Weed Law, National Drug Survey Data Released, More... (11/15/23)

New York advises drug treatment providers to quit testing for marijuana in most cases, Ohio GOP lawmakers want to modify the just-passed marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

8. US and China Reach Accord on Fentanyl, MD Now Accepting Cannabusiness Applications, More... (11/16/23)

A Massachusetts bill would prioritize treatment over jail for probationers who fail drug tests, a new study finds no increase in crime near New York City's safe injection sites, and more.

Boston Leads the Way on Bringing Social Equity to the Legal Marijuana Industry [FEATURE]

Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana in November 2016, and since then, the city of Boston has become a national leader in attempting to insert a measure of social justice into the nascent legal marijuana industry. That takes the form of social equity programs: A deliberate effort to redress the harm done predominantly to communities of color in the prosecution of the war on drugs, by ensuring community members an opportunity to participate in the legal marketplace.

Shekia Scott, Cannabis Business Manager for the city of Boston (
In Boston, social equity programs were instituted by the passage of the 2019 "Ordinance Establishing Equitable Regulation of the Cannabis Industry in the City of Boston," which created the Boston Cannabis Board (BCB)and the Boston Cannabis Equity Program. That made Boston "the first US city to prioritize cannabis industry diversity," as journalist John Jordan wrote at the time.

"Our statewide equity program was also the first in the nation," said Shekia Scott, who as Cannabis Business Manager for the Mayor's Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion runs the Equity Program. "Before this, I was director of communications outreach for the state Cannabis Control Commission, and after coordinating that, Commissioner Shaleen Title and I got Boston Councilor Kim Janey to continue an ordinance first introduced by then-Councilor [now US representative] Ayana Pressley. Working with her and her staff, Shaleen and I contributed language to the ordinance, broadening the scope of what the state was doing," she told the Chronicle.

The city program was initially funded with one million dollars -- more than the state's equity program -- and now relies on a percentage of proceeds from marijuana taxes to fund its operations.

Under the ordinance, the BCB handles licensing of marijuana businesses, while the Equity Program sets out criteria for licensees to become Certified Boston Equity Applicants, which provides them with access to financial and technical assistance.

To qualify as an equity applicant, someone must meet at least three of eight criteria based on race, income, residency, veteran status, and having a past arrest or conviction for marijuana or being the child of someone busted for weed.

Being black or brown with a marijuana arrest record and having lived in Boston for at least three years would qualify you; so would being a white veteran and city resident who doesn't make a lot of money.

"Equity applicant status gets you unlimited access to technical assistance and a knowledge base," Scott explained. "If you need a website or help with an app, we connect you to contracted technical assistance partners who can complete those projects or help you complete them. You also have unlimited access to grants of up to $49,999. You also have access to conversations with investors, and it gives you a 1:1 priority in licensing. The BCB will always approve licenses on a 1:1 basis."

The city is nearly but not quite there, though. Of the 26 marijuana businesses currently operating in the city, 12 belong to equity applicants.

"There is no cap on licenses, but the city is shooting to have about 52 retail licenses," said Scott. "Half of them will be equity applicants."

Or maybe even more. There is some talk about changing the 1:1 ration to 2:1 in favor of equity applicants, but economic conditions are not currently very conducive for making that move.

"We would have to amend the ordinance and get city council approval, so we will start a community process with testimony from all stakeholders, but it's a bit of a hard sell right now because we're seeing a slowing down of applications for licenses," Scott said. "We're not receiving a massive number of applications, equity or not. If we had an overwhelming backlog, that would be a better selling point."

One of the eligibility criteria for the Boston equity program is participation in one of two state equity programs, Scott explained.

"One is economic empowerment, but that ended in 2018 with a number of applications accepted," she said. "And there is also a social equity program, which is now on its first cohort. The state's program is purely educational and technical assistance, with one track for entrepreneurs and two tracks for workforce development. And if you're interested in opening an ancillary business, such as an architect, a law firm, point-of-sale systems, website development, general business consulting and the like, there is a track for that."

The state social equity program also provides benefits for equity applicants, such as the waiving of application fees and seed-to-sale processing system fees, and the halving of annual renewal fees.

Scott is proud of the way her city and her state have been in the vanguard in the realm of repairing the damage done by drug prohibition.

"Boston and Massachusetts have a number of things that make us leaders in the space," she said. "We were one of the first cities in the country to have an equity ordinance and the state is the first in the country to have an equity program. "We see a lot of states just take our regulations and our statutes word-for-word," she said.

"The continued reinvestment of tax funding helps keep the program alive, and we have the only technical assistance program in the country that is not just education-based but project-based. If you need an architect, I can pair you with an architect, and the program pays for it. It's important not to just have equity language, but to make sure it is enacted and to have accountability," she said.

On social equity in the legal marijuana sphere, Shekia Scott and the city of Boston are leading the way. Others have already taken note; perhaps more should.

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This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An NYPD cop gets popped for slinging heroin and fentanyl, and more. Let's get to it:

In New York City, a former NYPD officer was arrested October 23 for allegedly peddling heroin and fentanyl. She resigned two days later. Grace Rosa Baez, 37, an 11-year veteran of the department, went down after a confidential source working with law enforcement reported numerous conversations about "wholesale narcotics trafficking" with Baez, followed by a meeting where she handed over a candy container with fentanyl samples in it. After her arrest, police approaching her apartment saw a bag of drugs "being thrown from inside the apartment to outside the apartment" and discovered a kilogram press machine and additional drugs. She is charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and fentanyl and three counts of narcotics distribution.

In Shawnee, Oklahoma, a Shawnee police officer was arrested last Friday following an investigation into possible criminal activity. Officer Gary Moore, 50, was charged with one count of possession of drugs with intent to distribute. He was then fired. No further information is available.

In Memphis, a former Shelby County jail deputy was sentenced last Thursday to 14 months in federal prison for arranging the delivery of cocaine and fentanyl to inmates at the Shelby County Correctional Center. Deputy Kimberly Price went down after an inmate cooperating with an FBI corruption task force arranged a drug buy with Price. She delivered one bag of cocaine for $1000 and one bag of fentanyl tablets for $1300. She pleaded guilty to a two-count criminal information alleging possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl.

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IN Supreme Court Rules for Jury Trials in Asset Forfeiture Cases, Sinaloa Cartel Hands Out Food, More... (11/9/23)

Florida Supreme Court justices were skeptical of the state's effort to keep a marijuana legalization initiative off the ballot, a Canadian Senate committee calls for an immediate psychedelic research program for veterans, and more.

People in Navolato, Sinaloa, lining up for food donations from the Sinaloa Cartel after Hurricane Norma. (X)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Justices Voice Skepticism About State's Effort to Throw Out Marijuana Legalization Initiative. An effort by state Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) to keep the Smart & Safe Florida marijuana legalization initiative off the November 2024 ballot ran into skeptical justices as the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on her motion Wednesday.

Justice Charles Canady said he was "baffled" by Moody's argument that the initiative's ballot summary would mislead voters because it says that marijuana would be legal in Florida, when it is illegal federally.

The initiative's ballot summary says it "does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law," Justice John Couriel noted. "C'mon," it also says 'applies to Florida law.' We can't not read the context of the whole statement."

The state also claimed that because the ballot summary says medical marijuana treatment centers and "other state licensed entities" could distribute recreational marijuana, voters might assume they are authorizing the creation of more licenses.

"The ballot summary is playing on a desire of voters to see greater competition in this marketplace," the state argued.

But Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz scoffed, asking what kind of voter would want recreational marijuana but would vote against it because they disagreed with the structure of the marketplace. The state argued that the language needs to be clear regardless.

Attorneys for the initiative noted that they had studied previous Supreme Court guidance on marijuana legalization initiatives and drafted their accordingly.

"This court has said many times that it's reluctant to strike language from the ballot," initiative attorneys argued. "If there was ever a case not to do it, it's the one where the ballot sponsor looked at this court's precedents, tried to follow them scrupulously, and even adopted the language that this court said is appropriate."

The court has until April 1 to reach its decision. If it approves the initiative, the measure will need the approval of 60 percent of voters to pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Supreme Court Rules Civil Forfeiture Defendants Have a Right to a Jury Trial. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that civil asset forfeiture defendants have the right to a jury trial.

The ruling came in the case of Alucious Kizer, from whom police seized $2,435 in cash after a traffic stop where they found drugs in his vehicle. Under state civil forfeiture law, police can seize assets if they are suspected of criminal activity. King challenged the seizure, but the state Court of Appeals ruled that he was "not entitled to trial by jury."

"The State insists that Kizer has no right to a jury trial because civil forfeitures pursuant to Indiana's drug forfeiture laws are a special statutory procedure intended exclusively for trial by the court," Justice Christopher M. Goff of the Indiana Supreme Court summarized in an opinion published October 31. "Kizer disagrees, arguing that the State's theory would effectively deprive Hoosiers of a jury trial when filing suit under any modern statutory scheme."

The court sided with Kizer. "The historical record -- consisting of statutes and judicial decisions reflecting contemporary practice -- strongly suggests that Indiana continued the common-law tradition of trial by jury in actions for the forfeiture of property," wrote Goff. The seizure of assets suspected to be used in the commission of a crime, he added, is "an essentially legal action that triggers the right" to a jury trial.

The Supreme Court returned Kizer's case to a lower court for a jury trial to determine whether he will get his $2,435 back.

"The right to a trial by jury of our peers is core to our system of justice," said Sam Gedge, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. "For centuries, courts across the nation have confirmed the obvious: when the government sues to forfeit your property, you're entitled to make your case to a jury."


Canadian Senate Committee Calls for Immediate Launch of Psychedelic Research Program to Explore Treatments for Veterans. The Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs issued a report Wednesday that calls for "the immediate implementation of a robust research program" funded by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Department of Defense, in partnership with federal health agencies, to carry out studies into the efficacy of psychedelic-assisted therapy for veterans with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The subcommittee was critical of VAC's current approach to psychedelic medicine, calling it a "wait and see" approach that is "ill-suited" to the moment. The agency "should be doing everything in its power to improve the health of veterans, particularly those who have exhausted all the treatment options available to them," the report said. "Research on these subjects is constantly evolving and will continue to do so. No one can predict whether progress will be spectacular or whether there will be setbacks. What we know today is that there is no reason to wait for results from other countries, because the results would still need to be confirmed for our veterans," the report says. "It is the Government of Canada's duty to assure veterans that it is doing everything in its power, immediately, to respect its solemn commitment to support, at any cost, those who chose to defend us with honour."

Sen. David Richards, chair of the subcommittee, said that the panel "heard harrowing stories from veterans who have returned home from conflict zones only to face the darkest moment of their lives." The research into psychedelic-assisted therapy is too promising to ignore," he said. "Our veterans sacrifice so much -- we must do everything we can to help them."

Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel Distributes Food to Families Affected by Hurricane in El Chapo's Hometown. After Hurricane Norma wreaked havoc along the Mexican Pacific Coast last week, men linked to the Sinaloa Cartel delivered groceries to affected families in the Sinaloa municipality of Navolato, the birthplace of imprisoned cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Images and videos have circulated of residents standing in lines to receive bags of necessities marked on the outside with the initials JGL, alluding to Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzman Loera. People received toilet paper, sugar, corn flour, egg and cans of tuna, among other items.

Navolato is also the home Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, El Chapo's son, who is known as El Chapito. Ivan and his brothers form the Los Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa Cartel and ran the Juarez Cartel out of town back in 2020.

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OR Leaders Visit Portugal for Look at Decriminalization, VA Could See Legal Marijuana Sales, More... (11/10/23)

President Biden remains steadfast in his opposition to federal marijuana legalization, Ohio's Republican governor calls for the legislature to amend the brand new marijuana legalization initiative before it goes into effect next month, and more.

Marijuana Policy

After Ohio, Biden's Marijuana Policy Remains Unchanged, White House Says. "Nothing has changed" about President Biden's stance on marijuana -- he rejects legalization -- after Ohio voted on Tuesday to legalize it, creating a situation where a majority of Americans now live in states where weed is legal.

Asked Wednesday at a briefing whether Biden feels "marijuana restrictions should be loosened on the federal level," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre replied that, "The president put out his stance on marijuana about a year and a half ago. Nothing has changed there," Jean-Pierre said. "I will leave it to the people of Ohio to decide on how they're going to move forward with their own Constitution, but I'm just not going to speak to it further," she said. "We've been very clear."

While Biden has said that federal legalization is a line too far, he has voiced support for allowing states to set their own marijuana policies and he has directed an administrative review of federal marijuana scheduling, which has resulted in the Department of Health and Human Services recommending moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA is currently weighing that recommendation.

Ohio Governor Calls for Modification of Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has said he accepts that state voters approved marijuana legalization, but called on lawmakers to make changes to the law before it goes into effect less than a month from now. Both DeWine and the GOP-led legislature opposed the initiative.

"We respect what the people have done," DeWine said. "What the people have clearly told us is they want legal marijuana in Ohio. We are going to see that they have that. We're also going to live up to our responsibility to all the people in the state of Ohio, whether they voted for it or voted against it," he added.

"People have a right to smoke it. People have a right to consume it," DeWine continued. "But also that everybody else who doesn't choose to do so is also protected with their rights as well. My recommendation to the General Assembly is that they take action to make sure that both rights are protected," DeWine said.

What about the children? DeWine asked.

"One goal will be to make sure that they are protected from advertising in regard to marijuana," DeWine said. "We want to do everything within our power to reduce the number of inadvertent consumption of gummy bears, cookies and other products that have marijuana. "We have every responsibility to do everything we can to keep those (emergency room visits) numbers down as much as we can."

Virginia Election Results Could Open Path to Legal Marijuana Sales. Tuesday's election results delivered both houses of the state legislature to the Democrats, removing an obstacle to legalizing and regulating marijuana sales. Led by Democrats, the legislature legalized the use and personal cultivation of marijuana in 2021, but after the 2022 elections, Republicans blocked the enactment of a regulatory framework for sales to begin next year.

This year, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a legal sales regulation bill, but the Republican-controlled House killed it.

Now, with the Democrats in control of both houses but with Republican Glenn Youngkin still sitting as governor, expect a contentious process of attempting to move forward with legal sales. At least one lawmaker, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) is expected to introduce a legal sales bill, but with a slew of new lawmakers, ongoing calls for strong social equity and justice provisions, and uncertainty over what position Youngkin will take, that is probably just the beginning.

JM Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, is looking for a bill that above all, can pass and be signed into law. That would mean compromise, he said."Without the supermajority required to overturn a veto, any serious adult-use sales legislation must be both pragmatic and palatable in order to succeed," Pedini said. "Such a measure should be easy to read, limited in scope and have strong bipartisan support."

Drug Policy

Oregon Lawmakers Back from Trip to Review Portugal Decriminalization. As the state's voter-approved drug decriminalization law comes under increasing attack, a delegation of two dozen state lawmakers and other stakeholders went to Portugal last week to gain insights into its two-decade experience with drug decriminalization and apply lessons that might be appropriate for Oregon.

"We are in our third year here in Oregon working towards a health approach to addiction, as opposed to criminal justice response, and really felt like it was important for us to see a a system that's been doing that for over 20 years." said Health Justice Recovery Alliance Executive Director Tera Hurst.

The delegation met with members of the Portuguese parliament, government officials, law enforcement, providers, and drug users.

The biggest lesson from the trip, said Hurst, was the importance of a "patient-first" approach.

"Predominantly, it was about, we need to shift our focus of people who use and are having substance use issues as criminals and really center them as patients. And I found that really striking," Hurst said.

Although drug decriminalization in Oregon is under attack just three years after it passed, Portuguese leaders told the delegation it took significant time for changes to be felt.

In Portugal, leaders pointed out it took significant time before change was noticeable.

"It was eight years before they saw the impact that they were hoping to see," said Janie Gullickson of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon. "It takes time. And that's what I'm hoping we can have people understand -- that it's going to take time."

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WI Psilocybin Research Bill Filed, German Pot Legalization Vote Postponed, More... (11/13/23)

A leading critic of former Philippines President Duterte's drug war has been freed from prison after being jailed for nearly seven years on bogus drug charges, Vietnam sentences 18 people to death for drug offenses, and more.

psilocybin mushrooms (Pixabay)

Wisconsin Bipartisan Bil to Create Psilocybin Research Program for Vets with PTSD. Sens. Jesse James (R) and Dianne Hesselbein (D), as well as Reps. Nate Gustafson (R) and Clinton Anderson (D) have joined together to file a bill that would create a psilocybin research pilot program in the state.

The bill would create a pilot program to study the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans. The program would be run through the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where a multidisciplinary psychedelics research division has been in place since 2021.

"Wisconsinites, especially our veterans struggling with treatment-resistant PTSD, deserve the 'Right to Try' the best possible care and support," Gustafson said. "I am proud to work across the aisle to propose a bipartisan bill to create a medicinal psilocybin treatment pilot to fulfill our moral duty to our veterans, who have selflessly served our country."

"The mental health of our veterans is incredibly important. Increasing treatment opportunities for veterans with PTSD is something we should all agree on," Anderson said. "I'm proud of this bipartisan bill to support those who served our country."

Massachusetts Governor Proposes Bill to Study Psychedelic Treatments for Veterans. Gov. Maura Healey (D) filed a bill on Veterans Day to increase benefits and promote inclusivity for veterans in the state that includes a provision that would create a "public-private working group to study the health benefits of psychedelics as treatment for veterans suffering from physical or mental health disorders related to their service."

Healey's bill comes after various legislators have already been discussing psychedelic legalization, and two versions of a psilocybin initiative petition have been filed in the state by the group Massachusetts for Mental Health Options.


German Lawmakers Postpone Marijuana Legalization Vote Scheduled for Next Week. Lawmakers in the Bundestag have postponed a final vote on marijuana legalization that was scheduled for next week, saying that the issue "will be decided in December," according to lawmaker Carmen Wegge.

"I know this is a huge disappointment for many," said Wegge, of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). "That's why this decision wasn't easy for anyone. However, well-designed improvements are in all of our interests."

A member of the allied Green Party, Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, explained the delay on social media by saying that "some wording still needs to be worked on." Legalization will come, she emphasized, "just a little later."

"I am confident that the law will become significantly better as a result of the discussions," Green Party lawmker Kirsten Kappert-Gonther said. "This is for a good cause, quality comes before time pressure. Some wording still needs to be worked on," she said, adding that legalization will come, "just a little later."

Philippine Politician Jailed by Duterte for Criticizing His Drug War Freed After Seven Years. Former senator Leila de Lima has been granted release on bail after being held in prison for nearly seven years on bogus drug charges after she criticized then-President Rodrigo Duterte war on drugs, under which tens of thousands of people were killed.

As she left prison, she was greeted by dozens of supporters. De Lima thanked her supporters, the news media, and the administration of Duterte successor Ferdinand Marcos Jr. "for respecting the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law."

De Lima is a global cause celebre. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that her imprisonment was arbitrary and without legal basis.

She was jailed in 2017 after starting a Senate probe into Duterte's drug war. Earlier, she had clashed with Duterte when, as human rights commissioner, she investigated death squad killings in Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for two decades.

Five witnesses who testified against her in the drug case have recanted their testimony in the past couple of years, leading to hopes that the charges against her will be dropped or that she will be acquitted. De Lima has already been acquitted in two of the three cases brought against her.

"We have waited a long time for this day, believing that what is right and true will always prevail," said Leni Robredo, the former vice president, opposition leader and presidential candidate, under whose ticket de Lima unsuccessfully ran for reelection from prison in 2022.

Amnesty International called on the Marcos administration to ensure De Lima's safety. "The government must now guarantee her safety, security and protection as she remains the target of vilification and threats," it said in a statement.

Vietnam Sentences 18 to Death in Drug Bust. A Vietnamese court has sentenced 18 people to death, including two South Koreans and a Chinese national, after they were convicted of having "illegally stored, trafficked and traded more than 216kg of drugs" between May and June 2020.

The trial took place in the Family and Juvenile Court of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court. Some drugs were "consumed domestically" while others went to South Korea, the court found.

One man was charged with "illegal transportation of drugs" and "using fake seals or documents of organizations," while the others were convicted of "illegal possession of drug", "illegal trading of drugs", "illegal drug trafficking" and "organization of illegal use of drugs", state media said.

Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws, including the death penalty for anyone caught with more than 21 ounces of heroin or 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine. More than 100 people were executed last year, though it is unclear how many were drug offenders.

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LA Poll Has Majority for Weed Legalization, White House Pushes for Opioid Funding, More... (11/14/23)

The mayor of Washington, DC, declares an opioid public health emergency, red state Louisiana now has a majority for marijuana legalization, and more.

Drug overdoses in DC are set to surpass last year's record high. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Has Slight Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the University of New Orleans Research Center has support for marijuana legalization at 52 percent in the deep red state. Prior to 2021, the majority of registered voters were firmly against legalization, but that has now shifted.

"What we're finding is that there has been this switch over the last couple of years for the majority opposition now to majority support so it seems to be this consistent majority out there that would like to see the recreational use of marijuana legalized," said UNO political science professor Ed Chernevak.

The survey was conducted from October 25 to November 2 and queried 429 respondents.

Opiates and Opioids

White House Pushes for Opioid Funding. The White House on Tuesday used the release of new data from the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showing more than 48 million people experienced a substance use disorder in 2022 and that three-quarters of them did not get treatment to push for funding to deal with the opioid crisis.

"Overdose deaths have flattened in 2022 and 2023 after sharp increases from 2019 to 2021. That's progress. And it is important to recognize, but we still have a long way to go.And today's data underscores this point," said White House Drug Policy Director Rahul Gupta. "The bottom line is that we're dealing with a historic and unprecedented epidemic. And it requires historic and unprecedented funding to match the scale and President Biden's supplemental funding request will help us get there."

Last month, the administration asked for $1.2 billion for a law enforcement crackdown on fentanyl and related drugs and $1.55 billion to expand opioid treatment and harm reduction programs that are provided under State Opioid Response grants. No legislation to deal with opioid overdoses has had a floor vote in either chamber this year.

"Right now, the President's emergency supplemental budget request is before Congress with a request for additional, critical funds to take on the overdose crisis," said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. "Now Congress must do its part."

Washington, DC, Mayor Declares Opioid Public Emergency. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on Monday declared a public emergency over the opioid crisis as the number of fatal overdoses has doubled in the past five years, driven largely by fentanyl. Opioid deaths this are on track to surpass the record 461 deaths recorded last year.

The emergency order goes into effect immediately. It directs city agencies to use a shared overdose tracking system so outreach teams can identify and respond to hot spots more effectively and it suspends some contracting rules to more quickly provide services.

Bowser acted after the DC Council last week passed a nonbinding resolution urging her to declare the public health emergency.

"We have too many people dying in our city related to fentanyl overdoses most specifically," Bowser said. "We believe that the contracting vehicle will allow us to move -- we hope -- more quickly," she said.

But the emergency only lasts 15 days and has no funding or on the ground services, such as housing, transportation, or job services, and that is causing some advocates to warn that it is insufficient.

"The most important thing is these types of declarations need to come with funding and services that could be immediately stood up. If we say it's a crisis, we need to respond as if it's a crisis," said Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of state advocacy and criminal legal reform at the Drug Policy Alliance. "We need to think beyond the strategies that may have seemed realistic five years ago."

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OH GOP Eyes Changes to New Legal Weed Law, National Drug Survey Data Released, More... (11/15/23)

New York advises drug treatment providers to quit testing for marijuana in most cases, Ohio GOP lawmakers want to modify the just-passed marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has okayed testimony from police drug recognition experts despite questions about their process.
Marijuana Policy

OH GOP Senate President Says Senators Will Push for Changes to New Marijuana Legalization Law Before It Takes Effect Next Month. State Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said Wednesday that senators will push for changes in the state's new marijuana legalization law before it takes effect next month. But details are still unclear -- and the House may not be in agreement.

"It's kind of all hands on deck here," Huffman said.

Within hours of the vote last week, Huffman, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R), and Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signaled they wanted to modify the legalization initiative even though it won with 57 percent of the vote. DeWine has urged lawmakers to move quickly and Huffman joins him in seeking to have rules in place by December 7, when legalization commences.

But Stephens said the real deadline for regulation is sometime before next fall, when the first commercial marijuana licenses are supposed to be issued. "That runway is all the way through September before the first licenses are even issued, so to do that decision-making process in the next couple of weeks, it's going be a real challenge to put forth such a large program that quickly," Stephens said Tuesday.

Among the changes the Republicans are considering: changing the tax rate, using the revenue to fund county jails or police training, and clarifying the language around public smoking. Under the initiative, smoking pot in "public areas" would be a minor misdemeanor, but property owners and "any public place" could decide to accommodate marijuana use. Some businesses are complaining that the language is unclear.

The Senate could also limit the number of marijuana retail outlets and reexamine the language around THC content caps.

New York Officials Advise Drug Treatment Providers to Stop Testing Patients for Marijuana in Most Cases. The state Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) has issued new guidance to drug treatment providers that advises against routine screening for marijuana use, similar to the approach the office uses with alcohol. Some clinicians are hailing the move as a step away from abstinence-only recovery efforts and toward a more flexible harm reduction approach.

New state guidance for addiction services and treatment programs in New York advises against routine screening for marijuana use, an approach designed to parallel that used for alcohol. Some clinicians see the change, which is being implemented following the state's legalization of cannabis, as a step away from an abstinence-only view of recovery and toward a more flexible approach aimed at minimizing harm.

"With the legalization of adult-use cannabis in NYS, testing for the metabolite of THC routinely is not recommended unless the patient has identified a reduction in, or cessation of cannabis as part of their treatment goals," says the guidance document from OASAS. "Alcohol and THC metabolites should not be included in routine toxicology panels," it adds, "unless a clinician determines that alcohol or cannabis is a concern and toxicology testing would be appropriate clinically."

OASAS regulates about 1,700 prevention, treatment, and recovery programs statewide, as well as a dozen treatment centers it operates directly. The guidance applies to "providers working in OASAS-certified programs who use toxicology testing over the course of a patient's treatment." The office's website describes its approach as "responsive, data-driven, person-centered, and prioritizes equity."

Peter Grinspoon, a marijuana specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard Medical School instructor, saw the new guidance as a matter of harm reduction. "This is one of those questions where you can't really disentangle the social history and the politics from the science," he said. Historically "a lot of this is predicated on the idea that cannabis was a gateway to addiction" -- an idea he dismissed as a "foolish notion."

While medical professionals' perspective on the harms or benefits of marijuana "depends on his or her vantage point," Grinspoon added, addiction treatment providers have "been a big part of the problem with cannabis, because they really just get in their own echo chamber about the harms, and they don't have the context of, like, yes, sure, this can happen, and it's tragic when it does happen, but it's not what usually happens."

Drug Use

HHS, SAMHSA Release 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Results. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), on Monday released the results of the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The report shows how people living in United States reported about their experience with mental health, substance use, and treatment related behaviors in 2022. The report is accompanied by a high-level brief that includes infographics.

"The National Survey on Drug Use and Health provides an annual snapshot of behavioral health nationwide," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. "This data informs knowledge, policy and action, and drives our shared commitment across government, healthcare, industry and community to offer resources and services to those in need."

"To tackle the behavioral health crisis in this nation, we need to fully understand the issues surrounding mental health and substance use, and the impact they have on people and communities," said Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm. "The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to meeting people where they are with information, resources, and support. The 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health allows us to follow an evidence-based path forward as we provide support for those struggling with substance use and work to build healthier futures."

"The data released today is crucial for informing our policies, protocols and understanding of our nation's health," said HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., the leader of SAMHSA. "This important work better situates policy makers, researchers, practitioners and the general public to understand the collective behavioral health needs across the country and anticipate the needs of future generations."

The 2022 NSDUH report includes the following key findings:

  • Among people aged 12 or older in 2022, 59.8% (or 168.7 million people) used tobacco products, vaped nicotine, used alcohol, or used an illicit drug in the past month (also defined as "current use"), including 48.7% (or 137.4 million people) who drank alcohol, 18.1% (or 50.9 million people) who used tobacco products, 8.3% (or 23.5 million people) who vaped nicotine, and 16.5% (or 46.6 million people) who used an illicit drug.
  • In 2022, 70.3 million people aged 12 or older (or 24.9%) used illicit drugs in the past year. Marijuana was the most used illicit drug, with 22.0% of people aged 12 or older (or 61.9 million people) using it in the past year.
  • In 2022, 48.7 million people aged 12 or older (or 17.3%) had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year, including 29.5 million who had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), 27.2 million who had a drug use disorder (DUD), and 8.0 million people who had both an AUD and a DUD.
  • In 2022, almost 1 in 4 adults aged 18 or older had any mental illness (AMI) in the past year (59.3 million or 23.1%).
  • Among adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2022, 19.5% (or 4.8 million people) had a past year major depressive episode (MDE).
  • 1 in 20 adults aged 18 or older had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year (13.2 million or 5.2%), 1.5% (or 3.8 million people) made a suicide plan, and 0.6% (or 1.6 million people) attempted suicide in the past year.
  • Over 1 in 8 adolescents aged 12 to 17 had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year (13.4% or 3.4 million adolescents), 1 in 15 made any suicide plans (6.5% or 1.7 million adolescents), and nearly 1 in 25 (3.7% or 953,000 adolescents) attempted suicide in the past year.

Law Enforcement

New Jersey Supreme Court Says Drug Recognition Experts Reliable but Limits Their Use. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the testimony of police drug recognition experts is reliable enough to be used as evidence, but limited its use, citing concerns about the experts' processes. Drug recognition experts are trained to determine whether drivers are impaired by drugs that can’t be detected by roadside tests, bloodwork, or breathlyzers.

The ruling came in a case brought by the Office of the Public Defender with support from the ACLU of New Jersey, which made the most of the court's concerns. The case dates back to 2015, when Jerseyite Michael Olenowski was charged with driving while intoxicated on two separate occasions.

"Although we believe evidence regarding the DRE protocol should never be admissible at trial, the Court today took important steps to show its commitment to sound science, to stop the prosecution from proving its case through shortcuts and the overuse of police officers in place of empirical evidence to sustain criminal convictions, and to make clear to all courts, prosecutors, defendants, and the public that it will maintain the integrity of criminal prosecutions." said Assistant Deputy Public Defender Molly Mclane.

The high court split on the decision, with even the majority making it clear the ruling was unlikely to be the last word on the matter.

"We presume that researchers will continue to study the efficacy of the DRE methodology, and we do not foreclose future litigation with appropriate testimony to re-examine it," wrote Superior Court Judge Jack Sabatino, who is temporarily assigned to the Supreme Court.

In a dissent joined by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis wrote that her colleagues on the court approved the admissibility of drug recognition expert testimony despite admitting that they could not determine its reliability.

"The majority opinion discounts legitimate concerns about the reliability and accuracy of the DRE protocol and upholds the admission of DRE evidence despite acknowledging that 'the factors of testability and false positive error rate are largely inconclusive' and that 'DRE testimony does not, in and of itself, establish impairment,'" she wrote.

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US and China Reach Accord on Fentanyl, MD Now Accepting Cannabusiness Applications, More... (11/16/23)

A Massachusetts bill would prioritize treatment over jail for probationers who fail drug tests, a new study finds no increase in crime near New York City's safe injection sites, and more.

Seized fentanyl. (DHS)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Starts Accepting Adult-Use Marijuana Business Applications. The Maryland Cannabis Administration began accepting applications for business licenses on Monday. A total of 179 of them are up for grabs. Interested parties have until December 12 to apply.

In the first round of licensing, the state will issue 75 standard dispensary licenses, 16 standard grower permits, 32 standard processor licenses, 24 micro-grower permits, 24 micro-processor licenses, and eight micro-dispensary permits.

Successful applicants must have already completed a social equity verification process that's currently closed, though the state has yet to process all the submissions.

Successful applicants will need at least 65 percent ownership held by a verified social equity applicant. Applicants are limited to one application per license type and no more than two applications in this current round.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Bill Would Prioritize Treatment Over Jail for Probationers Who Fail Drug Tests. A bill that says that a probationer's positive drug test result should not result in imprisonment, Senate Bill 982, got a hearing Wednesday in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Similar legislation has been filed in previous sessions but has never gone anywhere.

This time around, mental health and addiction experts, as well as attorneys, were there to urge lawmakers to get it right.

"I saw hundreds of individuals placed in custody for merely relapsing, a symptom of their substance use disorder," said Deborah Goldfarb, Director of Behavioral Health at Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction. "A correctional environment is not one that fosters recovery. And not only were folks not receiving appropriate treatment in custody, they are ripped away from any treatment connections they have."

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Ruth Balser (D) and state Sen. Cindy Friedman (D), says that a positive drug or alcohol test or other signs of relapse would not be considered a probation violation if someone is following a treatment plan, trying to get care or has completed a program and is complying with other conditions of probation. The bill would also prohibit the courts from ordering more substance use testing than required by a treatment provider.

"There is growing concern about the increasing problem of drug use and public policymakers are becoming more educated," Balser said. "So I'm hopeful the legislature will be receptive to changing policies to better reflect the science about the best way to respond to those with substance use disorders."

No vote was taken.

Foreign Policy

Biden, Xi Announce Deal Cracking Down on Fentanyl Exports. President Joe Biden (D) and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping announced an agreement for China to crackdown on the manufacture and export of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid linked to about two-thirds of all US drug overdose deaths.

Under the agreement, China will crack down on chemical companies to halt the flow of fentanyl and the source material used to make it. That may be easier said than done, though, given that China has some 400,000 chemical companies.

The US, for its part, will lift longstanding restrictions on China's forensic police institute. China has long complained that the US should not expect cooperation on fentanyl when it has placed restrictions on the institute.

The agreement came as Biden and Xi met on the sidelines of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, their first encounter in more than a year as tensions between the two countries heightened.

Harm Reduction

New Study Finds No Outsized Increase in Crime Near New York City Safe Injection Sites. An important new study published in JAMA Open Network finds that violent and property crime near the city's two safe injection sites did not increase anymore than crime in similar neighborhoods across the city. The finding came even as police conducted 83 percent fewer drug arrests near the sites, presumably to avoid scaring drug users away from the sites).

The study should work to blunt some criticism of safe injection sites, which critics have claimed contribute to criminality in neighborhoods where they are located.

"We did not observe any increase in crime or disorder or any of the things that people worry about when they see an overdose prevention site opening," said a study co-author, Brandon Del Pozo, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University and a former New York Police Department precinct commander and police chief of Burlington, Vermont.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the federal agency that funded the study, said the study was consistent with past research into safe injection sites, and that even though the new study is preliminary data, "what it does show is that having these safe injection sites is not associated with an increase in violence."

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