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Germany Pot Legalization One Vote Away, SD Bill to Hike Sentences in Fatal ODs Advances, More...(2/5/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1205)
Consequences of Prohibition

The US and China form an official counternarcotics working group to deal with fentanyl and its analogs, a Virginia bill to clear the way for retail marijuana sales advances, and more.

A South Dakota bill to heighten penalties for drug sales resulting in a fatal overdose is advancing. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Bill to Cap THC Limits in Event of Legalization Wins Committee Vote. Lawmakers in the House Healthcare Regulation Committee have approved a bill that caps THC limits, in the event that voters approve a pending marijuana legalization initiative, House Bill 1269. But they amended it to raise the proposed cap from 10 percent to 30 percent for marijuana flower, which is in line with the most potent marijuana.

Both the original bill and the amendment came from Rep. Ralph Masullo (R).

"Due to a variety of reasons, we're only at the beginning of understanding the potential long-term benefits and harms of high-potency THC marijuana products," Massullo told subcommittee members, noting that his proposed limits "will only take affect if the constitutional amendment is adopted."

"I'm not going to tell you my opinion on recreational marijuana," he said before the panel vote, "but I will say this: We are tasked with keeping the public safe. It's important that we think about that with a long-term vision and not be reactive."

In addition to the revised restriction on smokable marijuana, Massullo's measure would also impose a 60 percent THC limit on all other marijuana products and set a 10-milligram THC serving size for edibles, with no more than 200 mg per package.

Virginia Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Retail Sales and Sentencing Bills. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee has approved a bill to legalize retail marijuana sales in the commonwealth, Senate Bill 448, from Sen. Aaron Rouse (D). It also approved a bill that would resentence people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses, Senate Bill 696, from Sen. Angelia Williams Graves (D).

The retail sales bill would begin licensing some adult-use marijuana businesses in July of this year, though retail licenses wouldn't be available until 2025. Local governments would be able to ban commercial cannabis activity, but only with approval from voters.

"Essentially what this bill does is help set up a well regulated adult retail market for cannabis," Rouse told committee members. "We have been taking lots and lots of recommendations from a really broad bipartisan effort to get this just right."

The bill next heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote.

While the bill provides a framework for legal sales to begin, it would also create a number of new penalties for unlicensed sales. One that sparked considerable pushback from justice advocates is a proposed mandatory minimum sentence that would affect second and subsequent offenses of selling marijuana without a license.

"I came ready today to support this bill," said Chelsea Higgs Wise of Marijuana Justice. "I have to oppose this because of the new crimes and the mandatory minimums."

The resentencing bill would create "a process by which persons convicted of certain felony marijuana-related offenses committed prior to July 1, 2021, who remain incarcerated or on community supervision on July 1, 2024, may receive an automatic hearing to consider modification of such person's sentence. The bill also allows persons convicted of any felony offense committed prior to July 1, 2021, who remain incarcerated or on community supervision on July 1, 2024, and whose sentence may have been enhanced because of a previous felony marijuana offense or without the involvement of marijuana such felony offense conviction or felony sentence enhancement would not have been possible, as the involvement of marijuana was necessary to satisfy the elements of the charged offense or the sentence enhancement, to petition the circuit court for modification of such person's sentence. The bill requires such petition to be filed by July 1, 2026."

That bill now also heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote.

Drug Policy

South Dakota Bill to Harden Sentences in Drug Overdose Deaths Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved Senate Bill 6, which would raise penalties for sellers of Schedule I or II drugs in the event of a fatal overdose. The bill would raise the penalty in such cases to a Class II felony, or a Class I felony in the case of fentanyl. Class I felonies are punishable by up to life in prison.

"By enhancing this a further classification -- to Class I -- we're sending a message to distributors that if you are doing this, if you are using fentanyl and contributing to the deaths being caused by fentanyl overdoses, we are going to punish you more severely than other drug distributors," said Rep. David Wheeler (R-Huron).

Despite opposition to the bill focused on the sharp jump in penalties, the bill passed the committee unanimously and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Foreign Policy

US, China Launch Counternarcotics Working Group. The State Department reports that: "On January 30, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Jen Daskal led a US interagency delegation to Beijing, the People's Republic of China, to coordinate efforts to counter the global manufacturing and trafficking of illicit synthetic drugs, including fentanyl. The delegation included representatives from the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Todd D. Robinson also met separately with PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General of the North American and Oceanian Affairs Department Yang Tao and Ministry of Public Security Director General of the International Cooperation Department Hu Binchen. In these meetings, Assistant Secretary Robinson discussed the need for deeper counternarcotics collaboration between the United States and the PRC at all levels, including policymaking, law enforcement coordination, and the sharing of technical information and best practices that can benefit both countries and the world."

"The US-PRC Counternarcotics Working Group complements other ongoing efforts by the State Department to counter the scourge of fentanyl, including the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats. It is a mechanism for ongoing bilateral communication and policy and law enforcement coordination to support and implement concrete enforcement actions and exchange information on counternarcotics efforts, which will help to save lives in the United States and around the world."

Harm Reduction

West Virginia Governor Signs Bill Legalizing All Drug Test Strips. Gov. Jim Justice (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 269, which removes drug testing strips from the state's list of drug paraphernalia. Under previous state law, people caught with drug test strips could be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

Lawmakers in 2022 passed a bill that removed fentanyl test strips from the definition of paraphernalia; this bill extends that to any drug test strip.

This law will allow people to test for substances such as xylazine ("tranq"), which is increasingly showing up in the black market drug supply.

Illicit drug users can use test trips to verify their drugs aren't contaminated with something else more lethal like fentanyl or xylazine.

Proponents of the bill like Iris Sidikman (they/them), harm reduction program director for the Women's Health Center, say it could save lives.

They said while the fentanyl testing strips have been useful, the newest cutting agent, xylazine -- or tranq -- is the most requested test strip. Under current state law, it would be illegal for the clinic to distribute xylazine tests.

"The most immediate thing that this legislation would allow is for us to distribute xylazine test strips, which many people have asked me about here at the clinic as part of our Harm Reduction Program, people are interested in them," said Iris Sidikman, harm reduction program director for the Women's Health Center.


Germany's Governing Coalition Reaches Final Deal on Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Greens released a joint statement saying they have reached a final agreement on a marijuana legalization bill. That clears the way for a final vote later this month and enactment into law in April.

The bill marks "a real milestone for a modern drug policy that strengthens prevention and improves health, child and youth protection," the parties said.

The final changes, which addressed concerns within the more conservative SDP mark slight revisions, mainly about expanded and expedited monitoring and reporting requirements related to the black market.

"We agreed on the final details cannabis of legalization last night. The fight against the black market, decriminalization and better protection of minors will come as announced," the health minister said on Thursday.

"The final die for a progressive drug policy in Germany has been cast!" SPD's Carmen Wegge said. We will now be entering the home stretch at the end of February!"

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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