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Magic Mushroom Busts Jump, "Gas Station Heroin" Brand Recalled, More... (2/6/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1205)

Fifty members of Congress are worried that the Chinese Communist Party is profiting from illegal weed grows, Pennsylvania's governor calls (again) for marijuana legalization, and more.

"Neptune's Fix." Not on shelves anymore after a voluntary recall for tiantepine. (FDA)
Marijuana Policy

Fifty Members of Congress Demand DOJ Address Growing Number of Chinese-Run Illegal Marijuana Grow Operations. A bipartisan cohort of more than four dozen lawmakers has sent a second letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland expressing deep concerns about the involvement of Chinese organized crime in illegal marijuana grow operations and demanding that the Justice Department (DOJ) investigate any links to the Chinese Communist Party.

A first letter, signed by Maine lawmakers, went to DOJ last August amidst reports that 270 Chinese-run illegal grow operations worth an estimated $4.4 billion were found in the state.

The follow-up letter reiterates the concern about the Chinese and seeks specific information on DOJ's efforts to investigate the role of the Chinese Communist Party, the extent of unauthorized marijuana farms, the impact of state-level legalization on those operations, and the potential sending of funds from "CCP-funded" farms to China.

"We write to follow-up to our August 23, 2023, letter regarding reports of a memo that was produced and circulated by Border Patrol officials over alleged illegal Chinese marijuana growing operations in the state of Maine," the letter said.

"Since that time, there have been multiple raids across the state; since the beginning of this year, police have arrested eight people and seized more than 4,400 cannabis plants at four growing sites in Belgrade, China, and Cornville, Maine."

That's a far cry from 270 illegal grows and $4.4 billion in revenues.

The DOJ has until February 23 to respond to the questions posed in the letter.

Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Marijuana Legalization in Budget Message.

Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) called for marijuana legalization during his second budget address at the state capitol in Harrisburg Tuesday as he unveiled an ambitious broader plan to use a $14 billion budget surplus to expand services.

"Now is the time to invest some of that $14 billion surplus squirreled away here in Harrisburg," Shapiro told lawmakers. "It's not a badge of honor, nor is it something to be politically proud of for some lawmakers out there to say: I took more money from the good people of Pennsylvania than I needed and then bragged about how I just kept it in some bank account here in the capitol."

Shapiro renewed the call for legalizing marijuana that he first made as governor last year, with a proposal that would see adult-use legalization by July 1 and recreational sales by January 1, 2025. He also called for the expunging of records of those convicted of marijuana possession.

Shapiro noted that Pennsylvania is surrounded by states that have already legalized it and that the state is losing tax dollars to its legalizing neighbors. He said he hoped marijuana tax revenues would generate $250 million a year once the market is up and running.

Psychedelics

Magic Mushroom Seizures Jumped Dramatically in Recent Years -- Because of Increasing Popularity, Not Increasing Enforcement. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that: "Law enforcement seizures of "magic mushrooms"or "shrooms" containing the psychoactive component psilocybin increased dramatically in the United States between January 2017 and December 2022, according to a new study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. The number of law enforcement seizures increased from 402 seizures in 2017 to 1,396 in 2022. In addition, the total weight of psilocybin mushrooms seized by law enforcement increased from 226 kg (498 lbs) seized in 2017 compared to 844 kg (1,861 lbs) in 2022.

"The researchers found that most seizures occurred in the Midwest (36.0%), followed by the West (33.5%). The greatest total weight in seizures came from the West (1,864 kg/4,109 lbs, representing 42.6% of all seizures), followed by the South (1,832 kg/4,039 lbs, representing 41.8%). Though there was a significant increase in the total weight of psilocybin mushrooms seized between 2017 and 2022 overall, the investigators found that the total weight seized peaked in 2021 (1,542 kg/3,400 lbs).

"The data used for the analysis were collected through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, a grant program aimed at reducing drug trafficking and misuse administered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Though law enforcement seizures do not necessarily reflect prevalence of use, they represent an indicator of the availability of illicit drugs."

"Self-reported data on the prevalence of their use is limited, though available research suggests that use of drugs like psilocybin that cause hallucinations has increased among adults aged 35-50 in recent years. In addition, research suggests that psilocybin is the most consumed plant-based psychedelic drug in the United States, with 11.3% of individuals aged 12 or older in the United States reporting having ever used psilocybin in 2022."

"We are in the middle of a rapidly evolving cultural, media, and legal landscape when it comes to psychedelics, and we need data to help shape informed and appropriate public health strategies," said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. "Moving forward, we must continue to track data on the availability of psychedelics, patterns in use, and associated health effects to guide efforts in promoting accurate education and reducing potential harms among people who do plan to use psychedelic drugs."

"While psilocybin is by no means the most dangerous drug, recreational use can come with unforeseen risks such as bad trips" said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and co-investigator on the NIDA-funded National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) and lead author on the paper. "Research studies suggesting its effectiveness in treating mental health issues and extensive positive media coverage may lead some people to seek shrooms outside of medical contexts. People who use psilocybin outside of medical supervision need to be educated about risks associated with use."

"Most national surveys and studies don't capture self-reported data on psilocybin use specifically, so these findings help shed important light on an area where we've been largely left in the dark," said Linda B. Cottler, PhD, MPH principal investigator of NDEWS, University of Florida, and author on the paper.

Drug Policy

Neptune Brands of "Gas Station Heroin" Recalled. A supplement containing "gas station heroin," as the unscheduled substance tianeptine is known, has been pulled from the shelves after its manufacturer recalled the product.

Tianeptine is an antidepressant used in Europe but not approved for medicinal use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It has euphoric, opioid-like effects but has also been linked to severe illnesses.

Neptune Resources, the manufacturer of Neptune's Fix Elixir, Neptune's Fix Extra Strength Elixir and Neptune's Fix Tablets recalled all of those products on January 28 because they contain tianeptine.

The recall came weeks after lawmakers urged the FDA to review tianeptine, but days before he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that it was linked to a "cluster of severe illness." According to the report, 20 cases of tianeptine ingestion were associated with "severe clinical effects" reported from June to November 2023.

As an unscheduled substance, tianeptine has become available in a number of products sold at gas stations, convenience stores, and head shops, thus earning the sobriquet "gas station heroin."

Several states have banned tianeptine: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee.

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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