Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Taliban Say No More Opium Production Under Their Rule, CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, More... (8/19/21)

The harm reduction group DanceSafe releases new test kits for cocaine and ketamine, a North Carolina medical marijuana bil is moving, and more.

Will Afghan poppy fields become a thing of the past? The Taliban say yes. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

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

Harm Reduction

DanceSafe Releases New Test Kit for Cocaine and Ketamine. DanceSafe, a nationally active and long-standing public health nonprofit, has released a new consumer drug checking kit that can reliably identify cocaine and ketamine, two of the most commonly used illicit drugs. The kit consists of two small bottles known together as Morris reagent. To use the kit, the user places one drop of liquid from each bottle onto a tiny amount of the drug and stirs the mixture with a toothpick for 20-30 seconds. The reaction turns bright blue in the presence of cocaine and purple in the presence of ketamine. The reagent can also detect two major ketamine analogues, DCK and 2-FDCK, which turn a navy blue color. Nearly all other drugs turn a dull green color, indicating a non-reaction. "This is a game changer," says Mitchell Gomez, DanceSafe’s Executive Director. "The cocaine and ketamine markets are highly adulterated, and this new test kit can help consumers avoid many of the counterfeit powders."

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill to decriminalize the possession of many psychedelics, Senate Bill 519, passed a procedural hurdle in the Assembly on Monday, getting a second reading on the Assembly floor and being re-referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It now faces a "suspense hearing" August 26, after which it would head for a final Assembly floor vote if it passes. If it then passes the Assembly, it would go back to the Senate for approval of amendments made in the Assembly, all of which must be accomplished by September 10 in order to reach the governor's desk this year. If the bill doesn't advance by then, it would not be dead but wouldn't be acted on again until January. One amendment that irks advocates like Decriminalize Nature sets possession limits, such as two grams of DMT, four grams of mescaline, two grams of psilocybin, and four grams of magic mushrooms. The group has called for the bill to be tabled until the kerfuffle over possession limits is settle to its satisfaction, but bill sponsor Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco says he wants to move forward now while the bill has momentum.

International

Taliban Say No More Opium Production in Afghanistan Under Their Rule. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul Wednesday that there will be zero drug production or trafficking in the country in the near future. "There will be no drug production, no drug smuggling. We saw today that our young people were on drugs near the walls; this was making me very, very sad that our youth are addicted," Mujahid said. "Afghanistan will not be a country of cultivation of opium anymore, but we need international help for that. The international community needs to help us," he added. Throughout this century, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium producer, responsible for more than 80% of global supply with an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Afghans and produces a sizeable chunk of the country's Gross National Product. Wiping out opium production would create a huge economic disruption in the country, but the Taliban was able to do it in 2000, the year before they were overthrown by a US invasion.

Chronicle Book Review: "This Is Your Mind on Plants" by Michael Pollan

Chronicle Book Review:This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan (2021, Penguin Press, 274 pp., $28.00 HB)

A long time ago, in the days of Ronald Reagan, I once fell into conversation with an indigenous campesino at a rustic roadside café on a lonely road through the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Oaxaca, long notorious for its marijuana cultivation. We conversed in Spanish, a second language for both of us, about peasant life thereabouts and, eventually, about la mota.

One remark he made has stayed with me to this day: "How can a plant be illegal?" he wanted to know. This was not a question of understanding legal systems, but of wrapping his native head around the arrogant Western notions that plants -- an essential part of nature and the source of much healing -- are "good" or "bad" and that we can decree part of nature to be a crime.

Renowned foodie and plant author Michael Pollan has long dealt with that question, not so much wrestling with it as observing and noting the absurd, arbitrary, capricious, and historically-contingent laws privileging some psychoactive plants -- coffee or tea, anyone? -- while demonizing and even criminalizing others. He took on marijuana (as well as apples, potatoes, and tulips) in The Botany of Desire (2002) and plant- and fungi-based psychedelics (as well as synthetics) in How to Change Your Mind (2018).

And now he's back with This Is Your Mind on Plants, in which he examines our relationship with four psychoactive plants -- opium, caffeine, and the mescaline-bearing cacti peyote and San Pedro. Pollan recognizes that such plants are not good or bad, but good and bad -- they can heal and stimulate and they can addict and kill (or in the case of psychedelics, really mess with your head) -- and relates how the original Greek word for drug, pharmakos, meant both medicine and poison. Prohibitions crush such subtle understandings beneath demonizing dogma. As Pollan notes in his introduction:

But the blunt instrument of a drug war has kept us from reckoning with these ambiguities and the important questions about our nature they raise. The drug war's simplistic account of what drugs do and are, as well as its insistence on lumping them all together under a single meaningless rubric, has for too long prevented us from thinking about the meaning and potential of these very different substances. The legal status of a molecule is one of the least interesting things about it. Much like a food, a psychoactive drug is not a thing -- without a human brain, it is inert -- but a relationship; it takes both a molecule and mind to make anything happen.

The legal status of a molecule may not be of much interest to Pollan -- he acknowledges his privilege as he admits he's not really afraid of getting busted for the peyote cactus in his Berkeley garden -- but it has cast shadows over some of his research, particularly his chapter on his experience growing opium poppies, written in the 1990s and originally published with some "how to" pages removed out of fear of possible federal persecution.

Opium poppies, the plants that produce morphine and all its derivatives, such as heroin, are legal to buy and grow in the United States. But make that first cut on a mature seed pod to release the opium sap and you could find yourself looking at a federal drug manufacturing charge. Or, worse yet, have the feds think you know too much about how you get morphine from your pretty flowers and you could get yourself arrested for possessing legal poppy straw that you bought at the local flower shop.

That's what happened to Jim Hogshire, author of Opium for the Masses, the book that inspired Pollan's opium article in the first place. Hogshire's persecution, which occurred as Pollan was growing his own poppies, made him acutely concerned about the legal status of the molecule and the murky borderlines where one transforms from avid gardener into drug manufacturer.

The chapter is a chilling reminder of Clinton-era war on drugs paranoia, but also of DEA stupidity. While quietly seeking to suppress a handful of amateur poppy-growing gardeners, it was busily ignoring what would prove to be the actual opium epidemic of our time, the prescription opioids. The same year the feds were going after the gardeners, is also the year when PurduePharma rolled out Oxycontin, followed by years of aggressive marketing that had a skewing physician perceptions about when or for how long this useful but also abusable medication should be prescribed.

Pollan quit drinking coffee for his chapter on caffeine. He writes that he usually takes drugs he writes about because he feels he has to to understand them, but that with coffee, to which he like hundreds of millions of others around the planet is addicted, he felt that he had to experience life without the miracle molecule. It didn't go well, but he survived to tell the tale.

And it's a tale, of coffee's role in the making of industrial civilization. Caffeine, after all, Pollan notes, made the night-shift possible, improved concentration, and increased worker productivity. Of course, it's a legal drug! That despite it occasionally being banned, the denizens of European coffeeshops being suspected of being quite clear-headed, argumentative, and capable of political subversion, not to mention the mingling of classes that went on. With coffee, England roused itself from its alcoholic haze and went on to conquer the world.

In his chapter on mescaline, Pollan writes about his adventures with the San Pedro cactus, a mescaline-bearing succulent like peyote (although not as potent), which, unlike peyote, is legal in the United States. But as with his experiment with poppy growing back in the '90s, Pollan runs into legal ambiguity: When does growing a San Pedro cross the line into manufacturing mescaline?

To be accurate, peyote is not completely illegal in the US. Bizarrely enough, it is a substance whose legality is not determined by itself but by who is consuming it. If you are a member of the Native American Church, it is legal. If you're not, it's not. That's weird, but it does at least protect the ability of Native Americans to consume peyote, which is central to their religious practice.

Pollan does well in navigating the complexities of using substances that come from long traditions of indigenous use, and grasps the point made by the church that the best thing white people can do for peyote is leave it alone. That has led to conflict with groups like Decriminalize Nature, which want to legalize plant-based psychedelics, or entheogens, for everyone. Pollan handles that division with aplomb and respect, much as he does with the entire book. This isn't really a book about drug policy, but it is a wonderful book about some very special plants and the role they play.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's the dog days of summer, but there is still a little bit of medical marijuana news to report.

Mississippi

Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Board Rejects Adding New Qualifying Medical Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board on Tuesday voted to reject adding five medical conditions to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. Those conditions were traumatic brain injury, hepatitis, Hepatitis C, chronic insomnia that isn’t responding to other treatments and major depressive disorder that isn’t responding to other treatments. The board has already approved 23 serious medical conditions for medical marijuana use, but board members were concerned the applications for traumatic brain, hepatitis, and Hepatitis C were "overly broad" and cited worries that juveniles with traumatic brain injuries could qualify for medical marijuana. With chronic insomnia and major depressive, the board concluded there was no evidence that medical marijuana would benefit patients with those conditions.

Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.

September Will Be Psychedelic Awareness Month in Ann Arbor, US Afghan Opium Fiasco, More... (8/18/21)

Pennsylvania's medical marijuana advisory board rejects five potential qualifying conditions, it will be Psychedelic Awareness Month next month in Ann Arbor, and more.

Harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan. Nearly $9 billion in US anti-drug aid couldn't stop it. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Board Rejects Adding New Qualifying Medical Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board on Tuesday voted to reject adding five medical conditions to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. Those conditions were traumatic brain injury, hepatitis, Hepatitis C, chronic insomnia that isn’t responding to other treatments and major depressive disorder that isn’t responding to other treatments. The board has already approved 23 serious medical conditions for medical marijuana use, but board members were concerned the applications for traumatic brain, hepatitis, and Hepatitis C were "overly broad" and cited worries that juveniles with traumatic brain injuries could qualify for medical marijuana. With chronic insomnia and major depressive, the board concluded there was no evidence that medical marijuana would benefit patients with those conditions.

Psychedelics

Ann Arbor Declares September Will Be Psychedelic Awareness Month. The city council voted Monday to officially designate September as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month. The move comes nearly a year after the council voted to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics and passed on a unanimous vote. "Practices with entheogenic plants/fungi have been considered sacred to human cultures and human relationships with nature for thousands of years," the resolution says. The measure also says the city council "advocates increased awareness and understanding of the potential benefits of entheogens for mental health, personal and spiritual growth, as well as honoring the long standing ancestral practices and relationships with these entheogens."

Foreign Policy

The US Spent Nearly $9 Billion to Suppress Afghan Opium; It Remains World's Largest Opium Producer. As the two-decade American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan comes to an end, it is worth noting that the US tried throughout the occupation to quash the country's opium crop, spending $8.9 billion over the years to do so. To no avail: The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that Afghanistan has accounted for more than 80% of global opium production throughout this century and that opium cultivation in the country rose from 150,000 acres in 2002 to more than 450,000 last year.

Gallup Says Nearly Half of US Adults Have Smoked Pot, Sri Lanka Drug War Abuses Called Out, More... (8/17/21)

Washington state's governor is moving to commute hundreds of drug possession sentences, a new Gallup poll has the number of Americans who admit ever using marijuana at an all-time high, and more.

The number of Americans who admit to having tried marijuana is at an all-time high, says Gallup. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll: Percent of US Adults Who Have Ever Smoked Pot at Highest Point Ever. A new Gallup poll has the percentage of US adults who have ever tried marijuana at 49%, the highest figure Gallup has recorded to date. In 1969, just 4% said they had tried it, with that figure rising to 20% in 1977, 30% in 1985, and 40% in 2015. But the number of people who say they currently "smoke marijuana" is much smaller, staying steady at between 11% and 13% after jumping from the 7% in 2013, the first year Gallup asked the question. Trends in marijuana use are generational, with only 19% of people over 75 having tried it, compared with about half of millennials (51%), Generation Xers (49%) and baby boomers (50%).

Drug Policy

Washington State Governor Unveils New Process to Commute Hundreds of Drug Possession Sentences. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Monday rolled out a new method for hundreds of people seeking to commute their sentences for low-level drug convictions to do so. The move comes after the state Supreme Court invalidated the state's drug possession law because it did not require people to knowingly possess, leading the state legislature to pass a bill allowing people caught with drugs to be referred to a health evaluation and possible drug treatment for their first two offenses. Now, the governor is pushing expedited clemency for those eligible under the new policy and those currently on probation or paroled for low-level drug possession can directly petition the governor for a commutation.

International

Human Rights Watch Calls for Suspension of International Assistance to Sri Lanka Police over Abuses in War on Drugs, Fight Against COVID. Human Rights Watch has called on international donors and "partners" of the Sri Lankan police to suspend assistance to them because they "are increasingly killing and abusing people under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic measures and an anti-drug campaign." The group cited recent police abuses including alleged extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention. It called on the government of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to "restore independent oversight of the police and meaningfully investigate and prosecute alleged police abuses." "Sri Lanka's police seem intent on building on their past record of serious abuses, instead of cleaning up their act," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The UN, UK, and others working with Sri Lankan law enforcement should recognize that without the political will to reform on Sri Lanka’s part, their engagement risks appearing to endorse abusive agencies." Human Rights Watch noted two cases in May where men in arrested on drug charges were fatally shot while in police custody. It also noted that the Sri Lankan government placed the police and the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board under the Defense Ministry last year. The police crackdown on drugs has allegedly involved planting drugs on suspects, torture, and other ill-treatment in police custody or at "rehabilitation" centers run by the Army. A new report from Harm Reduction International  found that "treatment" at those centers includes near-daily beatings and other physical abuses amounting to torture.

Magic Mushroom Shops Sprout in Vancouver, OH Activists Resubmit Marijuana Legalization Petition, More... (8/16/21)

California's Supreme Court says no pot for prisoners, the Philippine Justice Department makes an announcement but sheds no light, and more.

Shops in Vancouver are selling magic mushrooms and other psychedelic delectables despite their being illegal to sell. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

California Supreme Court Rules No Pot for Prisoners. Inmates in the state prison system do not have the right to possess marijuana under Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in the state, the state Supreme Court ruled in a case last week. That decision reverses a 2019 lower court decision that held prisoners could possess marijuana behind bars but could not smoke or otherwise ingest it. "We agree with the Attorney General that if the drafters had intended to so dramatically change the laws regarding cannabis in prison, we would expect them to have been more explicit about their goals," wrote Associate Justice Joshua Groban in the 5-2 opinion. "While perhaps not illogical to distinguish between the possession and use of cannabis, it is nonetheless difficult to understand why the electorate would want to preclude laws criminalizing cannabis possession in prison, but permit laws criminalizing cannabis consumption in prison," he continued.

Ohio Activists Resubmit Marijuana Legalization Petition. An activist group, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, has resubmitted a marijuana legalization petition and required signatures after its first effort was rejected las week by Attorney General David Yost (R). "We appreciate the attorney general’s feedback on our initial filing and have fully addressed the issues flagged in this updated filing" coalition spokesman Tom Haren said. If and when the initiative is approved for signature gathering, the group will have to collect 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the proposed law before the legislature. If the legislature rejects it or fails to act on it, it could go before the voters after a second round of signature gathering.

International

Magic Mushroom Shops Sprout in Vancouver. A handful of shops selling magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances are operating in Vancouver, British Columbia, even though selling magic mushrooms remains illegal in Canada. One such shop, the Coca Leaf Café & Mushroom Dispensary on East Hastings Street, is owned by long-time drug activist Dana Larsen. "We're sitting in a place that is unique in the world. There's nowhere else where you can get the same range of substances and things that we do right here," Larsen said. "Within a few years there’s going to be hundreds of mushroom and psychedelic dispensaries across Canada," Larsen predicted. It's not his first rodeo when it comes to promoting illicit drugs: He ran an illegal pot shop, gave out 5 million pot seeds during the 2016 "Overgrow Canada" campaign, and mailed grams of weed to Liberal politicians. Although he's operating without a license, he's not too worried, he said:  "I'm pretty good at finding that grey area where you can expand things but take a little risk, but maybe not get arrested," he said. "And even if that happened, a judge being like, ‘Yeah, Dana deserves to go to jail for a long time because he's selling people coca tea and a gram or two of psychedelic mushrooms,’ it’s just not going to happen." 

Philippine Justice Department Says It Has Finished Review of 52 Drug War Killing Cases. The Department of Justice panel that examined 52 cases of drug war killings forwarded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) says it has finished report. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he was going over the report, but there was no indication if or when the report is going to be made public. The review is part of a Filipino government effort to blunt a potential formal investigation by the International Criminal Court, which has completed a preliminary investigation and awaits a decision by prosecutors on whether to move ahead. But the 52 cases forwarded to the Justice Department represent only a tiny fraction of the more than 6,000 drug war killings for which the PNP took responsibility and an even tinier fraction of the total number of drug war killings, many conducted by shadowy vigilantes, a number human rights groups put at somewhere north of 30,000. For the latest on the horrendous human rights situation in the Philippines, see this recently released report from the Philippine Human Rights Information Center, The Killing State: Duterte's Legacy of Violence.

White House Considering Clemency for Federal Drug Offenders, WY Marijuana Initiatives Advance, More... (8/13/21)

A major drug crackdown in India's Assam state is raising fears of another bloody drug war like the one in neighboring Bangladesh, Wyoming marijuana inititives pass a first hurdle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Marijuana Initiatives Pass First Hurdle. The secretary of state has certified the first one hundred signatures for two marijuana-related marijuana initiatives, one for medical marijuana and one for recreational legalization. That certification means that the initiatives are now clearly for broader signature gathering to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. To qualify, petitioners must gather 41,776 valid voter signatures before February 14, 2022.

Criminal Justice

White House Says Biden Exploring Clemency for Federal Drug Offenders. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that President Biden is looking into using his executive authority to grant clemency to people with certain non-violent drug convictions. Her comments came in response to a question about plans for federal inmates who had been released to home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic. The administration is "working hard every day to reform our justice system in order to strengthen families, boost our economy, give people a chance at a better future," Psaki responded. "As part of this, the president is deeply committed to reducing incarceration, helping people successfully reenter society. And he has said too many people are incarcerated—too many are black and brown. And he is therefore exploring multiple avenues to provide relief to certain nonviolent drug offenders, including through the use of his clemency power."

International

India's Assam State Launches War on Drugs. The northeastern Indian state of Assam has for years served as the primary transit corridor for drugs from neighboring Myanmar, particularly methamphetamine, and now the state government has launched a major crackdown, seizing record amounts of drugs and arresting more than 2,000 people since May, more than full-year totals for any previous year. Assam connects the northeast to the rest of India, and experts estimate that 80% of the drugs flowing into the state end up in the rest of the country. The crackdown comes after an ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Himanta Biswa Sarma, became the state's chief minister in May, saying he was giving police a free hand to suppress drugs, including shooting suspects when necessary. So far only two people have been killed in police raids. Some experts fear Assam could descend into drug war violence like that which has occurred in neighboring Bangladesh, where methamphetamine use is rife, and police have have killed hundreds of suspected drug dealers since 2018.

Naloxone Shortage Looms, MS MedMJ Effort Drawing Near to Special Session, More... (8/11/21)

Wisconsin Democrats cross the state line to an Illinois pot shop to roll out their marijuana legalization bill, there's bad news for people who might need the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and more.

The opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Supplies are running short after a manufacturing problem. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Wisconsin Democrats Unveil Marijuana Legalization Bill—At Illinois Dispensary. Democratic lawmakers crossed the state line to use an Illinois marijuana sales outlet as the backdrop for their rollout of a marijuana legalization bill Tuesday. Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) are filing a bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated sales. But the bill's prospects are iffy at best in the GOP-controlled state legislature, which has fended off similar efforts for the past eight years. "However you feel about cannabis use, keeping it illegal isn’t helping anything. It’s only hurting. The people of Wisconsin are ready for legalization," Spreitzer said.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone Shortage Looms. Pfizer, the maker of single-dose injectable naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, has halted production of the drug since April because of an unspecified manufacturing issue, and that is making the life-saving drug more difficult to obtain and more expensive in the midst of an opioid overdose crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives in the last year. Pfizer offers the drug at a discount to a national buyers' club of harm reduction programs, but says it may be February before it can meet demand again. That effectively means the life-saving drug will have to be rationed until then. "Who do you stop supplying? Jennifer Plumb of Utah Naloxone said. "Who do you stop prioritizing? Who do you stop making sure has naloxone?"

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy. Take a little vacation and look what happens: Crooked (and perverted) cops run wild. Let's get to it:

In New Albany, Indiana, a New Albany police officer was arrested on July 19 for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a meth-using informant. Officer Adam Schneider had already been arrested a week earlier on voyeurism charges after the Indiana State Police searched his phone and found images and videos of women changing clothes in a dressing room of a business at Schneider's residence. Now, an informant has told investigators she and Schneider carried on a sexual relationship and that he had found her in possession of meth he did not seize but allowed her to keep. The source also told authorities Schneider knew she possessed meth on several occasions and that he told her to get rid of it or sell it. It was the investigation into the sexual relationship between Schneider and the informant that led to the voyeurism charges. He also faces felony charges of obstruction of justice and official misconduct and has been placed on administrative leave.

In Central Falls, Rhode Island, a Wyatt Detention Center jail guard was arrested July 20 along with two inmates and two ex-inmate drug suppliers in a scheme to smuggle suboxone into the prison. Correctional Officer Kaii Almeida-Falcones, 25, allegedly worked with the outside dealers to smuggle the drug into the jail. It is not clear what the precise charges are.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a Carlisle police detective was convicted July 16 of using his official position two extort sexual favors from two female drug defendants. Officer Christopher Collare, 53, who was also a task force officer with the FBI and a member of the Cumberland County Drug Task Force, in one 2015 case agreed not to appear at an evidentiary hearing so that charges would be dismissed in exchange for sex, and in a 2018 case, took steps to reduce a potential prison sentence in exchange for sexual favors. He was also found guilty of distributing heroin in 2016 and lying on a federal form to become a member of an FBI task force and lying repeatedly to FBI agents in a May 2018 interview. He was convicted of federal program bribery, bribery by a federal official, distribution of heroin, and six counts of false statements. He was jailed following the verdict and is looking at up to 50 years in federal prison.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a former state police officer was convicted July 23 on drug charges related to his efforts to seduce a high school student with free marijuana, as well as a separate sex-for-drugs scheme Former Officer Daniel Capeheart, 36, went down after sending text messages to a teenage girl he had pulled over. The girl's father notified local sheriff's deputies, who then used the phone to message Capeheart, requesting marijuana. Capeheart then twice left marijuana for the girl. He also did nearly the same thing with another teenage girl, leaving marijuana for her at specified drop locations. He was convicted of two counts of distributing marijuana and a third count of distributing methamphetamine. He faces between five and 40 years in prison.

In Waycross, Georgia, a former senior guard at the Coffee County Correctional Facility pleaded guilty July 23 for her role in a major south Georgia drug trafficking conspiracy. Jessica Azalae Burnett, aka "The Madam," 41, was a sergeant and a senior guard with CoreCivic, the private prison company that operates Coffee County Correctional Facility, admitted working with other conspirators in distribution of methamphetamine and marijuana. Her role in the conspiracy included smuggling cell phones, drugs and other contraband into the state prison. She pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and marijuana and is looking at up to 20 years in the federal pen. Burnett is one of 48 defendants indicted in Operation Sandy Bottom, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation centered in the Sand Ridge neighborhood on the east side of Douglas, Ga., in an area known as “the bottoms.” The 57-count indictment, USA v. McMillan et. al,  was unsealed in January 2021 and alleges that the conspiracy, controlled by a subset of the violent Gangster Disciples street gang, used guns, violence and fear to control methamphetamine trafficking operations throughout the community and to enable contraband distribution inside Georgia prisons.

In El Paso, Texas, a former El Paso police officer pleaded guilty Monday to helping her stepfather stash and distribute cocaine. Former Officer Monica Garcia, 24, admitted using her position as a police officer to conduct countersurveillance and run the license plates of vehicles near her stepfather's stash house to identify undercover police vehicles. She pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premise and is looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Marianna, Florida, a former Jackson County sheriff's deputy was sentenced July 15 to 12 ½ years in prison for planting drugs on motorists and then arresting them. Former Deputy Zachary Wester, 28, had faced 67 counts including racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, and false imprisonment, and was found guilty on 19 of them.  

In Detroit, a former Detroit police officer was sentenced last Friday to 18 months in prison for taking a $15,000 bribe from a drug dealer in exchange for not pursuing charges against him. Former Officer Michael Mosley, 49, went down after participating in a drug raid where two kilos of heroin, one kilo of cocaine, and six guns were recovered. The dealer admitted to Mosley the drugs were his and signed a confession, and the two stayed in contact as Mosley tried to turn him into a snitch. But the dealer instead offered up the bribe to make the charges go away. He pleaded guilty to bribery.

In Mission, Texas, a former East Hidalgo Detention Center guard was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in federal prison for supplying an inmate with cocaine. Former Correctional Officer Erasmo Loya, 56, took cash for providing inmates with food, marijuana, and cocaine. Loya had supplied cocaine to one prisoner for two years, and was indicted on a bribery charge in November 2019. In a plea agreement, Loya copped instead to providing contraband to a person in a correctional facility, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence.

Medical Marijuana Update

Federal GOP lawmakers find more marijuana windmills to tilt at, North Carolina Cherokees become the first in the state to approve medical marijuana, and more.

National

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 July 20 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.

Senate Committee Approves Expanded Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee in late July approved an amendment designed to ease veterans' access to medical marijuana by allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The measure sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) passed on a voice vote. "We have now 36 states that have medical cannabis, and our veterans want to know from their VA doctor what their thoughts are on the pros and cons or appropriate role or challenges of this particular strategy for treating a variety of issues, including PTSD," Merkley said. "I think it’s really important that we not force our veterans to be unable to discuss this issue with their doctors." The measure must still pass the Senate, and the amendment will have to survive a conference committee if it does pass the Senate.

Mississippi

Mississippi Legislature Could Hold Special Session on Medical Marijuana in August. Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R-District 48) said July 15 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.

Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.

Nebraska

Nebraska Advocates Planning Multiple Medical Marijuana Initiatives. Medical marijuana advocates organized as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana are planning several medical marijuana initiatives aimed at the 2020 ballot in a bid to avoid the fate of their 2020 initiative, which was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court because it encompassed more than one subject. The group has already drafted a constitutional amendment that says simply: "Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes." State Sen. Anna Wishart (D), a member of the group, said the group is considering two more initiatives that would "work in unison" to get medical marijuana legalized. One would require legislators to pass bills protecting physicians who recommend medical marijuana and their patients from criminal liability. The other would require lawmakers to pass bills protecting private companies that produce and supply medical marijuana. Once the proposed initiatives are okayed for signature gathering, activists would need 122,274 valid voter signatures for the constitutional amendment and 85,592 for the statutory initiatives. There is no deadline specified, but signatures have to be handed in at least four months before election day to qualify for the ballot that year.

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Care Act Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Finance Committee on July 20 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.

North Carolina Cherokees Become First in State to Approve Medical Marijuana. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who maintain a sovereign nation in western North Carolina known as the Qualla Boundary, have approved the cultivation, distribution, and use of medical marijuana on their reservation lands, becoming the first entity in the state to do so. It is not clear when the tribal medical marijuana program will actually get going, but the tribe envisions a Cannabis Control Board to handle licensing and the issuance of medical marijuana cards. People would be limited to buying one ounce per day, with no more than six ounces in one month.

 

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rules Workers Can Sue Employers for Discrimination Over Medical Marijuana. A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled last Thursday that the state's medical marijuana law allows workers and job applicants to sue employers for discrimination for firing or refusing to hire them because of their medical marijuana use. Although the 2016 Medical Marijuana Act does not explicitly create a private right to sue, the court held that because that law did not grant any state agency the power to enforce anti-discrimination provisions, it implicitly created such a right. The ruling came in the case of Pamela Palmiter, who sought to sue Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton for refusing to hire her after she failed a drug test for marijuana. The Pennsylvania decision is in line with a federal court decision in the state last December, and state and federal courts in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island have also ruled that those state laws allow workers to sue for discrimination.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Governor Signs into Law Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Employment Discrimination. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has signed into law a bill that protects medical marijuana patients from discrimination in the workplace. The bill amends the territory's existing medical marijuana law to make registered patients members of a protected class under its employment protection laws. Under the expanded law, employers may not discriminate against authorized patients of medical cannabis in the recruitment, hiring, designation, or termination process or when imposing disciplinary actions. There are exceptions, such as when "the use of medical cannabis represents a real threat of harm or danger to others or property" or when "the use of medical cannabis interferes with the employee’s performance and functions."

Federal Prisons Failing on Providing Medication-Assisted Opioid Treatment, Mexico Cartel Threat, More... (8/10/21)

Korea is arresting more people on drug charges, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is threatening to kill a TV anchor over "unfair" coverage, and more.

Buprenorphine. Only 2% of eligible federal prisoners are receiving bupe or methadone to treat opioid addiction. (Pixabay)
Drug Treatment

Federal Prisons Failing to Provide Access to Medications for Opioid Addiction. The 2018 First Step Act required the federal prison system to expand access to medications to treat opiate addiction, but the Marshall Project reports that "bureaucratic inertia and outdated thinking about addiction programs means the federal program is still serving only a tiny fraction of those eligible." The Bureau of Prisons estimates that more than 15,000 federal prisoners were eligible for medication-assisted treatment, but only 268, or less than 2%, were receiving them. We are talking about methadone and buprenorphine here, but the Bureau of Prisons "lacks key planning elements to ensure this significant expansion is completed in a timely and effective manner."

International

Mexican Drug Cartel Threatens to Kill TV News Anchor Over "Unfair" Coverage. Masked men claiming to represent the Jalisco New Generation Cartel have released a video where they threaten to kill Milenio TV anchor Azucena Uresti over what they called "unfair" coverage. The cartel claimed that Milenio, a national cable news channel, was favoring "self-defense" vigilante groups that have been battling the cartel in Michoacan. JNGC claims the vigilantes are actually rival drug traffickers, and threatened to kill Uresti and make her eat her words. Threats against journalists are not mere words in Mexico. Dozens have been killed in recent years, and the Committee to Protect Journalists says Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists.

South Korea Arresting More People for Drugs. The Office for Government Policy Coordination has released a report showing drug arrests between January and July jumped 8.6% over the same period last year. The office also reported that the number of cases of drugs seized entering the country in international shipments shot up nearly three-fold to just over 600. The total number of drug arrests during the period was 7,565. Drug use is not tolerated and is relatively rare in South Korea, as is reflected in seizure numbers: Total seizures of marijuana were at just over 100 pounds and total seizures of other drugs, including heroin and methamphetamine, totaled slightly more than 300 pounds. 

AR Legal Pot Initiative Already Has 10,000 Signatures, NC Cherokees Become First in State to Approve MedMJ, More... (8/9/21)

Medical and recreational marijuana initiative campaigns are getting underway, Puerto Rico's governor signs into law employment protections for medical marijuana patients, and more.

Nebraskans would like to be able to go to medical marijuana dispensaries like people in most other states. (Sondra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Already Has 10,000 Signatures. The group behind a marijuana legalization initiative campaign, Arkansas True Grass, says it has already gathered some 10,000 raw signatures as it pushes to get the measure on the November 2022. The initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment that would legalize the sale and possession of marijuana for people 21 and over. People could purchase up to four ounces of smokable or vaporized marijuana per day, and there would be no limits on the number of dispensaries. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it has higher signature gathering requirements than statutory initiatives, and organizers must come up with 89,151 valid voter signatures by July 8, 2022.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Advocates Planning Multiple Medical Marijuana Initiatives. Medical marijuana advocates organized as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana are planning several medical marijuana initiatives aimed at the 2020 ballot in a bid to avoid the fate of their 2020 initiative, which was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court because it encompassed more than one subject. The group has already drafted a constitutional amendment that says simply: "Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes." State Sen. Anna Wishart (D), a member of the group, said the group is considering two more initiatives that would "work in unison" to get medical marijuana legalized. One would require legislators to pass bills protecting physicians who recommend medical marijuana and their patients from criminal liability. The other would require lawmakers to pass bills protecting private companies that produce and supply medical marijuana. Once the proposed initiatives are okayed for signature gathering, activists would need 122,274 valid voter signatures for the constitutional amendment and 85,592 for the statutory initiatives. There is no deadline specified, but signatures have to be handed in at least four months before election day to qualify for the ballot that year.

North Carolina Cherokees Become First in State to Approve Medical Marijuana. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who maintain a sovereign nation in western North Carolina known as the Qualla Boundary, have approved the cultivation, distribution, and use of medical marijuana on their reservation lands, becoming the first entity in the state to do so. It is not clear when the tribal medical marijuana program will actually get going, but the tribe envisions a Cannabis Control Board to handle licensing and the issuance of medical marijuana cards. People would be limited to buying one ounce per day, with no more than six ounces in one month.

Puerto Rico Governor Signs into Law Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Employment Discrimination. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has signed into law a bill that protects medical marijuana patients from discrimination in the workplace. The bill amends the territory's existing medical marijuana law to make registered patients members of a protected class under its employment protection laws. Under the expanded law, employers may not discriminate against authorized patients of medical cannabis in the recruitment, hiring, designation, or termination process or when imposing disciplinary actions. There are exceptions, such as when "the use of medical cannabis represents a real threat of harm or danger to others or property" or when "the use of medical cannabis interferes with the employee’s performance and functions."

New Orleans Decriminalizes Weed, PA Appeals Court Rules Workers Can Sue Over MedMJ Discrimination, More... (8/6/21)

Life in the Big Easy just got a little easier, Ohio marijuana legalization activists will have to try again with that ballot summary language, and more.

The Mississippi River at New Orleans, where marijuana has just been decriminalized. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Ballot Language for Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A campaign to legalize marijuana in the state will have to begin again after Attorney General Dave Yost (R) rejected the first batch of signatures handed in, saying the initiative petition improperly summarized how the state's law would change. In a letter to the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Yost said the summary failed to make the standard of a "fair and truthful statement" of what the initiative would do. Among other things, he said the text failed to explain in detail that employers did not have to employ marijuana users and that the six-plant limit does not clearly explain that it applies to both cultivating and possessing the plant. Now, the Coalition will have to redraft and resubmit summary language and then gather initial signatures again. The campaign aims to prod the legislature to pass or reject marijuana legalization, and if the legislature rejects it, the issue could then go before voters after a second round of signature gathering.

New Orleans Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession, Pardons Old Convictions. The New Orleans City Council on Thursday voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and to pardon some 10,000 past convictions and pending cases. Councilmembers said the move would help the community gain trust with the police and it would allow police to focus on violent crime. Pot smoking in public is still prohibited, but will be ticketed as a smoke-free air act violation instead of a drug charge.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rules Workers Can Sue Employers for Discrimination Over Medical Marijuana. A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled Thursday that the state's medical marijuana law allows workers and job applicants to sue employers for discrimination for firing or refusing to hire them because of their medical marijuana use. Although the 2016 Medical Marijuana Act does not explicitly create a private right to sue, the court held that because that law did not grant any state agency the power to enforce anti-discrimination provisions, it implicitly created such a right. The ruling came in the case of Pamela Palmiter, who sought to sue Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton for refusing to hire her after she failed a drug test for marijuana. The Pennsylvania decision is in line with a federal court decision in the state last December, and state and federal courts in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island have also ruled that those state laws allow workers to sue for discrimination.

House Approves Marijuana Measures, Three More Towns Move Toward Psychedelic Decrim, More... (8/5/21)

Activists in Ohio and Wyoming are gearing up for marijuana legalization pushes, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections is being sued over bad drug tests, and more.

Marijuana policy is getting some attention on Capitol Hill these days. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Marijuana Banking, Employment, and DC Sales Provisions in Major Spending Bill. The House last week included spending bills for  the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Rural Development, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development that include several marijuana reform provisions. One measure would provide protection for financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana companies, another would allow for the legalization of marijuana sales in Washington, DC, while a third would direct the federal government to reconsider policies that fire federal works for using state-legal marijuana. The spending bill will have to be reconciled with a Senate version before becoming law.

Ohio Activists Launch Legalization Campaign, Will Push Initiative That Legislature Must Address. A local activist group, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA), has launched an effort to persuade lawmakers to legalize marijuana by submitting a thousand signatures to the state attorney general's office for a marijuana legalization ballot initiative. Unlike a failed 2015 effort, this is a statutory initiative—not a constitutional one—and if organizers meet signature-gathering requirements of 132,887 valid voter signatures, the legislature would then have four months to approve, amend, or reject it. If lawmakers do not pass the initiative, organizers would have to then collect an additional 132,887 valid voter signatures to take it directly to voters in November 2022.

Wyoming Secretary of State Approves Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Ed Buchanan (R) has conditionally certified two separate ballot initiatives, one to legalize medical marijuana and one to legalize recreational marijuana. That means signature gathering should get underway shortly. Organizers will need to gather 41,776 valid voter signatures for each initiative to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. They have 18 months to gather signatures, although will have to do so in less than that to make the November 2022 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Approves Expanded Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved an amendment designed to ease veterans' access to medical marijuana by allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The measure sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) passed on a voice vote. "We have now 36 states that have medical cannabis, and our veterans want to know from their VA doctor what their thoughts are on the pros and cons or appropriate role or challenges of this particular strategy for treating a variety of issues, including PTSD," Merkley said. "I think it’s really important that we not force our veterans to be unable to discuss this issue with their doctors." The measure must still pass the Senate, and the amendment will have to survive a conference committee if it does pass the Senate.

Psychedelics

Three More Communities Move Toward Psychedelic Decriminalization. A trio of small communities—all bordering jurisdictions that have already enacted psychedelic reforms—are moving toward decriminalizing psychedelics. Easthampton, Massachusetts; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Arcata, California, are all entertaining ways of reducing criminal penalties for the possession or use of some psychedelics. Such measures have already been approved in Denver, three Boston suburbs, and Oakland and Santa Cruz, California. 18.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Prison System Sued Over Unreliable Drug Tests That Put Inmates in Solitary. A class action lawsuitfiled by Justice Catalyst Law and Boston law firm accuses the state Department of Corrections of using a "notoriously unreliable" field drug test to detect contraband drugs that has led to public defenders of being falsely accused of sending drug-tainted mail to their clients and punishing falsely accused prisoners with solitary confinement. The lawsuit says the drug test, from the company Sirchie, which is designed to detect synthetic cannabinoids, is so prone to false positives that using it is akin to "witchcraft, phrenology or simply picking a number out of a hat." "We brought this lawsuit to protect disempowered people incarcerated by the DOC from the unconscionable decision to use these tests in the face of overwhelming evidence of their inaccuracy," Ellen Leonida, a partner at BraunHagey & Borden, said. "We also intend to hold the drug companies liable for knowingly profiting from the misuse of these tests and the misery they are causing."

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.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School