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Mississippi's Medical Marijuana Law Struck Down Before It Can Take Effect [FEATURE]

Mississippians want medical marijuana. They said so at the polls last November when 74% of them voted for Amendment 65, the medical marijuana initiative that had jumped through all the procedural hoops to make it onto the ballot. They also said they wanted that specific language, rejecting a watered-down Alternate Amendment 65A sponsored by the Republican-dominated state legislature in a bid to seize control over the issue.

Mississippi Supreme Court (mississippi.org)
But before the voters had spoken, long-time Republican Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed suit to have the initiative thrown out on what can fairly be described as a technicality. And last Friday, the state Supreme Court, consisting of five justices appointed by Republican governors and four selected in nonpartisan elections, agreed, overturning the clear will of the voters because the legislature has failed to act for two decades on a constitutional housecleaning issue.

Under a provision of the state constitution added in the 1990s, Section 273, initiative campaigns are required to get one-fifth of signatures from each of five congressional districts, which seems straightforward enough. The only problem is that since congressional reapportionment after the 2000 census, the state only has four districts, making it impossible for any initiative to comply with the constitutional language.

Since 2000, the state has seen numerous initiatives, with many, including a 2011 voter ID initiative, becoming state law. None of them have been thrown out because of the conflict between the Section 273 language and reality. Until now.

In its 6-3 decision in Butler v. Watson (Watson being the secretary of state), the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the state's loss of a congressional seat renders the Section 273 language "unworkable and inoperable on its face," and instead pronounced itself bound to find Amendment 65 "insufficient" because it cannot meet the five district requirement. And it pointed a finger back at the legislature:

"Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress," the court held. "To work in today's reality, it will need amending -- something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court."

The decision is not going over well, and not only with medical marijuana advocates, but also in the state legislature, where this week calls arose among lawmakers for a special session to deal with medical marijuana and with the constitutional initiative problem.

"The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a statement. "Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end. The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people's constitutional right. It's a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn't matter."

"The Supreme Court's decision effectively told the people of Mississippi: 'You have no voice, no vehicle for voter initiative, y'all's power is over,'" said Diesoul Blankenship of Mississippians for Medical Marijuana. "It's nothing short of erroneous and illegal."

"228,000 Mississippians signed petitions to put medical marijuana on the ballot last year, and an overwhelming majority of the state voted to approve it in November," said Angie Calhoun, Board Member of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association. "In addition to silencing the votes of three-fourths of the state, today the Supreme Court squashed the hope of thousands of patients like my son, who will now not be able to find relief through medical marijuana. As a mother of a patient, I am heartbroken and outraged that this was allowed to happen."

National supporters of Amendment 65 chimed in, too.

In a statement last Friday, Marijuana Policy Project deputy director Matthew Schweich called it a "cruel and tragic day" for Mississippi patients and described the court decision as "deeply flawed."

"As a result, tens of thousands of Mississippians with debilitating health conditions will be denied safe, legal access to something that can alleviate their pain and improve their quality of life. Instead, they will once again be treated as criminals under the law, Schweich said. "To add insult to injury, this decision not only nullifies the will of hundreds of thousands of voters, it also effectively eliminates Mississippians' right to bring forward ballot initiatives to amend their state's constitution. The legislature must take action to fix the ballot initiative requirements and honor the will of their constituents by enacting Amendment 65 into law through the legislative process."

"Our hearts are broken for the patients in Mississippi who need access to medical cannabis, as well as their families who will continue to watch their loved ones needlessly suffer. We stand with them. The fight for a compassionate medical cannabis law in Mississippi will continue."

There are growing bipartisan calls for a special session to rectify the situation.

Republican House Speaker Phillip Gunn said Monday he is open to the special session. "If the legislature does not act on an issue that the people of Mississippi want, then the people need a mechanism to change the law. I support the governor calling us into a special session to protect this important right of the people," the Republican representative said in a statement.

Democratic state Rep. John Hines told said Tuesday the court's decision against the electorate was shocking and Reeves needed to act. "The governor's in the driver's seat when we're out of session," he said. "It's his prerogative to call a session or not call a session."

A poll released Tuesday could add to the mounting pressure on the governor. It found 60% of respondents disapproved of the Supreme Court ruling and wanted Reeves to call a special session.

Reeves, though, is so far noncommittal. In remarks Tuesday, he said: "The people have spoken. They made their voice heard and voted overwhelmingly to have a (medical marijuana) program and Mississippi should have that."

But when asked directly about calling a special session, his response was: "We are a long way from being able to make that decision."

And the people of Mississippi wait, thwarted.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A New Jersey cop gets caught with a meth lab in his basement, a Florida deputy gets nailed for planting dope on drivers, and more. Let's get to it:

In Long Branch, New Jersey, a Long Branch police officer was arrested on Sunday after a domestic disturbance call at his residence with another resident telling police he was involved in drug activity and the State Police Hazmat Unit responding and finding chemicals and equipment consistent with a meth lab, as well as meth residue in some glassware. Officer Christopher Walls, a 19-year veteran of the department, is now charged with first-degree maintaining or operating a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) production facility, as well as second-degree counts of possession of a firearm during the course of a CDS offense, risking widespread injury and endangering the welfare of a child. He also faces third degree charges of manufacturing and possession of meth. He has now been suspended without pay.

In Ridgeland, South Carolina, a former state prison guard was arrested Monday for smuggling lollipops laced with methamphetamine into the Ridgeland Correctional Institution. Ex-Sergeant Dana Fisher, 39, went down after she brought a bag of Blow Pop suckers into the prison and a contraband officer noticed that the wrappers appeared to have been altered with glue. The lollipops then tested positive for methamphetamine. Fisher is facing charges of distribution of methamphetamines, providing contraband to an inmate and misconduct in office.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a former Baton Rouge Police Department detective was arrested for a third time Tuesday amid an ongoing investigation of corruption within the entire narcotics division. Ex-Detective Jason Acree had resigned from the department earlier this month after his second arrest. His first arrest, for allegedly stealing marijuana from the evidence room came in February. He was then hit with obstruction of justice charges earlier this month. And he's now hit with new charges of making false statements in an affidavit, maintaining false public records and malfeasance in office. 

In Marianna, Florida, a former Wakulla County sheriff's deputy was convicted Tuesday of planting drugs on innocent drivers during traffic stops. Ex-Deputy Zachary Wester went down after internal affairs investigators found a stash of drugs in his patrol car that he would use to plant during traffic stops. He was charged in a dozen traffic stops where he arrested drivers and passengers on bogus charges and ended up being convicted on 19 counts. Prosecutors had to drop charges in nearly 120 cases involving Wester.

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy. There's action at statehouses all over the place, plus Ohio regulators okay three new qualifying conditions, and more.

Alabama

Alabama Becomes Newest Medical Marijuana State. With the signature of Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Senate Bill 46, medical marijuana is now set to become legal in the state. The new law allows the use of medical marijuana for a set of specified medical conditions and creates the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee how marijuana is grown.

Kansas

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for Senate Bill 158, has been approved by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee after it approved several amendments. This is the second time the committee has approved the reform proposal for this session. But in March, the House sent the bill back to the committee for further consideration.

Minnesota

Minnesota Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion, Smokable Marijuana. On the final day of the legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill that will expand the state's medical marijuana program by allowing patients to smoke the buds of the dried plant. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz (D).

Mississippi

Mississippi Supreme Court Voids Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law. The state Supreme Court last Friday threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, ruling that it did not meet the state's requirement that 20% of signatures come from each of five congressional districts. The problem is that the state has only had four congressional districts since the 2000 census, and legislative efforts to redress the issue have yet to succeed. Three justices strongly dissented, saying that the secretary of state has rightfully put the measure on the ballot. "The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a statement. "The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right. It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter."

Mississippi Lawmakers Ponder Special Session on Initiative, Medical Marijuana in Wake of Supreme Court Ruling. A day after the state Supreme Court invalidated a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative because of an unfixed flaw in the state's initiative law, some lawmakers are calling on Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a special session to fix the initiative process, while others want a special session to craft a medical marijuana bill. The governor says he's thinking about it.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Killed, Setting Stage for New Initiative. A bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana, LB 474, was killed in the legislature last Wednesday night. That sets the stage for another drive for a medical marijuana initiative, which is likely to be less restrictive than the bill that just died. The bill died when supporters were unable to go up with enough votes to stop a filibuster by opponents.

Nebraska Activists Relaunch Medical Marijuana Initiative After Legislature Blocks Bill. After medical marijuana foes in the legislature filibustered and killed a bill there on Wednesday, activists aren't wasting a minute in relaunching a campaign to put the issue before voters next year. State Sen. Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln), who led the legislative effort, took to Twitter Thursday to urge supporters to go to a website to volunteer and/or sign the petition.

Ohio

Ohio Medical Marijuana Panel Approves Three New Qualifying Conditions. A panel of the Ohio Medical Board has added three new qualifying conditions allowing state residents to use medical marijuana: arthritis, chronic migraines and complex regional pain syndrome, all of which fall into the existing category of chronic or intractable pain.

South Carolina

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Killed. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 150House Bill 3361, has died as the legislative session came to an end last Friday. "Quite frankly, I thought this was the year of medical marijuana, which I think has great public support," said Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto. "That will be at the top of the agenda when we come back."

South Dakota

South Dakota Board Okays Medical Marijuana on School Grounds. The state Board of Education Standards has approved a policy that allows adults to give medical marijuana to children for whom doctors have recommended it. Only a "registered caregiver" can administer it, and it must only be in non-smokable form.

West Virginia

West Virginia Regulators Considers Allowing Patients to Grow Their Own. The West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is considering a possible recommendation to allow state medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. Patient advocates cited the cost of buying medical marijuana dispensaries and obstacles to access for residents who do not live near dispensaries. A decision will come some weeks down the road.

LA House Vote Kills Marijuana Legalization Effort, AZ Legislature Approves Needle Exchanges, More... (5/19/21)

A Connecticut poll has strong continuing support for marijuana legalization, a Pennsylvania poll has surprisingly strong support for drug decriminalization, and more.

A bill that would allow for needle exchanges is now on the desk of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R). (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Sacred Heart University show continuing strong support for marijuana legalization even as the governor and legislative leaders struggle to come to agreement on rival proposals. The poll had support at 64% (35.8% strongly and 28.1% somewhat). That's a slight decrease from overall support at 66% in February, but still strong.

Louisiana House Kills Marijuana Legalization Effort. Marijuana legalization is dead for the year after the House on Tuesday failed to advance House Bill 434, which would set up a tax structure for marijuana sales. That bill needed a two-thirds majority because it is a tax measure, but didn't even get a majority, failing 47-48. That prompted bill sponsor Rep. Richard Nelson (R-Mandeville) to pull the legalization bill itself, which he also sponsored.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion, Smokable Marijuana. On the final day of the legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill that will expand the state's medical marijuana program by allowing patients to smoke the buds of the dried plant. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz (D).

Drug Policy

Pennsylvania Poll Has Majority Support for Drug Decriminalization. A new poll from Data for Progress has found that 60% of voters support having their district attorneys eliminate "criminal penalties for simple possession of a controlled substance." Some 71% of Democrats supported the proposal, while only 43% of Republicans did.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Legislature Approves Allowing Needle Exchange Programs. The legislature has passed a bill that would allow needle exchanges in the state, with the House voting 57-2 to advance it Tuesday. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

Indigenous Group Opposes Peyote Decriminalization as Shortages Loom, MS MedMJ Mess, More... (5/18/21)

Colorado is set to double the amount of marijuana adults may legally possess, South Dakota okays medical marijuana use for school children, and more.

Peyote. Should decriminalization be foregone because of looming shortages? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Legislature Approves Doubling Pot Possession Limit. The legislature has approved House Bill 1090, which double the amount of marijuana adults can legally possess from one once to two ounces. It also clears past arrests for possession of up to two ounces for record clearance and past Class 3 marijuana felony. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Jared Polis (D).

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Lawmakers Ponder Special Session on Initiative, Medical Marijuana in Wake of Supreme Court Ruling. A day after the state Supreme Court invalidated a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative because of an unfixed flaw in the state's initiative law, some lawmakers are calling on Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a special session to fix the initiative process, while others want a special session to craft a medical marijuana bill. The governor says he's thinking about it.

South Dakota Board Okays Medical Marijuana on School Grounds. The state Board of Education Standards has approved a policy that allows adults to give medical marijuana to children for whom doctors have recommended it. Only a "registered caregiver" can administer it, and it must only be in non-smokable form.

Psychedelics

Citing Conservation Efforts, Indigenous Groups Oppose Including Peyote in Psychedelic Decriminalization Campaigns. The Indigenous Peyote Conservation Communication Committee (IPCCC) is taking the position that peyote should not be included in psychedelic decriminalization efforts because it would be "very disruptive" to ongoing efforts to conserve the slow-growing cacti. Peyote takes 7 to 12 years to mature, and supplies are already in decline because of overharvesting. The group says it is not opposed to decriminalization in general. "but because there is an entire conservation strategy already underway." But Decriminalize Nature, the group behind a series of successful psychedelic reform initiative, says decriminalization and conservation are not mutually exclusive and that peyote "is a key ally in our collective struggle to awaken the masses from the fear-based slumber of disconnection from ourselves, each other and nature.

AL Becomes Latest MedMJ State, MS Supreme Court Throws Out Voter-Approved MedMJ Initiative, More... (5/17/21)

Ohio medical marijuana regulators expand the list of qualifying conditions, West Virginia medical marijuana regulators ponder allowing patient home grows, Kenyan Rastafaris petition seek to have their marijuana use legalized, and more.

The Mississippi Supreme Court. It just threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (mississippi.org)
Medical Marijuana

Alabama Becomes Newest Medical Marijuana State. With the signature of Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Senate Bill 46, medical marijuana is now set to become legal in the state. The new law allows the use of medical marijuana for a set of specified medical conditions and creates the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee how marijuana is grown.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for Senate Bill 158, has been approved by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee after it approved several amendments. This is the second time the committee has approved the reform proposal for this session. But in March, the House sent the bill back to the committee for further consideration.

Mississippi Supreme Court Voids Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law. The state Supreme Court last Friday threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, ruling that it did not meet the state's requirement that 20% of signatures come from each of five congressional districts. The problem is that the state has only had four congressional districts since the 2000 census, and legislative efforts to redress the issue have yet to succeed. Three justices strongly dissented, saying that the secretary of state has rightfully put the measure on the ballot. "The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a statement. "The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right. It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter."

Ohio Medical Marijuana Panel Approves Three New Qualifying Conditions. A panel of the Ohio Medical Board has added three new qualifying conditions allowing state residents to use medical marijuana: arthritis, chronic migraines and complex regional pain syndrome, all of which fall into the existing category of chronic or intractable pain.

West Virginia Regulators Considers Allowing Patients to Grow Their Own. The West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is considering a possible recommendation to allow state medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. Patient advocates cited the cost of buying medical marijuana dispensaries and obstacles to access for residents who do not live near dispensaries. A decision will come some weeks down the road.

International

Kenyan Rastafaris File Petition Seeking to Legalize Marijuana. The Rastafarian Society of Kenya has filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the country's drug laws and seeking the suspension of that section of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1994 dealing with marijuana when it comes to Rastafaris. "The Petitioners aver that followers/believers of the Rastafari faith use bhang or cannabis by either smoking, drinking, eating, bathing and/or burning of incense for spiritual, medicinal, culinary and ceremonial purposes as sacrament as the ultimate of manifesting their religion as a Rastafari to meditate and or reason with others in order to connect with their God," the petition said.

MN House Votes to Legalize Marijuana, AZ Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test-Strips Goes to Governor, More... (5/14/21)

A Mississippi appeals court upholds a life sentence for a man busted with 1.5 ounces of marijuana, the Minnesota House votes to legalize marijuana, a South Carolina medical marijuana bill dies, and more.

Allen Russell is doing life without parole in Mississippi for 1.5 ounces of weed.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Protect Marijuana Users from Losing Public Housing Filed. Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) has refiled a bill that would let people who live in federally subsidized housing use marijuana in compliance with state laws without fear of losing their housing. Under current federal law and policy, marijuana users can be evicted from public housing even in states where it is legal. "Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product," Norton said on Thursday. "Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Minnesota House Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The House on Thursday evening approved an omnibus marijuana legalization bill, House File 600. The bill would legalize weed for people 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The bill has the support of Gov. Tim Walz (D), but faces dim prospects in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Mississippi Man's Life Sentence for Marijuana Possession Upheld. A state appeals court on Tuesday upheld a life without parole sentence for Allen Russell after he was arrested with 1.5 ounces of marijuana in 2017. His sentence came after he was designated a habitual offender for having previous burglary and firearms possession convictions. The usual sentence for possessing 1.5 ounces of marijuana is up to three years in prison.

Medical Marijuana                                                   

Nebraska Activists Relaunch Medical Marijuana Initiative After Legislature Blocks Bill. After medical marijuana foes in the legislature filibustered and killed a bill there on Wednesday, activists aren't wasting a minute in relaunching a campaign to put the issue before voters next year. State Sen. Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln), who led the legislative effort, took to Twitter Thursday to urge supporters to go to a website to volunteer and/or sign the petition.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Killed. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 150House Bill 3361, has died as the legislative session came to an end Friday. "Quite frankly, I thought this was the year of medical marijuana, which I think has great public support," said Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto. "That will be at the top of the agenda when we come back."

Harm Reduction

Arizona Bill Legalizing Drug-Testing Strips Heads to Governor's Desk. The House has approved a bill that legalizes test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl, SB1486. Under current state law, the strips are considered drug paraphernalia. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

WA Governor Signs Misdemeanor Drug Possession Bill, VT Senate Approves Buprenorphine Bill, More... (5/13/21)

Look for a Nebraska medical marijuana initiative next year after the legislature killed a bill this week, a Pennsylvania poll finds broad support for criminal justice reforms, and more.

The Vermont legislature has approved a bill legalizing the possession of limited amounts of buprenorphine. (Pixabay)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Killed, Setting Stage for New Initiative. A bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana, LB 474, was killed in the legislature Wednesday night. That sets the stage for another drive for a medical marijuana initiative, which is likely to be less restrictive than the bill that just died. The bill died when supporters were unable to go up with enough votes to stop a filibuster by opponents.

Drug Policy

Washington Governor Signs Bill Making Drug Possession a Misdemeanor. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 5476, which makes the possession of personal use amounts of drugs a misdemeanor, not a felony. The bill came after the state Supreme Court threw out the state's felony drug possession law earlier this year, and the legislature grappled with whether to do nothing and effectively decriminalize drug possession or act to ensure drug possession remained a criminal offense, even if not a felony.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Senate Approves Bill to Legalize Buprenorphine Possession. The state Senate on Wednesday voted to approve a bill legalizing the possession of limited amounts of the opioid maintenance drug buprenorphine, House Bill 225. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It would allow people to possess up to 224 milligrams of the drug, enough for a two week supply, without a doctor's prescription.

Law Enforcement

House Democrats File Bill to End Pentagon Shipments of Excess Equipment to Police Departments. Eighteen House Democrats led by Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) filed a bill Thursday to end the program that lets the Pentagon ship surplus equipment to local police departments. At the same time, more than 150 organizations signed on to a letter to lawmakers backing the bill. "The 1033 program has contributed to a military-style police culture and has endangered countless lives, particularly in communities of color," the 155 organizations wrote in the letter. "It is our assessment that the 1033 program is irreparable and should be abolished, especially in light of the fact that past attempts to reform the program were ineffective."

Pennsylvania Voters Support Criminal Justice Reforms, Poll Finds. A a new poll from Data for Progress and The Lab finds broad support for criminal justice reforms in the state. Voters approved of sentence reductions for good behavior in prison (75%), ending probation when supervision is no longer necessary (68%), limiting the use of cash bail (64%), and decriminalizing drug possession (60%).

Making a Better Good Samaritan Law in North Carolina [FEATURE]

The push is on in Raleigh to overhaul the state's Good Samaritan law, which protects from prosecution people who report a drug overdose to medical authorities. The state passed a limited Good Samaritan bill in 2013, but the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition calls it "currently one of the weakest in the country."

The current Good Samaritan law is unclear on whether its protective provisions apply to the person actually suffering the overdose, and as a result, people like Jordan Dean end up being arrested for suffering a heroin overdose. Dean, 27, and a buddy were both passed out in a car in a grocery store parking lot, an employee called it in, and although both EMS and police came to the scene, Dean ended up in the back of a squad car on the way to jail.

As North Carolina Health News reported, his case is not the only one. The state-level health media outlet cited similar cases of overdoses followed by arrests in Vance and Franklin counties.

Groups such as the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) and the North Carolina AIDS Action Network (NCAAN) are now getting behind an effort to strengthen the law with House Bill 852. The bill specifies that immunity from prosecution applies to the overdose victim as well as the person who reports the overdose.

Similar legislation passed the Senate in 2019, but failed to get through the House.

HB 852 also extends that immunity to include all drug possession offenses. Under the current law, people who overdose and are in possession of more than one gram of heroin or cocaine can still be charged with drug possession. And it includes a broader range of substances, including most significantly, fentanyl, that would be subject to those same protections.

"Our [current] law is actually one of the most limited in the country," said NCAAN executive director Lee Storrow, who, along with members of the Department of Health and Human Services opioid overdose prevention team, is helping lead the push for the bill. "When the Good Samaritan Law was enacted, our drug supply looked very different," he added. "Right now the main case of drug overdose in North Carolina is fentanyl -- but possession of fentanyl is not protected under our Good Samaritan Law, so it's a real barrier for people calling 911."

Another provision in the bill applies those same protections to overdose calls involving underage drinking.

The two groups joined with family members of overdose victims for a press conference and rally outside the General Assembly on Tuesday to call on lawmakers to save lives by advancing the bill.

"If people fear that they're still going to be arrested, the idea that they're protected from prosecution doesn't necessarily feel all that helpful," said Lee Storrow, head of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.

Families who have suffered overdose deaths also spoke out.

"There can't be any question when people are together and someone overdoses of whether or not they should dial 911," said Randy Abbott, who lost his 24-year-old daughter to a drug overdose in 2015, when her friends panicked instead of seeking help.

"We know they panicked, and we know the things that happened when they panicked, like getting stuff out of the house, putting it in her car, lots of different things that the detectives were able to figure out," Abbott said. "But they didn't dial 911."

"As a nurse practitioner that works in addiction medicine and who lost my younger brother to overdose, I felt called to come to the General Assembly to support HB 852. This bill would save countless lives," said Charlotte resident Elisa Edgerton.

NCHRC and the other advocates at the Tuesday press conference are working to make it so. After the media event, they headed inside to lobby members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana Update

An Alabama medical marijuana bill heads to the governor's desk and so does a limited Tennessee medical marijuana bill, and more.

Alabama

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. With final approval in the House on Thursday, and the Senate approving changes from the House that same day, a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, is now headed to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who has not indicated whether she will sign it. The bill would allow people suffering from a list of about 20 specified medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana.

Kansas

Kansas House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Thursday voted 78-42 to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for SB158. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Floor Debate This Week. The state's unicameral legislature will debate a medical marijuana bill, LB 474, on Wednesday. Sponsored by Sen. Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln), the bill would allow patients with specified qualifying conditions to buy and possess up to 2 ½ ounces, but not smoke it.

South Carolina

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill's Time is Running Out. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 150House Bill 3361, is on the calendar for debate in the House this week, but it is unclear whether it will be taken up before the session ends on Friday. The bill would allow patients with specified medical conditions access to medical marijuana and would set up a strictly regulated cultivation and distribution system.

Tennessee

Tennessee Legislature Approves Limited Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would expand the state's limited CBD program and create a medical marijuana study commission has passed the legislature and now heads for the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R), who is expected to sign it. It would allow patients to possess CBD oil with no more than 0.9% THC but provides no legal means of accessing it within the state.

LA House Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana, Vancouver Drug Decriminalization Battle, More... (5/12/21)

The Louisiana House votes to decriminalize pot possession, a Connecticut marijuana legalization effort may require a legislative special session, and more.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is prioritizing marijuana legalization over a marijuana banking bill. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Must Pass Marijuana Legalization Before Taking Up Pot Banking Bill, Schumer Says. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in an interview Tuesday that he is prioritizing a marijuana legalization bill that is still being drafted over a marijuana banking bill, the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1677), that has already passed the House. Biden said he and colleagues will be "introducing our [marijuana legalization] bill shortly" and that the banking bill should wait because "we're not going to bargain against ourselves."

Connecticut Key Players Say Marijuana Legalization May Get Bumped to Special Session. House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) said Tuesday that a marijuana legalization bill may be taken up in a special session later this year as the regular session faces a looming deadline. "It’s just one of those issues that we’re working through some of the details that were of concern to everyone over the past couple months, but we’re making progress," Rojas said. told a reporter from CT News Junkie during a press conference. House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) added "if we can find a path to a deal, it’s the kind of thing that I think you could always go into overtime if you had to," and that "we’d all be comfortable coming to special session for that issue."

Louisiana House Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. The House voted 67-25 Tuesday night to approve a marijuana decriminalization bill, House Bill 652. The bill would make possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable only by a $100 fine, even for repeat offenses. The bill now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are unclear.

International

Vancouver Drug Decriminalization Gets Harsh Criticism from Advocates Over Personal Possession Limits. The city is embarking on a plan to decriminalize drug possession but is getting serious flack from drug user advocates who say that the amount of drugs people can possess without criminal charges are too low and do not reflect the realities of drug use. They warn that setting the limits too low could encourage drug users to seek out synthetic opioids and benzodiazepines, setting the stage for more drug overdoses. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) has announced that it is withdrawing from talks with the city, and it and other drug policy advocates complain that drug users were largely excluded from the decriminalization process and that police have to large a role.

MO House Approves Needle Exchange Programs, NE MedMJ Bill Gets Hearing This Week, More... (5/11/21)

A Rhode Island superior court judge throws out a traffic stop and search based on the odor of marijuana, the Missouri House passes a needle exchange bill, and more.

Needle exchange programs like this one could be legalized under a bill that just passed the Missouri House. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Judge Throws Out Traffic Stop Search and Arrest Based on Odor of Marijuana. A Superior Court judge on Monday threw out evidence in two cases after determining that state troopers violated suspects' rights by unconstitutionally converting routine traffic stops into drug investigations and warrantless searches. Both cases involved out-of-state drivers of color and in both cases troopers argued that the apparent nervousness of drivers gave them reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stops and search the vehicles. In one of the cases, troopers also argued that the faint odor of marijuana could justify a warrantless search. Marijuana is decriminalized in the state. The trooper in this case initiated the stop because of a seatbelt violation, but as the judge noted in his ruling: "Based on the facts present in this case, it is clear that [the trooper] departed from his seatbelt violation mission and pursued a narcotics investigation when he removed [the driver] from the vehicle." The judge noted that the state Supreme Court had yet to rule on how decriminalization affected reasonable suspicion or probable cause determinations, but noted that neighboring Massachusetts and Vermont high courts had ruled that the odor of marijuana alone is not sufficient for a search.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Floor Debate This Week. The state's unicameral legislature will debate a medical marijuana bill, LB 474, on Wednesday. Sponsored by Sen. Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln), the bill would allow patients with specified qualifying conditions to buy and possess up to 2 ½ ounces, but not smoke it.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill's Time is Running Out. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 150House Bill 3361, is on the calendar for debate in the House this week, but it is unclear whether it will be taken up before the session ends on Friday. The bill would allow patients with specified medical conditions access to medical marijuana and would set up a strictly regulated cultivation and distribution system.

Harm Reduction

Missouri House Votes to Approve Needle Exchanges. The House on Monday passed a bill to legalize needle exchange programs, House Bill 1467. There are already needle exchanges in the state, but harm reduction workers currently face the prospect of a misdemeanor charge of providing needles for drug use. Under the bill, needle exchange programs could get legal by registering with the state. The bill now heads to the Senate.

MN Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote, Hawaii Pot Poll Shows State Evenly Split, More... (5/10/21/)

A proposed Mississippi marijuana legalization initiative hits a small bump, a Minnesota marijuana legalization bill heads for a House floor vote, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Split on Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. State residents are evenly divided on whether to legalize marijuana, according to a new Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll. Some 43% of registered voters supported legalization, while 42% were opposed. The difference is within the poll's 2.5% margin of error. Still, the trend is toward increasing support. The last time this poll was conducted, in December 2017, only 36% supported legalization, with 55% opposed.

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. An omnibus marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, has successful run the gauntlet of House committee votes, having been approved by 12 different committees, and now heads for a House floor vote this week. If it passes the House, the bill faces bleak prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Mississippi Marijuana Legalization Initiative Signature-Gathering Delayed. The secretary of state's office said last Friday that signature gathering for Initiative 77, a marijuana legalization initiative, will be delayed because of an error in notifying the public about the initiative. State law requires that the title and summary of an initiative be published within 10 days after those documents are filed, and Secretary of State Michael Watson (R) said it said the notice to the Mississippi Press Association and its affiliate, Mississippi Press Services, which was supposed to distribute it to all the newspapers in the state, but somehow missed five of them. The press association and service have apologized for the error.

Rio de Janeiro Drug Raid Massacre, AZ Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill, More... (5/7/21)

Medical marijuana bills are moving in several states, a Minnesota marijuana legalization bill has just won its 11th committee vote (!), the Texas House passes a psychedelic therapeutic study bill, and more.

A favela in Rio de Janeiro. A police raid on a Rio favela left 25 dead this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Law Enforcement Arrested Nearly 5,000 People on Marijuana Charges Last Year. Despite spreading legalization at the state level, federal marijuana prohibition remains in full force, with the DEA reporting seizing over 4 ½ million pot plants and making nearly 5,000 marijuana arrests. The number of plants seized was up by 20% over 2019, while the number of arrests was up only slightly from 2019. Both figures, though, represent substantial decreases from a decade ago, when the DEA seized nearly nine million plants and made 8,500 pot arrests.

Idaho Senate Approves Bill to Ban Marijuana Advertising. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would bar commercial advertising for marijuana in the state, a move that could potentially impact ballot initiatives to legalize the drug in the state. The bill was only filed this week and had a public hearing earlier in the day that gave the public little chance to participate. The bill now goes to the House.

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Yet Another House Committee Vote. The omnibus marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, was approved by the House Taxes Committee Wednesday. That was the 11th committee to approve the bill. It still must go before the House Ways and Means Committee before heading for a House floor vote. The bill face dim prospects, though, in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Strip Governor's Marijuana Legalization Proposal from Budget. The Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 on Thursday to delete Gov. Tony Evers' (D) marijuana legalization proposal from the budget. The move was no surprise, and has led to call from Evers for residents to put pressure on GOP lawmakers to support his agenda.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. With final approval in the House on Thursday, and the Senate approving changes from the House that same day, a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, is now headed to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who has not indicated whether she will sign it. The bill would allow people suffering from a list of about 20 specified medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana.

Kansas House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Thursday voted 78-42 to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for SB158. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Tennessee Legislature Approves Limited Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would expand the state's limited CBD program and create a medical marijuana study commission has passed the legislature and now heads for the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R), who is expected to sign it. It would allow patients to possess CBD oil with no more than 0.9% THC but provides no legal means of accessing it within the state.

Psychedelics

Texas House Approves Psychedelic Therapeutic Study Bill. The House on Thursday voted to approve a bill, House Bill 1802, that would mandate the state conduct a study of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA. The measure passed on an overwhelming vote of 134-12. The bill was amended in the House to limit the study to veterans with PTSD instead of the broader study originally envisioned. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Governor Doug Ducey (R) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 2810, which reforms but does not eliminate civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill passed the legislature with strong support.

International

Brazil Drug Raid in Rio Favela Leaves 25 Dead. A massive police operation Thursday against drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro left one policeman and 24 favela residents dead. The bloody raid is drawing condemnation from human rights groups. "Who are the dead? Young black men. That’s why the police talk about ‘24 suspects.’ Being a young, black favela resident automatically makes you a suspect to the police. They just keep piling up bodies and saying, ‘They’re all criminals,’" said Silvia Ramos, head of the Security Observatory at Candido Mendes University. "Is this the public security policy we want? Shootouts, killings and police massacres?" This isn't the deadliest anti-drug police operation in the country's history: A 2005 raid in the Baixada Fluminense favela left 29 dead. Police in Rio have a reputation for deadliness, and Human Rights Watch reports that they killed 453 in the first quarter of 2021.

Making Marijuana Green [FEATURE]

Your cannabis consumption has a carbon footprint, and when everybody's cannabis consumption is added up, that carbon footprint gets mighty big. But most of that climate-changing impact is coming from marijuana grown under lights indoors with extensive heating, air conditioning, and electrical requirements. Marijuana grown outdoors, or in greenhouses or hoop houses, doesn't require any of that, and has virtually no impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

It would appear that the ethical thing for marijuana consumers to do when it comes to addressing climate change is to rely on outdoor, sun-grown marijuana. But that is just for starters. Environmentally conscious consumers can get really serious and demand marijuana that is sun-grown, organic, and produced in a sustainable and regenerative fashion.

Before getting to solutions, let us first come to grips with the scope of the problem. Given that much of the marijuana grown in the United States goes into the black market, no one is quite sure just how much weed we produce. But a 2019 study from industry analysts New Frontier Data estimated that we are closing in on 35 million pounds a year, a figure that we could hit as early as 2025. (California alone accounted for more than 12 million pounds of illegal exports in 2019, according to the report.) A 2012 report from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley estimated 30 million pounds nationwide.

That is a lot of weed, and it has an environmental impact. That same UC Berkeley study found that marijuana cultivation accounts for at least 1 percent of all the electricity consumed in the country, at a cost of $6 billion a year. (Note that outdoor grows can be done without any electricity.) That translates into greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3 million cars, the researchers estimated.

A 2018 report New Frontier Data found that each gram of harvested indoor flower comes at a cost of one pound of carbon emissions, or 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. That same report found that growing indoors creates nearly 25 times more carbon and uses 18 times more electricity than outdoor grows.

More recently, researchers at Colorado State University published a March study showing how shifting grows from indoors to outdoors could almost eliminate the industry's carbon footprint. Going outdoors would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the industry in the state by 96 percent, reducing Colorado's total emissions by 1.3 percent.

The industry is headed in that direction, but at an achingly slow pace.

That 2019 New Frontier Data study found that only 44 percent of marijuana cultivation operations were outdoor grows. A Cannabis Business Times 2020 State of the Industry Report had similar numbers. It found that 42 percent of grows were outdoor, 41 percent were greenhouse, and 60 percent were indoor. (The numbers exceed 100 percent because many operators rely on two or even all three methods.)

The good news, according to Cannabis Business Times, is that the number of indoor operations declined steadily over the past five years, dropping from 80 percent to 60 percent, while greenhouse grows increased by 7 percent and outdoor grows by 5 percent.

Dale Gieringer, the longtime head of California NORML, has been following the evolution of marijuana growing for decades, back to the 1980s, when raids on northern California pot growers helped prompt the move toward indoor cultivation. It was just easier to hide the crop from the cops, but that required artificial lights and all the other inputs for an indoor crop.

"Indoor never made any sense to us, any more than indoor wheat or any other indoor agricultural crop," Gieringer told the Chronicle. "That's the whole beauty of marijuana: Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, you can make it with pure sunlight; it's very carbon neutral and energy efficient when you do it that way."

Nowadays, said Gieringer, it is not the need to hide from law enforcement but the need to comply with stringent regulatory requirements that induces growers to go under the lights.

"All those security precautions the government puts on to protect us have driven a lot of people indoors," he said. "One of the weird things that happened in California was that authorities got real skittish about outdoor growing in a lot of places and so, early on, we had these towns out in the desert that opened up huge indoor grow facilities that have to be air conditioned. None of that makes any sense to me; it's just the way things have been regulated."

One group that encourages not just outdoor cultivation but outdoor cultivation with the best practices in Sun+Earth Certified, the leading nonprofit certification for regenerative organic cannabis.

Sun+Earth Certified was founded two years ago on Earth Day by cannabis industry leaders, experts, and advocates with a common commitment to regenerative organic agriculture, farmer and farmworker protections, and community engagement.

To earn the Sun+Earth seal, marijuana farms must be not only organic (no chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides), but also use sustainable methods that regenerate the soil, such as using cover crops, composting, reduced soil tillage, and planting the crop alongside food crops. All of these practices suck carbon out of the atmosphere.

"The multi-billion dollar cannabis industry has an important obligation to shift away from high levels of energy consumption and chemical-intensive farming practices, and Sun+Earth has the blueprint for how to do that," said Sun+Earth Executive Director Andrew Black during an Earth Day virtual press conference marking the organization's two-year anniversary.

"In two years, we've grown to 33 cannabis farms and hope to finish the year with 60 total certifications," said Sun+Earth executive director Andrew Black. "This shows demand at both the farmer and consumer level for high-bar certifications for regenerative sustainable cannabis production."

The group is striving to set the gold standard for more-than-organic marijuana production.

"Our certification is tougher than normal USDA organic farming requirements," Black said. "Farmers must build soil fertility using natural resources from the farm itself to create living, bio-rich soil. And there are written contracts to protect farm labor and on how to engage with and uplift the local community. Those aren't part of any other organic standard."

Sun+Earth certified farmers are a world away from industrial cannabis production indoors and under lights.

"I credit the plant with bringing me into the consciousness of being in a living system on a living planet," said Tina Gordon of Moon River Farm, a Sun+Earth certified grower in southeast Humboldt County. "We do less than half an acre, in the ground in full air under the sun. The plants are exposed to the elements. You think about how the plants are grown and how they react to the natural environment, and you ask yourself what does the land around us offer? What is the responsible way to live? You have to do this in the best possible way with the best possible practices, not just for the plant, but for the people and the community. That's why Sun+Earth resonates so deeply for me. We can care for and heal the planet and ourselves with cannabis."

As Gordon and fellow Sun+Earth certified grower Chrystal Ortiz, founder of High Water Farm, demonstrate, best practices means adapting to the land, not trying to bend it to one's will.

"We're in an oak grove and we chip the oak for mulching," Gordon said. "We mulch on top of where the plants grow and also beside them, and the mycelium starts eating the wood, and we flip that back into the soil, so it's soil-building. The mycelium is also breaking down a thick layer of leaves, making humus; this is how trees grow. We start with what feeds these native plants, and then we start tuning in on the essentials. We use rainwater from the top of the property, and of course, we utilize the sun. When this plant goes indoors, the opportunity to understand how and where this plant is grown is lost."

Ortiz's High Water Farm occupies a different growing environment, and that makes for a different growing method.

"What is unique about farming here is that it is way different than Tina's experie of mulching and mycelium. I'm working in a beautiful, silty canvas in the Eel River watershed that fills with water every winter, a zen canvas that is rebuilt every year. Farming in the silt is different from forest cultivation. I'm learning new ancient traditions," the second-generation grower said.

"We do dry farming with a cover crop, and we till the cover crop, run sheep that eat the cover, till the sheep poop and composted cover crop into the ground, and then we plant our plants directly into the ground," she elaborated. "There is no water or fertilizer added whatsoever for the entire cycle. We just look at the ancient redwoods with their wide shallow root systems; they figured it out, and we follow the same process. We have wide plant spacing, the sunshine hitting this native soil and the evaporation of the water table. It's a very unique, faithful way to grow. When the plant gets the strength and resilience it needs, we're off to the races for another beautiful season."

Sun+Earth fills only a tiny niche in the massive marijuana economy, but it is a niche that is growing and one that can begin to shift practices in the industry.

"We're trying to build a truly green cannabis economy, and that means educating at the dispensary level about why Sun+Earth cannabis is important and how consumers can support farmers by buying their products," said Black. "If we want to keep these farms on the land, they have to be supported in the marketplace."

"Right now, the expansion of Sun+Earth is happening organically," Black said. "We're creating demand in California, where we have an active campaign to promote Sun+Earth at point of sale. And we're trying to create campaigns that attract more of a national audience. For instance, last fall, we had a fundraising campaign where Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps created a cannabis-scented soap made from hemp extract from a Sun+Earth certified farm in Oregon."

Those campaigns are getting the word out beyond California, Black added, pointing to four farms in Oregon, two in Washington, a hemp farm in Wisconsin, and an urban medical marijuana grow in Detroit.

"We're working on expanding to the Eastern Seaboard, too, maybe soon in Massachusetts, where local ordinances allow for outdoor grows, In some jurisdictions, they don't allow outdoor production, which is crazy."

What's really crazy, though, is contributing to the global climate crisis by smoking indoor-grown, high carbon footprint weed. As the example of Sun+Earth shows, conscious consumers can make a difference by supporting conscientious producers.

Medical Marijuana Update

All of the medical marijuana action is taking place in the South, which is unsurprising given that the region is the last hold-out on medical marijuana.

Alabama

Alabama District Attorneys Urge Lawmakers to Reject Medical Marijuana. Twenty-three of the state's 42 district attorneys have sent a letter to the legislature urging lawmakers to oppose a pending medical marijuana bill. In language right out of the last century, they called marijuana a "gateway drug" and "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Alabama House Republicans Filibuster Vote on Medical Marijuana Bill. House Republicans blocked a vote on a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, by tying the chamber up in a nine-hour debate Tuesday afternoon and evening. Now, the House may try to get it passed again on Thursday.

Louisiana

Louisiana House Approves Bill to Allow Patients to Use Smokable Marijuana. The House on Monday voted 73-26 to approve  House Bill 391, which would expand the state's limited medical marijuana program to allow patients to purchase whole-flower marijuana. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Tennessee

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. There will be no medical marijuana in the Volunteer State after the last remaining medical marijuana bill in the legislature was defeated by a single vote in the House Criminal Justice Committee. The bill would have allowed state residents to possess medical marijuana produced in other states.

Tennessee Legislature Moving on Watered Down Medical Marijuana Bill. After a medical marijuana bill was narrowly defeated in the House last week, legislators have now approved a watered down version of House Bill 607 that would allow only for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and create a commission to study legalizing medical marijuana. Governor Bill Lee (R) is expected to sign the measure into law.

Texas

Texas House Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The House has given its approval to House Bill 1535, which would raise allowable THC limits from 0.5% to 5% and add PTSD and several additional medical conditions to the state's medical marijuana program.

Supreme Court Hears Crack Sentencing Case, Afghan Opium Cultivation Jumps, More... (5/5/21)

An Alabama medical marijuana bill struggles to get past final obstacles, a watered-down Tennessee medical marijuana bill is moving, a Swiss parliamentary committee votes to legalize marijuana, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow and grow and grow as cultivation jumped dramatically last year. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Alabama House Republicans Filibuster Vote on Medical Marijuana Bill. House Republicans blocked a vote on a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, by tying the chamber up in a nine-hour debate Tuesday afternoon and evening. Now, the House may try to get it passed again on Thursday.

Tennessee Legislature Moving on Watered Down Medical Marijuana Bill. After a medical marijuana bill was narrowly defeated in the House last month, legislators have now approved a watered down version of House Bill 607 that would allow only for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and create a commission to study legalizing medical marijuana. Governor Bill Lee (R) is expected to sign the measure into law.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Crack Cocaine Sentencing Case. The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the case of Tarahrick Terry, who is seeking to get his sentence cut by citing a provision in the First Step Act, passed by Congress in 2018. The act was aimed at redressing racial inequities around crack versus powder cocaine sentencing and made the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity, retroactive. But justices appeared skeptical that the law applied to low-level offenders such as Terry. He had pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute less than four grams of crack cocaine and was sentenced to 15 ½ years in 2008. Higher-level crack offenses are already covered by the First Step Act, and more than 2,500 people have already been released under its provisions, but hundreds of lower-level crack offenders remain behind bars, hoping for some relief from the Supreme Court.

International

UN Reports Afghan Opium Cultivation Leaped Last Year. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the world's largest producer, jumped a whopping 37% last year to more than 500,000 acres of poppies planted, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Afghan government reported Tuesday. The study estimated the crop could produce about 6,300 tons of opium, one of the largest figures in the past quarter-century. Helmand province in the southwest appears to be the poppy heartland, accounting for more than half of all poppy plantings.

Swiss Parliamentary Committee Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The Health Commission of the National Council, the country's lower legislative chamber, voted 13-11 last week to federally legalize marijuana for adults. The measure calls for expanding a current pilot program that allows legal access for some 5,000 registered participants to the entire adult population. If the proposal is fully approved by the National Council, it would move next to the Council of States, the upper body of Switzerland’s Federal Assembly. Marijuana has been decriminalized there since 2012.

Ecstasy Shown to Help with PTSD When Paired with Therapy, LA Smokable MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (5/4/21)

The Maryland Court of Appeals rules that the smell of marijuana is not sufficient probable cause to justify an officer stop, the DC city council ponders reserving some medical marijuana licenses for formerly incarcerated drug offenders, and more.

Pain pill distributors went on trial in Huntington, WV, Monday over their role in the opioid crisis. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Appeals Court Rules Smell of Marijuana Doesn't Justify Officer Stops. The state Court of Special Appeals ruled last week that simply smelling the odor of marijuana does not justify a police officer stopping and investigating someone. The court held that police need "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed and that just smelling marijuana doesn't meet that standard. The state decriminalized the possession of up to 10 grams back in 2004, and the court held that since possession of less than that amount is not a crime and since the "odor of marijuana alone does not indicate the quantity, if any, in someone's possession," police cannot rely solely on the odor to conduct a stop and investigation.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Approves Bill to Allow Patients to Use Smokable Marijuana. The House on Monday voted 73-26 to approve  House Bill 391, which would expand the state's limited medical marijuana program to allow patients to purchase whole-flower marijuana. The measure now heads to the Senate.

DC Council Considers Legislation to Reserve Some Business Licenses for Formerly Incarcerated Drug Offenders. The city council on Tuesday is taking up legislation that would reserve some new medical marijuana licenses for people who have done time for drug offenses. It is the latest move by the District to try to increase equity in the industry. The bill instructs the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which regulates the industry, to reserve at least one dispensary license, one cultivation center license, and one testing lab license for ex-offenders.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Distribution Companies Go on Trial for Allegedly Fomenting Opioid Addiction Crisis. A federal lawsuit targeting a trio of big drug distribution companies for their role in the ongoing opioid addiction crisis got underway Monday in Huntington, West Virginia. The city of Huntington is suing AmerisourceBergen Drug Company, Cardinal Health Inc, and the McKesson Corporation and alleging they pumped 1.1 billion opioid pain pills into the state, leading to widespread addiction and more than 1,700 opioid overdose deaths statewide. The lawsuit does not address the need of chronic pain patients to have access to sometimes large amounts of prescription opioids. It is one of hundreds filed against drug makers and distributors over the opioid crisis.

Psychedelics

Ecstasy Shown to Help with PTSD When Paired with Therapy. A study about to be published in Nature Medicine found that people with sever post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who were given MDMA (Ecstasy) in conjunction with talk therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in symptom severity than those who got therapy and a placebo. The study also reported no serious adverse effects, although some participants experienced mild nausea and loss of appetite.

White House Staffers Hold Virtual Meeting with Ex-Incarcerated, Mexico Cartel Drone Attacks, More... (5/3/21)

A drug decriminalization bill is winning support in Maine, so is a buprenorphine legalization bill in Vermont, and more.

White House staffers held a virtual meeting with formerly incarcerated people to talk policy last Friday. (Whitehouse.gov)
Drug Policy

Maine Drug Decriminalization Bill Garners Support at Committee Hearing. A bill that decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of illicit drugs, LD 967, won support from medical and religious groups during a hearing before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee last Thursday. Testifying in support of the bill were the Maine Medical Association and a coalition of religious groups. The bill would make drug possession a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine. The fine could be avoided if people submit to an "evidence-based assessment for proposed treatment for substance use disorder." No vote was taken in committee, but the testimony suggested strong support for the move.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Senate Committee Poised to Pass Buprenorphine Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health Committee heard testimony largely in support of a bill to legalize the possession of small amounts of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. The bill, House Bill 225 , has already passed the House. The Judiciary Committee didn’t vote on the bill because it is currently before the House Rules Committee, but they did express unanimous support for it and expected to approve it once it reaches the committee. The Health Committee must also approve it before it goes for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

White House Officials Meet Virtually with Formerly Incarcerated Criminal Justice Reform Advocates. White House officials met virtually last Friday with a group of former drug war and other prisoners to listen to ideas about how to change criminal justice policies to advance prison and sentencing reform. Domestic policy advisor Susan Rice, public engagement director Cedric Richmond, and White House counsel Dana Remus heard recommendations on how "to reduce incarceration, end racial disparities, and facilitate successful reentry," they said in a White House readout of the event. The trio heard from 10 differerent advocacy groups, including Forward Justice and JustLeadershipUSA.

International

Mexican Drug Cartels Are Attacking Security Forces with Explosive-Laden Drones, Defense Minister Says. Mexican Defense Minister Luis Sandoval said last Wednesday that drug cartels are employing bomb-carrying drones to attack security forces. "We have found that there are some cartels using drones with explosives," the general said during President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily news conference. The Jalisco New Generation cartel is among those using the drones, Sandoval said, pointing to an attack last Monday in Aguilla, Michoacan, where police clearing roads that had been blocked by cartel members came under attack, leaving two wounded. But the drones are big enough to carry more lethal loads, Sandoval said. "They cannot carry amounts (of explosives) that are harmful to personnel or to a facility," Sandoval said.

Arizona Civil Forfeiture Ban Passes Legislature, Michigan THC Limit Driving Bill Filed, More... (4/29/21)

Federal bills to reform asset forfeiture and study the impact of marijuana legalization get filed, a Tennessee push for medical marijuana dies for the year, and more.

Action on asset forfeiture in the Congress, and in Alabama and Arizona. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Study Impacts of Marijuana Legalization Filed. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have filed a bill that would create a first-of-its-kind comprehensive study into the impacts and effects of state-legalized medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana programs. The Marijuana Data Collection Act is also being filed in the House by Reps. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) and Don Young (R-AK). It would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and relevant state health agencies to enter a ten-year arrangement with the National Academy of Sciences to conduct, and update, a study on the effects of legalized state marijuana programs biennially. This study would evaluate the impacts and effects of state-legalized medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana programs on state economies, public health, criminal justice, and employment.

Michigan Bill Would Set Marijuana Blood Level for Driver Intoxication. Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield) has filed House Bill 4727, which would specify how much THC could be in someone's blood before that person is deemed a per se impaired driver. The bill sets a limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. The bill contradicts the recommendations of a state commission that studied THC blood levels and intoxication, which found that "there is no scientifically supported threshold of (THC) bodily content that would be indicative of impaired driving due to the fact that there is a poor correlation between driving impairment and the blood (plasma) levels of (THC) at the time of blood collection."

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. There will be no medical marijuana in the Volunteer State after the last remaining medical marijuana bill in the legislature was defeated by a single vote in the House Criminal Justice Committee. The bill would have allowed state residents to possess medical marijuana produced in other states.

Texas House Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The House has given its approval to House Bill 1535, which would raise allowable THC limits from 0.5% to 5% and add PTSD and several additional medical conditions to the state's medical marijuana program.

Psychedelics

Maine Bill to Legalize Therapeutic Use of Psilocybin Filed. State Sen. Donna Bailey (D) has filed a bill that would legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the Maine Psilocybin Services Act. Under the bill, people 21 and over could legally buy psilocybin from licensed retailers and consume them under the supervision of a licensed "psilocybin services facilitator." The bill would require no specific diagnosis to access psilocybin therapy.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. US Reps. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) have filed a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, he Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (HR 2857), or FAIR Act. The bill would raise the level of proof necessary for the federal government to seize property. Further, it would reform the IRS structuring statute to protect innocent small business owners while increasing transparency and congressional oversight.

The bill was cosponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND).

Alabama Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. The House State Government Committee voted Wednesday to approve House Bill 394, a comprehensive civil asset forfeiture reform measure. The legislative session ends in three days. The bill could still pass, but it has to move now.

Arizona Legislature Passes Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The Senate on Wednesday approved HB 2810, which would end asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A trio of North Carolina deputies get nailed for unlawfully seized a suspected drug dealer's car, a sticky-fingered Arkansas sheriff's lieutenant gets stung, and more. Let's get to it:

In Nashville, North Carolina, a Nash County jail guard was arrested Monday after being caught trying to smuggle suboxone into the jail. Guard Chaka Johnson was found with Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid dependence, on him as he arrived at work. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance in a prison/jail premises.

In North Port, Florida, a North Port Police civilian employee was arrested Tuesday after being found in possession of numerous controlled substances. Former Forensic Supervisor Tracy Gold, 48, got caught with 17.8 grams of hydromorphone, 35 grams of oxycodone, and 19.2 grams of hydrocodone, as well as small amounts of alprazolam, triazolam and tramadol. She is facing six felony counts, four for illegal possession of prescription pills and two for having enough pills to traffic drugs.

In Henderson, North Carolina, three Vance County sheriff's deputies were indicted Tuesday on charges they illegally seized a suspected drug dealer's vehicle and then tried to cover it up. Deputies Stephen O'Neal Staton Sr., 52, Purav Jitendrakuma Patel, 25, and Mitch Taybron Pittman, 47, are each charged with embezzlement by a government employee, accessing a government computer to defraud, motor vehicle title fraud and four counts of criminal conspiracy. Staton and Patel also were charged with obstruction of justice, while Pittman also was charged with extortion. The trio stopped a 2007 Cadillac last year and seized the vehicle even though the driver wasn't even charged with a drug crime. All three deputies have been suspended until the case is resolved.

In Port Angeles, Washington, a former state prison guard was sentenced last Thursday to 3 ½ years in state prison for smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs into the Clallam Bay Corrections Center. Alfonso Estriba Cofone, 38, had earlier pleaded guilty to possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. His sentence includes 24 months for committing the crime while living within 1,000 feet of a preschool. He had received $5,000 for smuggling meth, suboxone strips, and marijuana oil into the prison, and he told the court he did it because his mother was sick with cancer and the family needed money for her care.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a former Greene County sheriff's lieutenant was sentenced last Friday to two years in federal prison for stealing more than $30,000 in a drug sting operation. Allen Scott Pillow, 56, went down after FBI agents received a tip that he might be crooked and then set up a fake drug scene with $76,000 in cash in a backpack inside a vehicle. The FBI then asked Pillow to investigate and reported only finding $45,600 inside the backpack. The rest of the money was found at Pillow's home. He pleaded guilty to theft of government property.

Medical Marijuana Update

Albama DAs go Reefer Madness over a medical marijuana bill, Hawaii seeks an exemption from the DEA to run its medical marijuana program free from fear of federal enforcement actions, and more.

Alabama

Alabama District Attorneys Urge Lawmakers to Reject Medical Marijuana. Twenty-three of the state's 42 district attorneys have sent a letter to the legislature urging lawmakers to oppose a pending medical marijuana bill. In language right out of the last century, they called marijuana a "gateway drug" and "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Hawaii

Hawaii Legislature Approves Resolution Seeking Medical Marijuana Exemption from DEA. The state legislature has adopted a resolution, HCR 132, asking the state Health Department to seek an exemption from the DEA to permit it to run its medical marijuana program without fear of federal interference. The resolution asks the Health Department to seek an "exception to regulations" and to seek a DEA rulemaking process to protect the state's medical program from violating the Controlled Substances Act's requirements for drugs in Schedule I.

Louisiana

Louisiana Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee voted 12-1 Thursday to advance House Bill 391, which would allow medical marijuana patients to smoke their medicine. Louisiana's dispensaries sell medical marijuana in liquids, topical applications, inhalers and edible gummies. But they are barred from offering raw marijuana in smokable form. The proposal heads next to the full House for debate and a vote.

Biden FDA Set to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Louisiana MJ Legalization Advances, More... (4/28/21)

A Montana bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization heads to the governor's desk, the South Dakota Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case challenging voter-approved marijuana legalization there, and more.

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menthol cigarettes
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill to legalize marijuana, House Bill 524, was approved Tuesday by the House Criminal Justice Committee. The bill advanced on a 7-5 vote, with three Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues to approve it. A second bill, House Bill 24, which would decriminalize marijuana possession, was also approved by the committee.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill Goes to Governor. A bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization, House Bill 701, has passed out of the legislature and is now on the desk of Governor Greg Gianforte (R). Republicans had balked at directing some marijuana revenues to conservation projects but voted for the bill after being reminded that if the legislature didn't pass it, the marijuana legalization initiative would go into effect without its input.

South Dakota Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Governor's Challenge to Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. The state Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a lawsuit sponsored by Gov. Kristi Noem (R) challenging the constitutionality of the voter-approved Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative. The measure passed with 54% of the vote, but at the governor's direction, a county sheriff and the head of the state Highway Patrol filed the lawsuit, arguing the initiative was too broad. A circuit court judge in Pierre earlier ruled against the initiative. A decision in the case is not expected for weeks or months.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama District Attorneys Urge Lawmakers to Reject Medical Marijuana. Twenty-three of the state's 42 district attorneys have sent a letter to the legislature urging lawmakers to oppose a pending medical marijuana bill. In language right out of the last century, they called marijuana a "gateway drug" and "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Tobacco

Biden Administration Set to Ban Menthol Cigarettes. The administration is expected to announce this week that it will move to ban menthol cigarettes. The move is supported by tobacco foes and some civil rights groups, who say that Blacks have been disproportionately harmed by the marketing of menthol cigarettes to their communities. But some drug reformers worry the move could lead to a new prohibition. The FDA faces a Thursday deadline to respond to a 2013 petition seeking a menthol cigarette ban and could announce the move then.

Chronicle Book Review: "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption"

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption by Justin Fenton (2021, Random House, 335 pp., $28.00 HB)

The thuggish, racially-charged reality of the war on drugs sometimes leaps dramatically into the national spotlight, as when gung-ho drug cops in Louisville gunned down Breonna Taylor in her own apartment last year or when a North Carolina SWAT team sent to execute a routine drug warrant managed to shoot Andrew Brown in the back of the head as he fled in his car. Both were African-American, both collateral damage in the endless drug war.

Such outrages inevitably -- and deservedly -- shock the conscience of the nation and garner lots of headlines. And they sometimes lead to reforms, with Taylor's death resulting in a Louisville ban on no-knock raids and a statewide partial ban on them, as well as propelling legislation both in other states and in Congress.

But most of the time, the drug war just grinds on, chewing up its victims and turning them into raw inputs for the criminal justice industrial complex, but also engendering both crime related to black market activities and deep mistrust if not outright loathing in the communities of color most ground down by the heavy hand of prohibition policing.

It also has a way of chewing through the integrity of too many cops. Corruption and drug law enforcement have gone hand in hand from the days of Harry Anslinger's crooked federal narcs all the way through the war on drugs. The litany of drug-related police corruption scandals is long and sordid, from Serpico's NYPD to the LAPD's Ramparts scandal, the Oakland Riders, Philadelphia's Tarnished Badge scandal and lesser, but equally corrupt groups of officers in places such as Miami, Memphis, Tulsa, and Baton Rouge.

And now we can add Baltimore's Gun Trace Task Force scandal. The name should ring a bell among regular readers of the Chronicle's This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories, where task force members made regular appearances among our listings of officers arrested, convicted, and sentenced for their criminal misdeeds in the past few years. But now, Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton, who covered the whole thing as it unfolded, wraps it all up in an ugly little package in We Own This City, the title taken from the arrogant braggadocio of one of the miscreants.

In the 2010s, Baltimore was a city battered by decades of deindustrialization and declining population, hammered hard by heroin, and with surging crime and a murder count reaching record highs. Mayors came into office with new anti-crime plans and appointed new police chiefs with new strategies, but nothing was working. And then came the death of Freddy Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in the back of a police paddy wagon under suspicious circumstances.

As the city and the police department reeled in the face of furious outbreaks of rioting and mass protests, they turned to one of the department's stars, a self-promoting hot dog of a cop who managed to make more gun busts than anyone -- and made sure his supervisors knew it -- Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and his squad of elite plainclothes "jump out boys" in the Gun Trace Task Force.

But Jenkins and his boys were less about addressing the drugs and guns problem than exploiting it for their own ends. For years, the crew went on a rampage of unlawful traffic stops, break-ins, robberies, evidence-planting, and drug dealing as they preyed on the citizens of Baltimore -- mostly the Black citizens of Baltimore. They specialized in identifying and ripping off drug dealers and used their networks of informants to peddle the dope right back onto the same streets they took in from. Their false testimonies sent people to prison, and their reckless behavior led to the death of at least one innocent bystander.

That the Gun Trace Task Force got away with its out-of-control crime spree for years is an indictment not only of the amoral men involved, but also the public officials and police administrators who should have caught on but remained clueless until it all exploded in their faces thanks to a federal investigation that eventually cracked the case wide open. It's also a reminder that enforcing drug prohibition generates such scandals on a predictably regular basis.

Fenton does an admirable job of tying this multi-tentacled story into a neat, if disturbing little package. As a local crime reporter, he has the background and extensive contacts to provide a thorough understanding of city and state politics, the intricacies of the Baltimore Police Department, and the people of the city, both folks involved in the trade and just regular folks swept up in the task force crime wave. In so doing, he becomes the voice of the city, appalled and disgusted by the moral rot within the Gun Trace Task Force.

Drug war police corruption is an old story, but this time with a new locale and a new cast of characters, brought to life by a seasoned journalist. We Own This City is a gripping and disturbing read, carrying a lesson we still have not learned.

White House Removes Buprenorphine Restrictions, BC Formally Requests Drug Decrim, More... (4/27/21)

A new poll has record support for marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, House Republicans file a bill to protect gun rights of state-legal marijuana users, House Democrats file a bill to end the lifetime ban on federal cash and food benefits for people with drug felonies, and more.

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

House Republicans File Gun Rights Bill for Marijuana Users. A group of House Republicans have filed a bill, HR 2830, that would allow marijuana users to purchase guns in states where marijuana is legal. "There's no reason somebody who uses marijuana responsibly and legally should be barred from purchasing a firearm, we're past that," Guns Save Life Executive Director John Boch said."We shouldn't be removing the constitutional rights of people to keep and bear arms just because they're using a drug or recreational marijuana," he added.

Pennsylvania Poll Has Record Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Muhlenberg College annual public health poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, the highest level of support for legalization since the poll began tracking the issue. "The trend on public support for legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania is clear, with support growing for the eighth year in a row," Chris Borick, director of the college's Institute of Public Opinion, said in a statement accompanying the survey results. "As the state government considers this policy option, the public is increasingly coming to the conclusion that they support legalization."

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Legislature Approves Resolution Seeking Medical Marijuana Exemption from DEA. The state legislature has adopted a resolution, HCR 132, asking the state Health Department to seek an exemption from the DEA to permit it to run its medical marijuana program without fear of federal interference. The resolution asks the Health Department to seek an "exception to regulations" and to seek a DEA rulemaking process to protect the state's medical program from violating the Controlled Substances Act's requirements for drugs in Schedule I.

Drug Policy

House Democrats File Bill to End Ban on Federal Assistance for People with Drug Felonies. A handful of Democratic congressmen on Monday filed the Making Essentials Affordable and Lawful (MEAL) Act (not yet on the congressional web site) to stop states from imposing a lifetime ban on people with drug felonies from receiving federal cash and food assistance. Most states have already waived the ban, but the drug war-era law that imposes the ban remains on the books.

Drug Treatment

Biden Administration to Allow Nearly All Doctors to Prescribe Buprenorphine. The administration announced on Tuesday that it intends to dramatically deregulate the opioid maintenance treatment drug buprenorphine. The move was first proposed by the Trump administration back in January and would allow just about any doctor to treat patients with the drug, which is considered the most effective medication for opioid addiction.

International

British Columbia Formally Requests Permission from Canadian Federal Government for Provincial Drug Decriminalization. Five years to the day after the province declared a public health emergency because of overdose deaths, British Columbia has formally requested a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs. The province is specifically seeking a province-wide exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession. "Stigma drives people to hide their drug use, avoid health care and use alone," Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said. "Through province-wide decriminalization, we can reduce the fear and shame that keep people silent about their drug use, and support people to reach out for help, life-saving supports and treatment."

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