Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Ohio narc gets nailed for peddling fentanyl, two Rikers Island jail guards go down for smuggling dope into the jail, and more. Let's get to it:

In Prince George, Virginia, a Riverside Regional Jail officer was arrested last Wednesday after he got caught bringing drugs into the facility. Officer TiJuan Collins went down after an internal investigation and was found to be carrying illegal drugs and over $600 cash. He is charged with two counts of possession of narcotics with intent to distribute, conspiracy to distribute drugs, attempt to deliver drugs, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a firearm while possessing drugs, and three counts of unauthorized delivery of articles to a prison.

In New Orleans, an Orleans Parish sheriff's office recruit was arrested Tuesday for allegedly sneaking marijuana into the jail for delivery to an inmate. Derrick Webb, 20, went down after he got caught with weed on him during a search at work. He admitted delivering marijuana for cash on at least two other occasions. He is charged with three counts each of possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, introducing contraband in prison and malfeasance in office.

In New York City, two city jail guards were arrested Tuesday for allegedly smuggling cellphones and drugs such as K2 and marijuana to Bloods gang members on Rikers Island. Krystle Burrell, 35, and Katrina Patterson, 31, were arrested in separate schemes that involved different Rikers jails. Patterson reportedly obtained at least $30,000 from girlfriends of an inmate.

In Columbus, Ohio, a former Columbus police narcotics officer pleaded guilty last Friday to conspiring to distribute fentanyl. John Kotchkoski, 33, and fellow officer Marco Merino had been arrested by federal agents in September 2021 after getting caught up in an FBI sting where they thought they were transporting the drug for traffickers. Prosecutors alleged Kotchkoski made at least half a million dollars in the conspiracy, and as part of his plea agreement, he forfeited cash, firearms, vehicles including a Cadillac Escalade and a Corvette and a $500,000 money judgment against him. 

Medical Marijuana Update

The House passes a bill easing research barriers for medical marijuana, a horrible bill aimed at women emerges in Alabama, and more.

National

House Approves Bill to Ease Barriers to Medical Marijuana Research. The House passed the Medical Marijuana Research Act (HR 5657) on a vote of 343-75 Monday. All the no votes came from Republicans. The bill would streamline the process for scientists seeking to conduct medical marijuana research and mandate that the Department of Health and Human Services ensure there is an adequate supply of marijuana available for research use. Given that 37 states already allow medical marijuana use, it is in consumers' interest to further study the drug. "These actions highlight the need for increased research about safety and efficacy of the marijuana products being consumed by millions of Americans," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

Alabama

Alabama Bill Would Require Negative Pregnancy Test to Buy Medical Marijuana. A bill that would require women between the ages of 25 and 50 to produce a negative result from a pregnancy test from a doctor or medical lab before being allowed to purchase medical marijuana is moving in the state Senate. The bill would also ban mothers who are breastfeeding from purchasing medical marijuana, although it is difficult to see how that could be enforced. Senate Bill 324 passed out of the Senate Children, Youth and Human Services Committee on a 7-2 vote last week and awaits a Senate floor vote. But National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) called the bill "blatantly unconstitutional and unprecedented," laying the groundwork for a legal challenge if the bill were to become law. "We are very concerned that this is an invasion of the privacy of Alabama women and their right to equal protection under the law," said NAPW attorney Emma Roth.

Georgia

Georgia Bill to Allow Patients Access to Medical Marijuana Falls One Vote Short. State legislators approved a medical marijuana bill in 2015, but that bill left patients in the lurch because it did not provide any means of providing cannabis oil. A bill that would have finally allowed businesses to grow and sell cannabis oil, House Bill 738, passed the House earlier this year, but the Senate tabled the bill on a 28-27 vote in March, and now, the legislative session has ended without the Senate taking any further action.

Kentucky

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Dead. The House approved a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, in March, but it now appears the bill will go nowhere in the Senate even though polling shows it has the support of nine out of 10 Kentuckians. Senate President Robert Stivers (R) said he wants to see more testing before moving the bill forward. And Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R) said that while most of his constituents support medical marijuana, he does not, and if voters don't like it, they can "take it out" on him in the next election. He added that he does not think the bill has enough support to pass in the Senate, but advocates are demanding it get a vote anyway.

South Carolina

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Faces Determined Opposition in House. A medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 150) easily passed the Senate earlier this year, but has been stalled in the House and faces a significant challenge if it moves there. Although the bill went over to the House Medical, Military, and Public and Municipal Affairs Committee on February 15, it will only get a committee hearing tomorrow, six weeks later. While the bill likely has sufficient support to pass in the House, opponents plan on stalling it by loading it down with superfluous amendments. One representative, John McCrory (R), is reportedly poised to offer up to 150 amendments if the bill makes it to the House floor, delaying its passage or frustrating supporters to the point they decline to take it up.  

DC Council Rejects Bill to Effectively Allow Legal Pot Sales, Cops Being Killed in Mexico's Zacatecas, More... (4/6/22)

A Georgia bill that would actually get cannabis oil into the hands of patients goes down, the DC city council narrowly rejects a bill that would effectively legalize adult pot sales, and more.

The Sentencing Project is warning of new mandatory minimums in a bill now before the Senate. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Rejects Bill to Effectively Legalize Pot Sales for Adults, Crack Down on "Gifting." The District of Columbia city council narrowly voted down a bill that would have allowed people 21 and over to "self-certify" themselves as medical marijuana patients but would have also cracked down on unlicensed operators who have been "gifting" marijuana to people who buy token products and services. The District legalized marijuana possession in a 2014 initiative, but has been blocked from implementing legal sales by Congress. The bill that went down in defeat Monday actually had majority support but needed nine of the council's 13 votes to pass. It got eight.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill to Allow Patients Access to Medical Marijuana Falls One Vote Short. State legislators approved a medical marijuana bill in 2015, but that bill left patients in the lurch because it did not provide any means of providing cannabis oil. A bill that would have finally allowed businesses to grow and sell cannabis oil, House Bill 738, passed the House earlier this year, but the Senate tabled the bill on a 28-27 vote in March, and now, the legislative session has ended without the Senate taking any further action.

Sentencing

Sentencing Project Urges Senate to Oppose Hawley Bill to Impose New Mandatory Minimums. In a letter submitted to the Senate, The Sentencing Project’s Amy Fettig urged the U.S. Senate to oppose the request for unanimous consent on S. 3951 – the PROTECT Act of 2022 – and vote no on the bill. The bill, from Trumpist rightist Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), seeks to build on recent GOP talking points around child pornography by creating new mandatory minimum sentences for such offenses, but as the Sentencing Project noted, "The US Supreme Court, Congress and the US Sentencing Commission have acted in a bipartisan way for almost 20 years to address federal mandatory minimum sentencing policies in order to create more fairness, proportionality and equity in sentencing. Unfortunately, this bill would create new mandatory minimum sentencing policies, including an attempt to establish mandatory sentencing guidelines – previously ruled unconstitutional – for certain offenses. This legislation would have far-reaching implications for eroding fairness and justice, including the potential to usher in a new era of mandatory minimums." The Senate was set to vote on a unanimous consent request for the bill on Wednesday.

International

Mexico's Zacatecas State Sees 16 Cops Killed So Far This Year. An ongoing turf war between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in the west-central state of Zacatecas has seen at least 16 police officers killed in the first quarter of 2022, according to a register of killings of police. The most recent killing was March 26 in Fresnillo, when an off-duty officer was killed when armed civilians at a roadblock opened fire on his vehicle, then lit it on fire. For the last week, police across the state have gone on strike, demanding better pay and healthcare, the reinstatement of fired officers, and deploring the security situation in the state. The state is currently short about 3,000 police officers. Zacatecas is now the state with the highest number of police killingsso far in 2022 and also currently has the highest homicide rate of any state in the country. 

AL Bill Would Require Negative Pregnancy Test for MedMJ Purchases, DE Legal Pot Effort Revives, More... (4/5/22)

The House approves a bill easing barriers to medical marijuana research, meet the three Democrats who voted against marijuana legalization in the House last week, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Meet the Members Who Broke with Their Parties on the MORE Act Vote. Last Friday's vote on the marijuana legalizing MORE Act (HR 3617), which passed by a margin of 220 to 204, was largely along party lines, with almost all Democrats supporting it and almost all Republicans opposing it. Only two Democrats voted against legalizing marijuana: Reps. Henry Cueller of Texas and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire. Likewise, only three Republicans voted for it: Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida and Rep. Tom McClintock of California.

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Effort Revives. After seeing a comprehensive marijuana legalization, regulation, and taxation bill defeated earlier this year, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark) is back with a two-bill plan to free the weed. House Bill 371 would simply legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and needs only a majority vote to pass. It already has 21 cosponsors, a majority in the House. House Bill 372 would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol and needs three-fifths to pass. "I hope to hold on to the 21 co-sponsors of the legislation and pass that, and then it will put that extra pressure on some colleagues to say, ‘ok it’s legalized, to do this right we should create an industry that will provide this now,’" said Osienski. He added that even if HB 372 fails, passing HB 371 would still protect state residents from arrest.

Oklahoma Supreme Court OKs Wording of Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Supreme Court has found that that language in marijuana legalizing State Question 820 is "constitutionally sufficient," clearing the way for backers to proceed with their campaign. State Question 820 was challenged in court by proponents of competing initiatives State Question 818 and State Question 819, who argued that State Question 820 violated the state's one-subject rule and was imprecise in its language. But the court disagreed. The latter two initiatives would replace the existing medical marijuana regulator with a new regulatory agency and legalize and regulate marijuana, respectively.

Medical Marijuana

House Approves Bill to Ease Barriers to Medical Marijuana Research. The House passed the Medical Marijuana Research Act (HR 5657) on a vote of 343-75 Monday. All the no votes came from Republicans. The bill would streamline the process for scientists seeking to conduct medical marijuana research and mandate that the Department of Health and Human Services ensure there is an adequate supply of marijuana available for research use. Given that 37 states already allow medical marijuana use, it is in consumers' interest to further study the drug. "These actions highlight the need for increased research about safety and efficacy of the marijuana products being consumed by millions of Americans," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

Alabama Bill Would Require Negative Pregnancy Test to Buy Medical Marijuana. A bill that would require women between the ages of 25 and 50 to produce a negative result from a pregnancy test from a doctor or medical lab before being allowed to purchase medical marijuana is moving in the state Senate. The bill would also ban mothers who are breastfeeding from purchasing medical marijuana, although it is difficult to see how that could be enforced. Senate Bill 324 passed out of the Senate Children, Youth and Human Services Committee on a 7-2 vote last week and awaits a Senate floor vote. But National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) called the bill "blatantly unconstitutional and unprecedented," laying the groundwork for a legal challenge if the bill were to become law. "We are very concerned that this is an invasion of the privacy of Alabama women and their right to equal protection under the law," said NAPW attorney Emma Roth.

Taliban Bans Opium Production, NH House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (4/4/22)

Marylanders could get to vote on legalizing marijuana, the Taliban announce an opium ban, and more.

Will these Afghan opium fields become a thing of the past? The Taliban says it is banning opium production. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Referendum. The House voted last Friday to approve a measure that would ask state voters to approve marijuana legalization, House Bill 1. The Senate had already passed it, and because it is a constitutional amendment, it does not require approval from Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The House also passed a bill to implement marijuana legalization if voters approve it by a veto-proof majority of 94-39. The constitutional amendment would legalize marijuana in July 2023, and the companion bill would legalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces.

Missouri House Committee Passes Bill to Legalize Adult-Use Marijuana. A marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2704, is moving in the House. Last Thursday, the House Public Safety Committee approved it on a 5-4 vote, with some amendments. The bill would legalize marijuana use and possession for people 21 and over and allow for up to 12 plants for personal use. It would also set up a system of taxed and regulated sales, create a path to expungement of past offenses, and bar the use of civil asset forfeiture for marijuana offenses. One amendment, however, is being described as a "poison pill." The bill contained language to create a loan program to support women and minority-owned businesses, but Rep. Nick Schroer (R) included language that revised the equity provisions to specify that only women who are "biologically" female would be eligible for the benefit. This conservative culture war import will make it difficult for some Democrats to support the legislation. The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House last Thursday voted 169-156 to approve House Bill 1598, which would legalize marijuana and have it be sold in up to 10 stores operated by the state Liquor Commission. Earlier this year, the House also approved a bill legalizing the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of weed and allowing for home grows of up to six plants, the harvest from which could traded or gifted but not sold. The House has passed legalization bills numerous times in recent years only to see them die in the Senate, which has yet to act on these bills. And even if the Senate were to approve them, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) remains opposed.

International

Taliban Says It is Banning Opium Production. Even as this years poppy harvest gets underway, the Taliban announced on Sunday that it was banning the cultivation of narcotics in the country, including opium. Afghanistan is far and away the world's largest opium producer and has been throughout this century. But no, more, the Taliban says. "As per the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country," according to an order from the Taliban's supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. "If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law," the order, announced at a news conference by the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, said. The Taliban is seeking formal international recognition in order to undo sanctions that are crippling its economy, and drug control has been a major demand of the international community. Opium production has increased in recent months amidst economic collapse, and enforcement of the ban could prove problematic. 

House Votes to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition by Passing MORE Act [FEATURE]

The House on Friday voted to legalize marijuana, the second time it has done so in two years. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617) passed 220-204, with only a handful of Republican votes.

The MORE Act passed on a vote of 220-204, with only a handful of GOP votes. (House.gov)
The prospects for passage of the bill into law remain clouded, however; it would need 60 votes to pass in the Senate, and there is little sign the votes are there. Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to file his own version of marijuana legalization bill this month.

Meanwhile, a measure that would bring much needed relief to the legal marijuana industry by providing it access to banking and other financial services, the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996), remains stalled. Even though the bill has passed the House six different times, Leader Schumer refuses to allow it to be attached to must-pass appropriations bills, arguing that Congress should first pass a comprehensive legalization bill.

Still, winning a marijuana legalization vote in one chamber of Congress is a historic step and sign that at least one of our representative bodies is in tune with public opinion, which consistently shows two-thirds support for it in polling data.

"The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the 'MORE Act,' is long overdue legislation that would reverse decades of failed federal policies based on the criminalization of marijuana. It would also take steps to address the heavy toll these policies have taken across the country, particularly among communities of color," Nadler told the House during the debate.

"For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one's views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the Federal level has proven both unwise and unjust," he continued.

"That is why the MORE Act would set a new path forward and would begin to correct some of the injustices of the last fifty years. The bill decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level, by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. This change applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions. It does not, however, undermine the ability of states to apply their criminal laws to marijuana or to legalize and regulate it, as they see fit," Nadler added.

The Act also provides for the expungement or resentencing of those with nonviolent federal marijuana convictions, promotes diverse participation in the state-regulated cannabis industry, and helps repair the racially and economically disparate harms caused by America's past prohibition policies. According to a just-released Congressional Budget Office analysis, passage of the Act would increase revenues by over $8 billion in ten years and would also significantly reduce federal prison costs.

Marijuana activist groups hailed the vote.

"This vote is a clear indicator that Congress is finally listening to the vast majority of voters who are sick and tired of our failed marijuana criminalization policies and the damage they continue to inflict in communities across the nation every day," said NORML's Political Director Morgan Fox in a statement. "It is long overdue that we stop punishing adults for using a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol, and that we work to address the disparate negative impacts that prohibition has inflicted on our most vulnerable individuals and marginalized communities for nearly a century."

"The time has come for federal lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and recognize that state-level legalization policies are publicly popular, successful, and are in the best interests of our country. Now that the House has once again supported sensible and comprehensive cannabis policy reform, we strongly urge the Senate to move forward on this issue without delay," Fox added.

"The fact that the House has repeatedly passed the MORE Act is indicative of the cannabis policy movement's evolution and the growing momentum toward comprehensive reform at the federal level," said Marijuana Policy Project president and CEO Toi Hutchinson in a statement. "While this is historic in nature and warrants praise, it is necessary to also recognize that the fight is still far from over. To this day, people across the country are still experiencing the damaging effects of the war on cannabis, while others are profiting in the industry. Following today's action in the House, it is now time for the US Senate to follow suit and take up the MORE Act. We at the Marijuana Policy Project remain committed to ending cannabis prohibition for all and will continue to fight until that becomes our reality."

Once the Senate does take up the MORE Act or another marijuana legalization bill and in all likelihood fails to pass it, perhaps then Schumer will allow the SAFE Banking Act to move, which would actually get something significant accomplished on marijuana policy this year.

House to Vote on MORE Act Tomorrow; KY, SC Medical Marijuana Bills Face Obstacles, More... (3/30/22)

The House is set to approve marijuana legalization for the second time tomorrow, Mississippi lawmakers approve a bill criminalizing the possession of pill presses if not registered with the state, and more.

A pill press machine. A new Mississippi law criminalizes their possession if not registered with the state.
Marijuana Policy

House Committee Clears Way for Floor Vote on MORE Act Tomorrow. The House Rules Committee on Wednesday formally advanced a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), clearing the way for a House floor vote tomorrow. The committee also accepted a number of amendments while blocking others. One accepted amendment would provide relief to people denied security clearances because of marijuana while another would lower proposed marijuana tax rates in the bill. The House approved similar legislation in 2020, only to see it die in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Dead. The House approved a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, earlier this month, but it now appears the bill will go nowhere in the Senate even though polling shows it has the support of nine out of 10 Kentuckians. Senate President Robert Stivers (R) said he wants to see more testing before moving the bill forward. And Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R) said that while most of his constituents support medical marijuana, he does not, and if voters don't like it, they can "take it out" on him in the next election. He added that he does not think the bill has enough support to pass in the Senate, but advocates are demanding it get a vote anyway.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Faces Determined Opposition in House. A medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 150) easily passed the Senate earlier this year, but has been stalled in the House and faces a significant challenge if it moves there. Although the bill went over to the House Medical, Military, and Public and Municipal Affairs Committee on February 15, it will only get a committee hearing tomorrow, six weeks later. While the bill likely has sufficient support to pass in the House, opponents plan on stalling it by loading it down with superfluous amendments. One representative, John McCrory (R), is reportedly poised to offer up to 150 amendments if the bill makes it to the House floor, delaying its passage or frustrating supporters to the point they decline to take it up.  

Drug Policy

Mississippi Lawmakers Approve Bill Criminalizing Pill Presses. The House and Senate on Tuesday both adopted a conference report approving legislation that criminalizes the possession of pill presses, which can be used to manufacture controlled substances or counterfeit controlled substances. The measure, House Bill 679 requires that all pill presses or similar devices be registered with the State Board of Pharmacy. Under the bill, possessing an unregistered pill press is punishable by a $5,000 fine or up to five years in state prison. Supporters portrayed the bill as a means of reducing opioid overdoses. 

Amendments Fly as House Legal Pot Vote Looms, Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking, More... (3/30/22)

A Maryland marijuana legalization bill advances, New Mexico pot shops will open starting Friday, a Georgia therapeutic psychedelic study bill advances, and more.

The House is set to vote on the MORE Act this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers File Various Amendments to House Marijuana Legalization Bill. With a House floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617) set for this week, proposed amendments are coming fast and furious. They will be taken up by the House Rules Committee Wednesday. Most of the proposed amendments seek to impose restrictions on the bill, such as requiring completion of various certain studies before legalization, limiting expungement provisions, or maintaining certain penalties. One, though, would provide relief for people denied security clearances because of past marijuana convictions.

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 833, that would only take effect if voters approved a related ballot question in November. A slightly different version of the bill passed the House last month, so a conference committee will have to hash out the differences. The panel did not act on House Bill 1, which would establish the November referendum. The legislature faces a deadline at the end of the week. Lawmakers will only have the chance to override a possible veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) if they get bills to his desk this week.

New Mexico Recreational Pot Shops Can Open Their Doors on Friday. The state legislature legalized marijuana last year, and beginning on Friday, the first recreational marijuana sales in the state can begin. New Mexicans could legally possess and use marijuana since last June, but had no place to legally purchase recreational marijuana—until now. State officials have issued more than 200 licenses for retail pot shops. When they open later this week, adults will be able to purchase two ounces of weed at a time.

Opiates and Opioids

California Fentanyl Crisis Prompts Flurry of Bills. Lawmakers are responding to a surge in fentanyl-related overdoses with a number of bills, some punitive, but others embracing harm reduction interventions. Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine) has filed Assembly Bill 2246, which would increase penalties for possession and distribution, including a sentence of 20 years to life for someone who sold fentanyl that resulted in a fatal overdose. Assembly Member James Ramos (D-Highland) has field Assembly Bill 1628, which would require companies such as Snapchat to implement policies that prohibit the sale of fentanyl and other controlled substances on their platforms. Senate Bill 864 would require hospitals to test drug screening urine samples for fentanyl, Senate Bill 1350 would require warnings to people convicted of drug distribution offenses that they could be charged with manslaughter of murder in the event of a fatal overdose, while Assembly Bill 1673 would set up a California Fentanyl Task Force to produce statewide statistics and ramp up public awareness. On the harm reduction side, Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 57 would authorize pilot safe injection site program in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. That bill has passed the Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Psychedelics

Georgia Therapeutic Psychedelic Study Bill Advances. The House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee voted Tuesday to approve House Resolution 896, which would create a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin and make recommendations for legislation. The bill is couched as an effort to address the need for effective treatments for depression and PTSD for military veterans. It now heads to the House Defense and Veteran Affairs Committee.

International

Colombia Coca Zone Battle Sees 11 FARC Dissidents Killed. The Colombia Army said Tuesday its soldiers had killed at least 11 FARC dissidents in open combat n Puerto Leguizamo municipality in Putumayo province near the borders with Ecuador and Peru. The area has extensive coca plantings and cocaine-producing laboratories and is contested by various armed actors. The FARC dissidents are former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who rejected the FARC's demobilization under a 2016 peace deal with the government.

Mexico Attack Leaves at Least 20 Dead in Michoacan. Presumed cartel gunmen attacked spectators at a cockfighting pit in the town of Las Tinajas Sunday, leaving at least 20 people dead and several more wounded. "It was a massacre of one group by another," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a news conference, expressing his regret at the deaths. The state of Michoacan and neighboring Guanajuato have been plagued by cartel violence for years, with the most recent mass killing leaving 17 people dead only weeks ago. Earlier this month, the mayor of Aguilla, Michoacan, was gunned down, and days later, journalist Armando Linares was killed in Zitacuaro. Most of the violence is between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and local gangs, but some of it is between different factions of that same cartel.

Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking. Closing its ears to pleas for leniency, including from the UN Human Rights Office, Singapore on Wednesday executed Abdul Kahar Othman, 68, for drug trafficking. The hanging marked the first execution in the country since it halted them due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last execution took place in November 2019. Kahar, from a poor family, had struggled with addiction all his life and spent much of his adult life behind bars. He was convicted of drug trafficking in 2013. Another execution may be looming. A Malaysian man with mental disabilities, Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, has been on death row since 2010 for trying to smuggle 1.5 ounces of heroin into the city-state. He lost his final appeal on Tuesday. 

MI Psychedelic Legalization Initiative Begins Signature Drive, Biden Budget Keeps Ban on DC Pot Sales, More... (3/29/22)

A new anti-drug reform super PAC emerges and targets a GOP congresswoman, Singapore is now set to hang a mentally disabled man on drug charges, and more.

The Biden White House moves to maintain the status quo on marijuana in its new proposed FY 2023 budget. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden's New Budget Keeps Ban on DC Marijuana Sales, Preserves State Medical Marijuana Protections. It's status quo on marijuana policy in President Biden's just released budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2023. His proposal would maintain the bar on allowing the District of Columbia to legalize marijuana sales, but would also maintain a separate rider that protects state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference. DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) was not pleased: "I have a hard time reconciling the administration’s strong support for DC statehood, which would give DC not only voting representation in Congress but also full local self-government, with a budget that prohibits DC from spending its local funds on recreational marijuana commercialization," she said. "With Democrats controlling the White House, House and Senate, we have the best opportunity in over a decade to enact a budget that does not contain any anti-home-rule riders."

New Anti-Drug Super PAC Emerges, Targets Republican Congresswoman Who Filed Marijuana Legalization Bill. A new anti-drug super PAC, Protect Our Kids PAC, has emerged this week, announcing it is targeting US Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) over her support for marijuana legalization. Mace filed a bill to legalize marijuana earlier this year. "(Mace has) become the Republican face of marijuana legalization in a district and a state that has no marijuana legalization at all," said group spokesman Luke Niforatos. "She's not putting families first. She's not putting parents and kids first, and so we're just going to make sure that her primary voters know about that."  Niforatos also serves as executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, arguably the nation's leading pot prohibitionist group. Protect Our Kids PAC will also target selected races nationwide in a bid to defeat pro-marijuana legalization candidates.

Louisiana Bill Would Bring Back Prison Time for Pot Possession—But Only for Minors. A bill that would modify the decriminalization law approved last year to allow for the imprisonment of minors caught with small amounts of marijuana, House Bill 700, is headed for a House floor vote next week. Under the decriminalization law, people caught with a half-ounce or less of marijuana face a maximum $100 fine. But the bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagwell (R-Stonewall) would allow minors to be jailed for up to 15 days on a first offense, up to two years for a third offense, and up to four years for a fourth offense. The bill passed out of the Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice after being amended to provide protections for minors who are medical marijuana patients. Bagley said the bill is necessary because schools can't keep marijuana off their campuses, and that the threat of incarceration could be used as a lever to get teens into treatment.

Psychedelics

Michigan Psychedelic Legalization Initiative Begins Signature Drive. The activists behind a psychedelic legalization campaign announced Monday that after the Board of State Canvassers certified its initiative last week, signature gathering to get the measure on the November ballot is now underway. The effort is being led by the national group Decriminalize Nature, the group's state chapter, and Students for Sensible Drug Policies (SSDP). The measure would authorize the "supervision, guidance, therapeutic, harm reduction, spiritual, counseling, and related supportive services with or without remuneration." It also reduces penalties for possessing other Schedule I and II drugs. To qualify the measure for the November ballot, activists will need to turn in 340,047 valid signatures from registered voters by June 1.

International

Singapore Set to Hang Malaysian Man with Mental Disability on Drug Charges After Last Appeal Fails. A Malaysian man with mental disabilities who has been on death row on drug charges in Singapore since 2010 is now set to be hanged after his last legal appeal was rejected. Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam got caught trying to smuggle less 1.5 ounces of heroin into Singapore. At an earlier court hearing, his IQ was revealed to be 69 — a level internationally recognized as an intellectual disability, but the court ruled Nagaenthran knew what he was doing by violating Singapore's harsh anti-drug laws. It called his final appeal "an abuse of process and that international law does not apply." The British rights group Reprieve is mounting a last-ditch pressure campaign to get a pardon from President Halimah Yacob. "The Singaporean government has made clear its commitment to champion the rights of persons with disabilities. Allowing this travesty of justice to take place would fly in the face of those promises," Reprieve director Maya Foa said.

MA Drug Courts Agree to Allow Medication-Assisted Treatment, CT Psychedelic Treatment Bill Advances, More... (3/28/22)

Illinois Senate Democrats roll out a pair of bills to fight the opioid overdose crisis, South Dakota's governor vetoes a bill removing old pot charges from public background checks, and more.

Buprenorphine. This and other Medications for Opioid Use Disorder will now be allowed in Bay State drug courts. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Governor Vetoes Bill to Automatically Remove Old Marijuana Charges from Background Checks. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has vetoed Senate Bill 151, which would have automatically removed marijuana charges and convictions more than five years old from public background checks. The bill also required that past offenders have fulfilled their sentences and have no later arrests. In her veto statement, Noem said, "It also essentially codifies a convicted person's ability to be dishonest about their previous arrest and conviction by not requiring disclosure of the prior drug conviction." The bill did not pass with veto-proof majorities.

Psychedelics

Connecticut Lawmakers Advance Psychedelic-Assisted Treatment for Veterans. A bill that would allocate $3 million to help veterans and other disadvantaged people gain access to psychedelic-assisted therapies is advancing. House Bill 5396 passed the Public Health Committee on a unanimous vote last Friday and has now been referred to the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysisprior to a House floor vote.

Drug Courts

Feds Reach Settlement with Massachusetts Drug Court Over Discriminating Against People with Opioid Use Disorder. The US Attorneys Office in Boston announced last Thursday it had reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Trial Court to resolve charges its drug court discriminated against people with Opioid Use Disorder, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Federal prosecutors argued that the drug court discriminated against people taking Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone, by barring or pressuring them to stop using those medications in order to participate in the drug court program. Under the new agreement, all 25 state drug courts will allow the use of MOUDs, with decisions about their use taken only by licensed practitioners or licensed opioid treatment programs. "The opioid crisis has impacted nearly every household and family unit in the Commonwealth. My family is no exception. Sadly, in Massachusetts per capita rates of opioid-related deaths are above the national average. To combat this public health crisis we need to be doing everything possible to save lives. That includes ensuring access to all forms of medical treatment for OUD," said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. "We commend the Massachusetts Trial Court for working with us to implement a policy that sets a standard for other state courts across our country to follow. This policy helps ensure that the court system leaves MOUD treatment decisions to trained and licensed medical professionals."

Harm Reduction

Illinois Democrats Roll Out Pair of Bills to Address Overdose Crisis. Senate Democrats last Thursday unveiled a pair of bills that take aim at the state's opioid overdose crisis, where deaths related to synthetic opioids have increased nearly 25-fold since 2013. Sen. Laura Ellman (D-Naperville) is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 17, a Good Samaritan law that would grant immunity from prosecution for possession of small amounts of fentanyl that for people suffering from an overdose or for people seeking to aid them. And Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 4556, which would allow pharmacists and medical professionals to dispense fentanyl test strips and other drug-testing supplies to anyone who wants them. adulterant testing supplies to any person without persecution for possessing drug testing supplies.

Senate Approves Marijuana Research Bill, UT Governor Signs Psychedelic Research Bill, More... (3/25/22)

A bill to establish the East Coast's first psychedelic medicine center is moving in Connecticut, Utah's Republican governor signs a psychedelic research bill, and more.

The Nebraska medical marijuana initiative campaign has taken a big fund-raising hit, but will soldier on.
Marijuana Policy

Senate Unanimously Approves Marijuana Research Bill. The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that aims to promote research into marijuana, the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act (S. 253). Sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the bill would ease the application process for researchers who want to study the plant. The bill also clearly states that doctors are allowed to discuss the pros and cons of marijuana with patients and requires the Department of Health and Human Services to report on potential health benefits of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Campaign Takes Big Hit as Two Major Donors Die Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind an ongoing medical marijuana initiative campaign, has been wounded by the sudden death of one major donor in a plane crash and the diagnosis of terminal cancer in another major donor. The campaign described the losses as a "huge setback." The group has a $500,000 fund-raising goal by May 1, and as of the end of February, it had only $30,000 in the bank. In 2020, the group managed to raise $2.5 million for the signature drive and general election campaign, which it won, only to see the victory overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Psychedelics

Connecticut Bill to Create Psychedelic Medicine Center Advances. A bill that would create the first psychedelic medicine center on the East Coast has advanced in the House. The measure, House Bill 5396, which assumes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon approve MDMA and psilocybin as treatments for PTSD and depression, respectively, aims to provide those drugs for medicinal use to "qualified patients," which includes veterans, retired first responders, direct care health care workers, and people from "historically underserved communities." The bill passed out of the Joint Health Care Committee last week and is now before the Office of Legislative Research and Fiscal Analysis.

Utah Governor Signs Psychedelic Study Bill into Law. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) has signed into law House Bill 167, which will create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and possible regulations for their legal use. The bill had strong support in the legislature, passing each chamber with only one no vote. The bill will create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Taskforce to "study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness." The drugs the panel will consider are controlled substances "not currently available for legal use."

House to Vote on MORE Act Next Week, PA Psilocybin Bill Stalled by Worries Over Mushroom Overdoses, More... (3/24/22)

A spate of fatal pot shop robberies in Washington is leading to calls to pass the SAFE Act, the Mexican military sends reinforcements to Nuevo Laredo amidst continuing clashes, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. Considered very non-toxic despite the worries of a Pennsylvania politician. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Set for House Floor Vote Next Week. Congressional leadership confirmed Thursday that the House will vote next week on whether to approve House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617). The House passed an earlier version of the bill last year, only to see it go nowhere in the then Republican controlled Senate. Pressure to get a House floor vote on the bill, which passed out of committee last September, has been mounting.

Washington State Marijuana Regulators to Host Roundtable on Retailer Safety in Wake of Three Deaths in Four Days in Pot Shop Robberies. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has announced that it will hold an online roundtable on marijuana retailer safety in the wake of a spate of deadly armed robberies at pot shops that have left three people dead in a four-day span. The LCB will meet with shop owners, elected officials, federal SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996)advocates, and others to discuss the public safety crisis. The marijuana industry nationwide has been clamoring for passage of the bill, which would give it access to banking and financial services and alleviate the need for marijuana retailers to deal exclusively in robber-tempting cash. There have been more than 50 robberies of marijuana businesses in the state so far this year, more than in all of 2021.

"The tragic events of the last week and the escalation of armed robberies over the last several months have demonstrated the urgent need for Congress to act," the LCB said. "The lack of banking services has become a catalyst for a very real public safety crisis in Washington State. Due to their forced reliance on cash transactions, cannabis retailers have increasingly become targets for armed robbers."

Psychedelics

Pennsylvania Psilocybin Research Bill Stalled as Committee Chair Worries About Mushroom Overdoses. A bill that aims to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms is in doubt after House Health Committee Chair Rep. Kathy Rapp (R) expressed concerns about magic mushroom overdoses. The measure, the Psilocybin Data Act (House Bill 1959), had already been amended to address Rapp's reservations, but bill sponsor Rep. Tracy Pennycuik (R) said Rapp "Shifted course due to an overdose death in her district" allegedly involving magic mushrooms. But magic mushrooms "are considered to be among the least toxic drugs known."

International

Mexico Sends Reinforcements to Nuevo Laredo After Continuing Clashes. Clashes between Gulf Cartel gunmen and the Mexican military that broke out last week after the arrest of cartel leader Juan Gerardo Trevino Chavez, "The Egg," have rocked the border town of Nuevo Laredo with explosions and machine gun fire have now prompted the military to send in reinforcements. Trevino Chavez was deported to the US and faces drug trafficking and money laundering charges. 

Chronicle Book Review: "Transforming the War on Drugs" [FEATURE]

Transforming the War on Drugs: Warriors, Victims and Vulnerable Regions edited by Annette Idler and Juan Carlos Garzon Vergara (2021, Oxford University Press, 584 pp., $34.95 PB)

If you have been watching the growing fissures and fractures in the global prohibitionist consensus embodied in the United Nation's three-treaty international drug control regime (IDCR) and are expecting the whole thing to come crashing to the ground sometime soon, don't hold your breath. That is the message that comes through loud and clear in Transforming the War on Drugs, an essential collection that comprehensively analyzes the past and present of global drug policy and points the way to a different, better future.

As the contributors make clear, while the IDCR is suffering well-earned stresses, especially around its failure to succeed on its own terms -- reducing drug use and the drug trade -- and while the "Vienna consensus" may be fraying, the global reform movement that has been building since the failure of the 1998 UN General Assembly Session (UNGASS) on Drugs to meet its goal of eradicating drug use within a decade has yet to jell.

As Monica Serrano explains in "A Forward March Halted: The UNGASS Process and the War on Drugs," while Latin American nations such as Colombia and Mexico called for a reconsideration of the IDCR, paving the way for the 2016 UNGASS, they did not succeed in building alliances with other nations that could push the process forward. That was not only because of deficiencies in those countries' efforts, but also because, despite the ever-increasing calls for change, a majority of countries around the world still subscribe to the law enforcement-heavy tenets of the global drug prohibition regime.

That is despite the now quite clearly understood harms that the IDCR imposes on different countries and groups around the world. Whether it is enabling the rise of violent drug trafficking organizations, destroying the livelihoods of poor drug crop farmers, creating horrendous human rights violations, filling prisons around the world, or creating needless suffering for drug users, the international response to drug use and trafficking is creating real, calculable negative consequences.

As coeditor Annette Idler demonstrates in "Warriors, Victims, and Vulnerable Regions," the heedless harshness of the IDCR is embedded in its very DNA. From the beginning, the US "war on drugs" model and the rhetoric of drugs as "evil" and an existential threat to the security of nation-states has excused the sort of "state of emergency" measures -- criminalization, law enforcement crackdowns, militarization -- that, while not even managing to make countries more secure, manages to bring not security but insecurity to communities and drug using individuals.

Other contributors to the volume make that point in great detail in case studies of Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean, West Africa, the Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan), the Golden Triangle, and Russia. How can one argue that drug prohibition has brought security to Mexico, with thousands of killings each year and police forces so corrupted you don't know which department is working for which cartel? Likewise, West Africa, where drug prohibition has so corrupted some governments that "the state becomes a threat to its own self"?

Given current events, the case of Russia is particularly interesting. It is one of the staunchest supporters of the current IDCR, but not just because of its inherent authoritarianism. Russia didn't really have a significant drug control regime until the post-Soviet era of the 1990s, and then it modeled its apparatus on that of the DEA. But even though it looked to the West for drug war expertise, its drug concerns were primarily domestic: It has one of the world's most serious heroin problems, one driven by supply rather than demand, contributor Ekaterina Stepanova explains. That supply is coming from Afghanistan, and Russian addicts account for about one quarter of all Afghan heroin production. One more reason for Russia to be unhappy with the US and NATO, who, in two decades of occupying Afghanistan, never effectively suppressed the poppy crop.

One of the more fascinating chapters is on rethinking the metrics of measuring success in drug policy. Instead of measuring "securitized" items such as acres of drug crops eradicated, the amount of drugs seized, the number of traffickers arrested -- all of which really measure repressive enforcement activity -- contributors Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre argue for new metrics for a new framework for evaluating drug policies. With broad goals of improving the health and welfare of the population and enhancing the safety and security of people who use drugs and the broader public, instead of measuring busts and seizures, we should be quantifying metrics for decriminalizing drug use (is it decriminalized, how many legislative measures are aimed at it, how many civil society groups are involved, how many people are being arrested and imprisoned) and curbing drug harms through public health measures (number of drug overdose deaths, number of other drug-related deaths, prevalence of drug-linked infectious disease). This really make sense if we are actually interested in improving lives as opposed to the quixotic quest to eliminate drug use.

There is a whole lot more to this volume. It is a comprehensive, systematic effort to theoretically, conceptually, and empirically investigate the effects of the IDCR and offer a more human alternative. Anyone seriously interested in working to understand and change the global drug prohibition regime need a well-thunbed copy of this on his bookshelf.

Medical Marijuana Update

Another fairly quiet week on the medical marijuana front, with actions in just two states. 

Georgia

Georgia House, Senate Pass Separate Medical Marijuana Bills. The House approved a bill to revamp the state's dysfunctional medical marijuana system, House Bill 1425 last Tuesday. The bill would allow the provision of low-THC cannabis oil "from any available legal source" by August 1 and begin providing it to patients now on the state registry by August 15. The state had passed a low-THC cannabis oil law in 2015, but legal challenges have left Georgians without any legal supply. The Senate, meanwhile, approved its own medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 609, which would require the medical cannabis commission to issue its initial licenses by May 31. Tuesday was the last day for bills to pass their original chamber, so both bills remain alive.

Kentucky

Kentucky House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House last Thursday approved House Bill 136, which would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The legislation now heads to the Senate. This is the third try for bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R), who got a similar bill through the House in 2020 only to see in die in the Senate and whose 2021 effort got nowhere in the midst of the pandemic. The bill now heads to the Senate, where Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield (R) says he will back it despite personal reservations.

DEA Commits to Expanding Medication-Assisted Treatment, Human Rights Watch Calls for End to US Pot Prohibition, More... (3/23/22)

Rhode Island lawmakers are trying to thrash out agreement on a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Policy Project releases a report on the states lagging behind on marijuana reform, and more.

Buprenorphine. The DEA says it is commited to expanding medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as bupe. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Human Rights Watch Calls on US to End Marijuana Prohibition Now. Human Rights Watch is calling on the federal government to legalize marijuana as "a much-needed move toward a US drug policy grounded in human rights, harm reduction, and health." The group noted that in the last Congress, the House passed the historic Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act and said a House floor vote on this year's version of the bill, HR 3617 is "an urgent step toward advancing long overdue reforms in the criminal justice system and beyond." It also called on members of Congress to "heed the call of a diverse coalition of organization and cosponsor the bill. House leadership should immediately bring the bill to a floor vote," the group said.

Marijuana Policy Project Releases Report on the States Lagging Behind on Marijuana Reform. Recognizing the 50-year anniversary of the report issued by the Shafer Commission, which investigated the effects of cannabis use on specific communities and found that small amounts of cannabis do not harm society and should not result in criminalization or jail time, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) released a new report on Tuesday, Behind the Times: The 19 States Where a Joint Can Still Land You in Jail. The report examines the laws that lag the furthest behind public opinion: the 19 states and federal government, which have not even "decriminalized" simple possession of cannabis. In those states, it examines penalties for simple possession, arrest rates, and racial disparities in arrests and provides a glimpse at some of the damage inflicted by draconian laws. It also reviews unsolved crime rates in the states that continue to use limited law enforcement resources to arrest and jail adults for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.

Rhode Island Lawmakers Meet to Ponder Competing Marijuana Legalization Proposals. The House Finance Committee met on Tuesday to discuss competing marijuana legalization proposals from the House and Senate leadership and Gov. Dan McKee (D). McKee proposed a legalization plan in his budget package, House Bill 7123, while the legislative leaders are backing Senate Bill 2430. At the hearing, advocates complained of inadequate equity provisions in the Senate bill, with members saying they were open to feedback. The governor's bill on the other hand, has provisions to automatically expunge past convictions.

Drug Treatment

DEA Commits to Expanding Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram on Wednesday announced the Drug Enforcement Administration’s continued commitment to expanding access to medication-assisted treatment to help those suffering from substance use disorder. "In this moment, when the United States is suffering tens of thousands of opioid-related overdose deaths every year, the DEA’s top priority is doing everything in our power to save lives," said Administrator Milgram. "Medication-assisted treatment helps those who are fighting to overcome substance use disorder by sustaining recovery and preventing overdoses. At DEA, our goal is simple: we want medication-assisted treatment to be readily and safely available to anyone in the country who needs it." The agency has recently been championing a number of initiatives to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid-related substance use disorder, including a loosening of restrictions around buprenorphine and methadone prescribing, reaching out to pharmacists and practitioners to let them know DEA supports medication-assisted treatment, and increasing the number of mobile methadone clinics. 

VT House Approves Bill to Cut Drug Sentencing, FL House Republicans Kill Fentanyl Test Strip Bill, More... (3/22/22)

A New Hampshire marijuana legalization bill takes another key step toward passage, there's a push for drug decriminalization in Maine, and more.

More states are taking up bills to legalize fentanyl test strips in a bid to reduce overdoses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill; It Now Heads for Second House Floor Vote. A bill to create a legal marijuana market through state-run dispensaries that has already passed the House once has now been amended and approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, which took it up because it involved economic components. The bill, House Bill 1348, is now set for a second House floor vote, and if the amended measure is approved, will then head t the Senate.

Drug Policy

Maine ACLU, Center for Economic Policy Release Report Calling for Drug Decriminalization. The Maine chapter of the ACLY and the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) released a report Monday recommending the decriminalization of drug use and possession in the state, A Better Path for Maine: The Case for Decriminalizing Drugs. The report highlights the cost of criminalizing drug use, the impact on incarcerated individuals for drug possession and use, and challenges with the legal system associated with drug criminalization. "In addition to the very real toll that the war on drugs inflicts on Mainers' physical and mental wellbeing, collectively we pay millions of dollars each year in financial costs," James Myall, an economic policy analyst at MECEP, said. "Year over year, Maine has prioritized incarcerating and criminalizing people who use drugs over making treatment for drug use more available. Not only is this approach ineffective, but it's extremely costly."

Vermont House Approves Bill to Cut Maximum Drug Sentences, Review Laws on Drug Possession. The House last Friday approved House Bill 505, which would cut maximum sentences for drug offenses and set up a board to review existing drug possession laws. The bill drops some drug offenses, such as possession of small amounts of heroin, from felonies to misdemeanors. It also eliminates the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. It would also create a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board, a move first proposed in House Bill 644, a broader bill that would decriminalize drug possession but which has failed to move out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Harm Reduction

Florida House Republicans Kill Bill to Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips. A bill to legalize fentanyl test strips as part of the effort to reduce drug overdose deaths in the state was killed earlier this month by House Republicans. The bill had passed out of the Senate as part of broader legislation, but when it came before the House on March 11, the last day of the session, the Republicans who control the House voted on a voice vote to strip the fentanyl test strip language from the broader bill, which they then passed.

Tennessee Legislator Approves Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. Both chambers of the legislature have approved a bill that would remove fentanyl test strips from the state's definition of illegal drug paraphernalia, House Bill 2177. Legislators were moved to act after fentanyl overdose deaths jumped 46 percent between 2018 and 2019 and more than 700 people died of drug overdoses in Nashville alone last year. "If we can save one life, I think that this bill is worth it, because overdose cases are out of control," said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). "If we can help them at least not take something that could kill them — one pill and it could kill — then that’s what I want to be able to do." The bill

now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R). A spokesperson said he plans to sign it into law.

Executions of Drug Offenders Surged Last Year, Pot Industry Push for SAFE Banking Act, More... (3/21/22)

A suburban Atlanta prosecutor's big to clamp down on Delta-8 THC products runs into a judicial roadblock, the University of Michigan SSDP chapter is spearheading a municipal drug decriminalizaiton resolution, and more.

Marijuana industry execs are swarming Capitol Hill in a last-ditch bid to win passage of the SAFE Banking Act. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Industry Pushing Hard to Get Banking Measure Passed Before Midterms. More than 20 head executives of major marijuana companies have unleashed a lobbying blitz on Congress in a bid to get the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) passed before the November midterms. They worry that if Republicans take over after the November elections, passage of the bill would be doomed. Passage of the bill has been blocked by the Democratic Senate leadership, which is holding out for a yet-to-be finalized marijuana legalization bill from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The marijuana companies say that while they also support legalization, they do not see the votes to pass it this year. "We want comprehensive reform, but we also recognize that with the potential for the House and Senate to change hands, we have an opportunity now to pass impactful legislation, and if we fail to do that, it could be years until we get something done," said Jared Maloof, CEO of Ohio-based medical marijuana company Standard Wellness.

Georgia Judge Blocks DA's Efforts to Ban Delta-8, Delta-10 Cannabis Extracts.  Suburban Atlanta Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gaston has been blocked from enforcing a ban on cannabis extracts contained Delta-8 and Delta-10 by an order from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall. Last Friday, Schwall issued a 30-day restraining order barring Gwinnet County from prosecuting people for possessing or selling the extracts. The two cannabinoids are similar to THC (Delta-9 THC), but have less powerful psychoactive effects, and they inhabit a hazy legal status. In January, Austin-Gaston said that possessing, selling, or distributing such products are felony offenses and raided two distributors, seizing millions of dollars worth of product, charging at least one person with a felony. Her actions are blocked as part of a lawsuit brought by two owners of a Gwinnet County vape story chain, who are seeking to have the extracts declared legal in the state.

Drug Policy

University of Michigan Students Push Ann Arbor Drug Decriminalization Resolution. The university chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy has launched a campaign to decriminalize the possession of drugs and their small-scale distribution. After consulting with community members, the group has drafted the Ann Arbor Resolution to Advance Sensible Drug Policy, which will be put before the city council. After consultation with stakeholders, the resolution sets a suggested permitted amount of 15 grams of any drug, much higher than other decriminalization measures. While drug laws are generally set by the state and federal governments, the resolution, if adopted, would make drug possession the lowest law enforcement priority and ban the use of city funds to enforce the prohibition on drug possession.

International

Executions for Drug Convictions Surged in 2021; Most Are Kept Secret. According to a new report from Harm Reduction International, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2021, at least 131 people were executed for drug offenses last year, but "this number is likely to represent only a fraction of all drug-related executions carried out globally." Even so, it is nearly four times the number of executions reported in 2020. HRI named Iran and China as definitely carrying out drug executions last year, and it suspects that Vietnam and North Korea did as well, but cannot confirm that because of government secrecy. The report identifies "High Application States" where "executions of individuals convicted of drug offenses were carried out, and/or at least 10 drug-related death sentences per year were imposed in the past five years." Along the countries mentioned above, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore all make this rogue's gallery. At least 3,000 people are on death row for drugs worldwide, the report found, with at least 237 drug death sentences issued last year in 16 countries. 

CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Falls Short on Signatures, Ukraine War Deepens Suffering of Drug Users, More... (3/18/22)

Medical marijuana bills advance in Georgia and Kentucky, Honduras' former "narcopresidente" is a step closer to being extradited to the United States on drug charges, and more. 

Fomer Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez can be extradited to face US drug charges, a court there ruled. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Governor Has "Concerns" About Marijuana Legalization Bill's Cannabis Control Commission. Gov. Dan McKee (D) has "significant constitutional concerns" with Senate Bill 2430, the marijuana legalization bill backed by House and Senate leadership. The concerns are around the proposed three-member cannabis control commission's members are to be appointed—and removed if necessary. The governor's office argues that the bill would give the Senate "unfettered discretion" on whether to remove a commissioner, which is says is a violation of the separation of powers. But one of the key sponsors of the bill, which was crafted after long deliberation, Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), said the governor's objection is not an insurmountable obstacle. "It’s not a big impediment," said Miller. "It’s solvable." 

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House, Senate Pass Separate Medical Marijuana Bills. The House approved a bill to revamp the state's dysfunctional medical marijuana system, House Bill 1425 on Tuesday. The bill would allow the provision of low-THC cannabis oil "from any available legal source" by August 1 and begin providing it to patients now on the state registry by August 15. The state had passed a low-THC cannabis oil law in 2015, but legal challenges have left Georgians without any legal supply. The Senate, meanwhile, approved its own medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 609, which would require the medical cannabis commission to issue its initial licenses by May 31. Tuesday was the last day for bills to pass their original chamber, so both bills remain alive.

Kentucky House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Thursday approved House Bill 136, which would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The legislation now heads to the Senate. This is the third try for bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R), who got a similar bill through the House in 2020 only to see in die in the Senate and whose 2021 effort got nowhere in the midst of the pandemic. The bill now heads to the Senate, where Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield (R) says he will back it despite personal reservations.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Falls Short on Signatures. Decriminalize California, the group behind a psilocybin legalization initiative campaign, announced Wednesday that it had failed to gather enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The all-volunteer effort faltered during the winter outbreak of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. "We were doing great there collecting and then in mid-December just about everyone of our core volunteers got COVID and most of the events we were scheduled at either closed, postponed or had an extremely weak turnout," campaign manager Ryan Munevar said in an email to supporters. The group will now do fundraising in coming months to determine whether it is feasible to start a second effort in either June or October of next year for 2024.

International

At Urging of US, CND Acts Against Precursor Chemical Used to Produce Illicit Fentanyl. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted Friday to control three chemicals used by drug traffickers to produce illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is driving overdose deaths in the United States. At the request of the United States, and with the recommendation of the International Narcotics Control Board, the Commission’s Member States voted unanimously to take international action and control the acquisition, production, and export of three precursors used to manufacture illicit fentanyl and its analogues. "President Biden has made clear that ending the overdose epidemic is a top priority. As part of the Administration’s efforts to reduce the supply of illicit fentanyl driving overdose deaths, the United States called on the global community to regulate three chemicals commonly used to produce it, and today that call was answered," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). "This new action makes it more difficult for drug traffickers to obtain and use these chemicals for illicit purposes. It will also help disrupt synthetic drug trafficking that not only leads to deaths caused by overdose, but also corruption, drug-related violence, and insecurity. The collective work of the international community to address global drug-related challenges has never been more important. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to building on today’s progress."

Honduran Judge Okays Extradition of Former President to Face US Drug Charges. A judge in Honduras has ruled the former President Juan Orlando Hernandez can be extradited to the United States to face drug charges. Hernandez was president from 2014 until last month, after he lost an election, and was considered a US ally even though federal prosecutors alleged he was involved in drug trafficking throughout his presidency. He was detained last month by the new government at the request of the US. The "narcopresidente" has until Saturday to appeal the Wednesday ruling, after which he could be extradited. Meanwhile, he remains in prison in Honduras.

War Deepens Suffering for Ukraine's Drug Users. Drug users in the country are facing shortages of methadone and street drugs as the Russian military campaign in the country disrupts daily life. "Today, I went around five pharmacies where I used to get methadone on prescription. None were open. Another place was open today, but there was a queue of at least 200 people and I didn’t want to go into withdrawal right there, and so I went home," one drug user said. In the city of Kyiv, there were 45 fee-based centers serving opioid-dependent patients each; now they are all closed after the doctors evacuated. Similar clinics in the Crimean Peninsula were shut down when Russian forces took over in 2014; since then, of approximately 800 Crimean methadone patients, at least 80 have killed themselves, died of fatal overdoes, or died of other narcotic causes. 

Congress Passes, President Signs Omnibus Funding Bill That Has Reform Advocates Fuming [FEATURE]

The Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus appropriations bill signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday has drug reform and civil rights groups fuming over both what was left out and what made the final cut. The bill extends class-wide scheduling and harsh criminal penalties for fentanyl-related substances, underfunds harm reduction services, and still includes a rider that bars the District of Columbia from taxing and regulating marijuana sales.

Drug reform and civil rights groups are directing some ire at Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
"We're deeply disappointed in House and Senate leadership for allowing this version of the bill to move forward and neglecting this rare opportunity to advance long overdue reforms," the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said in a press release after the bill passed Congress last week.

Congress ended up allocating a measly $18 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Infectious Disease and the Opioid Epidemic program that supports needle exchange and overdose prevention program. While the figure is a $5 million increase over the last year, it fails to respond to urgent need to expand harm reduction services.

"With an overdose crisis that claimed more than 100,000 lives in 2021 alone, we urgently need to employ evidence-based services to save lives. Syringe services programs directly reach people at highest risk for overdose, HIV, hepatitis C and other infections, as well as other harms associated with drug use. It's past time that lawmakers prioritize making more of these lifesaving harm reduction services available," said DPA deputy director of National Affairs Grant Smith.

While Congress is not paying enough attention to harm reduction, its move to extend the Trump-era temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances will only increase the harms of criminal justice system exposure for people of color while failing to address the overdose crisis, civil rights advocates said. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national groups, wrote a January letter to the White House opposing the move, and its members are not happy now.

"During the protests calling for police accountability and criminal-legal reform in 2020, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promised to pursue racial equity. This scheduling policy flies directly in the face of those promises," said Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice reform program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a press release following the vote. "For too long Black and Brown people and their communities have suffered from under-resourcing and over policing, due in large part to the war on drugs. Congress must stop trying to perpetuate mass incarceration and instead advance policies that actually help our communities navigate the overdose crisis as a public health issue."

"We are disappointed that Congress has continued the temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances instead of preventing opioid deaths through comprehensive legislation," said Marta Nelson, director of government strategy at the Vera Institute of Justice. "We urge Congress to use this time to work on a permanent solution -- one that saves lives through public health measures, narrows the definition of fentanyl-related substances subject to criminal prosecution, and removes mandatory minimum punishments. We must change our current approach to this crisis in a way that addresses public safety needs and the needs of communities of color."

"It's hard to believe Congress extended this 'temporary' policy yet again. Overdoses have only skyrocketed since it came into force. It is time to let this expire now," said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. "Congress already has the tools they need to prosecute cases involving fentanyl-related substances. This cruel, over-broad approach hasn't helped, and continues to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities."

And then, there is the issue of marijuana in the nation's capital. DC residents overwhelmingly approved the Initiative 71 marijuana legalization measure in November 2014, but because the District, as a federal territory, cannot control its own budget, Congress has been able to block the District from being able to implement taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The "Harris rider," named after conservative Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), frustratingly remains intact despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

"We are very disappointed that Congress continues to prevent residents of DC from regulating cannabis despite their urgent and repeated requests for reform. Instead, Congress is forcing the District to maintain a gray market in which cannabis can be legally possessed and consumed by adults, but it cannot be legally sold, regulated, or tested, said Toi Hutchinson, President and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project in a press release. "This places consumers at risk, and entrepreneurs who live in this minority-majority community are denied the ability to open businesses that are available in every other legal cannabis jurisdiction."

That's a whole lot of disappointment and frustration with the Democratic leadership of the Congress. There may be more to come. The SAFE Banking Act remains stalled, and even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) proposed marijuana legalization bill doesn't look like it has enough votes to pass. This could end up being a year to forget when it comes to responsible drug policies from Congress.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We've got a real rogue's gallery of crooked cops this week, with a California cop wrecking his car while on meth and fentanyl, a Philadelphia cop extorting sex and selling heroin, and more. Let's get to it:

In Gaffney, South Carolina, a Gaffney police officer was arrested last Wednesday for altering a drug test for a firefighter and unlawfully confiscating marijuana. Charlena Marie Camden Hamrick, 31, went down after the county sheriff sought an investigation into social media posts detailing how she provided a clean urine sample to defeat a firefighter's drug test. The investigation also revealed that she had seized marijuana without turning it in, instead consuming it with her boyfriend. She is charged with misconduct in office and substitution or spiking to defeat a drug test. She is now a former Gaffney police officer.

In Fresno, California, a Fresno police sergeant was arrested last Thursday for stealing drugs, using them, and then crashing his patrol car while driving intoxicated on duty. Sergeant Donnie Dinnell, a 19-year veteran, went down after a 911 caller reported a police car driving erratically in a parking lot. The police car was running over curbs and struck a tree, disabling it. Responding police first thought Dinnell had suffered a medical emergency but then realized his last call before that involved drugs. They also found a bindle containing meth and fentanyl in the patrol car. Dinnell admitted taking the drugs from a woman and letting her go and told investigators he planned to get rid of the drugs but was drifting in and out of consciousness before crashing. He is charged with robbery, possession of meth, and driving under the influence.

In Hanover, Virginia, a Pamunkey Regional Jail guard was arrested on Monday along with eight other people for allegedly bringing drug into the jail. Former Corrections Officer Jaden Robertson, 23, and the others, including several inmates, are facing unspecified drug distribution charges.

In Freehold, New Jersey, a former Long Branch police officer was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in state prison for operating a meth lab in his home. Christopher Walls, 50, had pleaded guilty last November to manufacturing a controlled dangerous substance and to causing a risk of widespread injury. He went down after police responded to a domestic disturbance call and his wife told officers about the basement lab. Police searchers then found the lab, as well as an open, unsecured gun safe with two long guns, four handguns, eight high-capacity magazines and ammunition inside.

In Philadelphia, a former Carlisle police officer and member of the Cumberland County Drug Task Force was sentenced last Friday to 75 months in prison for extorting sexual favors from women in return for not aiding in their prosecution—oh, and distributing heroin. In one case, Christopher Collare, 54, agreed not to appear at an evidentiary hearing in exchange for sex; in another, he took steps to held reduce a potential sentence in return for sexual favors. He also went down for lying to FBI agents about his behavior when he was being interviewed to be an FBI task force member. He pleaded guilty to bribery, drug distribution and making false statements.

Medical Marijuana Update

South Dakota lawmakers move to restrict the number of plants patients may grow, and more.

Kentucky

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 15-1 to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, clearing the way for a House floor vote, which could come as soon as next week. A similar bill passed the House in 2020, but did not get taken up by a Senate committee because of lack of support and the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In a bid to win broader support, bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R) narrowed the bill this year by including provisions that ban smoking marijuana or growing it oneself, but Senate leadership still has "concerns."

South Dakota

South Dakota Conference Committee Votes to Limit Medical Marijuana Cardholders to Growing Two Flowering Plants, Two Immature Ones. A legislative conference committee has voted to limit the number of plants patients or caregivers may grow at home to two flowering and two immature plants. The committee approved an amendment to that effect from Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence) after earlier defeating an amendment from him that would have banned home growing altogether. South Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana at the polls, approving an initiative that set a floor—three plants—but not a ceiling, as this move does.

CO Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway; US, Russia Clash at CND, More... (3/16/22)

Georgia cops will pay for a misbegotten massive pot bust, the US and Russia criticize each other in remarks at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, and more.

Psychedelics

Colorado Activists Finalize Decision on Psychedelic Reform Initiative. New Approach PAC and state-level activists have decided which of four psychedelic reform initiatives they filed will actually be the subject of a 2022 signature gathering campaign. They have requested permission from the state to begin signature gathering for Initiative 58, the Natural Medicine Health Act. The measure would legalize psilocybin, as well as creating "healing centers" where people could use the drug for therapeutic forces. The campaign will need 124,632 valid voter signatures by August 8 to qualify for the November ballot.

Law Enforcement

"Cartersville 64," All Busted for Less Than an Ounce of Weed, Win Settlement with Cops. Police in Cartersville, Georgia, went to a house on a report of gunshots on New Year's Eve 2017, claimed they smelled marijuana, entered the house without consent or a warrant, found less than an ounce of marijuana, then arrested all 64 people in the house, most of them people of color, for marijuana possession because it within "everyone’s reach or control." Prosecutors dropped the charges within days, but that wasn't the end of it. The Southern Center for Human Rights and a local law firm filed a lawsuit over the bust, and it has now been settled. The defendants — the Cartersville Police Department, Bartow County Sheriff’s Office and the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force — will pay $900,000 as part of the settlement.

International

US Uses CND Session to Blast Russia, Reiterate Drug Policy Stance. In remarks delivered Monday by Todd D. Robinson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") at the 65th meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, the US criticized Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, as well as reiterating the US position combining public health and law enforcement approaches to the drug issue.

"For decades," said Robinson, "the UN Charter has stood as a bulwark to the worst impulses of empires and autocrats. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is an attack on Ukraine as a UN Member State, on our Charter, and on the UN itself, including the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Russia’s choice for premeditated war is bringing catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. These actions contravene our commitments to protect the health and welfare of mankind, our single greatest purpose in the CND.

"Here, we speak together against those who believe they can violate the law for their own benefit – criminals, corrupt actors, and drug traffickers. How can we continue to speak against these bad actors when one among us is operating with similar lawlessness? We have lost trust in Russia as a UN Member State and CND member, and we will approach its participation in this and other UN bodies with serious skepticism. We must hold Russia accountable. In so doing though we cannot allow our critical work in the CND to be deterred."

Robinson added that the Biden administration's approach to drug policy "includes a focus on primary prevention, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment, and recovery support, and calls for public-private collaboration to remove barriers to high quality care, reduce stigma, and invest in evidence-based public health and public safety approaches," but added that " public health-focused efforts must also be complemented by effective international cooperation and law enforcement measures to reduce illicit manufacture and trafficking of drugs."

Russia Uses CND to Criticize West for Marijuana Legalization, Afghan Heroin, and Complain of Political Attacks. In remarks delivered Monday by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Oleg Syromolotov at the 65th meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Russia criticized its critic for criticizing its invasion of Ukraine and lambasted Western countries that have embraced marijuana legalization.

Referring to criticism from the US, Syromolotov said, "We are bewildered at the insistent attempts of some Member States to politicize the work of the current session. We are adamantly opposed to such black PR campaigns, which are not related to the mandate of the Commission. This approach damages the reputation of this important international body and could erode the trust of the world community in it. Russia is always committed to a constructive, substantive discussion in the Commission."

On marijuana: "It is unfortunate that today we see attempts to shatter this foundation and distort its essence, "said Syromolotov. "Legalization of free distribution of cannabis in such countries as the United States of America and Canada is a matter of serious concern for us. It is worrisome that several Member States of the European Union are currently considering violating their drug control obligations. Such approach is unacceptable. Strict compliance of all State Parties with their obligations under the conventions is the precondition for the smooth functioning of the global drug control regime. Russia is consistently advocating that only those States that are implementing the provisions of the conventions in good faith have the moral right to participate in the activities of the Commission. By applying a different approach, we risk undermining the authority of the Commission which is the policy-making body of the United Nations with prime responsibility for drug control matters."

On Afghanistan, whose opium production supplies a massive wave of heroin addiction in Russia: "Another matter of serious concern to us is the situation in Afghanistan," Syromolotov said. "Freeze on the national financial resources of Afghanistan made illicit opium poppy cultivation and production practically the only viable income source for the population."

CA Bill to Make Growing 7 Pot Plants a Felony Is Pulled, Biden Signs Meth Emergency Bill, More... (3/15/22)

Mexico is sending more trips to fight cartel violence in the state of Jalisco, the head of the WHO speaks out about unneccessary suffering due to lack of access to pain medication around the world, and more.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus raises the alarm on the global lack of access to pain medications. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Make Growing Seven Pot Plants a Felony is Pulled. A bill that would have re-felonized the cultivation of more than six marijuana plants, Assembly Bill 1725, is dead for the year. Bill sponsor Assemblyman Thurston Smith (R-Apple Valley) pulled the bill from consideration by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, signaling a lack of support in the committee.

Methamphetamine

President Biden Signs Bill Declaring Methamphetamine an Emerging Drug Threat.  President Biden on Monday signed into law S. 854, the Methamphetamine Response Act of 2021, which designates methamphetamine as an emerging drug threat and requires the Office of National Drug Control Policy to develop, implement, and make public a national response plan that is specific to methamphetamine. The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), while the House version was sponsored by Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA), John Curtis (R-UT), Diana Harshbarger (R-TN), Cindy Axne (D-IA), and Josh Harder (D-CA).

International

World Health Organization Director General Uses Commission on Narcotic Drugs Vienna Meeting to Raise Alarm on Global Lack of Access to Pain Medications. At the 65th meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus raised the alarm on the global lack of access to pain medications. In his speech, entitled "Ensuring access to medicines for patients – a global concern," Ghebreyeus said, "Around the world, millions of people rely on medicines based on controlled substances. They rely on them either to manage life, or to manage the end of life. These controlled medicines are critical for treating patients with severe COVID-19 disease. They are also essential for pain management in cancer, surgical care and palliative care, and for the management of drug use, neurological and mental health disorders. And yet millions of other people suffer needlessly, because for them, these essential medicines are out of reach." 

Ghebreysus pointed out that in low- and middle-income countries, "97% of the need for immediate-release morphine, an essential medicine for the management of pain and palliative care, is unmet." He cited several factors for the "appalling lack of access" to pain medications, including "a lack of national policies that facilitate access to controlled medicines, unstable supply chains, and limited production and regulatory capacity." He also cited supply chain breakdowns.

He did not address the role of the global drug prohibition regime in leading to restricted access to such drugs, but he did say that "WHO is proud to join the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the International Narcotics Control Board to call for international cooperation to increase access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes."

Mexico Sends Another 500 Troops to Jalisco Amidst Cartel Violence. The Secretariat of National Defense has ordered 500 more troops to the Guadalajara metropolitan area to combat rising violence as rival drug trafficking organizations battle for control in Jalisco and neighboring Michoacan. The soldiers are part of the Joint Task Force Mexico, which can quickly be deployed anywhere in the country. There were already nearly 12,000 soldiers and National Guard members deployed to Jalisco, where the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is clashing with local cartelitos, such as Los Viagras. Local residents in Jalisco and Michoacan blame the Jalisco cartel for much of the violence. Last month, troops deployed for the first time in months in a township dominated by the Jalisco cartel, breaking up a civilian blockade of an army base in Aguilla that had endured for months. The military accuses the locals of supporting the cartel, but the locals say they were blockading the army base because the soldiers refused to come out and confront the cartels. 

Open Air Weed Market Emerges in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, AL Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Passes, More... (3/14/22)

Congressional Democrats gathered in Philadelphia last Thursday to talk about marijuana legalization, the Washington legislature has approved $200,000 for psilocying research, and more.

Fentanyl test strips.Bills to legalize them are popping up in numerous states. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Democrats Elevate Marijuana Equity Issues at Retreat Panel Focused on Legalization. At a policy retreat in Philadelphia last Thursday, congressional Democrats heard from a panel on advancing marijuana reform with a heavy emphasis on social equity issues. The panel was chaired by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who led the discussion on how the people most impacted by drug prohibition can benefit from legalization. "The congresswoman’s feeling is still that racial justice and restorative justice needs to be at the centerpiece of any cannabis legislation that we put forward," said a staffer at the meeting. The bill getting the most attention was Rep. Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), which advocates are pushing for a floor vote this month.

Open Air Weed Market Emerges in Manhattan's Washington Square Park as Legal Marijuana Sales Still Not Allowed. Regulations for legal marijuana sales in the state are still being developed, but that is not stopping weed entrepreneurs from selling it openly in what has developed into an open air marijuana market in Lower Manhattan's Washington Square Park. Of course, people have been selling weed in the park for decades, but now the scene is more open than ever, with vendors hawking pre-rolled joints and offering multiple strains. "It’s got an old hippie vibe," said one visiting customer, amidst psychedelically decorated card tables filled with product. "The designs could do with a bit of work. But you don’t really have to advertise weed."

Harm Reduction

Alabama Lawmakers Pass Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. With a final vote in the House last Thursday, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 168, which amends the state's existing drug paraphernalia law to allow people to use fentanyl test strips to test street drugs before they use them. Lawmakers cited the rising toll of fentanyl overdose deaths as they approved the bill. The bill is now on the desk of Governor Kay Ivey (R).

Psychedelics

Washington State Lawmakers Approve $200,000 in Psilocybin Research Funding. Legislators last Thursday approved a budget bill that includes $200,000 for a new workgroup to study issues around legalizing psilocybin services in the state. The Psilocybin Wellness Workgroup would be tasked with drafting a "report on psilocybin services wellness and opportunities in consultation with stakeholders." Much of the group's work would focus on analyzing and possibly amending a stalled Senate bill  that would have legalized "supported psilocybin expereinces by adults 21 and older.

Feds Approve "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment, DE Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies, More... (3/11/22)

A medical marijuana bill advances in Kentucky, congressional negotiators have slashed harm reduction funding in the final appropriations bill of the year, and more.

Congress appears ready to slash harm reduction funding in the face of an overdose epidemic. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies. House Bill 305, which would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state, is dead, coming up two votes short in a key vote Thursday. Those two votes belonged to Republican representatives who had previously said they would vote for the bill, but one did not vote, saying he had an unspecified conflict of interest, and the second voted "no" after submitting four amendments, three of which were rejected, and claiming his failed "prove that [Democrats] do not care about bipartisanship." Also, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osieski (D) failed to switch his vote from "yes" to "no" before the vote ended, which would have allowed him to bring the bill back to the floor later in the legislative session. 

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 15-1 to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, clearing the way for a House floor vote, which could come as soon as next week. A similar bill passed the House in 2020, but did not get taken up by a Senate committee because of lack of support and the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In a bid to win broader support, bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R) narrowed the bill this year by including provisions that ban smoking marijuana or growing it oneself, but Senate leadership still has "concerns."

Drug Treatment

Biden Administration Approves "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services has cleared the way for "contingency management" drug treatment, a somewhat controversial program that pays people with drug problems for not using drugs. The notion is supported by decades of research that shows giving people repeated small amounts of money for meeting recovery goals has a large impact on helping people remain sober. But the use of the program was limited by fears it would violate a federal law that forbids kickbacks to patients until the HHS inspector general's office issued an advisory legal opinion last week giving the okay. "Although the arrangement would generate prohibited remuneration under the federal anti-kickback statute if the requisite intent were present, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] will not impose administrative sanctions on requestor in connection with the arrangement," the opinion said.

Harm Reduction

Congress Proposes Cuts in Harm Reduction Funding in Final Spending Package. The final appropriations package released Wednesday dramatically shrinks the amount of funding lawmakers will send to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fight HIV/AIDS and drug overdoses. The House last July approved $69.5 million for the CDC's Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic Program, which provides grants to private harm reduction programs. Then, last September, Senate Democrats released their version of the bill, cutting the funding down to $30 million. But now, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a compromise that is even lower yet, $18 million. That's more than the $13 million allocated in the last year of the Trump administration, but only about one-quarter of what the House originally approved. 

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