Breaking News:Volunteers Needed: Online Signature Gathering for Psychedelic and Drug Decrim Initiatives

Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Call to Ease Access for Opioid Disorder Treatment During Crisis, DC Patients Get MedMJ Delivery, More... (4/15/20)

DC medical marijuana patients can now get home delivery and curbside pickup, Montana activists are suing the state to be able to do electronic signature gathering during the pandemic, calls mount to free a jailed Bolivian coca grower union leader, and more.

Montana activists are suing to be able to do electronic signature gathering for a pair of legalization initiatives. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legalization Campaign Sues for Electronic Signature Gathering During Pandemic. The campaign manager for New Approach Montana and two in-state political figures have filed a lawsuit against the state charging that prohibiting electronic signature gathering during the coronavirus pandemic is unconstitutional. New Approach Montana is behind a pair of legalization initiatives: a constitutional initiative (Ballot Issue 11) that would set 21 as the legal age when people can use marijuana and a statutory initiative (Ballot Issue 14)  that would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. Not allowing for electronic signature gathering would violate the "constitutional rights of Plaintiffs and the people of Montana to amend the constitution and enact laws by initiative, as well as the rights of Plaintiffs and the people of Montana under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution," the lawsuit argues.

Medical Marijuana

Washington, DC, Okays Home Delivery, Curbside Pickup. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the city Department of Health announced an emergency rule Monday that allows medical marijuana patients to have their medicine delivered. The new rule also allows for curbside pickup as a social distancing measure.

Harm Reduction

Activists Call for Big Changes to Ease Access to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment. The Urban Survivors Union, a national drug user group, is calling on regulators to relax rules around the prescription and dispensing of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. While government agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Medicare and Medicaid recently announcing policy shifts that permit more flexible prescribing and dispensing of MAT, as the union notes, "clinics have been either reluctant or resistant to fully implement them to the extent allowable under the law." The group, along with a lengthy list of signatories, is advocating for no discharging of people from treatment except for violent behavior, allowing people to request larger doses of MAT, coronavirus testing for people in treatment, among other recommendations.

International

Bolivia Faces Mounting Calls for Release of Afro-Bolivian Coca Union Leader. Activists are calling for the release of Elena Flores, the first woman and first Afro-Bolivian leader of the local coca growers' union. She has been behind bars for a month as part of a crackdown on social movements and indigenous groups by the government the rightist interim government that took power late last year after then-President Evo Morales, also a coca grower union leader, was forced from office by street protests and the loss of support of the military and police. Flores is one of three imprisoned Bolivian women, along with the former head of the Supreme Electoral Board and former President Morales' lawyer, whose release is being demanded by more than 160 organization, academics, trade unions, and activists worldwide.

Action Alert: You Can Legalize Psychedelic Therapy in Oregon This Year

In this time of crisis and disruption, advocates of all kinds are figuring out how best to continue their missions. Many good efforts have been postponed – this issue of Drug War Chronicle notes two state initiative campaigns forced to wait for another year.

That's not the case with Oregon's IP 34, which will legalize the use of psilocybin mushrooms in psychotherapy for people who urgently need it. Research at top universities like UCLA and Johns Hopkins shows that psilocybin therapy can help people suffering from depression, anxiety and trauma, enabling people to process traumatic experiences and break destructive patterns. IP 34 was developed with the help of mental health experts. It will provide access to this therapy to adults who can safely benefit.

IP 34 is also part of the next stage of drug policy reform, which seeks to broaden decriminalization, medical use and personal use efforts to include more drugs than marijuana. The prospect that psychedelic reform could advance in November is a light glimmering right now, in a time that's mostly dark.

You can make this happen. The campaign has gathered more than 128,000 signatures, but it needs 17,000 more by July 2nd. Fortunately, Oregon law allows for online petitioning. If you're an Oregon voter, you can sign it online. If you live or at least know people who live in Oregon, you can join the volunteer team.

If you're an Oregon voter, download a copy of the petition to sign and mail in. The campaign can also send a volunteer to pick it up. Make sure to carefully follow the instructions the campaign provides on how to correctly sign and print it.

Whether you vote or live in Oregon, you can help get the petition to people who do. Fill out the campaign's volunteer form to let them know you want to help, and in the meanwhile post and circulate this announcement and the campaign's web site.

I hope you will join us in helping this important effort. You can learn more about the promise held by psychedelic psychotherapy from an informative post by David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

In this time of shut downs and social distancing crime is way down. That includes drug-related corrupt police activity. But one vindictive California badge-tarnisher found an innovative way to get in trouble. Let's get to it:

A Ventura County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday for ordering a woman he jailed for suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance to take a drug test, then discarding the test when it came back negative, leaving her to sit in jail for several more hours until a second drug test conducted by another deputy also came up negative. Deputy Richard Barrios, 27, is charged with destroying evidence and filing a false crime report. He's book been booked and released until a June 10 court date.

Medical Marijuana Update

The DEA no longer considers Epidiolex a controlled substance, the girl who was the poster child for CBD has died of suspected coronavirus complications, and more.

National

DEA Relaxes Rules for Only Federally Approved Drug Derived from Marijuana. The DEA on April 6 notified GW Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Epidiolex, which is derived from CBD, that it no longer considers the drug a controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The change is effective immediately. Epidiolex remains a prescription medication, but now, doctors who prescribe it do not have to be in the DEA's drug monitoring program.

Colorado

Charlotte Figi, Colorado Girl Who Inspired CBD Movement, Dies of Possible Coronavirus Complications at Age 13. Charlotte Figi, the namesake for Charlotte's Web CBD products, died last week of complications from suspected coronavirus, her family has reported. Figi suffered from Dravet Syndrome, a form of epilepsy, which left her suffering from hundreds of small and large seizures a day. Pharmaceutical treatments proved ineffective, and her parents then turned to CBD products, which reduced her seizures dramatically and allowed her to be weaned off anti-epileptic medications. "Charlotte is no longer suffering," reads a post on the family's Facebook page. "She is seizure-free forever. Thank you so much for all of your love."

Idaho

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Suspended Because of Coronavirus Pandemic. An effort to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in November is over. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition announced April 2 that it is suspending its signature gathering campaign because of the coronavirus pandemic. It only had until May 1 to turn in signatures, so the suspension marks the effective end to the effort this year.

New Jersey

Worker Fired by Amazon for Medical Marijuana Wins Key Decision in Federal Court. A former Amazon warehouse worker who sued in New Jersey state court after being fired for using medical marijuana has won a preliminary victory. Amazon had responded to the lawsuit by moving to have the case heard in federal court, where the worker had little chance of winning since marijuana remains prohibited under federal law. But late last week, the federal court allowed the worker's request to remand the case back to state Superior Court.

Ohio

Ohio Okays Curbside Pickup for Medical Marijuana Sales. The state has determined that medical marijuana dispensaries are "essential" businesses during the coronavirus crisis and are being allowed to sell their products via curbside pickup. The state Board of Pharmacy approved a temporary guideline to allow the practice last week. While a Cleveland-area dispensary is the first to implement curbside service, all dispensaries in the state have been cleared to do so as well.

Ohio Okays Curbside Medical Marijuana Pickup, DEA Seized More Plants But Did Fewer Busts Last Year, More... (4/14/20)

The DEA continued with its futile pursuit of marijuana eradication last year, a former Amazon worker wins a victory in a court battle over being fired for medical marijuana use, and more.

The DEA eradicated more pot plants last year than in 2018, but busted fewer grows and made fewer related arrests. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

DEA Seized More Pot Plants Last Year but Arrested Fewer People for Growing. According to a new annual report from the DEA, the agency seized more than four million plants last year, a more than 40% increase over 2018. But the number of indoor grows raided actually decreased by about 10%, suggesting that the DEA was raiding bigger grows rather than expanding enforcement efforts. And most of the seized plants -- 3.1 million of them -- came from California, where the agency seized only 1.8 million in 2018. And related arrests declined by 15%, from 5,600 in 2018 to 4,700 last year.

Medical Marijuana

Worker Fired by Amazon for Medical Marijuana Wins Key Decision in Federal Court. A former Amazon warehouse worker who sued in New Jersey state court after being fired for using medical marijuana has won a preliminary victory. Amazon had responded to the lawsuit by moving to have the case heard in federal court, where the worker had little chance of winning since marijuana remains prohibited under federal law. But late last week, the federal court allowed the worker's request to remand the case back to state Superior Court.

Ohio Okays Curbside Pickup for Medical Marijuana Sales. The state has determined that medical marijuana dispensaries are "essential" businesses during the coronavirus crisis and are being allowed to sell their products via curbside pickup. The stat Board of Pharmacy approved a temporary guideline to allow the practice last week. While a Cleveland-area dispensary is the first to implement curbside service, all dispensaries in the state have been cleared to do so as well.

Virginia Decriminalizes MJ Possession, Some Indiana Cops Won't Administer Naloxone, More... (4/13/20)

Virginia decriminalizes marijuana possession, Maine again delays legal sales of it, and more.

The Virginia legislature passed the marijuana decriminalization bill. Now, Gov. Northam has signed it. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Officials Delay Rollout of Legal Marijuana Sales, Cite Coronavirus. More than three years after voters approved marijuana legalization, the commencement of legal recreational marijuana sales has been delayed once again. Officials in the Office of Marijuana Policy said last Friday that an anticipated spring launch for sales is now "simply unrealistic," given the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The office said a new timetable for opening won't be available until after public health experts have provided guidance about when it is safe. In nearly all other legal marijuana states, pot shops are considered "essential services" and remain open, albeit typically for curbside sales or delivery only.

Virginia Decriminalizes Marijuana as Governor Signs Package of Criminal Reform Bills. Over the weekend, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed a package of criminal justice reform bills, including House Bill 972, which decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and limits fines to $25. Other reform measures signed into law include one that raises the threshold for felony theft, another that ends the suspension of drivers' licenses for people who haven't paid fines, another that raises the age at which a juvenile can be tried as an adult, another that ends drivers' license suspension for non-driving related offenses including drug offenses, among others.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Cops Quit Administering Naloxone, Citing Coronavirus Fears. At least two Indianapolis-area police departments, including the Indianapolis Metro Police Department, have suspended administration of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication because of concerns over possible transmission of the virus to responding officers. Instead, police will leave overdose reversal to emergency medical service first responders. The move comes despite no evidence to support such fears. The state's medical director of emergency medical services warned on March 27 that: "Intranasal administration is not likely to be aerosol-generating as the aerosol is created by the device with the drug going inward and not the patient sneezing or coughing outward until after the administration is complete."

Girl Who Inspired CBD Movement Dies of Complications from Suspected Coronavirus Illness

Colorado girl Charlotte Figi, whose struggle with a severe form of epilepsy inspired a whole movement around the use of CBD and changed attitudes toward medical marijuana, has died at the age of 13. Although she did not test positive for COVID-19, she had been hospitalized for symptoms consistent with the viral infection which her entire family had. She died of complications after her bout of illness.

Charlotte Figi. Rest in Peace. (Facebook)
Figi's passing was announced last Tuesday on the Facebook page of her mother, Paige Figi: "Charlotte is no longer suffering. She is seizure-free forever. Thank you so much for all of your love," read the message posted by a family friend.

In recent weeks, Paige Figi's Facebook page saw posts detailing an illness that hit the whole family with the all-too-familiar symptoms of fever, coughs, and difficulty breathing. Charlotte was hit particularly hard and had to be hospitalized.

On her Facebook page, Paige Figi wrote that although Charlotte tested negative for the virus, she had been treated on a COVID-19 ward "using all the medical protocols put in place" and was treated as "a likely COVID-19 case."

She was released from the hospital last Sunday but suffered seizures two days later and was readmitted to the hospital. She died the same day.

Charlotte had suffered from Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy, and suffered hundreds of seizures, both large and small, every day. Standard pharmaceutical treatments didn't help, and as her condition deteriorated her parents looked for alternatives.

They heard about cannabis oil and with the help of Colorado Springs dispensary owner Joel Stanley and his brothers, who had developed a CBD-rich strain of marijuana, they were able to effectively treat Charlotte. Her seizures dramatically reduced, and her condition improved markedly.

The Stanley brothers named their product Charlotte's Web in a nod to the spirited little girl.

Her success story helped change the world when CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta grew entranced by the girl's progress and made her story a key part of a 2013 documentary in which he notably changed position and endorsed medical marijuana.

Clips of a happy, healthy, playful Charlotte, her seizures suppressed by CBD, inspired hundreds of families enduring similar medical issues with their children in marijuana prohibition states to move to Colorado to get access to CBD. With Charlotte as the smiling face of CBD, the embrace of the drug swept the country. For many states including much of the south, it was their first step toward medical marijuana. Today 47 states have laws that allow for CBD products.

Charlotte is gone, but her legacy lives on.

AMA Releases Recommendations for Opioid Use Disorder, Pain During COVID-19, More... (4/9/20)

The AMA makes some progressive recommendations on dealing with opioid use disorder and pain in the time of the pandemic, Massachusetts recreational pot retailers sue to become "essential" businesses, and more.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact drug policy. (CDC)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Recreational Marijuana Retailers Sue Governor to Become Essential During Pandemic. Five in-state recreational marijuana dealers have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in a bid to get their businesses deemed "essential" and allowed to open during the coronavirus pandemic. Baker had declared them non-essential and ordered them shut down until at least May 4. The stores are seeking an injunction to allow all 43 of the state's recreational retailers to reopen. Baker has argued that because the state is the only one in the region that allows recreational sales, open pot shops would draw customers from other states, undercutting social distancing measures. "Significant numbers of the customers who procure cannabis at recreational marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts are not from Massachusetts," he said.

Harm Reduction

AMA Releases Recommendations for Opioid Use Disorder, Pain During COVID-19. The American Medical Association (AMA) has released policy recommendations to help meet the needs of patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) and chronic pain. The recommendations aim to sustain "harm reduction efforts in communities across the United States." First, the AMA called for medications used in the treatment of addiction, as well as treatments for overdoses to be deemed essential services to ensure that patients with OUD continue to have access to care. This designation can improve access to crucial medications that may be difficult to obtain in cities with formal shelter-in-place or quarantine orders. They also suggested that criminal justice measures, such as drug testing, counseling, and reporting requirements, be curtailed to ensure that patients do not lose public benefits or become incarcerated. Second, the AMA urged policymakers to increase protections for patients with pain disorders by waiving limits on prescriptions for controlled substances. For patients with chronic pain, they suggested waiving testing and in-person counseling requirements for refills, allowing consultation via telephone, and offering home delivery options for medications. Finally, the AMA raised the question of harm reduction. To prevent overdoses and quell the spread of infectious disease, the AMA proposed that policymakers reduce barriers to accessing critical supplies by designating harm reduction organizations as essential services. They also advocated for assistance designated for harm reduction organizations to maintain adequate availability of naloxone in affected communities.

International

Ontario Allows Marijuana Delivery and Curbside Pick-up from Authorized Retail Stores During COVID-19. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is authorizing cannabis retail stores in Ontario to offer delivery and curbside pick-up services. This new temporary measure is the result of an emergency order introduced Thursday by the Government of Ontario to help fight against the illegal cannabis market. The order will last for 14 days, with the possibility of an extension if the government's Emergency Order on business closures is extended.

Charlotte's Web Girl Dies of Possible COVID Complications, Mexican Cartels Provide Food in Pandemic, More... (4/8/20)

The young girl whose story named Charlotte's Web and launched the CBD movement has died of complications from suspected COVID-19, Mexican drug cartels are handing out food to the poor in the midst of the pandemic, and more.

Boxes of food for the Mexican poor, provided by drug cartels. "The Gulf Cartel in support of Ciudad Victoria." (Facebook)
Medical Marijuana

Charlotte Figi, Colorado Girl Who Inspired CBD Movement, Dies of Possible Coronavirus Complications at Age 13. Charlotte Figi, the namesake for Charlotte's Web CBD products, has died of complications of suspected coronavirus, her family has reported. Figi suffered from Dravet Syndrome, a form of epilepsy, which left her suffering from hundreds of small and large seizures a day. Pharmaceutical treatments proved ineffective, and her parents then turned to CBD products, which reduced her seizures dramatically and allowed her to be weaned off anti-epileptic medications. "Charlotte is no longer suffering," reads a post on the family's Facebook page. "She is seizure-free forever. Thank you so much for all of your love."

Harm Reduction

NIDA Warns on Coronavirus Implications for People with Substance Use Disorders. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is warning the research community studying coronavirus to "be alert to the possibility that it could hit some populations with substance use disorders (SUDs) particularly hard. Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape. People with opioid use disorder (OUD) and methamphetamine use disorder may also be vulnerable due to those drugs' effects on respiratory and pulmonary health. Additionally, individuals with a substance use disorder are more likely to experience homelessness or incarceration than those in the general population, and these circumstances pose unique challenges regarding transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. All these possibilities should be a focus of active surveillance as we work to understand this emerging health threat."

International

United Kingdom to Hand Out Methadone Without a Prescription to Those Already Receiving It. As a response to the coronavirus crisis, pharmacists in Great Britain are being allowed to hand out a range of strong medicines, including methadone, without a prescription for the duration. The Home Secretary had asked the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to consider the risks of lifting restrictions on certain drugs, and the council decided to recommend the course of action despite voicing concerns it could lead to an increase in drug abuse. "The measure would rely on the professional judgment of pharmacists, who will be working outside the scope of their usual practice," the council said. "Without adequate support and guidance for the healthcare professionals affected by the proposed legislative change, there is a risk that pharmacists struggling to follow best practices could inadvertently lead to an increase in drug misuse and diversion. This is a particular risk for patient groups requiring opioid pain medicines, e.g. for palliative care or for opioid substitution therapy (OST). Additionally, whilst it will be necessary for the government to publicly announce in an emergency that these measures are to apply, common knowledge of the applicability of this measure may increase the risk of the misuse and diversion of controlled drugs."

Mexican Drug Cartel Gives Out Food to the Poor Amid Pandemic. Members of the Gulf Cartel are delivering boxes of food to poor families in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, and members of Los Viagras are handing out food to poor families in the western state of Michoacan to help them deal with the disruptive consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The drug traffickers have reportedly delivered food to at least 200 families. In Tamaulipas, boxes containing basic foodstuffs such as oil, breakfast cereal, and canned goods appeared with labels saying "Gulf Cartel in support of Ciudad Victoria."

Vaping Illness More Rare in Legalization States, DEA Adjusts Drug Quotas for COVID-19 Care, More... (4/7/20)

The DEA takes positive steps on a couple of fronts, and more.

The DEA did something good this week. (dea.gov)
Medical Marijuana

DEA Relaxes Rules for Only Federally Approved Drug Derived from Marijuana. The DEA on Monday notified GW Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Epidiolex, which is derived from CBD, that it no longer considers the drug a controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The change is effective immediately. Epidiolex remains a prescription medication, but now, doctors who prescribe it do not have to be in the DEA's drug monitoring program.

Vaping

Study Finds Vaping-Related Lung Injury Less Common in Legal Recreational Marijuana States. A new analysis published by JAMA Network Open finds that the severe lung illness linked to vaping is more common in states where consumers don't have access to legal recreational marijuana. The disease, known as e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI), has been most strongly linked to black market marijuana vaping products. "Our results are suggestive that those in recreational marijuana states may be less likely to purchase illegal marijuana products on the black market," said Dr. Alex Hollingsworth, assistant professor in the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and coauthor of the JAMA Network Open study. The study found that legal recreational marijuana states averaged 1.7 EVALI cases per million population, while medical marijuana-only states averaged 8.8 cases per million and prohibition states averaged 8.1 cases per million.

Drug Policy

DEA Takes Steps to Allow Increased Production of Controlled Substances for COVID-19 Care. The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Tuesday that it is increasing Aggregate Production Quotas available to pharmaceutical manufacturers for the production of controlled substance medications that are in high demand due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. DEA will also approve increases in imports of medications necessary for patients on ventilators. The agency increased the quotas by 15% for certain substances needed for the treatment of COVID-19, including fentanyl, morphine, hydromorphone, codeine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and certain controlled substance intermediates which are essential to their production. DEA will also increase the APQ for methadone to ensure that opioid treatment programs have sufficient supplies to treat patients suffering from opioid use disorder. In addition, DEA is increasing the authorized amounts of certain schedule III and IV controlled substances that may be imported into the United States, including ketamine, diazepam, midazolam, lorazepam, and phenobarbital, which are also necessary to treat patients on ventilators.

Mexico's Drug Wars Set Bloody Record, ND Legalization Init Suspends Campaign, More... (4/6/20)

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a deleterious impact on state-level efforts to get marijuana legalization on the November ballot, Mexico's prohibition-related violence sees a record number of deaths, and more.

Mexico's black market drug trade is generating violence at record levels. (Creative Commons)
Arizona Initiative Campaigns Ask State Supreme Court to Okay Electronic Signature Gathering. Several campaigns to put initiatives on the state's November ballot, including the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative, asked the Supreme Court last Thursday to allow electronic signature gathering because the coronavirus pandemic has made in-person petitioning all but impossible. The campaign has already gathered some 320,000 raw signatures and only needs 237,645 valid voter signatures, but wants the ability to gather more to have a larger cushion.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Campaign Falls Victim to COVID-19. The Legalize ND marijuana legalization initiative campaign announced last Thursday that it has suspended its signature gathering efforts because of the coronavirus pandemic. "Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked," the group said. "Businesses will continue to collect, but we don't want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn't change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot."

International

Mexico Hit All-Time High in Murders in March. Mexico reported 2,585 homicides -- largely driven by drug prohibition-related violence -- during the month of March, the highest monthly figure since records began in 1997. The surge in killings came as state and federal officials shifted resources into confronting the coronavirus pandemic. "It's business as usual [for drug cartels] with a risk of further escalation, especially if at some point the armed forces are called away for pandemic control," said Falko Ernst, senior Mexico analyst at the International Crisis Group. Violence has been especially intense in the central state of Guanajuato, with cartel gunmen blockading streets, torching businesses, and engaging in shootouts with security forces.

Mexico Cartel Clash in Chihuahua Leaves 19 Dead. The state government of Chihuahua said Saturday that 19 people had been killed in a gun battle between suspected drug cartel hitmen. Local media reported that the clashes were between groups linked to the Juarez Cartel and the rival Sinaloa Cartel. Police found 18 bodies Friday evening at the site of the battle in the municipality of Madera. A wounded man also found at the scene died later of his injuries.

Idaho MedMj Campaign Suspends, House Moves to Quash Vaping, More... (4/3/20)

A group of US senators is seeking to include marijuana businesses in an emergency loan program, Idaho activists suspend signature gathering for their medical marijuana initiative campaign, a leading member of the House Oversight Committee seeks to ban the distribution of e-cigs, and more.

Vaping is again under attack amidst the coronavirus pandemic. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Eleven Senators Ask for Marijuana Businesses to Be Included in Federal Loan Program. Eleven US senators have sent a letter to the leadership of the Appropriations Committee asking that they include a provision to allow marijuana businesses access to federal loan services in a pending annual spending bill. Led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), the senators wrote that the committee should "include report language prohibiting the Small Business Administration (SBA) from denying loan applications" to "cannabis firms as part of the fiscal year 2021 spending bill for Financial Services and General Government and Related Agencies." SBA services that marijuana companies should be eligible for include the Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program and Microloan Program, the group said.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Suspended Because of Coronavirus Pandemic. An effort to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in November is over. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition announced Thursday that it is suspending its signature gathering campaign because of the coronavirus pandemic. It only had until May 1 to turn in signatures, so the suspension marks the effective end to the effort this year.

Vaping

House Oversight Committee Requests FDA ban on E-Cigarettes. In a letter signed by Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Chair Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), the House Oversight Committee asked the Food and Drug Administration Wednesday to ban the distribution of e-cigarettes because of their potential impact on the coronavirus pandemic. The virus's main target is the lungs. "The FDA has both the authority and an obligation to start enforcing the law against all e-cigarettes in order to protect the public health. Vaping will add to the stress on our hospitals as more people take up intensive care beds and require ventilators and other critical equipment," Krishnamoorti wrote.

International

Japan Saw Record Number of Pot Busts Last Year. Some 4,321 people were arrested in marijuana cases last year, up by 743 over the previous year. That is the sixth consecutive year of rising marijuana arrests in the insular nation. Involvement by young people was on the rise, police said, with the number of teens jumping more than four times and the number of people in their 20s more than doubling.

Philippine Drug War Rages Despite Pandemic, NORML Issues Marijuana Policy Crisis Guidance, More... (4/2/20)

President Trump showily announces a ramping up of the drug war in the Caribbean, NORML issues marijuana policy guidance for lawmakers during the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippine drug war continues despite the pandemic, and more.

Whether its drug users or quarantine violators, Philippine President Duterte has a plan: Just kill them. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

NORML Issues Cannabis Policy Guidance for Lawmakers and Prosecutors for Protecting Public Health During COVID-19 Crisis. NORML and its national network of advocacy chapters have released a memo to state lawmakers, regulators, prosecutors, and other interested parties providing guidance for how they can take emergency actions to better promote the health and welfare of cannabis consumers and the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic. In states where marijuana is still illegal, the memo calls for immediately deprioritizing marijuana law enforcement, the dropping of charges for pending nonviolent marijuana offenses, and the release of people in jail or prison solely for nonviolent marijuana offenses. In states where it is legal, NORML is calling for pot shops and their suppliers to be designated "essential services," allowing for the home delivery and curbside pickup of marijuana products, and expanding the ability of doctors to advise patients via telemedicine.

Washington Governor Signs Bill to Diversify State's Marijuana Industry. Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday signed into law HB 2870, "allowing additional marijuana retail licenses for social equity purposes." The measure will allow regulators to direct unused marijuana business licenses to people from communities most negatively impacted by the drug war. It creates a state Marijuana Equity Task Force and allows the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to grant forfeited, canceled, revoked or otherwise unissued marijuana business licenses to qualified equity applicants.

Drug Policy

Trump Doubles Military Assets in Caribbean in Bid to Bolster Drug Fight after Maduro Indictment. The Trump administration hijacked the daily White House coronavirus pandemic briefing Wednesday to announce that it was deploying more US Navy warships and aircraft to the Caribbean in a bid to prevent drug cartels and "corrupt actors" like Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro from using the pandemic to increase drug smuggling. The move follows the indictment of Maduro and a dozen current or former Venezuelan officials on charges of narco-terrorism conspiracy, drug trafficking and corruption. "We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives," Trump said. The Venezuelan government rejected the move, saying it was merely an effort to district from the Trump administration's incompetent handling of pandemic.

International

Mexico Senate Asks Supreme Court for More Time on Cannabis Legalization. Looking at a Supreme Court-imposed deadline to end marijuana prohibition, but faced with the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mexican Senate has asked the high court to "extend deadlines" until "the Senate is in a position to fulfill the responsibilities towards judiciary power bodies." The original court-imposed deadline was October 2019, but the court granted an extension after the Senate failed to agree on the bill. The court has said it would file no more extensions, but senators think the current crisis may be an exception. They'll have to wait to find out, though; the Supreme Court itself is shut down through at least through mid-month.

Philippine Drug War Rages on in Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic. President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a national partial lockdown on March 15 to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but nothing is stopping his bloody war on drugs. Even amidst the lockdown, drug war killings are continuing. At least nine people have been killed by unknown gunmen in Cebu Province alone. "Reports of drug-related killings continuing amid the lockdown order are deeply concerning, but not surprising," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard of Amnesty International. "The climate of impunity in the Philippines is so entrenched that police and others remain free to kill without consequence." Duterte has also threatened to have the police and military shoot people who violate quarantine.

NY Governor Says No Legalization in State Budget, First Federal Prisoner COVID-19 Death, More... (4/1/20)

It looks like coronavirus has killed marijuana legalization in New York this year, a new nonprofit focused on psychedelic education has emerged, a nonviolent drug offender is the first federal prisoner to die of COVID-19, and more.

Prison is no place to be in the midst of a pandemic. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Advocates Call on Governor to End Ban on Recreational Marijuana Sales. Marijuana legalization advocates, doctors, and Cannabis Control Commission member Shaleen Title are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker (R) to end his ban on recreational marijuana sales because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most other legal marijuana states are allowing some form of sales. Baker has argued that because Massachusetts is one of the only states in the region that allows recreational marijuana sales, leaving the stores open would attract traffic from other states.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Won't Be in Budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Tuesday the state is not likely to legalize marijuana as part of its budget process, dramatically reducing the likelihood that such a measure will pass this year. Cuomo had pushed for inclusion in the budget, but with the budget deadline looming and the state in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo said legalization wasn't likely.

Incarceration

First Known Federal Inmate, a Nonviolent Drug Offender, Dies of Coronavirus. The US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has confirmed that a federal prisoner had died from COVID-19. That is the first known coronavirus death in the federal system. He was identified as Patrick Jones, 49, who was serving a 27-year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. He was doing time at a low-security federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana. Fourteen other prisoners and 13 staff members are also infected by the virus.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Orders Prisoner Lockdown. The BOP announced Tuesday that it is moving to Phase Five of its COVID-19 Action Plan, which means all federal prisoners will be confined in their cells for the next 14 days to slow the spread of the virus. The move comes "in response to a growing number of quarantine and isolation cases in our facilities," the BOP said. The BOP also said it is coordinating with the US Marshals Service to "significantly decrease" the arrival of new prisoners. BOP said it would reevaluate after 14 days.

California to Release 3,500 Prisoners Early as COVID-19 Spreads in State Prisons. Lawyers for the state told a panel of federal judges Tuesday the state is taking "extraordinary and unprecedented protective measures" to slow the spread of the virus, including plans to accelerate release and parole dates for 3,500 inmates serving terms for nonviolent crimes and already due to be released within 60 days. The releases are to be conducted "within the next several weeks." The state has already been locking down cell blocks where prisoners exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Psychedelics

Denver-Based Nonprofit Launches National Organization to Educate Public and Develop Leadership in Psychedelic Ecosystem. The Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education ("SPORE") announced today its nonprofit status as an organization that envisions a world where everyone has safe and responsible access to psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms. SPORE was founded by two proponents of the Denver Psilocybin Initiative, Kevin Matthews and Matthew Duffy, to educate the public and develop leadership in the rapidly growing psychedelic ecosystem to support human wellbeing. The group is being sponsored by the nonprofit group Reconsider and a $50,000 donation from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

NY Legalization Bid Could Fall Victim to COVID, Dutch Cannabis Cafes Open for Carryout, More... (3/31/20)

Marijuana legalization didn't make into New York's draft budget proposal, Netherlands cannabis cafes reopen for carryout only, DC psychedelic decriminalization activists find creative ways to seek signatures, and more.

Closed since mid-month because of the pandemic, Dutch cannabis cafes are now reopening, but for carryout only. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Push to Allow Marijuana Deliveries. State Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) last month filed HB 5274, which would allow for both medical and recreational marijuana deliveries. Now, she is pushing Gov. JB Pritzker (D) to take action to speed the process in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I would be happy to see if the governor maybe could make a special executive order allowing that, or us being able to get that legislation through maybe quicker than normal this year to provide for that," she said. The state is already allowing curbside pickup of customer orders.

New York Marijuana Legalization Likely to Fall Victim to Coronavirus Pandemic. A draft state budget report does not include marijuana legalization, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) had sought prior to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state. Instead the draft budget says that the "Adopted Budget omits the Executive proposal to legalize adult use cannabis." While achieving legalization through the budget process would be the easiest way to get it done, it could still be done through separate legislation, but that path is more difficult.

Psychedelics

DC Psychedelic Decriminalization Campaign Explores Options. Decriminalize Nature DC, the group behind a psychedelic decriminalization initiative aimed at the November ballot, has been forced to suspend conventional signature gathering because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so now the campaign is looking at other options, including "micro-scale petition signature collection." The campaign would mail petitions to supporters, who could collect signatures from "registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors" and then return the petitions to campaign headquarters.

International

Dutch Cannabis Cafes Reopen, But Only for Carryout. Cannabis cafes were among the many businesses shut down by the Dutch government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 15. They have now been allowed to reopen, but only for carryout orders. Dutch authorities made the move to avoid driving marijuana sales underground to an unregulated black market.

Faced with Coronavirus, Big Cities Begin to Forego Drug Arrests, Prosecutions [FEATURE]

Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of pieces we will be doing that will focus on the coronavirus pandemic and its various intersections with drug policy, criminal justice, drug use, and the drug trade.

In a time of global pandemic, small-time drug busts are increasingly seen as a luxury we can't afford. (Creative Commons)
Arresting and imprisoning people for drug offenses is a luxury America's biggest cities are finding they can no longer afford as they struggle with the coronavirus pandemic. Now several of them are leading the way in jettisoning the long-entrenched but totally discretionary policing and prosecutorial practice.

Concerns over officer safety, public safety, and keeping jail populations down in a time of social distancing are driving the moves, which are only temporary. But perhaps politicians, police and prosecutors will have a chance to break their addiction to punishing drug users and sellers by going cold turkey amidst the pandemic. That would be a silver lining to the current crisis.

As the pandemic morphed from looming threat to ongoing crisis in mid-March, forward-looking police departments and prosecutors' offices began to act. In Philadelphia, progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner cited public health concerns as he called for police to revise their arrest policies. The following day, Police Chief Danielle Outlaw issued an internal memo telling police not to arrest people for drug and other low-level non-violent offenses -- at least for now.

Instead, those who would have been arrested are being briefly detained to be identified and while officers gather evidence and then released. Their actual arrests somewhere down the road would be "effectuated by arrest warrant," according to the memo.

In a statement released the following day, Outlaw laid out a public health and police officer safety rationale for the move: "Our mission is to protect and promote the health and safety of our officers and the community we serve to the best of our ability while continuing to discharge every aspect of our core duties," she wrote.

Philadelphia isn't "turning a blind eye to crime," Outlaw told local media as she tried to assuage fears of criminals run amok. "This is similar to the 'summons process' that is utilized in many other counties throughout the Commonwealth. To reiterate, criminal offenders will be held accountable for the crimes they commit," she said.

But that's only if prosecutors in Krasner's office decide to pursue those cases after the fact. And Krasner is not a big fan of the war on drugs. He applauded Outlaw's move in an interview with local media the same day: "It's clear to me that the police commissioner is trying to be thoughtful and creative as we move into uncharted territory," Krasner said, "We commend her for putting the safety of the public's health first."

It's not just Philadelphia. Just days later, Krasner joined DAs from 30 other cities in signing on to an open letter urging local governments to make change in the face of COVID-19. The prosecutors, including those from Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis, called for police to adopt "cite and release policies for offenses which pose no immediate physical threat to the community, including simple possession of controlled substances." They also called for the release of people being held solely because they can't come up with cash bail and for reducing jail and prison populations "to promote the health safety, staff, those incarcerated, and visitors."

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby cited the Philadelphia no-arrest policy when she ordered her prosecutors to dismiss any pending charges for drug possession and attempted drug distribution, as well as such offenses as urinating in public, open container, prostitution and minor traffic offenses.

In a memo to prosecutors, she wrote that such crimes pose no risk to public safety and arrestees would normally be released before trial anyway, so it made sense to take that action to limit the threat of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars. "An outbreak in prison or jails could potentially be catastrophic," she wrote. "Now is not the time for a piecemeal approach where we go into court and argue one by one for the release of at-risk individuals."

Baltimore Police have not adopted a no-arrest policy for such offenses, but a day after Mosby announced her moratorium on new prosecutions, the department said it had given officers guidance to use their own discretion in making low-level arrests to limit their exposure to the virus.

"For the safety of our residents and officers, the Baltimore Police Department is assessing and evaluating what calls-for-service our officers will be responding to in order to minimize the potential for exposure to COVID-19," the department said in a statement. "This includes giving guidance to officers in using their discretion to further minimize arrests on low-level and non-violent offenses, especially those outlined in the State's Attorney letter."

"We are very encouraged to see some policymakers, like Marilyn Mosby, putting public health first and freeing up important public safety resources at this critical time," said Matt Sutton, director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Drug use does not pose any risk to public safety, so it makes sense that we would not arrest or prosecute people for that alone. Doing so is contrary to public health interests, subjecting them to incarceration where they would be put at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 or spreading it within an already unshielded population that is incapable of practicing the kind of social distancing and increased hygiene measures the rest of us are taking."

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Cook County State''s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that her office was putting a moratorium on prosecuting low-level, non-violent drug offenses while the pandemic rages. "Out of an abundance of caution for the health of law enforcement and the community at large, the State's Attorney's Office will not be pursuing cases which pose little to no risk to public safety at this time," Foxx said.

She added that the move was also necessitated by staffing reductions at the Illinois State Police lab. Even if police seized drugs, there is for now no way to test them, thwarting moving forward with prosecutions.

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said officers won't stop making arrests for "large amounts" of drugs and downplayed the effect of the staffing reductions at the state crime lab. He also implied many drug arrestees are not being booked into jails.

"We can make an arrest," he said. "An individual could be released pending further investigation. So just because the drugs aren't being tested right away, it doesn't prohibit our ability to do our job. It will prolong it. But we can certainly conduct narcotics investigations that extend when the state lab reopens."

But in New York City, the current epicenter of the pandemic in the US, where dozens of NYPD officers have already contracted COVID-19, the department said it "won't slow arrests." If the NYPD is being stubbornly recalcitrant, at least one of the city's borough prosecutors is getting on board with using discretion. Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez announced that his prosecutors wouldn't be going after "low-level offenses that don't jeopardize public safety."

The NYPD's stance is hard to fathom, especially as the city is being swamped by a deluge of new coronavirus cases, and the department may by forced to shift its positions as the crisis deepens. At this point, though, it seems to be suffering from a sort of institutional inertia, blindly valuing the arrest of small-time drug offenders and other scofflaws over the health and safety of its own officers and the city's residents. In the midst of the current crisis, it would behoove police and prosecutors everywhere to knock off the rote drug busts and concentrate on the threat staring them in the face.

(The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.)

MO and OK Inits Could Fall Victim to Pandemic, COVID-19 Spreads Behind Bars, More... (3/30/20)

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on state-level marijuana legalization initiatives, Pennsylvania says needle exchanges are "life-sustaining" during the pandemic, Vancouver moves to allow "safe supply" of regualted drugs during the crisis, and more.

COVID-19 is in the nation's jails and prisons.
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Likely to Fall Victim to Coronavirus Pandemic. Missourians for a New Approach, the folks behind the state's marijuana legalization initiative, are warning that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely mean that the effort will not be able to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign needs 160,000 valid voter signatures by May 3, but at this point has only 60,000 raw signatures. "Yes, it's a terrible setback," said Dan Viets, board chair of the group. "When there's no public gatherings, when people stay in their homes… it's very difficult to find voters."

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative in Doubt as State Shuts Down Signature Gathering. The campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 807 is likely to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a 30-day statewide emergency declaration, Secretary of State Mike Rogers has ordered a pause to all initiative signature gathering activities. The campaign needs to collect 178,000 signatures in 90 days to qualify for the November ballot. It would be "really difficult, if not impossible to imagine a scenario in which an initiative petition campaign could responsibly and feasibly collect the signatures necessary in order to make the 2020 ballot if that campaign doesn't already have the signatures on hand," said campaign spokesman Ryan Kiesel.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Needle Exchanges Are "Life-Sustaining," State Says. Needle exchanges are technically illegal in the state, but the state Department of Health has deemed them a "life-sustaining" service, allowing them to stay open amid the shutdown of other businesses and nonprofits. Some 20 such programs operate in the state, and advocates are hoping this designation could lead to their legalization down the line.

Incarceration

Coronavirus Spread Accelerates in US Jails and Prisons. Jails and prisons across the US are reporting an accelerating spread of COVID-19 with more than 226 inmates and 131 staff with confirmed cases. In New York City alone, at least 132 inmates and 104 jail staff have been infected. Jails and prisons are responding in varying ways, including releasing thousands of inmates from detention, some with little or no screening before they are released.

International

Vancouver Moving to Allow Take-Home Doses of Regulated Drugs. Canada's British Columbia is moving to provide drug users with take-home supplies of regulated substances, including opioids, stimulants, tobacco, and alcohol. Vancouver has long called for "safe supply" for drug users, but the combination of two public health crises -- the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose epidemic -- has finally made it a reality, with the city drafting new guidelines to allow the practice. "These guidelines enable us to provide a safe supply for people and to ensure that they're able to comply with our public-health advice around isolation or quarantine, should that be required," said Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry. Recent changes to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and provincial prescribing guidelines made the move possible.

Mexican Opium Poppy Cultivation Drops 9%, UNODC Says. The land area under opium poppy cultivation decreased by 9% between July 2017 and June 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Monday. Land under cultivation fell from 78,000 acres to 70,000 acres. Poppy cultivation was centered in the Golden Triangle region of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua meet, but was also grown in northern Nayarit and in the Sierra Madre del Sur of Guerrero. Analysts said the likely explanation for the decrease was a sharp decline in opium gum prices caused by rising demand for synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

OR Inits Seek Signatures Online, French Cannabis Prices Rise Fast, More... (3/27/20)

Mexico is unlikely to meet an April 30 deadline to legalize marijuana as its Senate is suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, Oregon drug decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin initiatives now are seeking signatures online, and more.

psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms (Greenoid/Flickr)
Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Initiative Moves to Online Signature Gathering. The campaign behind the Oregon Drug Treatment and Recovery Act initiative, which would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, is shifting to online signature gathering as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down normal signature gathering. The campaign says it has already gathered large numbers of signatures, but still needs 8,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. To sign on, click on the link above.

Psychedelics

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocybin Initiative Moves to Online Signature Gathering. The campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes is moving to online signature gathering as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down normal signature gathering. The Oregon Psilocybin Services Act campaign needs 112,000 valid voter signatures by July and says it already has 128,000 raw signatures but wants to create a cushion by adding at least 15,000 more signers. To add your signature, click on this form.

International

France Sees Marijuana, Hash Prices Surge During Coronavirus Lockdown. The price of a 100-gram bar of hashish has nearly doubled in Marseille in a week, thanks to tight border controls imposed as part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar reports are coming in from Bordeaux and Rennes. Police worry that a prolonged shortage could fan trouble in restive Paris suburbs and prisons.

Mexico Senate Suspends Activities, Puts Marijuana Legalization Deadline in Doubt. The Senate agreed Thursday to postpone most legislative activity because of the coronavirus pandemic, raising questions about whether it can now comply with a Supreme Court-imposed April 30 deadline to approve marijuana legalization. Senate committees approved a bill earlier this month, but it still needs to pass the full Senate and the Chamber of Deputies and signed into law by the president.

US Indicts Venezuela's Maduro for "Narco-Terrorism," A Call to End Marijuana Arrests, Jailings, More... (3/26/20)

The US indicts a leftist Latin American leader for drug trafficking (but not a rightist one), a Michigan prosecutor gets nailed for embezzling asset forfeiture funds, and more.

The US escalates its feud with Venezuela by indicting President Nicholas Maduro for "narco-terrorism. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Law Enforcement Officials, Medical Professionals, Clergy, and Cannabis Advocates Call for the Cease of Cannabis Arrests and Release of Incarcerated Cannabis Offenders in Light of COVID-19.The Marijuana Policy Project and other organizations are urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for nonviolent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, the organizations are calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated nonviolent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced. The Marijuana Policy Project, Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have sent a letter calling for these actions to the National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs' Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Correctional Industries Association, American Correctional Association, and AFSCME.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Urges Absentee Voting. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind the Constitutional Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative, announced this week is shifting its campaign to social media and urging state residents to consider absentee voting options. Unlike several other state-level legalization initiative campaigns, this one has already qualified for the ballot, so it doesn't have to worry about the coronavirus pandemic's impact on signature-gathering; now it's a matter of getting votes in the midst of the crisis.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Prosecutor Charged with Running Criminal Enterprise for Asset Forfeiture Fund Abuses. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith has been hit with a slew of criminal charges for allegedly taking funds seized from drug and other suspects for his own personal use. He faces ten charges that include five counts of embezzlement, and single charges of running a criminal enterprise, tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit forgery, misconduct in office and accessory after the fact. State officials said Smith used the money for a personal security system for his house, country club parties, campaign expenses and to buy flowers and make-up for his secretaries. Smith's former chief of staff, his current chief of operations, and a local businessman were also charged. They're alleged to have embezzled more than $600,000 since 2012.

Foreign Policy

US Indicts Venezuelan President Maduro on "Narco-Terrorism" Charges. Federal prosecutors on Thursday unveiled indictments of President Nicholas Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials on "narco-terrorism" charges in a new escalation of the Trump administration's pressure campaign against Caracas. US Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and the others of conspiring with a dissident faction of the Colombian FARC guerrillas "to flood the United States with cocaine." Barr's move against Maduro stands in sharp contrast with the US approach to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a staunch rightist and US ally, whom federal prosecutors have accused of taking bribes from drug traffickers, but who remains unindicted.

Denver Pot Shop Closure Reversed, Amsterdam Cannabis Cafes Reopen, MedMj Businesses Essential More... (3/25/20)

Marijuana retail outlets stay open in Denver and Amsterdam after pandemic-inspired efforts to shut them down inspire long lines, drug reform and public health groups urge governors to keep medical marijuana dispensaries open, and more.

Amsterdam cannabis cafe. It's open for carryout after the government had to reverse a pandemic-inspired ban.
Marijuana Policy

Denver Mayor Announces Liquor Stores and Pot Shops Have to Close but Forced to Backtrack in Face of Large Crowds. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) announced Monday afternoon that marijuana shops and liquor stores would have to close their doors in response to the coronavirus pandemic but was forced to reverse course later that same day. In response to his announcement, city residents began swarming liquor stores and pot shops -- violating social distancing requirements -- sometimes with lines a block long, forcing the mayor to reconsider. Now, the booze and pot shops can stay open, but must enforce physical distancing requirements.

Medical Marijuana

Public Health, Drug Reform Groups Urge Governors to Deem Medical Marijuana Dispensaries as "Essential" Businesses. A dozen public health and drug reform organizations have sent an open letter to every governor in the country, urging them to recognize medical marijuana as a necessary medicine, and to declare dispensaries "essential" businesses that can stay open during periods of reduced movement related to the coronavirus pandemic. Signatories include the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, and the Harm Reduction Coalition, as well as public health groups.

Psychedelics

Denver Psychedelic Reform Panel Holds Second Meeting. The Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review panel -- the nation's first such entity -- held its second meeting Tuesday and reached agreement on criteria for law enforcement reporting on activities related to the 'shrooms. Data collected should include age, location of offense, the offense itself (possession, distribution, cultivation), the quantity involved, race, and whether a prosecution ensued, among other things.

International

Holland Reopens Cannabis Cafes Just A Day After Closing Them in Coronavirus Move. The Dutch government on Monday night abruptly reversed a day-old decision to shut down the country's famous cannabis cafes as part of a social distancing response to the coronavirus pandemic. The reversal came as the government was confronted with long lines of people queuing up to score after the ban was initially announced. Now, the cannabis cafes can stay open for carryout purchases only. There was no respite, however, for Amsterdam's sex clubs and brothels. They will have to stay shuttered until April 6.

Editorial: Drug Policy During the Crisis

Dear Reformer:

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden-dupont-circle-cropped.jpg
David Borden
In this time of crisis, all of us are figuring out how to adapt our lives, take care of our needs, and do our jobs. Everything is affected, and drug policy is not an exception.

Our nation the past several decades has engaged in massive numbers of arrests for what in many cases are low-level violations. Despite some notable bipartisan movement to reform criminal justice, our prisons and jails remain packed with over two million people. With a pandemic in progress, this is a public health crisis in the making, one that will affect the incarcerated, staff of the institutions holding them, their families, ultimately to many more people outside the walls to whom the COVID-19 virus ultimately spreads.

For drug users, and for the health programs that serve them, there are special challenges too. Every person struggling with a substance use disorder, every syringe exchange program or methadone/burprenorphine clinic, every medical marijuana patient, wants to not transmit the invisible threat to themselves or others while going about their day. People in recovery or trying to get there, are stuck at home with less access to support.

Congress has yet to provide funding or specify health requirements to be followed by federal or state penal institutions. A bipartisan group of US senators have called for vulnerable prisoners to be moved to home detention. But the Department of Justice and its Bureau of Prisons have substantially undermined early release programs for elderly prisoners, and at least report had not responded to a Congressional request for information on what steps they are taking to safeguard prisoners from disease. Local advocates are worried that stay-at-home orders, justified for the emergency, could lead to increased enforcement against low-level offenses. This is a time to not arrest where possible, not to do more.

A number of jurisdictions have taken good steps. Philadelphia is ceasing certain types of arrests, instead briefly detaining people and taking information but then releasing them. Baltimore's State Attorney is dismissing charges for a range of low-level offenses, including for drugs. Los Angeles and the State of Ohio have released hundreds of people already in detention. Oregon has temporarily allowed marijuana delivery services to leave product outside. Articles following in this issue of the Chronicle discuss those cases. Much more is needed from the nation's cities, counties and states, and from the federal government.

We support the recommendations of the Justice Roundtable, a criminal justice reform coalition based here in Washington, in which we participate. Their COVID-19 section links to much more in the way of news and resources. On the health side, Vital Strategies has published a round-up of resources on COVID-19 and drug risk reduction.

We will be publishing a larger report on these topics. In the meanwhile, I hope those of you who use social media will help by posting some calls on Congress in an alert distributed by the roundtable. You can download the alert, with sample social media posts and accompanying graphics, here. In the sample posts you should fill in the link for your member of Congress you can find their social media addresses by going to House.gov and Senate.gov, looking up your Representative and your two Senators (US voters) and going to their web sites.

Lastly, don't have doubt that all the different parts of drug policy that we're working on, will continue to be worked on and will continue to move forward. At the right times and in ways adapted to the situation, we and our allies will be making the large and small asks of policymakers. Legislative staffers in criminal justice, health and foreign policy will continue to work on their portfolio of issues. And whether the pandemic last for a longer or shorter time, at some point the public and the media will devote space again to all the other issues that affect our society. This is what I've seen happen during past crises, and it will happen again this time, in the ways that work this time.

Thank you for reading and for being here, and more soon.

Sincerely,

David Borden signature

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
https://stopthedrugwar.org

Mexico Illicit Drug Prices Rising, OR Regulators Allow Curbside Pot Sales, More... (3/24/20)

States grapple with marijuana sales during a time of crisis, Ghana legalizes hemp and CBD, Mexican traffickers facing chemical shortages are raising prices, and more.

Meth and fentanyl from Mexico are about to get more expensive thanks to the coronavirus crisis. (Warner Robbins, GA, PD)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor Shutters Recreational Pot Shops, Lets Medical Marijuana Outlets Remain Open. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has ordered recreational marijuana outlets to close during the coronavirus crisis but has spared medical marijuana dispensaries. The emergency order issued Monday closed all non-essential businesses in the state for at least two weeks. Dispensaries are considered essential; recreational pot shops are not.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Rejected for Lack of Signatures. State Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday announced he has rejected a petition for a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana because petitioners did not submit the minimum number of valid signatures required. This was a first step; organizers needed to submit summary language of their amendment along with at least 1,000 valid voter signatures. They didn't do that. "Of the 1,000 minimum signatures required to proceed with the constitutional amendment, those boards of elections reported receiving a total of only 271 valid signatures," Yost said. "Finally, because the petition failed to meet the signature threshold, I have not made any determination concerning the fairness and truthfulness of the proposed summary."

Oregon Regulators Approve Curbside Recreational Marijuana Sales. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which also regulates marijuana, has approved a temporary rule allowing recreational marijuana retailers to sell their products curbside. The rule permits retailers to take orders and deliver marijuana to a customer who is outside and within 150 feet of the licensed premises. The sales can take place only during normal business hours, no earlier than 7:00am and no later than 10:00pm.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Regulators Ease Medical Marijuana Rules Because of Coronavirus. State regulators trying to ensure that patients continue to have access to medical marijuana have removed a cap on the number of patients caregivers can serve and eliminated background checks for caregiver renewal applications. Curbside pickup has also been okayed, as have remote consultations for some practitioners.

International

Ghana Legalizes Hemp, CBD. The parliament has passed a bill legalizing the production of industrial hemp and its use for medicinal as well as commercial purposes. The bill also expands access to drug treatment and medical care and marks a shift from treating addiction as a legal issue to a public health issue.

Mexican Meth, Fentanyl Traffickers Raise Prices Amid Shortages of Precursor Chemicals. With supplies of Chinese precursor chemicals running low because of disruptions related to the coronavirus pandemic, Mexican drug traffickers are raising wholesale illicit drug prices. The Sinaloa Cartel is reportedly increasing the wholesale price of a pound of meth from $100 to $600. The price of fentanyl is also going up, although not yet as dramatically. Wholesale prices for a pound have reportedly increased from $35,000 to $42,000.

Baltimore & Philadelphia to End Drug Arrests Due to COVID-19, SAMSHA Eases Opioid Treatment Rules, More... (3/23/20)

Baltimore and Philadelphia stop drug arrests in a bid to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, SAMSHA eases opioid maintenance treatment rules for the same reason, and more.

The coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on drug policy issues. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the Hartford Courant and Sacred Heart University has 63.4% of state residents in favor of ending marijuana prohibition. The poll comes as lawmakers push to advance a legalization bill backed by Gov. Ned Lamont (D). The poll found that 34.4% "strongly support" legalization, while 29.9% "somewhat support" it.

Iowa Poll Has First Time Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll has 53% support for marijuana legalization, the first time the Iowa Poll has registered majority support for the move. As recently as 2013, only 29% supported legalization.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Still on the Agenda. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday that marijuana legalization remained a priority despite the coronavirus crisis. Asked about his legislative priorities during a briefing on the crisis, Cuomo said "I want to do legalizing marijuana," adding that he also wants to achieve a controversial bail reform measure through the budget.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate last week approved a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 165. The measure would allow people with a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana for 15 conditions - including cancer, anxiety and chronic pain. It also would let them purchase cannabis products at one of 34 licensed dispensaries. It now goes to the House.

Hemp

Idaho House Kills Hemp Legalization Bill. Lawmakers in the House State Affairs Committee voted 8-7 to kill Senate Bill 1345, which would have legalized industrial hemp production in the state. Although the bill had passed the Senate, it ran into opposition from anti-cannabis activists and law enforcement, who warned that it could lead to a "hemp-marijuana culture" in the state.

Drug Policy

CDC Reports 4% Decline in Opioid, Heroin Overdose Deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that overall overdose death rates nationwide dropped 4.1% from 2017 to 2018. Deaths from heroin use dropped by 4%, while prescription opioid deaths dropped by 13.5%. "Decreases in overdose deaths involving prescription opioids and heroin reflect the effectiveness of public health efforts to protect Americans and their families," Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC, said in a press release. "While we continue work to improve those outcomes, we are also addressing the increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids. We must bring this epidemic to an end," Redfield said. Synthetic opioid deaths were actually up 10%.

Baltimore to End Most Drug Prosecutions Amid Coronavirus Outbreak. In a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) is moving to dismiss pending charges against most people accused of drug offenses. According to her guidance to staff, things like drug possession, attempted drug distribution, prostitution, traffic offenses and public urination are among the offenses that shouldn't land people being bars at this point. "This policy is in place for now as an attempt to save lives," Mosby said. "We will assess the policy at a later date and time when this global pandemic is over."

Philadelphia Police Halt Drug Arrests During Coronavirus Outbreak. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw last week ordered the department to begin delaying arrests for low-level offenses, including drug offenses. Crimes including theft, burglary, prostitution, stolen automobiles, vandalism, and certain economic crimes will no longer automatically result in detention. Instead, officers will temporarily detain suspects to identify them, then release them with an arrest warrant issued at some later date.

Drug Treatment

SAMHSA Eases Opioid Treatment Rules in Response to Coronavirus. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has announced policy changes easing the rules for home treatment of opioid use disorder as a response to the coronavirus crisis. The agency issued a directive allowing some patients in opioid treatment programs to take home a 28-day supply of medications such as methadone and buprenorphine. For less stable patients, SAMSHA is authorizing a 14-day take-home supply.

International

Paraguay Issues First Medical Marijuana Licenses. Late last month, the government issued its first medical marijuana licenses. Twelve pharmaceutical companies received licenses to import seeds for the domestic cultivation and sale of medical marijuana, which will be provided free to eligible patients.

We're Here

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Thank you for visiting our web site. Phil (writer of the Drug War Chronicle) newsletter is off this week, while he and his partner set up a new home. All of us have been busy adapting to the current crisis situation, and I was overseas recently at the annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, as part of our efforts on global drug policy and the human rights crisis in the Philippine drug war. That is why the site doesn't look as current as it usually does.

On my end, amidst all of this I've unfortunately lapsed for a few weeks on the email editions of the Chronicle. Time management with the very small staff we have now, while multiple programs break out, is a challenge too. That's why you haven't seen emails from us yet this month. Working this challenge out has been a process.

There will be an email edition of the Chronicle out later today or tomorrow morning. Most of it will be the content you've probably seen on our site already, due to Phil being on leave. But we will also be publishing information on COVID-19's impact on drug users and the related health services, and on the criminal justice system, including requests for you to take action this week. And Phil will be back this weekend or Monday.

I will also be posting my thoughts on advancing policy reform during a crisis. As some of you know, I've been doing this for awhile. While every crisis is different, there are lessons to be learned from the past.

More soon,

Dave

Vets' MedMJ Bills Advance in House, OR Psilocybin Init Looking Good on Signatures, More... (3/12/20)

The Pine Ridge Reservation votes to legalize weed, a pair of veterans' medical marijauna bills move in the House, signature gathering for the Oregon Psychedelic Service Act initiative is looking good, and more. 

Psilocybin molecule. An Oregon initiative would allow for its therapeutic use. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oglala Sioux Tribe Approves Medical, Recreational Marijuana. Oglala Sioux Tribe members on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota voted Wednesday to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Both passed by wide margins, with 82% approving medical marijuana and 74% approving recreational marijuana. A proposal to legalize alcohol sales failed with only 44% of the vote. The tribe is now set to be the only one in the nation to legalize marijuana in a state where it otherwise remains illegal.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Committee Approves Marijuana Bills for Military Veterans. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee has approved two bills focused on marijuana and military veterans. The committee voted 15-11 to approve the Veterans Equal Access Act (HR 1647), sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), which would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where it’s legal. The committee also approved the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act (HR 712), sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA),  which would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the medical potential of cannabis in the treatment of conditions that commonly afflict veterans. It was approved in a voice vote.

Iowa House Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House on Wednesday passed a bill that adds more qualifying conditions, allow more doctors to recommend patients for the program, and raise limits on THC content. The bill now heads to the Senate. Although Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) vetoed a similar bill last year, she said she is comfortable with this bill.

Tennessee Senate Committee Advances Medical Marijuana Bill, But Poison Pill Added. A medical marijuana bill, SB 2334, was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, but only after a poison pill amendment that would only allow the bill to take effect if marijuana is rescheduled as a Schedule II substance under federal law. A similar bill is moving in the House.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania Mom Sues Hospital over Drug Test That Led to Child Abuse Probe. A mother who gave birth in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital has now filed a suit against the facility charging that it collected and tested her urine for drugs without her consent while she was in labor and reported a false positive result to protective services that resulted in a child abuse investigation. This is the second such lawsuit filed against the hospital since 2014.

Psychedelics

Oregon Psilocybin Initiative Already Has 100,000 Raw Signatures. Campaigners for IR 34, the Oregon Psilocybin Service Act, say they already have 100,000 raw signatures. They need 112,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow adults to visit licensed facilities to have the drug administered under the supervision of medical professionals.

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