Drug War Chronicle

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With Psychedelic Legalization on the Horizon, How Should We Get There from Here? [FEATURE]

At this point, it's almost a commonplace to say that a psychedelic renaissance is underway. Microdosing has been a thing for years now, scientists around the world are reporting exciting spiritual and therapeutic research results, and venture capitalists are beginning to edge their way into what they hope is the next lucrative drug commodity market.

magic mushrooms (Creative Commons)
But also bubbling up is a social and political movement to free psychedelics (and their users) from the fetters of drug prohibition. Beginning with Denver, a handful of cities across the country have passed what are in effect municipal decriminalization ordinances, with the Decriminalize Nature campaign promoting similar efforts in dozens more.

This year, Oregon and the District of Columbia have psychedelic reform initiatives still in the signature-gathering phase. While hobbled by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, both could still make the ballot this year. (A similar campaign in California recently bit the dust, citing said pandemic.)

The late April Psychedelic Liberty Summit sponsored by the Chacruna Institute for Plant Medicines, was yet another manifestation of the rising interest in psychedelics. "We provide public education and cultural understanding about psychedelic plant medicines and promote a bridge between the ceremonial use of sacred plants and psychedelic science," the institute says in its mission statement. It envisions "a world where plant medicines and other psychedelics are preserved, protected, and valued as part of our cultural identity and integrated into our social, legal and health care systems."

Originally set for San Francisco, the two-day series of wide-ranging panels and presentations instead went virtual in the face of pandemic social distancing requirements. "Attendees" viewed remotely as panelists covered topics ranging from "Sacred Peyote Conservation" to "Psychedelic Medicalization: Unpacking the Landscape of Drug Development and Commercialization" to " How Can We Ensure Respectful, Safe, Ethical, Inclusive and Sustainable Sourcing for Psychedelic Plants and Materials?" and beyond.

Numerous panels were devoted to advancing the cause of ending psychedelic prohibition, and weighing heavily on those involved were questions about just how to proceed. Should reform initiatives target a single psychedelic, as the Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative does, should they target all psychedelics or only natural ones (sorry LSD and MDMA), or should the target be broader drug decriminalization?

Similarly, what role should private investment capital play? Are there lessons to be learned from the commodification of cannabis under state-level legalization? And just how should legal or decriminalized psychedelics be made available to the public? Attempts to answer these questions were a central theme of the summit, and what was clear was that although reform thinkers share a common general goal, there's a breadth of opinion about the details.

For Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML and one of the authors of the groundbreaking 1996 Prop 215 campaign that legalized medical marijuana in the state with bare-bones language, psychedelics are a different ball game.

"I don't think marijuana and psychedelics should be legalized on the same model," said Gieringer. "Marijuana is pretty safe even for novices, but psychedelics need to be treated with more respect. This is not something that should just be sold over the counter to adults from the very get go; first time users should be informed of certain cautions, and we need a new paradigm for distributing psychedelics, maybe something more like drug user clubs, with nonprofit organizations -- not commercial operations -- in charge of manufacturing, distributing, and educating users on the use of psychedelic drugs, as well as being responsible for any harmful effects of the drugs."

Gieringer pointed back to Prop 215 and the reefer revolution it unleashed as he urged initiative campaigns to keep it simple.

"I advise the movement to be cautious about overprescribing elaborate regulatory regimes. We didn't do that with marijuana; we just had a set of principles that people shouldn't be arrested for using or cultivating for personal use. We did that deliberately; we knew it was going to be very complicated in a federal system and we left it to government to fill in the details," he said.

"Prop 215 was a very short initiative," Gieringer reminded. "The Oregon initiative has 71 pages and you still can't have psilocybin mushrooms in your house or use them outside one of these organizations that gets set up under the initiative."

That's the wrong approach, he suggested: "We should go back to a broad initiative that embraces the notion that people should be able to use psychedelics for spiritual, medical, and personal illumination in general, and leave it to the state and federal government to fill in the details."

And not just do it one hallucinogen at a time.

"We ought to approach this more broadly and not just do one drug at a time," he argued. "If we do psilocybin, what about peyote? What about ayahuasca? What about everything else? I favor a broader approach making psychedelics available to people want them on a private use basis. Let's think globally and act locally and wait for our eggs to hatch here. Let's go for simple initiatives that give people direct access to psychedelics."

Any such movement for psychedelic legalization or decriminalization -- as opposed to broader drug legalization or decriminalization -- will need to be self-generating and self-supporting, argued Sean McAllister, a Denver-based attorney who was chairman of the board for Sensible Colorado when that group led the nation's first successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2012 and a consultant for Decriminalize Denver, the group behind the city's 2019 psilocybin initiative.

"Unlike cannabis, psilocybin has only been used by an estimated two to five percent of the population, and only one tenth of one percent are current psychedelic users," he noted. "That's a much smaller pool, and any drug reform initiative requires the support of those who do not use. We're asking the majority to protect our rights, so we have to convince the majority our movement makes sense and won't endanger the public safety or health."

By including reporting requirements for psilocybin-related law enforcement encounters and other public safety and public health impacts via the mayor's psilocybin review panel, on which McAllister sits, the Denver initiative was helping lay the educational groundwork for doing that convincing, he argued.

"We'll write a report at the end of the year assessing the impacts of the initiative, but really nothing has changed," McAllister reported. "Law enforcement was concerned people would be dealing psilocybin on the streets and getting high on the streets, but our community is pretty self-regulating. There's been no explosion or public health or public safety problems. We hope that our report will be of great value to other cities looking to decriminalize psilocybin and to the movement as we attempt to change laws across the country."

But that movement won't be able to count on the largesse of traditional drug reform funders, McAllister warned, noting that statewide initiative campaigns cost millions of dollars.

"There is just not that much interest in psychedelics only," he said. "The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) believes in legalizing all drugs; it doesn't believe in drug exceptionalism. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is primarily focused on MDMA and PTSD. We don't have tens or hundreds of thousands of people in prison, so we don't have the same social justice issues around psychedelics. The ACLU isn't going to lead our movement. We have to step up and build our own organizations and come together as a movement."

"There are a lot of benefits to decriminalizing psychedelics that we need to study further, and it's fascinating to see all these movements for decriminalization popping up around the country, but at the same time I'm ambivalent about it because there's also simultaneously a movement to just decriminalize all drugs," said Jag Davies, who has long stints as a communications specialist for the DPA and MAPS under his belt.

"And I don't think drug decriminalization is as big a deal and as revolutionary as it's made out to be," Davies continued. "Right now, we have a national poll showing 55 percent support for decriminalizing all drugs."

Even though the argument that "marijuana is safer" was used to great benefit in the Colorado marijuana legalization campaign, Davies warned of its hazards.

"One of the mistakes made with marijuana reform messaging is framing it as a safe or safer drug," he argued. "All drugs are the same in that criminalization isn't an effective policy and is counterproductive to public health, but at the same time there will be some difference in how we think about policies. We need to think about who is benefitting and who is left behind. The benefits of decriminalizing more dangerous drugs are much greater," he added, pointing out that the other Oregon initiative would do just that.

In any case, psychedelic warriors should be part of a greater effort, Davies said.

"Drug decriminalization is perhaps a more effective strategy to reduce the harm in the long term," he said. "Even if you're a psychedelic exceptionalist, it's beneficial to join forces with the broader drug reform movement and the criminal justice movements and get the buy-in from those communities before you make your move."

David Bronner, the Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner's natural soaps, straddles both worlds. He has long supported broad drug reform efforts and this year is putting a million dollars into the Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative.

"Having a well-structured therapeutic model makes it accessible to the average person who is not familiar with psychedelics," Bronner said. "The Oregon model is very much about accessing therapy and likewise making sure there is only minimal taxation -- enough to cover the cost of the program -- but keeping it limited in size and scope, so you can make a good livelihood but not have a hundred chain clinics."

"These are preventative measures so we don't see what happened with cannabis and with there being some kind of controls," he added. "The polling says people aren't familiar with mushrooms and want to see strict controls on access, that it can't be accessed outside the therapeutic model."

What Bronner was alluding to -- the undesirability of turning something ineffable like marijuana or psychedelics into just another capitalist commodity -- Steve DeAngelo addressed head on. And he's particularly well-positioned to: A long-time marijuana movement activist, he founded one of the first dispensaries in the nation, Harborside in Oakland, but also the Arcview Group, the first dedicated marijuana investment network, creating a Faustian bargain with profit-seeking capital.

"With Arcview, we hit on the energy of free enterprise to power the social change we wanted, and a lot of the progress we made is because we did invite the investor class in, but it came at a cost, a significant cost," he said. "Prior to Arcview inviting the investor class in, the movement was driven by people who loved cannabis, but we attracted a lot of people whose motivation was not love of cannabis but love of making money."

"I expected the energy to come but was a little taken aback at the urgency and ferocity of it," DeAngelo continued. "Cannabis lovers took investment money and then ceded control to investors. I saw a lot of people who had spent their lives representing the plant start to lose power, their livelihoods, and their influence over how to explain cannabis to the rest of the world. I fear we could see a lot of the same thing with psychedelics. If that happens, the way these substances are taught to the world is going to change. We could see a model for psychedelics more geared to return for investors than toward a meaningful experience for an individual or for positive social change."

"Psychedelics have always been part of my path and one lesson I learned is that intention drives result," DeAngelo said. The consciousness with which we approach something will have a profound influence on what happens. On a psychic level, on a cosmic level, a different vibration is created when psychedelics are evangelized for the aim of making more money than with a motive of love and sharing and bringing about social change. I'm much more comfortable with a message from people who love psychedelics than people who love money."

And so it goes as the nascent psychedelic liberation movement emerges. There is great debate over tactics and strategies, but a commonality of purpose linked to human liberation and social justice. The path forward is uncertain, but it is one we will make as we walk it.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Even during the pandemic, corrupt cops keep going down. A former Ohio DARE officer is in big trouble and so is yet another Baltimore police officer. Let's get to it:

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was arrested April 19 for lying to federal investigators about selling cocaine that had been stolen from a record-setting cocaine seizure in 2009. Victor Rivera, who retired in March after 26 years with the department, is the 15th Baltimore police officer to be charged by federal prosecutors in the continuing reverberations of the Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal. Rivera went down after another officer was charged in that cocaine theft incident last month, and charging documents in that case said he sold cocaine to one of his informants, received profits from him, and divvied them up with two other detectives. He is charged with perjury and is looking at up to 10 years in federal prison.

In Beavercreek, Ohio, a former Beavercreek DARE officer was arrested on April 20 on federal child pornography charges. Kevin Kovacs, 62, worked for the Beavercreek police from 1992 until his resignation in 2018. He was also the Beavercreek schools DARE officer from 2012 until 2018. He is charged with producing, distributing, receiving, transporting, and possessing child pornography, as well as witness tampering.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's a push on to allow state-legal marijuana businesses to get pandemic aid relief, Arkansans are heading across the state line for cheaper, more accessible medical marijuana, and more.

National

Marijuana Associations and Credit Unions Call for Federal Coronavirus Relief for Marijuana Businesses. Some 30 marijuana trade organizations and credit unions sent a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday urging them to work to provide marijuana businesses with access to federal relief funds related to the coronavirus pandemic. Because marijuana remains federally illegal, such businesses are specifically excluded from the relief program under already approved relief packages. The coalition argues that Congress should either issue pandemic relief block grants for the states to decide on their own how to allocate funds, or change current relief aid eligibility requirements to allow marijuana businesses access to those funds,

Arkansas

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Patients Cross into Oklahoma for Cheaper, More Accessible Medicine. Medical marijuana patients in the state are heading across the state line to Oklahoma to get their medicine, according to local media reports. They can buy equivalent products for half the cost in Oklahoma, and that state does not have a limited list of qualifying conditions. Instead, it only requires a doctor's recommendation.

Michigan

Michigan Supreme Court Says Medical Marijuana Law Does Not Overrule Local Zoning Ordinances. Breaking with previous Court of Appeals ruling, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state's medical marijuana law doesn't override local zoning ordinances. The township of Byron had barred registered caregivers from growing on a commercial property, and the high court upheld its ability to do so.

Coronavirus Doesn't Halt Colombia Coca Offensive, MT Court Hears Pleas for Electronic Signature-Gathering, More... (4/29/20)

Whether Montana marijuana legalization campaigns can use electronic signature-gathering is now in the hands of a state judge, an Indiana judge orders the return of a Land Rover whose case changed federal asset forfeiture law, Colombia's campaign against coca continues despite the pandemic, and more.

The Colombian government isn't letting a nationwide coronavirus curfew interfere with its war on coca producers. (Pixabay)
Montana Court Hears Arguments Over Electronic Signature-Gathering for Marijuana Legalization Initiative. New Approach Montana, the group behind a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives, was in Lewis and Clark County District Court Tuesday in an effort to win permission to do electronic signature-gathering amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The group says the state's stay-at-home order and continued social distancing directives make it nearly impossible to gather enough in-person signatures to qualify their petitions for the November ballot. The hearing itself was held by telephone, a point New Approach's lawyer emphasized when arguing its case. Attorneys for the state argued against allowing electronic signature gathering, saying there is not enough evidence it can be done securely and that the group's injury was self-inflicted because it had not yet started signature gathering. Initiative-190 would legalize the use of recreational marijuana in the state. It requires over 25,000 valid voter signatures to appear on November's ballot. Constitutional Initiative-118 aims to amend the state constitution to set the age of marijuana consumption and possession at 21. It needs almost 51,000 valid voter signatures.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Judge Orders Return of Seized Land Rover That Led to US Supreme Court Asset Forfeiture Case. An Indiana Superior Court judge on Monday ordered the state to "immediately release" a seized Land Rover in a case that made history in the US Supreme Court when the court used it to overturn Indiana's civil asset forfeiture law, saying the seizure was disproportionate to the offense. The ruling comes seven years after police seized Tyson Timbs' $41,000 Land Rover when he was charged with a drug felony. But the state is continuing to appeal the case, so that "immediate release" is not going to happen just yet.

International

Colombia Carries on Major Offensive Against Coca Producers Amidst Pandemic Curfew. Although President Ivan Duque declared a nationwide curfew on March 24 to fight the coronavirus pandemic, massive military operations aimed at eradicating small producer coca plantations are continuing unimpeded. In the departments of Antioquia and Chocó, Norte de Santander, Nariño, Putumayo, and Caquetá, military and civilian eradication personnel are engaged in eradication efforts.

Swiss Parliament Passes Motion to Authorize Cannabis Production and Export. The Swiss Parliament has passed a measure that will allow producers in the country to export low-THC hemp, and doctors to prescribe medical marijuana directly. Currently, would-be patients must obtain prescriptions for the Federal Office of Public Health, an expensive and time-consuming process. The new law is expected to come into force sometime in the middle of next year. It will also include a pilot program for recreational use. The measure still has to be approved by the Council of States before it can proceed.

US Virgin Islands Governor Urges Passage of Legalization Bill, Call for Pandemic Relief for Marijuana Businesses, More... (4/28/20)

The clamor grows for including state-legal marijuana businesses in coronavirus pandemic in federal economic relief packages, Arkansas medical marijuana patients are heading to Oklahoma for cheaper prices and easier access, and more.

Will state-legal marijuana businesses ever get any coronavirus pandemic relief money? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

US Virgin Islands Governor Revises Marijuana Legalization Bill, Urges Quick Passage. Territorial Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) is pushing the legislature to move quickly to approve a revised marijuana legalization bill, saying the action could help generate needed tax revenues from marijuana sales during the coronavirus pandemic. "We have taken the time to gather further public input as well as address the concerns of the individual legislators," the governor said during a COVID-19 update on Monday. As the economic disaster, the last few weeks has affected the [Government Employees Retirement System] greatly, it is our hope that we can have a greater sense of exigency in implementing all the things that can help us regain solvency."

Marijuana Associations and Credit Unions Call for Federal Coronavirus Relief for Marijuana Businesses. Some 30 marijuana trade organizations and credit unions sent a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday urging them to work to provide marijuana businesses with access to federal relief funds related to the coronavirus pandemic. Because marijuana remains federally illegal, such businesses are specifically excluded from relief program under already approved relief packages. The coalition argues that Congress should either issue pandemic relief block grants for the states to decide on their own how to allocate funds or change current relief aid eligibility requirements to allow marijuana businesses access to those funds.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Patients Cross into Oklahoma for Cheaper, More Accessible Medicine. Medical marijuana patients in the state are heading across the state line to Oklahoma to get their medicine, according to local media reports. They can buy equivalent products for half the cost in Oklahoma, and that state does not have a limited list of qualifying conditions. Instead, it only requires a doctor's recommendation.

Michigan Supreme Court Says Medical Marijuana Law Does Not Overrule Local Zoning Ordinances. Breaking with previous Court of Appeals ruling, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state's medical marijuana law doesn't override local zoning ordinances. The township of Byron had barred registered caregivers from growing on a commercial property, and the high court upheld its ability to do so.

Peru Coca Prices Plunge Amid Pandemic, Louisiana Pot Poll Shows State Not There Yet, More... (4/27/20)

A Navy destroyer on an anti-drug mission is forced to return to port, Peruvian coca growers are taking a financial hit during the pandemic, Montana GOP elected officials are opposing an effort to get electronic signature-gathering for a marijuana legalization campaign, and more.

It's hard times in the coca fields, as pandemic lockdowns bring price plunges. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Finds State Not There Yet on Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Louisiana Public Opinion LLC shows that a majority of registered voters still oppose legalization -- but that number has decreased slightly. When respondents were asked if they favored legalization, only 37% said yes, compared to 54% opposed. That's up three points from the same survey conducted three years ago, but still well short of a majority.

Montana Republican State Officials Oppose Electronic Signature Gathering for Initiatives. Replying to a lawsuit from New Approach Montana, the sponsor of 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, the Republican secretary of state and attorney general officially responded that they oppose the electronic gathering of signatures for initiative campaigns impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, the state's top election official, and the state of Montana, represented by Attorney General Tim Fox, have asked the court to throw out the lawsuits, arguing that the circumstances arise out of a "health emergency," not unfair election laws.

Interdiction

US Naval Destroyer on Counternarcotics Mission Forced to Return to Port After Being Hit by Coronavirus Outbreak. The USS Kidd, a guided missile destroyer doing counternarcotic missions in the eastern Pacific Ocean, has been forced to return to port after at least 18 sailors aboard the ship tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The Navy said the number of those infected with the virus on the vessel was expected to rise. The Kidd is part of the Trump administration's deployment of more warships and aircraft to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific to fight drug cartels.

International

Peru Sees Big Drop in Black Market Coca Prices as Pandemic Bites into Drug Trade. Prices for coca leaf sold to illicit economy drug gangs have plunged 70% since the country went on lockdown last month, according to a local growers' organization. While the country has a legal coca market, an estimated 90% of the crop is destined for the black market. Now, the growers are calling on the government to buy up excess coca inventory for use in licit coca industries.

Plaintiffs in MJ Scheduling Case vs. DEA Look to Supreme Court, NJ Voters Ready to Approve Legal MJ, More... (4/24/20)

A New Jersey poll shows strong support for approving a November marijuana legalization initiative, California state government agencies are moving to ease the pandemic burden on marijuana businesses, the Supreme Court is being asked to rule on whether marijuana's designation as a Schedule I drug is unconstitutional, and more.

Will the Supreme Court take up a case challenging marijuana's designation as a Schedule I drug? Stay tuned. (Creative Commons)

DEA Marijuana Scheduling Lawsuit Will Be Appealed To Supreme Court Following Dismissal. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the DEA over the classification of marijuana will appeal to the US Supreme Court after the 2nd US Court of Appeals ruled against them last week. The appeals court had recommended that plaintiffs seek administrative policy change instead, but they will ask the Supreme Court to rule that keeping marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional because it imposes undue burdens that jeopardize patients' lives.

California Offers Marijuana Firms Tax Help to Cope with Coronavirus Pandemic Fallout. The state has issued new guidelines aimed at helping businesses, including marijuana businesses, survive the pandemic. The programs, a mix of extensions, relief, and deferrals, will allow many marijuana companies to keep operations going and meet payroll. The initiatives are coming from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA), the Office of Tax Appeals and the Franchise Tax Board.

New Jersey Poll Finds Residents Ready to Approve Marijuana Legalization in November. Unable to reach agreement on a marijuana legalization bill, the state legislature punted the issue to the voters, placing a legislative legalization initiative on the November ballot. Now, a new poll from the Monmouth University Polling Institute finds voters are ready to approve it. The poll had support at 61%, with only 34% opposed.

Virginia Legislature Rejects Governor's Bid to Delay Legal Marijuana Study. The legislature has rejected two proposed amendments to its decriminalization bill from Gov. Ralph Northam (D), including one that called for a delay in the end date for a study on marijuana legalization included in the bill. The House had initially agreed to the change, but the Senate rejected it, and House members were unable to add the delay back in when they received the Senate bill for a final vote. The bill, Senate Bill 2, will decriminalize small-time possession effective July 1.

Push to Allow Marijuana Businesses Pandemic Aid, Bloody Gun Battles in Mexico, More... (4/23/20)

A push is on in Congress to secure coronavirus pandemic relief aid for the legal marijuana industry, a poll suggests that a DC psychedelic decriminalization initiative could win -- if it can make the ballot -- and more.

Some senators and representatives are pushing to get legal marijuana businesses included in pandemic relief funding. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

US Senators Want Small Marijuana Firms Included in Coronavirus Aid. A group of 10 US senators led by Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jackie Rosen (D-NV) have sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to include small, state-legal marijuana businesses and related companies in any future coronavirus relief packages. The letter comes a week after nearly three dozen House members sent a similar one.

Lawmakers File Bill to Let Marijuana Companies Have Access to Coronavirus Relief Funds. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) on Thursday filed an as yet unnumbered bill, the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act, which would allow legal marijuana businesses to access disaster relief loans and other programs available during the COVID-19 crisis.

Psychedelics

DC Voters Would Approve Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative If It Makes Ballot, Poll Says. A poll commissioned by Decriminalize DC, the folks behind the psychedelic decriminalization initiative, suggests the measure could pass -- if it manages to make the ballot. Signature-gathering for initiative campaigns around the country have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and DC is no exception. The poll found 51% said they were in favor when read the actual text of the measure, but that figure rose to 60% when voters were provided more information and settled at 59% when voters had heard pro and con arguments.

International

Mexico Sees 13 Dead in Violence in Guerrero Poppy Fields. At least 13 people were killed over the weekend in multisided clashes between community vigilantes, police, soldiers, and members of the Cartel del Sur in the opium poppy-growing town of El Naranjo, Guerrero. Clashes and gun battles lasting for hours broke out Saturday as cartel gunmen duked it out with a "grassroots citizens militia" (vigilante group) called the United Front of Community Police of Guerrero, a repeat of clashes last summer when the vigilantes tried unsuccessfully to force out the cartel. After Saturday's clashes, authorities called in the National Guard, soldiers, and state police, who then engaged in another gun battle, killing four presumed cartel members. Later another four executed bodies were found, and on Monday the bodies of five more men covered in blankets were discovered at the bottom of a ravine surrounded by shell casing.

Poll Finds Legalizing Marijuana is Good Policy, WA Drug Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway, More... (4/22/20)

A new poll finds most of us think marijuana legalization has been a success, Lebanon's parliament approves medical marijuana and hemp cultivation, and more.

A new poll finds that most Americans think legalizing marijuana has been a successful policy. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Poll Finds Majority of Americans Think Marijuana Legalization Is a Successful Policy. A new YouGov poll of 27,000 adults finds that a majority of Americans believe marijuana legalization laws are a success. Some 19% of respondents said legalization was a "success only," while another 36% said it was "more of a success than a failure." That's 55% between the two. Only 6% said it was a "failure only" and only 13% said it was "more of a failure than a success." That's less than one out of five saying legalization is a failure. About a quarter of respondents had no opinion. The figures held true across all regions of the country. Democrats, however, were much more likely to say legalization was a success (67%) than Republicans (41%)

Drug Decriminalization

Washington State Drug Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. A group of activists calling itself Treatment First Oregon is working to place a drug decriminalization and expanded drug treatment initiative on the November ballot. The measure, Initiative 1715, would use marijuana tax revenues to fund drug treatment. It would also have police refer people caught with drugs to a mandatory assessment to be screened for substance abuse disorder within 72 hours. The campaign will need some 259,000 valid voter signatures by July 3 to qualify for the ballot. The campaign says it hopes to go all out with signature gathering in the month of June.

International

Lebanese Parliament Approves Medical Marijuana, Hemp Production as Economy Struggles Amidst Coronavirus Crisis. The parliament on Tuesday approved legislation to legalize marijuana production for medicinal and industrial uses, a move recommended by economic advisers even before the coronavirus pandemic hit the struggling economy. The measure doesn't legalize recreational marijuana or hashish sales, for which the country is famous, but it does seek to create a new legal marijuana industry.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Wreaking Havoc With Drug Reform Initiatives [FEATURE]

The novel coronavirus pandemic is not just striking down Americans by the tens of thousands and jobs by the tens of millions, it is also wreaking havoc with marijuana and other drug-related voter initiative campaigns this year. It's damnably hard to gather thousands of voter signatures when there aren't any mass gatherings and the public is locked inside.

It's hard to gather signatures when the streets are empty. (Creative Commons)
Just a little more than two months ago, we wrote about 11 states that could see marijuana legalization or medical marijuana on the ballot this year. Stay-at-home orders across the land have winnowed that number, with some campaigns already giving up the ghost and the others facing unprecedented challenges.

It's not just marijuana initiatives. In California, Oregon, and Washington, DC, psilocybin initiatives are facing the same hurdles. And so is an Oregon initiative that would decriminalize the possession of all drugs. (The Oregon psilocybin initiative is holding a video update this afternoon, featuring Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps CEO David Bronner.)

First let's look at what's changed and what hasn't regarding those marijuana initiatives. What hasn't changed is that state legalization initiatives have already qualified for the November ballot in two states, a legislatively-initiated constitutional amendment in New Jersey and Constitutional Amendment A in South Dakota. South Dakota also has a medical marijuana initiative, Initiated Measure 26, already qualified for the ballot, as does Mississippi with Ballot Initiative 65.

Back in February, in addition to those initiatives already on the ballot, signature gathering efforts for marijuana legalization were underway in seven more states and for medical marijuana in two others. Now, though, the pandemic has already killed off campaigns in Missouri and North Dakota.

Organizers in the latter clearly laid the blame on the 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 Legalize ND campaign 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."

The pandemic has also wiped out a medical marijuana initiative in Idaho, where the Idaho Cannabis Coalition announced in March that is was suspending signature gathering. Since it only has until May 1, this marks the effective end to the effort this year. And in Nebraska, the medical marijuana initiative campaign has suspended signature gathering for the duration of the outbreak, even though it says it is still confident it can make the ballot. But it only has until July 3 to come up with 130,000 signatures, and it's not clear how close it is.

In Oklahoma, the campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 807 on the ballot is not officially dead, but is likely to fall victim to the pandemic. As part of a 30-day statewide emergency declaration, Secretary of State Mike Rogers ordered a pause to all initiative signature gathering activities. Given that the campaign needs 178,000 signatures in 90 days to qualify, organizers have all but given up the ghost.

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.

It's also looking grim for Arkansas, where Arkansans for Cannabis Reform is trying to gather signatures for a pair of initiatives, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment and the Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Amendment. They only had 15,000 raw signatures by later March and need 89,000 valid voter signatures by July 3 to qualify. The campaign did get a late injection of cash that allowed for paid signature gatherers, but by then it was virus time, and that has effectively put the kibosh on the campaign.

In Montana, the never-say-die New Approach Montana campaign joined two in-state political figures to file a lawsuit charging that prohibiting electronic signature gathering during the coronavirus pandemic is unconstitutional. The group 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.

The one bright spot for marijuana legalization initiatives still trying to make the ballot is Arizona, where the Smart and Safe Arizona Act needs 237,000 valid voter signatures by early July to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign had already collected 270,000 raw signatures before pandemic lock-downs began and has joined with three other initiative campaigns in the state to petition the state Supreme Court to allow electronic signature gathering via E-Qual, the state's online signature platform, during the pandemic. The campaign had set a goal of 400,000 raw signatures, which it is now unlikely to reach, but even with the lockdown, getting enough raw signatures to ensure it has collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot seems to be within reach.

In Oregon, where marijuana is already legal, a pair of drug reform initiatives appear poised to weather the storm and actually get on the ballot. A drug treatment and decriminalization initiative, IP 44, needs 112,000 valid voter signatures by May, but already had 125,000 raw signatures before the state shutdown began. The campaign has moved to online signature gathering in a bid to get those raw signature numbers further into the comfort zone. At last report, the campaign said it still needed 8,000 valid voter signatures.

The Oregon Therapeutic Psilocybin Initiative, IR 34, is in a similar place. The campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes has moved to online and mail signature gathering. It, too, needs 112,000 valid voter signatures, but has a later deadline in July, and had already gathered 100,000 raw signatures before moving to online signature gathering at the end of March. At that point, its raw signature count was up to 128,000 but it was still seeking to create a cushion by adding at least 15,000 more signers.

A California psilocybin legalization initiative led by Decriminalize California is not in as good a place as its brother to the north. It needs 623,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but only had about a quarter of that in raw signatures by mid-March, when the state moved toward lockdown. It and two other initiative campaigns have asked the governor or the legislature to authorize the electronic collection of signatures, but that hasn't happened yet. It looks like an uphill battle for Golden State 'shroomers this year.

And in Washington, DC,Decriminalize Nature DC, the group behind a psychedelic decriminalization initiative, 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.

What promised to be a banner year for drug reform initiatives as the year began is now unlikely to turn out that way as initiative campaigns, like the nation at large, are buffeted by the coronavirus storm. Still, marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in at least two states -- New Jersey and South Dakota -- and probably in Arizona. Medical marijuana will be on the ballot in at least two states, Mississippi and South Dakota. And with any luck, those Oregon initiatives will be on the ballot, too. Even in a year of retrenchment, there are opportunities to make progress.

NYC 4/20 Pot Party Busted Over Social Distancing, Mexican President Acknowledges Cartel Aid-Giving, More... (4/21/20)

Mexico's president acknowledges cartels have been handing out coronavirus relief packages and implore them to knock it off, a New York City 4/20 pot party ran afoul of social distancing measures, and more.

Weed that never got smoked at that New York City 4/20 pot party. (NYPD)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Curbside Pickup of Pot Now in Effect. Emergency regulations allowing for the curbside pickup of marijuana purchases are now in effect in Alaska. The Marijuana Control Board approved the regulations Friday and Lt. Gov Keven Meyer's office signed off on them later that same day. Business owners who want to do curbside pickup have to apply to the state and submit operational plans.

New York City 4/20 Pot Party Busted for Violating Social Distancing. Police alerted by a concerned citizen reporting a large number of people on the third floor of a Manhattan commercial building ended up busting a party of about 40 people who had gathered to celebrate 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. The party was hosted by a marijuana edibles company called Ganja Pigs, which was not available for comment on Tuesday. Police found a duffel bag full of weed at the party, along with edibles, THC, and paraphernalia. Five people were cited for marijuana offenses and 38 people were cited for unlawful trespassing.

International

Mexico President Acknowledges Cartels Handing Out Aid Packages, Implores Them to Knock It Off. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledged Monday that drug cartels are handing out aid packages during the coronavirus pandemic, said the government couldn't stop it, and implored the cartels to cut it out. "It is something that happens, it cannot be avoided," López Obrador said. "I don't want to hear them saying, ‘we are handing out aid packages,’"he said. "No, better that they lay off, and think of their families, and themselves, those that are involved in these activities and who are listening to me now or watching me." He also suggested that perhaps some cartel members are rethinking their place in society: "I don't rule out that there are people in the gangs who are becoming conscious, because I don't think you can spend your life always watching your back, worrying about another gang, going from one place to another, because you could get eliminated, that is no life at all,"said López Obrador.

New ACLU Report on Pot Arrests Finds Racial Disparities Persist, UK Loosens Up on Buprenorphine, More... (4/20/20)

Some members of Congress are asking for marijuana businesses to be included in future coronavirus relief packages, the Mexican Supreme Court okays a delay in marijuana legalization until the fall, and more. 

It's Bicycle Day commemorating the day in 1943 when Dr. Albert Hoffman first tripped brains on LSD.
Marijuana Policy

ACLU Report Finds Persistent Racial Disparities in Marijuana Law Enforcement—Even in Legal States. A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on US marijuana arrests between 2010 and 2018 finds that "the racist war on marijuana is far from over." The report found that overall black people are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses, even though they use marijuana at roughly the same rate as whites. That includes states where marijuana is legal. The states with the highest disparities were Montana (9.6 times), Kentucky (9.4), Illinois (7.5), West Virginia (7.3), Iowa (7.3), Vermont (6.1), and North Dakota (5.5).

Members of Congress Formally Request Marijuana Industry's Inclusion in Future Coronavirus Relief Packages. Some 34 members of the House ranging from Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have signed onto a letter formally requesting House leaders to include the marijuana industry in the next round of bailouts for businesses and people hurt by coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. The letter also asks that marijuana companies also be permitted to receive financial assistance from the government's Small Business Administration (SBA).

Alaska Regulators Approve Emergency Changes to Allow Curbside Pickup from Pot Shops. Last Friday, the state Marijuana Control Board approved emergency changes to allow for curbside pickup of marijuana orders as well as a loosening of transportation rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the rule changes will not go into effect until Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) signs off. If approved, the rules will stay in place for up to 120 days.

International

Great Britain Begins Allowing Monthly Buprenorphine Injections for Heroin Addicts During Pandemic. The National Health Service (NHS) has begun providing once-a-month injections of buprenorphine to recovering heroin addicts instead of requiring daily oral medication as part of a move to protect NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic. It is hoped the change will elieve pressure on pharmacy and NHS services by reducing the amount of contact between individuals and frontline staff.

Mexican Supreme Court Again Extends Marijuana Legalization Deadline. The Mexican Supreme Court has accepted a request from lawmakers to postpone an April 30 deadline to approve a marijuana legalization bill. The request came after both houses of the legislature suspended most of their work because of the coronavirus pandemic. The bill is expected to be approved during the Senate’s next ordinary session period, which starts in September.

MA Judge Upholds Recreational Pot Shop Ban; Mexican Cartels Hand Out Food, Supplies Amidst Crisis, More... (4/17/20)

Sorry, Massachusetts, no legal pot sales for you for now; Mexican drug cartels and El Chapo's daughter are currying favor by handing out food and supplies amidst the pandemic, and more. 

"El Chapo"-branded face masks being distributed in Mexico by a company owned by his daughter. (Facebook)
Massachusetts Judge Upholds State Ban on Recreational Pot Shops. A Suffolk County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that Gov. Charlie Baker (R) acted within the law when he shut down recreational marijuana businesses as part of a broader stay-at-home order issued to address the coronavirus pandemic. Pot businesses filed suit to overturn the ban, which they argued was arbitrary since Baker's order allowed medical marijuana and liquor outlets to remain open, but Suffolk Superior Court Judge Kenneth Salinger agreed with Baker's argument that the shops would attract out of state visitors: "It was reasonable for the governor to be concerned that the relatively few adult-use marijuana establishments in Massachusetts are more likely than liquor stores or [medical marijuana treatment centers] to attract high volumes of customers, including people traveling from other states," Salinger wrote. "The governor’s decision to treat medical marijuana facilities and liquor stores differently than adult-use marijuana establishments has a rational basis and therefore is constitutional."

International

British Columbia Rolls Out Safe Drugs for Street Users. Last month, the Canadian government urged provinces to lower barrier to prescription medications as part of the effort to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic, and now British Columbia is becoming the first province to apply those guidelines to people using street drugs. Healthcare providers are increasing the supply of opiate maintenance drugs and even dispensing some of them via a unique vending machine. By providing a safe supply of legal drug alternatives, the province hopes to lower a sudden spike in drug overdose deaths that coincided with the coronavirus outbreak in Vancouver.

Mexican Drug Cartels Hand Out More Coronavirus Aid. One of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's daughters and several Mexican drug trafficking organizations have been handing out aid packages to help poor residents get through the coronavirus pandemic. Guzman's daughter Alejandrina is seen in Facebook videos filling boxes with slick logos and an image of her father with food and toilet paper. The video narrator calls them "Chapo's provisions." The boxes were distributed in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The products are made for El Chapo 701, a legal business run by his daughter. But other active cartels are also handing out goods to local residents in some areas in a bid to gain public support. In one case, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel can be seen handing out packages of food and supplies labeled: "From your friends, CJNG, COVID-19 contingency support." The Gulf Cartel did a similar free distribution of supplies to poor residents of Victoria, Tamaulipas, last week. 

 

 

MO Pot Legalization Campaign Falls Victim to COVID-19, Border Smugglers Have to Innovate, More... (4/16/20)

The Show Me State won't be able to show us legal weed this year, the DEA says meth and heroin prices are going up, and more. 

How the US-Mexico border used to look. Now, reduced traffic because of COVID-19 is forcing drug smugglers to innovate. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Campaign Killed by Coronavirus. The marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Missourians for a New Approach is no more. While activists with the campaign had sought alternative avenues for signature gathering, they have now conceded that is impossible. The campaign needed more than 160,000 valid voter signatures and only has 80,000 raw signatures now.

Law Enforcement

DEA Says Meth, Heroin Prices Going Up. Dante Sorianello, the assistant special agent in charge of the DEA in the San Antonio district, says meth and heroin prices are going up even though there's been no let up in drug trafficking across the border. "We have seen an increase in the price of narcotics domestically. Now does that mean there’s a shortage of the narcotics here, that could be an indicator of that. Could it also be price gouging by some of the traffickers? It could be that, also using the virus as an excuse," said Sorianello.

Reduced Border Traffic Forcing Cartels to Innovate. Mexican drug cartels are sitting on large stockpiles of synthetic drugs, but international travel restrictions have greatly reduced traffic at border ports of entry, allowing Customs and Border Patrol officers more time to search vehicles for drugs, which in turn is leading to large seizures and forcing drug traffickers to innovate, mainly by returning to old smuggling tactics, such as sending drug mules across the desert or having them swim across the Rio Grande River, Customs and Border Patrol says.

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.

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