Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

The Taliban Announces a Ban on Opium. Really? [FEATURE]

On April 3, the Taliban announced a ban on drug cultivation in Afghanistan, for years the world's dominant opium producer, accounting for more than 80 percent of the global supply of the substance, from which heroin is derived, throughout this century. But the ban announcement raised as many questions as it answered and has been met with a degree of skepticism, not only around the motives of the Taliban but also because opium plays such a key role in an Afghan economy that is now in especially dire straits.

The opium poppy is an economic mainstay in Afghanistan. Can the Taliban really suppress it? (UNODC)
"As per the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country," said an order from the Taliban's supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. "If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law," the order said.

The order also banned the cultivation, manufacture, transportation, or use of other drugs. (Afghanistan is also one of the world's leading cannabis producers and is seeing rapidly increasing methamphetamine production.)

The Taliban presided over the only other opium ban in modern Afghan history back in 2000, but that effort faltered amidst a popular backlash against repressing a crop that provided incomes for hundreds of thousands of families, and eventually withered away before the Taliban were overthrown by the invading Americans late in 2001.

During two decades of foreign occupation, repressing the opium trade largely played second fiddle to the war on terror, and the Afghan opium economy prospered. By the end of 2021, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that the opium trade was worth between $1.8 and $2.7 billion, constituting as much as 11 percent of the country's Gross National Product (GNP). UNODC also noted that the departure of Western development assistance after the Taliban takeover in August, which accounted for 22 percent of GNP, will only make drug markets a larger share of the economy.

So, is the ban for real? And if the Taliban are serious, can they actually do it, given the crucial role the crop plays in the devasted national economy? The Chronicle consulted with a couple of experts on the topic, and opinions were divided.

Sher Jan Ahmadzai is director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He is skeptical.

"If you look at the Taliban's historical approach to opium, they only banned it when prices went down to increase demand," said Ahmadzai. "A second goal has been to respond to international pressure that opium should be banned. But looking strategically at opium, where their funding comes from, it doesn't seem to me that they will really pursue this."

"There are a couple of reasons for that," Ahmadzai continued. "One, they have been dependent on the income from opium. Although opium production is haram, they didn't ban it for religious reasons. Instead, they taxed it, and many of their leaders have been involved in drug trafficking and depend on this. To me, it seems very difficult to accept the ban as a fact.

"Second, most of rural Afghanistan, especially the southwest, has traditionally been dependent on opium production, and it will really hurt them economically, which will create political problems among the Taliban. Their support base is opium-growing farmers, and a ban will attract their anger," he argued.

Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institute. She thinks the ban is for real but will come with a high price.

"For several years, Taliban interlocutors were saying they were moving toward the ban," said Felbab-Brown. "It didn't work out for them in 2000, and later they were deeply engaged in poppy cultivation, but the leadership now is very conservative, very inward-looking, very doctrinaire, and is trying to restore 1990 policies. The more internationalist factions within the Taliban are much weaker and have not been successful in implementing policies.

"There is good reason to believe they will try to implement the ban, but that will have significant impacts on the implementers, including fighters, who have not gotten paid," she continued. "This will impact relations among the various factions and the ability of commanders to pay their fighters, which will be negatively affected by the ban.

"The question is how long will they maintain it, how long are they willing to squeeze the people and deal with compounding rifts within the Taliban. They don't want to alienate various factions, but in this case, we see a very conservative policy that will compound those rifts," she predicted.

Ahmadzai was not convinced that the ban reflected factional differences between conservatives and internationalists within the Taliban.

"I don't see any big differences in their policies," he said. "I haven't seen any breakups, so it's hard to say it's a power struggle between the factions. No one has spoken out against it; even those who were stationed in Doha have not spoken out against anything the conservatives have done. If there is a power struggle, it is not around differences over banning."

For Ahmadzai, the ban is little less than a publicity stunt, especially given harsh economic conditions and Afghanistan's desperate need to mollify the international community in order to get sanctions removed and assistance flowing again.

"The urban economy was already seeing its own share of destruction in the last eight months, and the rural economy is more or less based on opium," he said, "so more than anything this looks like another cosmetic step to let the international community know they are doing something. They want to make Iran or Russia happy. Russia is a huge market for Afghan drugs, and the Russians want them to come down hard on opium production."

Felbab-Brown disagreed.

"There is also a possible international dimension to this; the Taliban may be trying to curry favor with Iran or Russia, but that is not the principal reason," said Felbab-Brown.

Whatever the reason for the ban announcement, if it actually happens, it is going to make tough times in Afghanistan -- the UN last month reported that the country is facing a food insecurity and malnutrition crisis of "unparalleled proportions" -- even tougher.

"The Taliban are not promising help or advising people what to do; their attitude is just cope with it. But the country is already in a drastic humanitarian situation, and this will not just hurt farmers, there will be significant knock-on effects," said Felbab-Brown. "The economy has dried up since the Taliban took power, and heroin has been one of the sources of liquidity. As problematic as the bans and eradication were in 2000, eventually they were not enforced and eradication was not funded, and now the economy is so much worse. The economic impact of the Western withdrawal is already awful; this will make it just tragic."

Overdoses Hit Another All-Time High, DE Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance, More... (4/14/22)

Tennessee lawmakers approve a bill allowing retroactive cuts for people sentenced under the state's old school zone drug sentencing enhancement laws, the Pennsylvania Senate has approved a bill protecting banks and insurers who do business with marijuana businesses from being hassled by state regulators, and more. 

More than 106,000 people died of drug overdoses in a 12-month period, the CDC reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance. After an earlier attempt to pass marijuana legalization foundered, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D) tried again, presenting two bills: House Bill 371 would simply legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and needs only a majority vote to pass. House Bill 372 would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol and needs three-fifths to pass. House Bill 371 was approved by the House Health and Human Development Committee Wednesday, while House Bill 372 was approved by the House Revenue and Finance Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Senate Approves Marijuana Banking Bill. The Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1167, which would protect banks and insurers from being penalized by state financial regulators for working with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The bill flew through the Senate, passing through two committees in recent days before passing on a 46-3 vote. The bill now heads to the House. "Federal prohibition has forced the cannabis industry to deal with cash, as proceeds may be considered a federal crime," DiSanto said on the floor on Wednesday, adding that the cash-intensive nature of the existing marketplace "makes dispensaries a target for armed robbery."

Public Health

CDC Reports Yet Another Record Number of Drug Overdose Deaths. The nation's overdose crisis continues, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting Wednesday that according to new provisional data, 106,854 people died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in November 2021. Overdose deaths jumped 16 percent over the previous 12-month period and have more than doubled since 2016. Synthetic opioids, predominantly fentanyl, were implicated in about two-thirds of those deaths over the past year. But the number of deaths from stimulants has also nearly doubled in the past two years. Five states accounted for one-third of all overdose deaths: California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.

Sentencing Policy

Tennessee Lawmakers Approve Bill Allowing People Imprisoned for School Zone Drug Offenses to Seek Sentence Cuts. With final votes in the House and Senate this week, lawmakers have approved House Bill 1449, which would allow people sentenced to long prison terms under the state's draconian school zone sentencing enhancement laws to go to court to seek shorter sentences. Since the 1980s, anyone caught selling drugs withing 1,000 feet of a school, park, daycare, public library, or recreation center faced long years in prison. Last year, legislators approved a bill to shrink the zone to 500 feet and give judges the discretion not to add extra years if they don't think children were put in danger. But there were 300 people already stuck in prison under the old rules, and this bill makes updated sentencing criteria retroactive. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R), who has not said whether he would sign the legislation, but who ran on a platform of criminal justice reform and has already offered to fast-track clemency applications for those still doing time under the old law. 

Medical Marijuana Update

Mississippi regulators issue initial guidelines for the state's nascent medical marijuana system, Kentucky's governor is talking about executive actions if the legislature does not pass a bill this year, and more.

California

California Bill to Require Communities Allow Medical Marijuana Sales Wins Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 1186, which restores voter-created access to medical cannabis across the state by requiring cities to provide consumers access to purchase medicinal cannabis, passed the Senate Business and Professions Committee by a vote of 8-3 last Thursday. It now heads to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. Under current California law — which arguably allows cities to ban any and all cannabis sales — 62% of cities have banned all cannabis sales, including medical cannabis sales. As a result, residents of those cities, including people living with HIV, cancer, arthritis, insomnia, and other conditions, frequently have no option other than to buy on the illicit market. California’s thriving and growing illicit cannabis market both undermines the legal, regulated market and risks people obtaining contaminated cannabis. SB 1186 requires cities to allow some form of medical cannabis access. Cities can choose how to provide that access, either by authorizing medical cannabis delivery, storefront, or both. However, under SB 1186, cities will no longer be able to ban all medical cannabis access.

Kentucky

Kentucky Senate President Says Medical Marijuana Not Likely to Pass This Year. Senate President Robert Stivers (R) said last week that medical marijuana is not on his radar when the legislature convenes for its final two days next week.The medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, which passed the House last month,  is premature, he said, arguing instead for a medical marijuana study bill. "Every study I‘ve read said the sample sizes have been too small, the duration is too long, and therefore more study is needed, because the studies have shown it is adverse to the development of the brain for those under 25, higher likelihood of psychotic incidence if you have prolonged use, and if you smoke it, it has 50% more carcinogens than a cigarette."

Kentucky Governor Says He Will Consider Executive Action if Medical Marijuana Bill Does Not Pass. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said late last week that if the legislature fails to pass a medical marijuana bill this year, he is ready to explore possible executive actions he could take to get medical marijuana to ailing Kentuckians. "We’re going to explore that," he said in response to a question. "It’s something that we will look at. Its time has certainly come."

Mississippi

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Program Rules and Regulations Released. The state Health Department on Monday released preliminary rules and regulations for the state's nascent medical marijuana program. These beginning measures address qualifying conditions, obtaining registry and identification cards, and how to certify as a practitioner, among other things. The list of qualifying conditions includes cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, sickle cell anemia, Alzheimer’s, agitation of dementia, PTSD, autism, pain refractory to opioid management, diabetic/peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord disease, or severe injury; chronic medical treatment that causes cachexia or wasting, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or chronic pain. Patients may only get recommendations from doctors with whom they have an existing relationship and will pay $25 for a 1-year ID card. Those applications will be available on or before June 2.

North Carolina

North Carolina Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana, Not Quite a Majority for Legalization. A WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College poll has found that 68 percent of North Carolinians believe medical marijuana should be legal, but only 46 percent think recreational marijuana should be legal. The poll comes as the legislature is grappling with a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 711, would legalize medical marijuana to help ease pain and nausea associated with several illnesses and diseases. The bill saw some action last year, but has yet to move this year.

South Carolina

South Carolina House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill, Sending It to House Floor. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee passed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 150) Thursday after making minor changes. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. The bill would allow patients with one of 12 qualifying conditions to access a two-week supply of medical cannabis in the form of oils, vaporizers, salves, topicals and patches with a doctor's recommendation from their doctor. The committee amended the bill to add criminal background checks for medical marijuana distributors and security plans for their businesses.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A former NYPD cop goes down hard for big-time dope-slinging, an Ohio jail deputy gets caught holding the baggies, and more. Let's get to it:

In Cincinnati, a Hamilton County jail deputy was arrested last Friday after he got caught bringing 12 one-ounce packages of marijuana into the jail. Jason Robinson, 22, was ratted out by fellow jail deputies. Robinson had just graduated from the jail academy and was the president of his recruit class. He was charged with two felony counts of illegal conveyance.

In La Joya, Texas, a La Joya ISD police officer was arrested last Friday on weapons and drug charges. Officer Jose Luis Ramirez was charged with possession of a controlled substance, unlawfully carrying a weapon, and possession of a drug test falsification device. He was arrested by Texas DPS troopers. No further information is available.

In New York City, a former NYPD officer was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison for peddling large quantities of gamma-butyrolactone(GBL) and methamphetamine. John Cicero had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute GBL and 50 grams of methamphetamine last October. According to prosecutors Cicero and his co-conspirators stockpiled and sold liters of GBL and kilograms of methamphetamine in apartments, hotel rooms, and storage units in the heart of midtown Manhattan, and a residence in Bronxville, New York. Cicero played a prominent role in the conspiracy, as someone who had direct access to the Mexico-based source of supply and with whom he arranged the receipt of and payment for methamphetamine. He also created and used fake identity documents and stolen credit cards to pay for, among other things, the luxury Manhattan hotel rooms where drugs were trafficked and used.  

Lawmakers Press Drug Companies on Over-the-Counter Naloxone, Dem Voters Say Legal Pot a Priority, More... (4/13/22)

New polls of American and European voters show support for marijuana legalization, Massachusetts prisoners are suing over unreliable drug tests, and more. 

The opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Lawmakers want drug companies to seek over-the-counter status for it.
Marijuana Policy

Majority of Democrats Say Marijuana Legalization Should Be a Top Priority for Congress. A new poll from Morning Consult and Politico finds that more than half (52 percent) of Democratic voters say marijuana legalization should be a top or important priority for Congress. Only 29 percent of Republican voters felt the same. Overall, 41 percent of voters now see marijuana legalization as a top or important congressional priority. The poll comes with the House having already passed a marijuana legalization bill and with the Senate waiting on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Meanwhile, desperately needed interim measures, such as providing industry access to financial services, languish.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Prisoners Sue Over Prison System's "Unreliable" Drug Tests Despite Court Order. Attorneys representing state prisoners have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Correction charging that it continues to use an unreliable drug test to screen prisoners' mail, violating an earlier court order. The lawsuit alleges that prisoners have been punished for sneaking drugs through the mail based on dubious drug tests and that some of the mail improperly seized as containing drugs were sent by the prisoner's own attorneys, the courts, and the attorney general's office. A judge last December ordered the department to quit using the NARK II drug test device. The attorneys are asking a judge to hold the department in contempt of court. A hearing is set for next Tuesday. "The DOC's actions were not only interfering with the attorney-client relationships of the people whose mail was seized and photocopied, but were chilling the ability of all incarcerated people to communicate with counsel for fear of being subjected to this arbitrary and severe punishment," the complaint said.

Harm Reduction

Bipartisan Lawmakers Call on Drug Makers to Apply to FDA to Make Overdose Reversal Drugs Available Over-the-Counter. Some 30 members of the House and Senate have sent a letter to drug companies who manufacture the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone calling on them to apply to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter status for their products. The move comes amidst a raging opioid overdose epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans each year. "It has never been more important to adopt opioid overdose prevention and reversal strategies on a wide scale," the letter said. This includes "steps to increase access to affordable naloxone, which is a proven, effective tool to reduce medical emergencies, drug overdoses, and deaths." Signatories included Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

International

Poll Found Majority of Europeans Support Marijuana Legalization. A poll from  London-based Hanway Associates that surveyed eight different European countries found majority support for marijuana legalization, with 55 percent favoring it and only 25 percent opposing it. Italy led the way with support at 60 percent. Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, and the United Kingdom all polled between 55 and 59 percent, while Germany came in at 50 percent. Surprisingly, the Netherlands, which has allowed legal retail sales for more than 30 years, had the lowest level of support, at 47 percent. 

DOJ Issues Guidance on Legal Protections for People on MAT, NJ Recreational Pot Sales Coming Soon, More... (4/12/22)

An Oklahoma psychedelic research bill advances minus a decriminalization provision, Mississippi regulators roll out initial guidelines for the state's medical marijuana programs, and more.

The DOJ issues guidance on legal protections for people undergoing medication-assisted treatment. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Regulators Okay First Recreational Marijuana Sales. The state's Cannabis Regulatory Commission on Monday opened the way to recreational marijuana sales by approving seven medical marijuana dispensaries to sell to anyone 21 or over. The commission's executive director, Jeff Brown, said retail licenses could be issued within a month, once dispensaries pay fees and undergo compliance checks. The move comes more than a month after the state blew through a February 22 deadline for dispensaries to begin selling to adults. The commission had been concerned about maintaining adequate supplies for patients, but those concerns seem to have been assuaged. "All of the (dispensaries) here, we believe have proven and have shown that they have adequate supply for their medical patients, that they are willing to put in place the necessary mechanisms to protect that supply, and ensure that medical patients are not impacted,” Brown said.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Program Rules and Regulations Released. The state Health Department on Monday released preliminary rules and regulations for the state's nascent medical marijuana program. These beginning measures address qualifying conditions, obtaining registry and identification cards, and how to certify as a practitioner, among other things. The list of qualifying conditions includes cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, sickle cell anemia, Alzheimer’s, agitation of dementia, PTSD, autism, pain refractory to opioid management, diabetic/peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord disease, or severe injury; chronic medical treatment that causes cachexia or wasting, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or chronic pain. Patients may only get recommendations from doctors with whom they have an existing relationship and will pay $25 for a 1-year ID card. Those applications will be available on or before June 2.

Psychedelics

Oklahoma Senators Approve Psilocybin Research Bill but Remove Decriminalization Language Approved by House. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously Monday to approve a bill passed by the House that would allow eligible research and medical institutions to cultivate and administer psilocybin for research purposes, but only after amending it to remove a provision that decriminalized the possession of the drug. House Bill 3414 "came over [from] the House—it had some decriminalization elements in there," Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R) said on Monday, adding that lawmakers had "worked a lot with it, trying to make sure that we clean it up." They did that by erasing the decriminalization provision. “That no longer exists," he said. "This is just for a university study."

Drug Treatment

US Department of Justice Issues Guidance Concerning Legal Protections for Individuals Recovering from Opioid Use Disorder. The Justice Department published guidance last week explaining how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who are in treatment or recovery for opioid use disorder (OUD), including those who take prescription medications as part of that treatment. The guidance says those people are considered disabled under the ADA, that they may be prescribed medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, among others; and that employers may not discriminate against them if they are in treatment and using those drugs. The guidance also notes that while employers may conduct drug testing, they may not fire or refuse to hire people legally using those medications—unless the use renders the person unable to safely or effectively perform the job. DOJ said the guidance "is part of the department’s comprehensive response to the opioid crisis, which promotes prevention, enforcement and treatment" and lists several civil rights lawsuits it is pursuing over such discrimination.

ND Pot Legalization Initiative Campaign Begins, MD Veterans' Therapeutic Psychedelic Bill Advances, More... (4/11/22)

Kentucky's governor is considering exectuive action on medical marijuana as the Senate leadership says it is not interested in passing a bill this year, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus has a new Republican member, and more.

The newest member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Brian Mast. (R-FL) (House.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Cannabis Caucus Names New GOP Co-Chair. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus leadership announced last Friday that they have named Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) as the caucus's fourth co-chair. He replaces Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who died in office last month. Mast is one of only three House Republicans who voted in favor of the MORE Act, which passed last week. In a statement, Mast said that the "Constitution never says ‘cannabis,’ but it does say that unenumerated powers lie with the states. "Federal cannabis policy should be based on that Constitutional principle," he said.

North Dakota Activists Begin Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign. New Approach North Dakota filed a marijuana legalization initiative with Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) on Monday. The proposal would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to three plants by people 21 and over. It would also set up a taxed and regulated marijuana industry in the state. If and when Jaeger approves the measure for signature gathering, petitioners will need 15,582 valid voter signatures by July 11 to qualify for the November ballot. (They actually have a one-year signature gathering window, but if they don't get the requisite signatures by July 11, the measure would go on the 2024 ballot.) Voters turned down a 2018 marijuana legalization initiative and a 2020 effort to get on the ballot was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Medical Marijuana.

Kentucky Senate President Says Medical Marijuana Not Likely to Pass This Year. Senate President Robert Stivers (R) said last week that medical marijuana is not on his radar when the legislature convenes for its final two days next week.The medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, which passed the House last month,  is premature, he said, arguing instead for a medical marijuana study bill. "Every study I‘ve read said the sample sizes have been too small, the duration is too long, and therefore more study is needed, because the studies have shown it is adverse to the development of the brain for those under 25, higher likelihood of psychotic incidence if you have prolonged use, and if you smoke it, it has 50% more carcinogens than a cigarette."

Kentucky Governor Says He Will Consider Executive Action if Medical Marijuana Bill Does Not Pass. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said late last week that if the legislature fails to pass a medical marijuana bill this year, he is ready to explore possible executive actions he could take to get medical marijuana to ailing Kentuckians. "We’re going to explore that," he said in response to a question. "It’s something that we will look at. Its time has certainly come."

Psychedelics

Maryland House Gives Initial Approval to Bill to Create Fund for Psychedelic Access for Veterans. The House of Delegates last Friday gave initial approval to Senate Bill 709, which has already passed the Senate. The bill would create a state fund to provide "cost-free" access to psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine for veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. The bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee last Thursday, and if delegates do not amend it, it faces only one more vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R). 

MA Senate Passes Marijuana Equity Bill, Taliban Poppy Ban Sends Opium Prices Soaring, More... (4/8/22)

A South Carolina medical marijuana bill advances, the Senate is poised to vote soon on a bill to finally eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

Singapore is the object of international condemnation over its resumption of the death penalty for drug offenses. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Senate Passes Marijuana Equity Bill. The Senate on Thursday approved a bill aimed at helping minority entrepreneurs and people adversely impacted by previous drug law enforcement gain a foothold in the legal marijuana industry. Senate Bill 2801 has numerous provisions, including creating a new Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, redirecting tax revenue equivalent to 1 percent of a social equity business’s sales from the state to the city or town where the business is located; directing the Cannabis Control Commission to make rules for localities to "to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry" by individuals from communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. The bill now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to Require Communities Allow Medical Marijuana Sales Wins Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 1186, which restores voter-created access to medical cannabis across the state by requiring cities to provide consumers access to purchase medicinal cannabis, passed the Senate Business and Professions Committee by a vote of 8-3 on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. Under current California law — which arguably allows cities to ban any and all cannabis sales — 62% of cities have banned all cannabis sales, including medical cannabis sales. As a result, residents of those cities, including people living with HIV, cancer, arthritis, insomnia, and other conditions, frequently have no option other than to buy on the illicit market. California’s thriving and growing illicit cannabis market both undermines the legal, regulated market and risks people obtaining contaminated cannabis. SB 1186 requires cities to allow some form of medical cannabis access. Cities can choose how to provide that access, either by authorizing medical cannabis delivery, storefront, or both. However, under SB 1186, cities will no longer be able to ban all medical cannabis access.

South Carolina House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill, Sending It to House Floor. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee passed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 150) Thursday after making minor changes. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. The bill would allow patients with one of 12 qualifying conditions to access a two-week supply of medical cannabis in the form of oils, vaporizers, salves, topicals and patches with a doctor's recommendation from their doctor. The committee amended the bill to add criminal background checks for medical marijuana distributors and security plans for their businesses.

Sentencing Policy

Congress on Verge on Passing Bill to End Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. This week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) became the 11th Republican to sign onto the EQUAL Act (S. 59), which would eliminate the sentencing disparity in crack and powder cocaine offenses. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also met Tuesday with advocates and formerly incarcerated leaders, where he described the legislation as "a priority." He also said he plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor, though he did not say when. The bill would apply retroactively and would allow thousands of crack offenders—mainly Black men—to have their sentences reduced and get out of prison. The 100:1 disparity was created by the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, but reduced to an 18:1 disparity by the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, and that reform was made retroactive by the 2018 First Step Act.

International

Taliban Poppy Ban Sends Opium Prices Soaring. As this year's opium harvest gets underway, the price of opium has hit an all-time high after the Taliban banned poppy cultivation across the country. Farmers in Kandahar reported harvesting their crops without interference and were happy with high prices, but said they might stop growing opium because of the decree. The price of a kilogram of raw opium jumped to a record high of around $330, but has now declined slightly to about $300.

Singapore Drug Executions Spark International Condemnation, Rare Public Protest. Singapore resumed executions of drug offenders on March 30, with others in line to be hung shortly, and that is sparking both condemnation abroad and rare public protests at home. The UN Human Rights office expressed concern about what it feared would be "a surge in execution notices," Amnesty International charged that "the use of the death penalty in Singapore violates international human rights law and standards,"  and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, now the chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, wrote that Singapore’s 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for 20 different drug offenses, "has not fulfilled its intention of preventing and combatting illicit drug trafficking and drug use." She added that the country’s "use of the death penalty for drug-related offences does not meet the [international law] threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ … and thus clearly violates international human rights law." And on Sunday, hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate against the resumption of the death penalty in a rare public protest.

In Wake of Pot Shop Shootings, Washington State is Fed Up with Congressional Inaction on Marijuana Banking [FEATURE]

A wave of armed robberies at Washington state retail marijuana outlets has now resulted in three deaths in the month of March, and in rising frustration that Congress has not acted to protect those shops by allowing the state-legal marijuana industry access to banking services, which prevents them from accepting payment for purchases electronically.

Ire over the issue reached the boiling point with the March 19 death of Jordan Brown, 29, a worker at World of Weed in Tacoma who was shot and killed in a robbery at the store. That came three days after a March 16 robbery at the Factoria shop in Bellevue where the robber was shot and killed by police in a shoot-out, and two days after another armed robbery at the Euphorium Marijuana Shop in the Seattle suburb of Covington, where a security guard shot and killed the robber. And while the details needed to assess the role of cash in the World of Weed shooting haven't been reported by the time of this writing, in other incidents workers have cited robbers' demands for access to secured cash.

"We pride ourselves on a great safety record and operating procedures, we've always gone above and beyond, so this was a total shock to us," said World of Weed owner Alden Linn at a Tuesday roundtable organized by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to discuss the crisis. "We have two security officers, but we were overrun by four individuals, one of whom murdered Jordan Brown. He was a stellar employee, and this was a total shock for us. We had a false sense of security relying on our protocols. It's really been a blow to the community and the employees."

"There is a massive public safety crisis roaring through the state that has left tragic deaths in its wake, said LCB Chair David Postman. "Business owners and employees are fearful they may be next when they're forced to do business in cash. We have had 70 robberies in 83 days this year. We're approaching one a day."

While the LCB and the industry are working on steps they can take at the store, local, and state level, roundtable participants were unified in calling on Congress to pass legislation that would allow pot businesses to escape the cash-only bullseye painted on their front doors, namely the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1996).

The House has passed such legislation six times only to see it bottled up in the Senate, most recently blocked by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who wants to prioritize his own, yet to be actually filed, comprehensive marijuana legalization bill instead. Schumer has found allies in the drug reform movement, most notably the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which argues that passing banking reform before passing legalization would come "at the expense of equity and justice for Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities that have borne the brunt of prohibition" and would "prioritize marijuana profits over people."

That argument was not getting much support in Washington state this week.

"I've been trying to build momentum around comprehensive reform, but there's a narrative that incremental reform and comprehensive reform are mutually exclusive, and that's frustrating, Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told the roundtable. "From a strategic standpoint, you want to have Congress focus on incremental issues like the SAFE Banking Act and tax relief, then spend the next few years dealing with the intricacies of comprehensive reform and cannabis legalization."

"Anyone who deals with this knows reform is incremental, but DPA, Cory Booker, and Schumer feel like SAFE is only about fat cats getting rich, and that comprehensive reform is the only path," Correia continued. "The SAFE Banking Act has overwhelming support -- it's got 100 GOP cosponsors in the House and 42 cosponsors including nine Republicans in the Senate. The problem is not cannabis prohibition but our cannabis friends. This is not about fat cats; this about helping small businesses, minority businesses."

"We have to demand that Congress act on the SAFE Banking Act and work here as if we assume they're not going to do that," said LCB Chair Postman. "The governor today has asked staff to work on what we can do in the absence of SAFE."

"Cannabis retailers are unable to bank and have to rely on cash, and we all recognize that this is a major contributing factor in the violence we are seeing," said state Treasurer Mike Pelliccioti, who added that he had met with fellow state treasurers to lobby them to get behind the issue. "Three out of four states have some form of legalized cannabis, but even treasurers in states that don't are engaged. It is our role to go to Congress and say enough dithering on this issue. Time and again the House has passed this, and it's time for the Senate to act."

Pellicciotti said he was aware of Senate Majority Leader Schumer's position, "but we are at the point where Congress needs to pass this."

He held out hope that the SAFE Banking Act could still pass this year, perhaps after Schumer introduces his broader legalization bill. "The most appropriate path for this to move forward is to tack it onto the America Competes Act, and then, after Schumer introduces his bill, we can move forward with the America Competes Act and make sure SAFE is included in the Senate," he said. "But it's pedal to the metal right now; there's a very narrow window."

State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent) was less sanguine about the SAFE Banking Act advancing this year and more focused on the local public safety aspects of the issue.

"I have to be skeptical that Congress will pass it this year," she said. "But we have to take action, we cannot dither, we cannot wait for Congress or collaboration in the industry because people are being killed."

Keiser is asking the LCB to take immediate administrative actions on an emergency basis to help ameliorate the problem. One tool she suggested was requiring two-door entry, where potential customers have to go through a first door and have identification verified before a second door unlocks and grants them entry into the store. Another was standardized safety training for workers.

Keiser has also authored at least two bills aimed at the issue, one two years ago that would have required law enforcement to report all robberies to the LCB, and one this year that would have added a year to prison sentences for pot shop robbers. Neither passed.

"The sheriffs and police didn't want to deal with the reporting bill, and the stores didn't want to hear about it because it implied it wasn't a safe industry and it was dangerous. Now, we know it's dangerous," she said.

Not everyone wants to lengthen prison terms. A representative of the Oregon Attorney General's office noted that armed robbers can already potentially face life prison terms, and noted that WA Gov. didn't support the bill. [Ed: We are not for lengthening sentences either.]

Nevertheless, what seems increasingly cleasr is that banking for marijuana businesses is not solely about profits. And regulators, elected officials and others at both the state and federal levels now are all pushing for the SAFE Banking Act.

LA House Passes No Pot Smoking in Vehicle Bill, Fight Over Drug Decriminalization Thresholds in BC, More... (4/7/22)

With a medical marijuana bill pending, a North Carolina poll show it has strong support; a Colorado bill to create a psychedelic review panel is dropped by its sponsor who says let voters decide at the polls in November, and more.

You might not want to do this in Louisiana if a bill that is moving through the legislature passes. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana House Passes Bill to Make Smoking Marijuana in a Vehicle a Stoppable Offense. The House on Thursday approved a measure, House Bill 234, that would make smoking marijuana in a vehicle a primary offense, meaning that police could use that to pull over anyone suspected of a violation. Bill sponsor Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R-Metaire) said the bill was a highway safety measure, but opponents said they feared it would lead to unwarranted traffic stops and that police could mistake a cigarette or vaping device for marijuana and pull over vehicles. But the bill passed by a greater than two-to-one margin in the House and now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana, Not Quite a Majority for Legalization. A WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College poll has found that 68 percent of North Carolinians believe medical marijuana should be legal, but only 46 percent think recreational marijuana should be legal. The poll comes as the legislature is grappling with a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 711, would legalize medical marijuana to help ease pain and nausea associated with several illnesses and diseases. The bill saw some action last year, but has yet to move this year.

Psychedelics

Colorado Bill to Legalize MDMA Prescriptions with Federal Approval Advances, But Psychedelic Review Panel Killed. The House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee voted Tuesday to advance House Bill 1344, which would adjust state statutes so that legal MDMA prescriptions could occur if and when the federal government allows such use. But the same committee voted down a bill that would have created a psychedelic review committee to make recommendations on possible policy changes, House Bill 1116, after its sponsor asked for it to "kill my bill" given that voters will have a chance of weighing in on psychedelic reform initiatives likely to appear on the November ballot.

International

Health Canada Proposes Lower Thresholds for British Columbia Drug Decriminalization; Activists Cry Foul. The province has applied with Health Canada for an exemption to the country's drug laws in order to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, and BC Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said Wednesday that the federal agency is considering a lower threshold for the amount of drugs a person can carry than what the province or activists say it proper. The province requested a cumulative threshold of 4.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but Malcolmson said Health Canada is considering a threshold of 2.5 grams. "Everybody who is an advocate was horrified by this," said Leslie McBain, cofounder of Moms Stop the Harm. "If the thresholds are too low, it exposes them to more increased police surveillance, it exposes them to having to buy smaller quantities and so accessing the illegal market more often," said Donald MacPherson, director of advocacy group the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Health Canada says no final decision has been reached. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana Update

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

National

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

Alabama

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

Georgia

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

Kentucky

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

South Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana activist groups hailed the vote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Drug Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opiates and Opioids

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

Psychedelics

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

Drug Courts

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Psychedelics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana Update

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

Georgia

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

Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Treatment

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

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