Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

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

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

Drug Courts

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Psychedelics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana Update

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

Georgia

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

Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Psychedelics

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana Update

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

Kentucky

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

South Dakota

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methamphetamine

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

Psychedelics

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Treatment

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

Harm Reduction

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

Congress Blocks DC Pot Sales, OK House Approves Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill, More... (3/10/22)

A Missouri marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing, a Maryland drug decriminalization gets one, too, and more.

Republican opposition in the narrowly-divided Senate killed DC's bid to finally be able to have legal marijuana sales. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A bill that would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over got a hearing Tuesday, with some legalization supporters urging legislators to pass the bill in order to head off a legalization initiative campaign that would give current medical marijuana businesses the first crack at recreational sales and keep intact the state's ability to limit licenses. The bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Hicks (R-Defiance), the Cannabis Freedom Act (House Bill 2704) was heard in the House Public Safety Committee, but no vote was taken. The bill would allow for the home cultivation of up to 12 flowering plants, would not limit licenses, and would allow retail sales to be taxed at up to 12 percent.

New York's First Marijuana Sales Permits Will Go to People Previous Marijuana Convictions. In an effort to redress the inequities of the enforcement of marijuana prohibition, state officials said Wednesday that the first licenses to sell recreational pot in the state will go to people who have marijuana-related convictions or people with a parent, legal guardian, child or spouse convicted of a marijuana-related offense. "Social equity" applicants will get first crack at the first 100 or 200 pot shop licenses. It is unclear just how many retail licenses will be issued.

Congress Keep Rider Barring DC from Allowing Legal Marijuana Sales. Much to the dismay of DC leaders, the omnibus spending package unveiled Wednesday retains the congressional rider barring the District from allowing the commercial sale of marijuana, which is already legal there. Senate Democrats had removed the rider last year, but this year, congressional Republicans refused to vote for a budget that eliminated "legacy riders" like the one from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) blocking DC pot sales.

.Medical Marijuana

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

Psychedelics.

Oklahoma House Passes Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill. The House voted 62-30 to decriminalize the possession of psilocybin and authorize research on the psychedelic for a variety of medical conditions by approving House Bill 3414. The bill would make possession of psilocybin punishable by no more than a $400 fine. It also authorizes research on psilocybin and psilocin at institutions in the state to treat 10 different conditions, including PTSD, depression, and addiction. The bill now moves to the Senate, which, like the House, has a Republican supermajority.

Drug Policy

Maryland Drug Decriminalization Bills Get Committee Hearings. A pair of drug decriminalization bills, House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 784, got hearings Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee. The bills would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, two grams of meth or cocaine, 1.5 grams of crack, one gram of heroin or ecstasy (or five tabs), and 40 tablets of oxycodone. Possession would be punishable by a $100 fine for first and second offenses. People caught possessing drugs other than marijuana would be required to enroll in a drug education program and undergo a mental health and drug abuse assessment. Similar legislation died in the committee last year, but House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair David Moon (D-Montgomery) is supporting it this year. No vote was taken. 

What Happens When Cops Plant a GPS Tracker on Your Car Without You Knowing? [FEATURE]

This piece was written for Drug War Chronicle by criminal justice reporter Clarence Walker, [email protected].

What happens if an unsuspecting citizen finds a police-installed GPS tracking device attached beneath his vehicle? As documented in the case of Indiana v. Derek Heuring, things can turn pretty strange.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/clarence-gps.jpg
At first glance, the "tiny box" resembled a bomb -- so the vehicle owner snatched the GPS tracker and tossed it. But should the law then allow the arrest of a person for theft of the GPS? The police thought so, because this bizarre sequence of events happened to suspected drug seller Derek Heuring, a Boonville, Indiana resident.

After they executed a search warrant, the Warrick County Sheriff Department narcotics officers in Heuring's hometown charged him with theft of a GPS tracker, which they had secretly put on his SUV. Heuring never knew who owned the tracker or why the device had been under his vehicle.

A search warrant must clearly show the officers had sufficient probable cause to believe Mr. Heuring had committed a crime to make a theft of the GPS stick. How can people be lawfully charged with theft of property found on one's vehicle, when they didn't know it was there in the first place?

Evansville Indiana criminal attorney Michael C. Keating insisted from the beginning that Heuring did not know what the device was or who it belonged to -- and Keating said his client "had no obligation to leave the GPS tracker on his vehicle."

Desperate to find the GPS, officers executing the search warrant on separate properties owned by the Heuring's family scored a bonus when they recovered meth, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun.

The Indiana Supreme Court Justices threw out the GPS theft charge including the methamphetamine possession charges on February 20, 2020.

"I'm not looking to make things easier for drug dealers," Justice Mark Massa said during arguments on the case. "But something is left on your car even if you know it's the police tracking you, do you have an obligation to leave it there and let them track you -- and if you take it off you're subject to a search of your home?" Massa asked rhetorically.

Deputy Attorney General Jesse Drum answered Massa's question with a resounding "yes".

"The officers did everything they could to rule out every innocent explanation," Drum told the justices, hoping to have the warrants upheld and win the state's case.

This legal groundbreaking story is important for law enforcement authorities, judges, prosecutors, and the public because the charges against Derek Heuring highlight the wide-ranging tactics police often use to justify illegal searches in drug cases, as well as raising broader questions about privacy and government surveillance.

In addition, Heuring's case raises the question of whether the police, even with a warrant, should have the leeway to both place a tracking device on a person's vehicle and forbid the individual to remove it from their vehicle if the person knows the police put it there to watch their every move. For example, if a person discovered a hidden camera in his bedroom should the law require him to leave it there without removing it -- knowing the police are trying to build evidence against them?

Antoine Jones (photo by Clarence Walker)
US vs. Antoine Jones became the first landmark case to be decided by the US Supreme Court involving law enforcement's illegal use of a GPS tracking system. Jones had been sentenced to life in prison without parole on drug conspiracy charges and his conviction was reversed on January 23, 2012. FBI and DEA agents planted a warrantless GPS on Jones' vehicle to monitor his movements thinking he was a Mexican cartel associate responsible for distributing mass amounts of cocaine in the Washington DC area. Jones' case is the standard-bearer that forces law enforcement in America today to first obtain a warrant to track someone with a GPS. Antoine Jones singlehandedly fought the almighty Feds tooth, nail, and claw, and finally won his freedom.

In Heuring's situation, the circumstances show how the narcs used a dubious search warrant to recover a GPS tracker claiming that Heuring had stolen it. The police charged him with the GPS theft without evidence that a theft occurred. They were hoping a bogus theft case would suffice against Heuring whom they suspected of dealing illegal drugs.

In a final ruling against state prosecutors that effectively dismissed the cases altogether, another justice opined, "I'm struggling with how that is theft," said Justice Steven David.

"We hold that those search warrants were invalid because the affidavits did not establish probable cause that the GPS device was stolen. We further conclude the affidavits were so lacking in probable cause that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply," Justice Loretta Rush wrote.

Thus, under the exclusionary rule, "the evidence seized from Heuring's home and his father's barn must be suppressed."

"We reverse and remand,'' the Indiana Supreme Court Justices wrote.

How It Went Down

Indiana resident Derek Heuring (Facebook)
During summer 2018, Warrick County Sheriff Department narcotic officers Matt Young and Jarrett Busing received information from an informant that Heuring was slinging dope for a living. Officer Young obtained a warrant on July 28 to place the department's GPS tracking devices onto Heuring's Ford Expedition SUV to track his movements for 30 days. This GPS tracker was a black box, about 4 inches by 6 inches with no identification to identify where it came from.

The warrant authorized 30 days of tracking, but the device failed to transmit Heuring's location after the sixth day. Then on the seventh day, the narcs received a final update from the tracker showing Heuring's SUV at his residence. The officers were increasingly puzzled over why they weren't detecting location information three days later. Finally, however, a technician assured the officers that the battery was fully charged but that the "satellite was not reading."

Alarmed over the ensuing problem, Officer Busing decided to check out the happenings with the GPS. Busing drove over to Heuring's father's barn where the SUV was parked. He thought the location of the barn thwarted the satellite signal. Subsequently, the officers saw the vehicle parked away from the barn, and then parked outside of the family's home. Officer Young again contacted a technician "to see if the GPS would track now." The tech informed him, "that the device was not registering and needed a hard reset."

Officers went to retrieve the GPS from the SUV, but it was gone!

The officers discussed how a GPS had previously disengaged from a vehicle by accident, yet still, the device was located because the GPS continued to transmit satellite readings. Convinced the GPS had been stolen and stashed in either Heuring's home or his father's barn, Officer Busing filed affidavits for warrants to search both locations for evidence of theft of the GPS.

With guns drawn, deputies stormed Heuring's home and the barn. Deputies recovered meth, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun. Next, Officer Busing obtained warrants to search the house and barn for narcotics. The officers located the GPS tracker during the second search, including more contraband. Finally, deputies arrested the young man.

Although a jury trial hadn't taken place, Heuring's defense attorney Michael Keating filed a series of motions in 2018 to suppress the seized evidence. Keating challenged the validity of the search warrants under both the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Keating's motion argued the initial search warrants were issued without probable cause that evidence of a crime -- the theft of the GPS device -- would be found in either his home or his father's barn. Prosecutors argued the opposite, and the trial court judge ruled against Heuring, thus setting the stage for defense attorneys to appeal the trial court adverse ruling with the first-level state appellate court, arguing the same facts about the faulty search warrants. After hearing both sides, the appellate judges upheld the trial court's refusal to suppress the evidence against Heuring.

Despite the trial court and the lower-level court upholding the questionable warrants the Indiana Supreme Court Justices heard oral arguments from the defense attorney and the attorney general on November 7, 2019. The central point of the legal arguments boiled down to the search warrants. Supreme Court justices pinpointed the fallacies of the officer's search warrants by in their opinion.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/justice-loretta-rush.jpg
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush
"All of the evidence must be suppressed because the initial warrant was invalid," Justice Rush wrote. "Affidavits filed by the officers in support of the search warrant failed to establish probable cause in two respects; first the warrants lacked information that the person who removed the GPS was aware to get consent from the Sheriff's Department, and second, the affidavits lacked information that there was an intent to deprive the Sheriff's Department of the value or use of the GPS."

The justices concurred, "The affidavits support nothing more than speculation -- a hunch that someone removed the device intending to deprive the Sheriff's Department of its value or use."

"We find it reckless for an officer to search a suspect's home and his father's barn based on nothing more than a hunch that a crime had been committed. We are confident that applying the exclusionary rule here will deter similar reckless conduct in the future", Justice Rush concluded.

Derek Heuring is a free man today. Thanks to common sense judges.

And Another GPS Tracking Case: Louisiana Woman Cold-Busted State Police Planting GPS on Her Vehicle; She Removes It; Police Want it Back

Just last year in March, an alert citizen identified as Tiara Beverly was at home in her gated apartment complex in Baton Rouge, Louisiana preparing to run errands when she noticed something peculiar. She spotted a group of suspicious white men standing near her car. Beverly's adrenaline shot sky-high when she saw one of the cool-acting fellows bend over and placed something under her car.

"I instantly panicked," Beverly told local television station WBRZ. "I didn't "know if it was a bomb, but I found out it was a tracker.

Unsatisfied with Beverly's denial that she didn't have a location on the person they were looking for, the police planted a GPS under her car. Two weeks prior, Louisiana State Troopers visited Beverly's home and harshly questioned her about a personal friend she knew. Again, Beverly vehemently denied knowing the person's whereabouts. Finally, two days later, the officers put the GPS on Beverly's vehicle, Details are sketchy of how the police gathered evidence to arrest Beverly on narcotic-related charges in February 2021. A judge released Beverly on a $22,000 bond.

When Beverly finally determined the GPS was placed on her vehicle by police, she rushed to the local NAACP in Baton Rouge and told her story to NAACP president Eugene Collins. Collins told the reporter he contacted the police on Beverly's behalf and the police immediately demanded Collins and Beverly to return the GPS tracker -- and they threatened her.

"They asked me to return the box, or it could make the situation more difficult for me," Collins recalled.

Civilians are prohibited from possessing or using GPS devices, but they are legal for law enforcement, parole, and probation officers or correctional officials to use, according to Louisiana Revised Statute 14: 222.3.

Police told reporters they had a warrant for the tracking device placed on Beverly's vehicle. However, when the WBRZ reporter asked to see the warrant, the State Trooper's Office declined to produce it, issuing the following statement: "Upon speaking with our detectives, this is part of an ongoing investigation involving Ms. Beverly and a suspect with federal warrants."

The Public Information Officer added, "Further information regarding charges and investigative documents will be available."

"The fact that a young woman can see you doing something like this means you're not very good at it," Collins told WBRZ.

Police in Beverly Tiara's case had a good shot to track her whereabouts, yet they blew it big time. Tiara's case isn't over yet, so we'll be reporting on future developments.

In Derek Heuring's criminal charges, Chief Justice Loretta Rush summed it up best when she said, "There is nothing new in the realization that the Constitution sometimes insulates the criminality of a few to protect the privacy of us all."

Poll Shows Strong Support for Legal Marijuana Banking Access, Police Paying Billions to Settle Misconduct Claims, More... (3/9/22)

The Washington Post has a major piece on police misconduct payouts, an expungement bill advances in California, and more.

A medicinal psilocybin task force bill advances in Hawaii. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Two Thirds of Americans Want Congress to Allow Licensed Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Services. A new poll from Morning Consult conducted on behalf of the American Bankers Association shows strong support for ending federal restrictions that block state-legal marijuana enterprises from accessing financial services. The poll found that 65 percent of respondents "support allowing cannabis businesses to access banking services (e.g., checking accounts, business loans) in states where cannabis is legal." An even higher number -- 68 percent -- said that Congress should pass legislation so those businesses can "access banking services and products in states" where it is legal. Backers of legislation that would do that, the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996), have, though, so far been thwarted by Senate leadership, which is more interested in trying to pass a full-on legalization bill.

California Marijuana Expungement Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would automatically expunge past convictions for marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal if such expungements have not been challenged by prosecutors by January 1, 2023, Assembly Bill 1706, passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee Monday. It now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee before heading for a potential Assembly floor vote.

Psychedelics

Hawaii Senate Approves Psilocybin Task Force Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 3160, which would create a working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a long-term plan to ease access to psychedelics for medicinal use for people 21 and over. The bill passed on a unanimous 25-0 vote. It now goes to the House. "Because the State has a shortage of mental health professionals, the State should actively consider novel, innovative, and safe solutions to treat its residents," the bill says.

Law Enforcement

Cops Paid Out More Than $ Billion in Last Decade to Settle Misconduct Claims, Many for Repeat Offenders. In a major investigative piece, the Washington Post reports that law enforcement agencies across the country have paid out more than $3.2 billion to settle misconduct claims -- with thousands of police officers repeatedly accused of wrongdoing. The Post found more than 7,600 officers whose misconduct resulted in more than one claim, with the cost of those claims from repeat offenders reaching $1.5 billion. More than 1,200 officers were the subjects of at least five settlements and more than 200 had 10 or more. The Post suggested that the pattern of repeat settlements showed a lack of police accountability that costs taxpayers.

RI Drug Decrim Bill Filed, Myanmar Drug Trade Ramping Up Amidst Civil War, More... (3/8/22)

Oklahoma Republicans move to take on what they see as an out of control medical marijuana system, Afghan farmers are planting more opium poppies this year, and more.

Opium production is surging in Afghanistan's poppy heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma GOP Lawmakers Move to Rein in "Wild West" Medical Marijuana System. The House's Republican Caucus on Monday rolled out a package of bills aimed at reining in the state's free-wheeling medical marijuana program. The move comes after state agents seized more than 150,000 marijuana plants in a bust last month. "We have seen black market elements competing with legitimate Oklahoma businesses. They are putting our citizens at risk. They're doing things in an illegal, unethical manner," said Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City). The package of 12 bills includes full implementation of a seed to sale system, grants to county sheriffs to fund law enforcement, making the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority a stand-alone agency, provisional licensing with pre-licensing inspections, separate licensing for wholesalers, tough electrical and water data reporting by growers, annual inspection, and more. "If you're an illegal operator of the state of Oklahoma, your time is up," warned Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-District 16).

Drug Policy

Rhode Island Drug Decriminalization, Therapeutic Psilocybin Bills Filed. Lawmakers filed a pair of drug reform bills last week, one of which, House Bill 7896, would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of all drugs except fentanyl, while the second bill, House Bill 7715, would allow doctors to prescribe psilocybin and would decriminalize psilocybin and buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is an opioid often used as a harm reduction tool to help people transition away from more addictive compounds. The broader decriminalization bill, would make possession of up to an ounce of any drug other than fentanyl a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first offense and up to $300 for subsequent offenses.

Psychedelics

Missouri GOP Lawmaker Files Therapeutic Psychedelics Bill. State Rep. Tony Lovasco (R) on Tuesday filed House Bill 2850, which would legalize a range of natural psychedelics for therapeutic use and decriminalize small-time possession. Under the bill, patients with specified conditions such as treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, and terminal illnesses access to substances such as psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and ibogaine at designated care facilities or the patients' or caregiver's residence. Patients would be allowed to possess and use up to four grams of the substances. The bill decriminalizes the possession of less than four grams outside the medical model but makes possession of more than four grams a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

International

Afghan Opium Production Surges in Kandahar and Helmand. Opium and other drugs are being sold in open markets, and farmers in the country's opium heartland of southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces are sowing more poppies this year amidst the country's economic collapse after the Taliban's seizure of power last summer and the subsequent withdrawal of all Western assistance to the country. "There is nothing else to cultivate. We were growing wheat before. This year -- we want to cultivate poppy. Previously they were asking for bribes every day but we don't have that problem this year," one farmer said. "If we don't cultivate poppy, we don't get a good return, the wheat doesn't provide a good income," farmer Mohammed Kareem said. "There are no restrictions this year. If the Taliban wanted to ban it, they must let us grow it this year at least," added farmer Peer Mohammad.

Myanmar Militias, Rebel Armies Ramp Up Drug Dealing Amidst Civil War. Armed groups on both sides of Myanmar's civil war are ramping up drug production amidst the turmoil, with much of the methamphetamine and heroin supply going to Asian countries through the porous Laotian border, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) official said this week. The $60 billion trade based largely in Shan state is now going into overdrive, he said. "Seizures in Laos and Thailand are off the charts and it is not because of suddenly improved law enforcement -- some other countries' seizures are up too, but in Thailand and Laos the connection to trafficking patterns and locations in Shan is very clear," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

SD Not Legalizing, Israel Decriminalizing, TN Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Advances, More... (3/7/22)

Bills to produce marijuana-consuming workers advance in Illinois and DC, an Idaho bill to require drug tests for substitute school teachers is killed, and more.

Legislation legalizing fentanyl test strips as an overdose prevention measure is moving in several states.
Marijuana Policy

Illinois House Approves Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users. The House last Thursday approved a bill that would bar most employers from firing workers or refusing new hires merely for testing positive for marijuana use. House Bill 4116 now moves to the Senate. "If we're going to legalize the substance, you should talk about individual liberties and what people want to do on their weekends," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Morgan (D) said. "We should allow people to make good choices and not be discriminated against in the workplace because of those choices as long as it's not affecting the workplace."

South Dakota House Kills Marijuana Legalization Bill (Again). The House on Thursday killed a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, that had been revived via a procedure called a smokeout earlier in the week. The bill had already passed the Senate, only to be killed by the House State Affairs Committee last Monday. But 24 members rose last Tuesday to revive the bill, only to see the House kill it once and for all. That clears the way for a marijuana legalization initiative campaign that is already in the signature gathering process.

Washington, DC, Council Committee Approves Bill to Ban Most Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing. The DC Council's Labor and Workplace Development Committee voted unanimously last Thursday to approve a bill to ban most workplaces from subjecting job applicants to pre-employment marijuana testing. This is an important step towards eliminating historic inequities of cannabis use and ensuring that those who use cannabis medically or recreationally are not penalized in their workspaces [for what they do] on their private time," said bill sponsor Councilmember Trayon White (D). The bill now heads before the full Council.

Drug Testing

Idaho Bill to Drug Test Substitute Teachers Killed. A bill that would have required that substitute teachers be drug tested, House Bill 651, died in a House floor vote last Thursday. Bill sponsor Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) was worried that substitute teachers would either use drugs or sell them to children. "Substitutes come and go. Most districts have no qualifications other than, you're 18, you want to sub, let's go for it. This provides a horrid opportunity for people who want to either solicit drugs to our children or are on drugs themselves." The bill advanced to the House floor despite the opposition of school districts and educators only to be shot down on a 38-31 vote.

Harm Reduction

Tennessee Senate Approves Fentanyl Test Strip Bill. The state Senate has approved legislation legalizing the use of fentanyl test strips, HB2177, in a bid to reduce overdoses in the state. The test strips are currently banned as drug paraphernalia, but this bill removes them from that classification. The bill was supported by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and now heads to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R).

International

Israel Moving to Decriminalize Marijuana as Legalization Stalls in Knesset. With marijuana legalization stalled in the Knesset, Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced Sunday that the government is considering decriminalizing recreational marijuana use and expunging the criminal records of those convicted of personal possession or use of marijuana. Sa'ar is expected to sign regulations putting the move into effect in coming days, with approval at the Knesset expected shortly thereafter. The change would go into effect immediately upon approval by the Knesset.

White House Outlines Policies on Overdoses and Opioid Epidemic, GOP Legal Pot Bill Could Get Hearing, More... (3/3/22)

Costa Rica becomes the latest country to legalize medical marijuana, an Oklahoma psychedelic study bill is moving, and more.

President Biden used the SOTU to outline policies on overdoses and the opioid epidemic. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Congresswoman Says Her Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Get a Hearing. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who has filed the States Reform Act legalization bill (HR 5977), said Thursday that she has received reassurances that her bill will get a hearing even though her party is in the minority. She also said that there was "no quid pro quo" requiring her to support House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity, Expungement and Reinvestment (MORE) Act (HR 3617). "Personally, I want to respect the process and MORE is going to come up again and let Democrats do MORE Act. It'll die in the Senate," she said. "And so when that's done, we will do our hearing, and there was nothing done in exchange for it. I just made the ask and we're making it happen."

Opiates and Opioids

Sacklers and Purdue Pharma Reach New Deal with States Over Opioids. Members of the Sackler family, who founded Purdue Pharma, have announced a deal with a group of states that had resisted Purdue's bankruptcy plan. Under the deal, which would settle thousands of pending lawsuits for the company's role in the opioid crisis and still must be approved by a judge, the family agrees to pay an additional one billion dollars, bringing the total they have now agreed to pay to $6 billion. "While the families have acted lawfully in all respects, they sincerely regret that OxyContin, a prescription medicine that continues to help people suffering from chronic pain, unexpectedly became part of an opioid crisis that has brought grief and loss to far too many families and communities," they said in a statement. While Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to criminal charges of minimizing OxyContin's risk of addiction and misleading marketing, no Sackler family member has ever been criminally charged or admitted wrongdoing.

Psychedelics

Oklahoma Bill to Study Therapeutic Psychedelics Advances. A bill that seeks to allow research into the therapeutic uses of psychedelics, House Bill 3414, has been approved by the House Public Safety Committee and now heads for a House floor vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Pae (R-Lawton), would allow the state's universities and other research institutions to begin studying psilocybin and psilocyn, the psychoactive substances in magic mushrooms.

Drug Policy

Biden Uses State of the Union to Outline Policies on Addiction and Overdose Epidemic. The president outlined his comprehensive approach, including increased funding for public health and supply reduction. He is requesting a historic $41 billion for drug policy efforts that will further these efforts, including $10.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services "to fund research, prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support services, with a focus on meeting the needs of populations at greatest risk for overdose and substance use disorder." Overall, the president is proposing $23.5 billion for public health approaches to drug use and its consequences.

The Administration has prioritized funds for harm reduction. The American Rescue Plan included $30 million in support for harm reduction services -- a historic amount that will enhance interventions like syringe services programs. Additionally, CDC and the SAMHSA announced that federal funding may now be used to purchase fentanyl test strips in an effort to help curb the dramatic spike in drug overdose deaths.

The president also proposed spending $17.5 billion for supply reduction (read: enforcing drug prohibition), including $5.8 billion for interdiction efforts, an increase from the amount spent this year.

International

Costa Rica Legalizes Medical Marijuana. With the signature of President Carlos Alvarado on a revised medical marijuana bill, Costa Rica becomes the latest nation to legalize medical marijuana. Earlier in the year, Alvarado had vetoed the bill, but lawmakers made changes requested by the president. The bill also legalizes hemp, but not recreational marijuana. Alvarado is about to leave office, and the two presidential candidates seeking to replace him, José María Figueres and Rodrigo Chaves, have both spoken in favor of legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

New Zealand Medical Marijuana Patients Now Have Access to Smokeable Buds. Medical marijuana patients suffering from chronic pain will now be able to purchase smokeable buds after the Ministry of Health approved imports from an Australian firm. The buds are supposed to only be used to make a tea, but smoking or vaping them activates their soothing qualities more quickly, and patients and providers say it will be smoked and vaped.

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Rolled Out [FEATURE]

Rhode Island took a big step toward marijuana legalization this week as a long-awaited compromise marijuana legalization bill rolled out. On Tuesday, Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston, Providence) and Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) introduced identical House and Senate bills to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana in the state.

The bill, the Rhode Island Cannabis Act (Senate Bill 2430 and House Bill 7593) would legalize the sale of up to one ounce of marijuana for those age 21 and up, with no more than 10 ounces for personal use kept in a primary residence, effective October 1. It would also allow Rhode Islanders to grow three plants at home.

And this looks like the year it could actually get done. Democratic Gov. Dan McKee (D) is down for legalization and included a proposal to end cannabis prohibition as part of his annual budget plan in the form of House Bill 7123 in January.

Similarly, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D), who has been working with the governor and lawmakers to find a compromise between differing approaches, is now on board and calls legalization "inevitable." Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D-Warwick) is fully supportive.

"We've been working hard since the end of last session to establish consensus on the details, but our efforts to address the issue have been going on for many years, during which time our neighboring states have already made this move ahead of us. Rhode Island is now behind them from a competitive standpoint, since it's fairly easy for most Rhode Islanders to cross the state line to make a legal purchase," McCaffrey said in a statement on Tuesday. "The truth is, legal cannabis is already widely available to Rhode Islanders, but the resulting revenue is not. With this bill, we will create jobs, revenue and control in our own state, and help address some of the inequities that have resulted from prohibition."

The main bone of contention had been who would regulate the legal market, and this legislation addresses that with a sort of hybrid consisting of a new independent Cannabis Control Commission and a Cannabis Office within the Department of Business Regulation. The two agencies, along with a new advisory board, would share responsibility for overseeing the operation of the market.

The bill would allow up to 33 retail pot shop licenses distributed in six zones statewide, including nine compassion centers that could potentially be hybrid recreational and medical retailers. It addresses social equity concerns by requiring that 25 percent of new retail licenses go to applicants who qualify as social equity businesses and another 25 percent of licenses go to worker-owned cooperatives. There is also a funding stream for social equity grants and job training to be generated by fees.

Retail marijuana could be taxed at up to 20 percent via a sales tax of 7 percent, a local sales tax of 3 percent, and an excise tax of 10 percent. State tax revenues would go to the general fund and could be used to pay for expenses related to running a legal marijuana system.

"The time for Rhode Island to move forward with cannabis legalization is now. This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities. To help address those past wrongs, and to ensure all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to share the economic benefits associated with legalization, equity is a central focus of this legislation," said Sen. Miller chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, in his statement announcing the legislation.

"It is the right public policy for Rhode Island to make cannabis possession and sales legal. We have been studying legalization proposals here for many years, and we now can look to our neighboring states' experiences and see that taxing and regulating cannabis makes sense," said Rep. Slater. "I'm especially proud that we have made a very deliberate effort to address social equity through this bill. We have to recognize the harm that prohibition has done to communities, particularly minorities and poor, urban neighborhoods, and ensure that those communities get the support they need to benefit from legalization."

At the Tuesday rollout, legislative leaders made it clear that while the bill is the result of months of negotiations, it is only at the beginning of the legislative process, and the sausage is about to be made.

"I want to emphasize that the bill introduced today is not the final product -- rather, it is the beginning of the public process of legalizing cannabis for recreational use in Rhode Island," Shekarchi said in a statement during the rollout. "We welcome input from the public as to whether or how we should implement recreational usage, and I expect robust discussions with House membership as well."

Still, it seems like the stars are aligning for marijuana legalization this year in the Ocean State. Stay tuned.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Raleigh cop gets caught slinging cocaine from his patrol car, a small-town North Carolina former police chief just got himself in even bigger trouble, and more. Let's get to it:

In Chadbourn, North Carolina, the former Chadbourn police chief was arrested last Thursday after faking his own death to try to avoid prosecution on more than 80 felony charges. Ex-Chief Anthony Spivey, 36, had been due in court last Monday but skipped out and staged his own suicide, only to be caught hiding at his aunt's apartment. He had been chief in the small town until April, when he was slapped with dozens of charges and accused of regularly raiding the police department's evidence locker, destroying evidence, trafficking opium and selling seized weapons to friends and family. He now also has 40 outstanding warrants for failure to appear on those charges. He went down because the State Bureau of Investigation grew curious about why confiscated drugs were not being sent to the state crime lab.

In Washington, DC, a DC correctional officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly smuggling drugs, knives, and other contraband into the jail in return for cash bribes. Guard Johnson Ayuk, 31, went down after an internal investigation at the jail found that he had been accepting payments from a detainee's girlfriend to bring contraband into the jail. He did so by hiding it beneath compression shorts. He is charged with bribery and providing or possessing contraband in prison.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a Raleigh police officer was arrested last Thursday for selling cocaine from his patrol car while on duty. Officer Keven Rodriguez, 33, went down after the police department and the DEA developed information that he was distributing controlled substances in the area. Authorities did a controlled buy, with an informant giving Rodriguez $2,600 in cash and Rodriguez then sold him two ounces of cocaine. He now faces one count of distribution of a quantity of cocaine and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of, and using and carrying a firearm during, a drug trafficking crime. He's looking at a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison and up to life.

SD Legal Pot Bill "Smoked Out" and Revived, UT Therapeutic Psychedelic Task Force Bill Passes, More... (3/2/22)

A coalition of marijuana and civil rights groups is demanding a House floor vote on a marijuana legalization bill, the Transportation Department is moving toward approval oral drug testing for truckers, and more.

A South Dakota marijuana legalization bill got "smoked out" Tuesday, but not like this. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana, Civil Rights Groups Demand House Vote on Legalization Bill This Month. A coalition of marijuana reform and civil rights groups convened by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Justice Coalition, sent a letter to House leadership Tuesday seeking a floor vote this month on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617). Sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, the MORE Act passed the House in the last Congress and has passed out of the committee in this Congress in September, but has been stalled since then. "Given that nearly every minute one person in this country is arrested for a minor marijuana crime, the public deserves to know if members of the 117th Congress stand on the side of justice and against the outdated and cruel policy of prohibition and criminalization of marijuana," the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Bill Back from the Dead After Being "Smoked Out." Just one day after a House committee voted to kill the legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, it has been revived using a legislative procedure known as a "smoke out." Under that procedure, legislative leaders can poll lawmakers and if a majority signal they are in favor of proceeding with the bill, the bill can proceed to a House floor vote. "We just smoked out a weed bill," House Speaker Spencer Gosch (R) quipped when enough members stood to be counted. Voters had approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020 only to see it overturned by the state Supreme Court, and the activists behind that initiative are currently in the midst of a signature gathering campaign to put the issue on the ballot this year if the legislature fails to pass the bill.

Psychedelics

Utah Legislature Overwhelmingly Approves Psychedelic Therapeutic Study Bill. With a final Senate vote last Friday, the state legislature has approved a bill to set up a task force to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, House Bill 167. The House had passed the bill back on February 10. In each chamber, only one no vote was registered. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Spencer Cox (R) but has a veto-proof majority in case he balks. The bill would create a task force to "provide evidence-based recommendations on any psychotherapy drug that the task force determines may enhance psychotherapy when treating a mental illness."

Drug Testing

US Department of Transportation Publishes Proposed Rules for Oral Fluid Drug Testing. The Department of Transportation last Friday a notice of proposed rulemaking for oral fluid drug testing of transportation employees covered by federal regulations. DOT said that including oral testing would help employers combat cheating on urine drug tests. Oral testing to detect the presence of marijuana only has a 24-hour window, while urine testing can detect marijuana metabolites for days or weeks. Comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking should be submitted by March 30, 2022.

Drug War Issues

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